Three albums into their career, Vampire Weekend has only progressively gotten better at their craft. In 2008 they released their self-titled debut, which proved to be a cerebrally focused pop-punk album that was a half hour of smart, heavily influenced fun. In the 2010 release Contra, the lyrics only increasingly became more clever, and the music became more layered and complex. Now enter Modern Vampires of the City, where that tack-sharp wit has only seemed to have gotten sharper once again, and their music still remains fresh. The formula is still there. It’s still a concise forty minute album that is chock-full of iconic and modern pop references as well as heavy influences from the likes of not only the usual comparisons of Paul Simon and The Clash, but even some Dick Dale and Buddy Holly. Bundle all this up with Vampire Weekend’s own unique form of jangly baroque-pop music with a bit of a punk-ass attitude and you have Modern Vampires of the City. They truly have become a unique staple to modern music, and one of the more intelligent bands of recent years.
The biggest difference in this album compared to the previous two, is the atmospheric presence that Modern Vampires of the City has. Songs like “Step”, “Don’t Lie”, “Finger Back”, “Worship You” and “Ya Hey” all feel like they were recorded atop some sky-scraping rooftop in the heart of an abandoned New York City. You can almost hear Ezra’s voice echoing through the caverns of the buildings. “Step” is my favorite from the album. Ezra’s poetic flow has never been more potent. The channeling of Paul Simon that everyone always alludes to is still prevalent in songs like “Step” and “Ya Hey”, but in this album that influence almost seems fused with a Beatles branded LSD phase as well. Overall, the album isn’t as filled with the danceable pop moments as the previous two, which is my only complaint, but with songs like “Diane Young” and “Finger Back” you better at least keep your dancing shoes on hand.
I agree with Todd that Vampire Weekend is quickly becoming one of the smartest pop bands of our generation. What separates their latest, Modern Vampires of the City, is it takes the pop sensibilities and creative daftness of their first two albums and adds a soul: speaking on God, life, love and death with a refreshing amount of transparency in an irony-filled musical landscape. The crowning achievement and arguably thesis statement behind the album lies in “Ya Hey” – which is slightly veiled version of the Jewish name for God, Yahweh – finds Koenig confronting God head on. Koenig finds himself landing on the side of unbelief, but can’t help think that he has “made some mistake” when considering how he sees God’s “glow” in “this dark place” and hears God’s presence through music, from Desmond Dekker (“Israelites”) to the Rolling Stones (“19th Nervous Breakdown”). Koenig finds the difficult balance of angst and grace in his voice, being one of the most unique pop songs in a long while to tackle faith from a skeptical point of view.
Musically, the expensive music lessons of their privileged childhoods must have paid off, because beyond being pop songwriting savants, the band is as musically proficient as any band today. Keyboardist and co-writer Rostam Batmanglij colors all the songs brilliantly and inventively with his harpsichord, synth, and piano flourishes that often steal the show. Rhythm section Chris Baio (bass) and Chris Tomson (drummer) keep these songs playful and the listener on their toes. Now 3-for-3, Vampire Weekend is beginning to become one of the most significant bands of this generation.
I’m going to be boring and agree wholeheartedly with Wes and Todd’s take on Modern Vampires of the City. I’m not sure I can say Vampire Weekend is currently recording music at a consistently higher level than that of fellow pop musicians in the same sphere. It is pretty rare for a band to be three albums deep without suffering some sort of creative hiccup. But, that is exactly what Vampire Weekend has now accomplished.
I would argue MVotC is VW’s finest album to date, and really appreciate the departure from the more dance-friendly fare they have put out in the past. From the slight opener “Obvious Bicycle” to brief closer “Young Lion”, Vampire Weekend rolls out some of the most beautifully packaged pop tunes we have heard in quite some time. Interestingly, as Wes hits on above, the keyboard player really shines. The simplicity of the keyboard often gives way to deeper layers as the songs move along, but those beginnings are a strength for most of the tracks to build off of.
So, if you are looking for a pop record that is anything but fleeting, grab VW’s latest and finest record and dig in.
Aggregate Rating: 9.5/11 (Our First totally agreed upon rating)
Can’t Miss: “Step”, “Diane Young”, “Ya Hey”, “Finger Back”, “Obvious Bicycle”
Can’t Hit: “Don’t Lie”