Vampire Weekend – ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ – Album Review
As you probably already know, the guys in Vampire Weekend graduated from Columbia. They aren’t poor. With their dapper, upper-crust fashion sense, it often looks like they just walked off the set of ‘The Royal Tenenbaums.’ And — just in case you missed out while reading all the beard-stroking think-pieces about their position as indie-rock high-brow trend-setters — they’ve also released two excellent LPs of springy, sophisticated pop. On their self-titled debut, frontman Ezra Keonig asked what’s bound to be his tombstone punchline, “Who gives a f— about an Oxford comma?” In retrospect, it sounds like pre-emptive self-defense. Vampire Weekend write great music — who gives a f— about their backstory?
‘Modern Vampires of the City,’ their strangest and most expansive album, is powerful enough to eradicate the pointless gossip. The songs themselves — arranged by Koenig, multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij and co-producer Ariel Rechtshaid — are as hooky and intellectual as ever, but with a dizzying sonic scope.
It’s a natural extension of what the quartet accomplished on 2010’s ‘Contra,’ expanding on the propulsive Afro-pop stylings of their 2008 debut by piling on ornate overdubs. But where ‘Contra”s expansiveness often came off as labored, ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ feels organic and effortless.
Take the breezy, tuneful ‘Hannah Hunt.’ The track opens in startling quietude — Koenig crooning over the warm hum of Chris Baio’s high-octave bass and the solemn thump of Chris Thompson’s kick-drum. But the layers unfurl gracefully, Batmanglij sprinkling bits of slide-guitar and piano; by the conclusion, the track has transformed into a glowing potpourri of sounds. Four or five years ago, the folky gallop of ‘Unbelievers’ would have likely bloomed into a pogo-stick Afro-punk blast; not here. In moving away from ‘Graceland,’ they’ve ironically never sounded more like Paul Simon, particularly when Koenig skyrockets to his hiccuped falsetto. ‘Modern Vampires’ is built, first and foremost, on rich songwriting, but the bells and whistles (from the auto-tuned Elvis detour on ‘Diane Young’ to the spiral-staircase of harmonies on ‘Obvious Bicycle’) are an excellent bonus.
As always, the lyrics are intellectual puzzles. Koenig writes with the colorful specificity of an Imagist poet, painting vivid scenes — the torched Saab in ‘Diane Young,’ mysterious Hannah Hunt desecrating the New York Times on a beach, the looming graveyards in ‘Don’t Lie’ — that stick with you.
In interviews, Vampire Weekend have described this album as “the culmination of a trilogy.” Really, it sounds like the start of a vibrant, vivid new chapter.