10 Best Vampire Weekend Songs
To like Vampire Weekend is to have your suspicions about Vampire Weekend. Whether it’s racial questions stemming from their use of African rhythms, class concerns related to the four members embracing their well-to-do upbringings and Columbia educations, integrity concerns regarding their licensing of music for corporate advertisements or even conspiracy theories that surfaced after they went from being a buzzed-about blog band to Spin magazine cover boys before releasing a debut, controversy has dogged these guys since day one. But what about the music? With the band’s third album, ‘Modern Vampires of the City,’ due this week, we felt it time to compile a list of the 10 Best Vampire Weekend Songs.
Vampire Weekend have shed much of their afro-pop reputation, and ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ only features a couple of songs that fully recall the aesthetic of their their debut. ‘Everlasting Arms’ is one, and while frontman Ezra Koenig earns the Paul Simon comparison he’s always getting, he does so as gracefully as ever. Vampire Weekend are at their best when they seem comfortable and at home, and while this is often the case, it’s particularly evident here.
Of all the things that characterize Vampire Weekend’s work, the use of string orchestration gets relatively little mention. And that’s a shame, because it’s hard to imagine their songs without it. Take ‘M79,’ the next entry on our list of the 10 Best Vampire Weekend Songs. Despite its obtuse lyrics, the tune is most notable for its dependence on strings, which create a royal, pure-bred vibe. Many knock the band for precisely this kind of hoity-toity presentation, but ‘M79′ is the sound of Vampire Weekend feeling confident in their polarizing persona.
‘Step’ is half of the double-single released to introduce the new album, and its counterpart, ‘Diane Young’ obviously received the radio push. ‘Step,’ though, better displays the lyrical wonders Koenig is capable of constructing, starting with the second line: “Back back way back I used to front like Angkor Wat, Mechanicsburg, Anchorage, and Dar es Salaam.” Elsewhere, Koenig does things like juxtapose the slang terms “front” with four other applications of the word “front,” and that’s after an intro bit in which he directly references legendary Bay Area rap group Souls of Mischief. It’s smart-guy stuff that people are quick to call pretentious, and in a sense, they’re right. But great writing is sometimes challenging, and no artist should apologize for fans’ unwillingness to use Wikipedia.
‘White Sky,’ No. 7 on our list of the Best Vampire Weekend Songs, is more significant for its lyrics than it is for its music. But the little sonic details that make up this ‘Contra’ single are among the band’s best. Opening with a fluttering synth canvas from Rostam Batmanglij, bouncing bass notes from Chris Baio and carefully placed guitar jabs from Koenig, the song opens into a spacious thing, leaving room for Koenig to craft an attention-demanding vocal lead. Come the hook, Koenig delivers ecstatic yelping and hoots that are both expressive and nonsensical. There is whimsy at the heart of ‘White Sky,’ a sense of fun and joy that permeates much of group’s work. The song might be the one in their catalog most likely to make you smile.
Vampire Weekend rarely seem didactic, but with ‘Oxford Comma,’ they gave the titular punctuation mark a permanent place in the public consciousness. One of the rare times you’ll hear “f—” in a Vampire Weekend song, ‘Comma’ casts the VW boys in the light of everymen — sort of. While Koenig references Lil Jon’s ‘Get Low’ in one breath, he delivers quotable lines like “all your diction dripping with disdain” the next. Of all the band’s hits, ‘Oxford Comma’ holds its power longest, balancing smart and accessible as well as anything they’ve recorded.
It’s possible to hear ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ as a religious album — doing so reveals fascinating nuances in Koenig’s lyrics — and ‘Ya Hey’ plays like a direct address to god. Koenig has fun spinning the Hebrew “yahweh” into ‘Ya Hey,’ and given its vocal manipulation, lush production and piling-on of hooks, the song is nearly perfect song any way you engage with it.
‘I Stand Corrected’
Vampire Weekend rarely keep things simple, but ‘I Stand Corrected’ shows how good they can sound without all the flourishes. This first-album highlight is lyrically direct and reads almost like it’s aimed at those who would criticize the record. Of course, that kind of foresight is impossible, but even now, the section where the spare accompaniment drops out and leaves only the sound of Chris Tomson playing the sides of the drums is dramatic in the most basic of senses. It shows Vampire Weekend to be more than merely a band that dazzles with vivid and indulgent arrangements. They can also be affecting by speaking plainly and letting a lovely melody work its magic.
Naming a song for ex-Girls singer Christopher Owens’ girlfriend is a bold move, but apparently, Koenig went to school with her back in the day. Regardless, the subtle and understated track, No. 3 on our list of the 10 Best Vampire Weekend Songs, isn’t about Hunt at all, and Koenig simply uses the name to trace a romance in conflict. It may sound like familiar territory, but the last minute of the song finds Koenig singing from somewhere new, somewhere “the heart” doesn’t quite encompass, somewhere many would doubt he has the guts or the emotional honesty to go. It’s a stunning moment — one that should change how we talk about the band.
Vampire Weekend often end concerts with ‘Walcott,’ and they’re smart to do so. With its piano hook, building verses and climactic conclusion — which includes Koenig shouting and saying “f–” a couple more times — the song feels like the egg that hatched the band. The lyrics even tell the story of the group’s name, since Walcott was a character in the film project about vampires that was the moniker’s inspiration. In a sense, it’s like a time capsule that shows the band at its earliest phase, but it nevertheless might be the most anthemic number on their first three albums. It ends most live shows on a feverish high.
‘Horchata,’ the first song we heard from ‘Contra,’ sparked a bit of backlash over the language, as Koenig rhymes the words ‘horchata,” “Aranciata” and “balaclava.” But years later, it stands as simply the most beautiful piece group has written — a song that transcends petty gripes and lands the top spot on our list of the 10 Best Vampire Weekend Songs. Centered around the line “Here comes a feeling you thought you’d forgotten,” the song plays equally with the ideas of feeling nostalgic and looking to the future, suggesting the decay of a relationship is as significant as its rekindling or the spark of a new one. ‘Horchata’ is a next-level songwriting masterpiece that many people dismiss simply because of its title. They’re missing out, as Koenig taps into some capital-T truth, and the production and arrangement prove masterful.