Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City (Review)

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Vampire Weekend’s first two albums definitely made big splashes in indie, and eventually pop-culture. They made the cover of Spin magazine before their first official release, and gathered a ton of buzz right from the start. While the previous two albums have a lot going for them, Modern Vampires of the City could be argued as an improvement on what Vampire Weekend has presented in the past. Apart from simply containing straightforwardly catchy and well written songs, there are other reasons that MVOTC pushes the band’s catalogue further.

For one thing, the album channels various modes. At times, it seems to pay homage to rock’s early years with the rockabilly “Diane Young.” Other times, the album pushes Vampire Weekend to a slower and more up-to-date sound, with songs like “Ya Hey” and “Hannah Hunt.” The changes in mood and genre show that Vampire Weekend can handle writing songs outside of their feel-good, beach-soundtrack, and preppy sphere. The album still channels the classic Vampire Weekend elements, such as fast-past drumbeats, and lyrics that switch back and forth between finely-combed educated poetry, and tender pleas for recognition, understanding, and love. But in addition to the predictable (though, still very much appreciated) aspects of their sound, Vampire Weekend enhances the album with its occasional use of brass instruments and an organ. The added sounds blend nicely with the guitar and bass, and they provide freshness to the album.

Another thing that the album does well is that it seamlessly blends produced sounds with those that are more organic. For example, “Unbelievers” contains a clean brass accompaniment, as well as less-clean (but equally enjoyable) echoing piano chords. Rather than creating a chaotic sound, the combination sounds great, and the song is one of the best upbeat songs to have been released this year.

The album also handles ominous themes with confidence, while maintaining consideration for the sensitivity of others. For example, the band changed “Dying Young” to “Diane Young,” and the resulting title humanizes death and the end of an exciting life. Consequently, the song still seems to present an anxiety about death and the unknown future, but it also makes any impending fate seem less harmful.

The slower songs also succeed in keeping ahold of the listener’s attention with the artful lyrics. On “Hannah Hunt,” lead singer Ezra Koenig declares, “Though we live on the US dollar, you and me, we’ve got our own sense of time.” The echoing lyrics in the second part of the song evoke a sense of desperation, compared with the clear and lulling lyrics in the first part. The desperation causes a desire for resolution, and stokes interest in the remainder of the album. Desperation continues with “Everlasting Arms,” as Koenig begs the person he loves to reciprocate his actions and feelings.

The album becomes even more interesting during “Worship You,” which reflects something of a cross between an Irish fiddle tune and a Bollywood musical number. Koenig spits out the lyrics as fast as he can to keep up with the pace of the music. Rather than seeming exasperated, it comes across as energetic and exciting, and seems like something that could accompany a comical chase scene in which the goofy protagonist and his love interest outrun the dopey cops.

The elation, however, tones down with the help of the dark choral accompaniment the build-up of “Ya Hey” and again on “Hudson.” The drums on Hudson seem to indicate a person’s walk to his death, and the choral background only serves to advance the eeriness.

After the spooky “Hudson,” they strip down to a piano, bass, and vocals for “Young Lion.” The song provides a pleasant and peaceful end to an exciting, emotional whirlwind of an album.

Rating: W-P-G-3/5

RIYL: Phoenix, Coconut Records, Girls

Key Tracks: “Unbelievers,” “Diane Young,” “Worship You”

Stream Diane Young” below via YouTube:

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