“I’m not excited, but should I be? / Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?”
- from “Unbelievers”
We enter Vampire Weekend’s third LP in media res with the track “Obvious Bicycle,” which kicks off immediately with instrumentals in play and Ezra Koenig’s lyrics and vocals suggesting that an unreliable narrator will be leading us through a story much darker than the ones Vampire Weekend has told previously. It mimics the photographic setting of the mysterious smog that penetrates New York City’s skyline on the album’s cover. Without even delving into the music waiting on the record inside the sleeve, we are faced with so many questions: What’s happening? How did this happen? Why are we where we are?
But Vampire Weekend isn’t interested in answering those questions for you. Their accounts of what has “happened” don’t matter much, nor are they as monochromatic as the album cover makes them out to be. Not on Modern Vampires of the City.
Five years into their career, the members of Vampire Weekend have distinguished themselves as a “now” band, from the way their sound constantly blends Afro-infused styles with alt-rock instrumentals that keep the pace fresh and vibrant, to the way Ezra Koenig’s lyrics don’t so much question hurtful past actions but rather evoke the immediate emotions that riddle the soul soon after. They’re trendy, if you will.
Vampire Weekend’s first two records had the ability to satisfy listeners while they were being spun on the platter, no more and no less (and they still hold up to that distinction), and they seemed to really only function as unadulterated pop listening. Though many trends die the moment after they’re created, those that stand the test of time become iconic standards, and I believe Vampire Weekend has taken that step forward with Modern Vampires of the City.
This album is so dramatic in its leap toward varied styles, thought-provoking lyrics, and meaty production that you could mistake it for the band’s rock opera. Most importantly of all, they sound like they’re in media res with Modern Vampires of the City — this is a band that could possibly pull off said rock opera because they’ve had a career storied enough to warrant such a shift.
Part of what makes the album so much more engrossing than Vampire Weekend’s previous efforts is that the band speaks thematically this time around, which achieves more than simply driving the album’s narrative. Modern Vampires of the City acts as a subjective homage to New York City, the place where the band was founded and a location that thrives on its social/cultural/political diversity.
The album puts a heavier emphasis on variety, and there’s a wealth of it here. We see the band attempting and succeeding at a number of styles both new and old, with a track like “Diane Young” featuring horns, pitch benders, and a construction that throws back to the greatest mid-50s rock and roll hits by Chuck Berry. Or “Don’t Lie,” which includes a thumping bass, an electric organ, and a string section and that could have easily been a possible last-minute cut from The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour.
But there’s a creeping cohesion to it all thanks to the boost forward in Koenig and Rostam Batmanglij’s songwriting. There’s a lot of talk of New York City throughout the album, from the mention of Astor in “Step” to lines about the Hudson Bay in “Hudson,” and all of these name drops provide us with a context with which to make sense of the albums’s lyrics and musical influences. If having the skyline seeped in smog suggests anything, it’s that there’s a deeper connection between all of these places than the kaleidoscopic center that is New York City.
Koenig and Rostam’s relationship is on display here more than ever, and they artfully balance the lyrical and instrumental progression of each track to create a full-bodied piece of work. Just look at a song like the potential single “Unbelievers” or the blissful, piano-centric ballad “Hannah Hunt” — both songs are intricately designed but there’s a groove to their individual dynamics that makes it feel as if Koenig and Rostam have been churning out music like this all their lives.
That’s how Modern Vampires of the City works for its entirety. Each track offers waves of practical and spectacular form while serving up varied song styles. There isn’t one track on here that isn’t worth having, and they add up to a particular whole that reveals the strength the band’s been hinting at all this time.
Modern Vampires of the City doesn’t so much solidify Vampire Weekend as one of indie rock’s best talents, but it proves to be an incredibly thoughtful and diverse entry in 21st century music. The band can harness the power hinted at on their self-titled debut, and they appear in full control this time around. The album may be considered the end of a trilogy, but I’ll always look at it as the start of a band in media res, a point in time from which they can journey without hesitation and be absolutely fearless.
Modern Vampires of the City is available tomorrow on XL Recordings.
Vampire Weekend North American Tour Dates:
05/15 Boston, MA – Agganis Arena
05/16 Toronto, Ontario – Sony Centre
05/17 Detroit, MI – The Fillmore Detroit
05/19 Kansas City, MO – Midland Theater
05/20 Denver, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheatre
05/21 Salt Lake City, UT – Red Butte Garden Amphitheater
05/23 Portland, OR – Keller Auditorium
05/24 The Gorge, WA – Sasquatch Music Festival
06/23 Dover, DE – Firefly Festival
08/04 Chicago, IL – Lollapalooza
08/09 Squamish, BC – Squamish Music Festival
08/11 San Francisco, CA – Outside Lands Festival
09/20 New York, NY – Barclays Center
09/28 Hollywood, CA – Hollywood Bowl
10/04 Austin, TX – Austin City Limits Festival
10/08 Kansas City, MO – Midland Theater
For more info: