Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City
Similar Artists: Paul Simon, Dirty Projectors
We don’t have much control in guiding these ephemeral lives that we hold. While it may seem that we are moving about with free limbs and actively making decisions in real time, in reality we are merely watching through a lens as our bodies rely on previously learned antecedents and consequences. The only choice we do have is whether we want to continue the ride or cut it short. Everything else can be lumped into pre-existing factors of genetics and environment. Although not stated quite so matter of factly, these are themes that revolve around Vampire Weekend’s 3rd and finest LP to date, Modern Vampires Of The City. The subject matter sounds a bit oblique for what is essentially a pop record, but when paired with the minimal arrangements and unhurried song structure, the album comes off as mature rather than morose.
Vampire Weekend’s albums have all been released at such opportune times to where they come off as a breath of fresh air in the cluttered land of indie music – the previous three albums i have reviewed have been heavy on the noise, so needless to say, this album was a welcome gift. After all, there are few bands which combine such intellect with an innate ability to write catchy, immediately accessible songs. Although this album is representative of a more subtler Vampire Weekend than we have heard before, you won’t be mistaking this music for anyone other than the remarkable Columbia graduates.
While they haven’t gone through a total reinvention of sound, they have marked on an incredibly natural progression that feels more human and soulful than what came before it. At first, the only song here which sounds like a hit is “Diane Young” – which is a modern take on Buddy Holly blues rock that incorporates vocal manipulation and other stylized production tricks. The majority of the other songs forgo heavy guitars and percussion for spacey piano figures layered amidst Koenig’s most delicate vocals. Even the band’s trademark harpsichord and string arrangements are seldom heard. Still, even without the influence of afro-beat, it’s reminiscent of Paul Simon over anything else. It’s an enlightening experience for sure, but these are a far cry from what you’d be likely to hear at a Williamsburg dive bar.
It turns out that Modern Vampires does have hits – they are just better appreciated within the scope of the album than on their own. The album pacing is stupendous, and even after several listens in, the highlights are surprising. “Ya Hey” in particular is a song that always sneaks up on me and leaves me delirious. While that song’s lyrical slyness and catchy-as-hell chorus often leave me thinking it’s the best Vampire Weekend song yet, something tells me “Hanna Hunt” is even better. It’s clearly their most emotional, as you’d have to be heartless to not feel something when Koenig wails /If I can’t trust you then damn it Hanna, there’s no future, there’s no answer/ among the album’s most sprawling piano chords. However, the award for best lyric of the album might have to go to the line directly after that /though we live on the U.S. dollar, you and me we’ve got our own sense of time/ which has got to be the most brilliant way anyone could think of to say time = money.
It all comes out as an extremely well thought out and polished record that took a lot of dedication and heart. I said at the beginning of this review that the album was about a lack of free will, but it is really about much more than that. Depending on your perspective it can be read as a critique on the state of America, an analysis of the principles of Religion, or any number of personal things. What can be said is that it is far from traditional – or is at least explored in nontraditional ways. While Ezra Koenig has always been a sly lyricist, here he is working at a higher level. From the opening lyrics /spare yourself a razor, cause no one’s gonna spare the time for you/, to the final ones /Take your time, young lion/, everything reads like poetry, moving along to what is easily the most beautiful and haunting music of their career.
1.) Obvious Bicycle*
4.) Diane Young*
5.) Don’t Lie
6.) Hanna Hunt*
7.) Everlasting Arms*
8.) Finger Back
9.) Worship You
10.) Ya Hey*
12.) Young Lion
* – Album Highlight