Modern Vampires of the City
Vampire Weekend’s third album, Modern Vampires of the City, is a far cry from their obsessive, jubilant pop. Instead of being their typical moody record, Modern Vampires of the City raised the stakes for Vampire Weekend’s music and demonstrates a new ambition for complex and engaging songwriting.
The apparent precedent for the album’s sound is “I Think Ur A Contra,” the closing track of the band’s previous album. Like that song, Modern Vampires of the City is sparse yet expansive, and flourishes like the lilting piano of “Hannah Hunt” or the staccato guitar of “Everlasting Arms” are given room to spread out and echo to maximum effect. Songs like “Step” and “Unbelievers” have a type of waltzing stagger, and “Diane Young” rocks out with a heavy mix of doo-wop vocals and garage guitars. The scope is wider, the instrumental palate is greater (bagpipes, saxophone, choirs), and, unlike their other albums, the music never truly grows stale.
Frontman Ezra Koenig’s writing has grown far more complex, and when he spreads out and waxes poetic about love, death and God, it rarely fails. “Hannah Hunt” is a touching personal vignette, “Step” is New York street prophesy filtered through cultural allusion, and “Hudson” brings a Kinksian wonder to Koenig’s titular war hero. The crowning lyrical achievement is “Ya Hey,” where Koenig addresses the Almighty and manages to create a dialogue that is neither angsty nor overwrought.
Yet despite its many triumphs, the whole of Modern Vampires never truly comes together. The derivative afro-beat rhythms remain, and a few of the up tempo songs feel out of place on an otherwise reflective record. And while it is easily the best Vampire Weekend album to date, Modern Vampires never consistently fulfills the experimental ambition that its best tracks demonstrate.
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