Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City | Album Review
Indie rock darlings Vampire Weekend return as an older, more mature band on their superb third studio album, ‘Modern Vampires of the City.’
New York indie-band Vampire Weekend might have been the coolest Ivy Leaguers ever when their 2008 self-titled debut arrived. Single “Oxford Comma” was the ‘talk of the town’ when frontman Ezra Koenig went all ‘über-nerd’ rebelliously proclaiming “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?” Sure the multitude of listeners don’t go around asking such a specific, geeky question, but Koenig’s statement was certainly an accurate one. After achieving critical acclaim with Vampire Weekend and Contra, 2013 marks the return of an older, more seasoned band. No more crazed rants laced with profanity about punctuation marks. On Modern Vampires of the City, there are plenty of religious references running rampant and constructing a cohesive theme. Modern Vampires of the City is one of the best albums of 2013.
“Obvious Bicycle” opens abruptly and a bit off-putting at first. As the listener adjusts to the groove established by percussion and piano, things fall into place. Among highlights are Ezra Koenig’s effortless falsetto, which is ripe as ever on the chorus:
“So listen oh / So listen oh / Don’t wait / Don’t wait.”
Overall, the opener is quite hypnotic, making the listener hinge on every lyric and the minimal instrumental ideas. The tone of the album is set from the onset.
“Unbelievers” proves to be even sharper, serving as an overt statement of the influence of religious/spiritual ideas that recurs throughout Modern Vampires of the City. Several memorable lines are dissectable:
“We know the fire awaits unbelievers / All of the sinners the same / Girl you and I will die unbelievers bound to the tracks of the train.”
The aforementioned seems to be a nod to atheism, open to interpretation of course.
Later on the ‘big’ refrain, Koenig sings:
“I’m not excited / but should I be / is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?”
Also interesting about the cerebral cut is the incorporation of what sounds like a liberal take on “Simple Gifts” towards the end. “Unbelievers” chocked full of musical excellence.
On “Step,” the cut opens with lyric “Every time I see you in the world, you always step to my girl,” a line that cleverly recurs at the end in ‘chopped-n-screwed’ fashion. The production has a lush, dreaminess about it, incorporating a classical harpischord patch that serves as a musical ornament.
Like the previous two heavy hitters, “Step” is characterized by sound songwriting:
“The gloves are off, the wisdom teeth are out / what you on about? / I feel it in my bones, I feel it in my bones / I’m stronger now, I’m ready for the house / such a modest mouse / I can’t do it alone, I can’t do it alone.”
Mysterious and beautiful, “Step” is a third home run for Vampire Weekend.
“Diane Young” is a clever play of words, when hearing it contexually lyrically:
“If Diane Young [dying young] won’t change your mind / baby, baby baby, baby ride on time”.
A manic, enjoyable lead single, “Diane Young” is easily one of the effort’s more enthusiastic ear-catchers. With lyrics locked down, the best lyrics aside from the earlier wordplay has to be
“Irish and proud, baby, naturally / but you got the luck of a Kennedy…”
Soulful organ is added to the proceeding “Don’t Lie”, which is anchored with gargantuan drums that are hip-hop ‘hard.’ Koenig wants to know
“…Does it bother you? / The low click of a ticking clock / There’s a lifetime right in front of you / And everyone I know.”
Some strings further adorn as “Don’t Lie” progresses, presenting another consistent gem.
“Hannah Hunt” gives the band a true singer/songwriter styled number, mysteriously restrained for the majority of the cut. The chorus doesn’t reveal itself until the end, as Koenig sings:
“If I can’t trust you then damn it, Hannah / There’s no future, there’s no answer / Though we live on the US dollar / you and me, we got our on sense of time…”
Towards the end, the cut turns grandiose with Koenig reiterating the chorus an octave higher.
On “Everlasting Arms,” the play on religion continues once more . Also playing ‘devil’s advocate,’ a reference of the occult seems a reasonable interpretive conclusion given the chorus:
“Hold me in your everlasting arms / looked up, full of fear, trapped beneath the chandelier that’s going down…”
Those open-ended meanings man – conservatives be damned!
“Finger Back” is one great big ball of fun. Energized, enthusiastic, and manic, Koenig is at his best here, shedding through vocals at a maddening pace, capped off by the tongue-in-cheekish chorus: “Bend the finger back, snap! Oww, Oww, Oww…” Continuing on a spiritual vibe, a whacky interlude is inserted:
“See ya next year in Jerusalem / you know, the one at 103rd and Broadway? Cause this Orthodox girl fell in love with the guy at the falafel shop…”
Adding to the adrenaline rush is followup “Worship You,” which is similarly up-tempo, with Koenig singing rhythmic, hip-hop speed vocals during the verses. The most memorable, eyebrow raising lyric?
“We worshipped you / your red right hand / won’t we see once again / in foreign soil, in foreign land / who will guide us through the end?”
Koenig, whatchu talkin’ bout Willis?!? cough… atheism… cough, cough.
“Ya Hey” continues with the upmost consistency and the questions marks. “Ya Hey” certainly seems to making reference to Yahweh (aka God). Continuing on the inquisitive path, Koenig sings
“Through the fire and through the flames / you won’t even say your name… only “I am that I am” / but who could ever live that way?”
Sure to piss extremly devoted people off, the song itself is superb showing VW at their best.
Penultimate cut “Hudson” features some cohesion lyrically, reviving reference to the ‘ticking clock’ of “Don’t Lie” (“…the time has come / the clock is such a drag…”). Keeping things mysterious, the synthetic vocal pad and organ mix create a timbre that sounds directly linked to a cathedral. Vampire Weekend close there ambitious third effort with “Young Lion”, something of a lullaby with iterations of one simple line: “you take your time, little lion.”
Ultimately, Modern Vampires of the City is nothing short of being a captivating, memorable affair. As sports analysts would say, “the team is loaded!” Unique through and through given unapologetic eclecticism and creative restlessness, Vampire Weekend deliver an alternative tour de force that easily atones for a three year hiatus between albums. Ezra Koenig sounds as exceptional as ever, delivering strong vocals throughout. Magnificent an effort it is indeed!
Gems: “Obvious Bicycle,””Unbeliever,””Step,””Finger Back,” “Worship You,” & “Ya Hey”