For fans of and anyone even vaguely familiar with Vampire Weekend, the maturity of their latest album, Modern Vampires of the City will be evident upon the very first listen. Let me provide a statement that is undoubtedly going to become redundant when referring to this album: Vampire Weekend are all grown up.
Modern Vampires of the City is Vampire Weekend as men and not the boys that had us dancing to the perky, preppy, absolutely poppy, collegiate adventures of their self titled debut album and the synthy, world pop follow-up, Contra. Their debut was casual like a jam sesh on Columbia University’s lawn in between classes and on Contra, their horizons were broadened; lead singer and songwriter, Ezra Koenig’s lyrical skills were strengthening, but their tongue-in-cheek self proclaimed “Upper West Side Soweto” sound remained fundamentally the same. In short, Vampire Weekend and Contra were two halves of a whole and Modern Vampires of the City embodies the growth and maturity that a bands third album should.
.It is undeniable that Vampire Weekend have always been like-able, but with Modern Vampires, instead of being charmed into catchy hooks our affinity is earned and that makes for a more rewarding listen. Consequently, the Afro-pop guitars and Paul Simon Graceland comparisons are still very easily discerned as this album’s foundation. Vampire Weekend knew what they were doing when they created themselves as the freewheelin’ Ivy leaguers; adulthood was inevitable, as was analyzing more mature themes of life, the passage of time, death and even religion. This perfectly orchestrated progression has made the maturation of their sound that much more profound. Modern Vampires of the City is being called the third of a trilogy, the end of an era.
“Morning’s come, you watch the red sun rise, the LED still flickers in your eyes,” comes the opening line of the first track “Obvious Bicycle”, immediately painting the scene as that unsettling limbo between the end of the party and the hangover that inevitably follows. This line simultaneously works as the perfect segue between albums and intro into Modern Vampires. The vocals climb a staircase of tinkling piano that continues to ascend above Ezra Koenig’s “Listen, listen. Don’t wait”, which could be misinterpreted as a plea, but could also be the album’s mission statement.
Skittering drumming, crashing cymbals and keys create the inescapable “Unbelievers” before the track flourishes into a lush horn section. The vocals are as luminous as the keys and the lyrics succeed in maintaining optimism despite the track being an admittance of- and almost homage to- skepticism. “I know I love you and you love the sea,” Koenig muses, “wonder if the water contains a little drop, little drop for me.”
On stand-out track, “Step” we catch a glimpse of what has become retro-Vampire Weekend. The cheerful harpsichord reminisces “M79” while vocal manipulation is used to further emphasize one of the new album’s themes of mortality: “Wisdom’s a gift, but you’d trade it for youth.” We’re given only a millisecond to revel attentively in the ghostly closing before the manic “Diane Young”- the album’s first single- explodes and rattles your thoughts loose. Wait, is Koenig singing “dyin’ young”? The play on words is so obvious it hurts, until you realize how well it works: “Irish and proud, baby, naturally, but you got the luck of a Kennedy.” The vocal distortion continues through triumphantly hectic drumming, beachy guitar riffs and reverb, sprinkled with keys. It is a glorious clusterfuck of a song.
Thematically comparable to The Flaming Lips’ track, “Do You Realize??”, Modern Vampires of the City aims to create self awareness, but it also welcomes the urgency of life. Vampire Weekend throw the album’s mission statement out on its ear as they seem to shift audiences with the final “Young Lion”. Their advice to their younger counterparts? “You take your time, Young Lion.”
Assuredly this album will be hailed as one of 2013’s best but more importantly, it will become a milestone in Vampire Weekend’s career.
Purchase Modern Vampires in the City here
-Amanda “The Bearded Lady” Best