Vampire Weekend’s “Unbearably White” is a Shock in Many Ways

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When Vampire Weekend dropped their final round of singles on April 4th, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Since January 2019, the band has released a total of six singles from their upcoming fourth album, Father of the Bride. When compared to Vampire Weekend’s previously tight-knit and precocious discography, the new singles feel looser, even jam band-like. As a die-hard Vampire Weekend stan, I found that I’ve had to adjust to singles like “Harmony Hall” and “Sunflower,” as they’ve felt like alien departures from the band’s signature sound and aesthetic.

But when Vampire Weekend released “Unbearably White,” one of the final singles before Father of the Bride’s May 3rd release, I immediately fell in love. Lyrically, the song is reminiscent of “Hannah Hunt” as Ezra Koenig sings about coming to grips with a failing romance. It ebbs and flows with subtle guitar strums, orchestral tremolos, and even hints of a washboard. “Unbearably White” illustrates the band’s range and adaptability in a way where I don’t have convince myself to enjoy it.

That being said, I don’t recommend listening to “Unbearably White” if you’re wearing headphones and walking across a street.

When I first listened to the song, I was walking to class. I was completely enthralled by how well the laid-back guitar complements Koenig’s featherlight voice. The song seemed to soundtrack the lovely spring day—it almost felt too good to be true that the weather happened to be perfect on the day that my favorite band released new music.

But then I jumped. I was in a crosswalk when I heard a startling and brash noise that I immediately associated with an impending car crash. I closed my eyes and braced myself for the worst. But when I didn’t feel anything hit me, I looked around and saw that the street was empty.

Turns out, I wasn’t about to get mauled by a Ford Taurus. Vampire Weekend just decided to get a little cheeky by adding a sudden and jarring orchestral hit about 50 seconds into the song. The production is so polished when listened with headphones, it sounds like a Doppler effect of something immediately rushing toward the listener.

After my scare, I decided to make a Twitter poll to see if fellow Vampire Weekend listeners had a similar experience while listening to “Unbearably White.”

Almost fifty people reported seeing their life flash before their eyes while listening to the song. And all the anonymous folks who answered “no” were probably too proud to admit that they were spooked.

A few Twitter users decided to elaborate on their specific experiences:

While it was both relieving and troubling that so many people had the same experience as me, I was curious to understand Vampire Weekend’s intentions behind this part of the song. I also wanted to know if they were aware of the song’s bone-chilling effects on people.

So, I did the most sensible thing and contacted Ezra Koenig.

I was certainly pleased and surprised with this interaction, especially by the thought of Koenig passing my poll onto the song’s producer, Ariel Rechtshaid. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t inspire them to add more jump scares to future songs.

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