Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City
Modern Vampires of the City
Everyone seems to like Vampire Weekend. Their 2008 self-titled debut and 2010 follow-up Contra had enough pop hooks and bouncy synth parts to unite even the most curmudgeonly of the hipsters (i.e. myself) with mass audiences that simply appreciate the catchiness. African influences added a distinct sound to the band, particularly on songs like "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa," "One (Blake's Got a New Face)" and "Horchata." Lyrically, the four Columbia University graduates are occasionally approach a Decemberists-level of nerdom, forcing listeners to look up phrases such as "Mansard Roof," "Oxford Comma," "keffiyeh," and "the Khyber Pass." Hell, they even allude to the Falklands War. For a popular indie band, they really do seem to have something for everyone.
Third album Modern Vampires of the City both continues this streak and shows that the band can mature. The pop hooks are still there, African and world music influences still abound, and they even seemed to have upped their lyrical nerdiness. It has slower tracks like those birthed on Contra and it has their faster mainstays that keep the album's energy high. Opener "Obvious Bicycle" fits into the former, its thumping beat and sparse piano chords trudging through the song with occasional hints of African-influenced drums and vocals. It seems like it could work as both an opener or a closer, and somewhat sounds like a cross between "Horchata" and "I Think Ur A Contra."
The album then features three incredibly strong tracks in a row, each probably deserving its own paragraph. "Unbelievers" is a lively number that shifts the piano to Vampire Weekend's trademark organ-sounding synths and the drums to their more common galloping beat. Lyrically, it mixes themes of finding a place in the world, religion, and relationships as singer Ezra Koeing belts "I know I love you/And you love the sea/But what holy water contains a little drop, little drop for me?" during the chorus. Third track "Step" just might be my album favorite, with its harpsichord synths not heard since "M79" and a beat that almost sounds like it could be from a hip-hop song (maybe due to Koeing borderline rapping). If anything, this track firmly establishes the band's highbrow lyric credentials, namedropping Angkor Wat, Mechanicsburg, Anchorage, and Dar Es Salam in the opening verse and giving a shout out to Lydian king Croesus at one point. Fourth track "Diane Young" is currently the most popular single from the album, being the frantic type of track like "Cousins" that is sure to draw fans with chaotic drumming and incredible amounts of energy. And with lines like "Irish and proud baby, naturally/but you've got the luck of a Kennedy," you realize that "Diane Young" is a clever song about dying young that Ke$ha wishes she could have thought up.
Things take a bit of a breather for the middle part of the album, with tracks "Don't Lie," "Hannah Hunt," and "Everlasting Arms" resembling the relatively slower tracks on their previous releases. However, as soon as the listener cools down with the soulful "Everlasting Arms," the album explodes into "Finger Back," a very pop-sounding energetic track with fast acoustic strumming, fast synthesized organ, and fast singing. Quite randomly, the slowest part of the song is probably when Koeing speaks a quick story about an Orthodox girl falling in love at a falafel shop and asks "should she have averted her eyes and just stared at the laminated poster of the Dome of the Rock?" Following track "Worship You" mirrors this "Finger Back's" style, only with an intense galloping snare-drum part and singing so fast that I don't think I could ever attempt to sing along. Following these is the slightly toned down "Ya Hey," which has a similar tempo to "Diplomat's Son" on Contra and is likewise one of the group's longer tracks. Lyrically, "Ya Hey" is another clever song about religion (its name is a play on Yahweh) and again has Koeing speaking a quick story, this time about a music festival. The sample of a choir in the background fits nicely too.
From there on things taper off a bit, and the second-to-last track "Hudson Bay" seems a little too grim for the album. The foreboding sound from its military-style snare drum and the choir sample sounding much more haunting this time around easily make it the least happy sounding song Vampire Weekend has ever made. While I like the historical allusions in its lyrics, I feel like the band should ease into a dark and gloomy sound if that's something they want to try. Closer "Young Lion" is a short piano-led number that accomplishes being the outro. And while we're on criticisms (of which I have few), I honestly wish they would have toned down the vocal distortions of the "baby" part of "Diane Young" and the "Ya Hey" part of its namesake (though they do autotune "ut deo" so that saves it a bit). While I get that the band wants to add some silliness, it's a little overdone.
I have a lot of respect for Vampire Weekend, and this album only adds to it. They've found a way to combine brilliant lyrics with a great pop appeal and various world music influences, and the talent of each band member makes it work. I'll admit that I didn't like Contra as much as their self-titled album (though I did grow to appreciate it), and therefore was expecting another release that I was lukewarm about at first. However, the majority of the tracks on Modern Vampires of the City got me hooked immediately and my appreciation of the album has only increased since.