If you’re reading reviews about Vampire Weekend’s third album, Modern Vampires of the City, you are gonna hear the word “mature” over and over. The band has (intentionally?) cultivated a reputation for being bratty smartasses. Whether it be the lyrics centered around posh lifes or the ironic wardrobes of the band members, I think that Vampire Weekend has been disregarded in some circles as being aggressively twee. Modern Vampires of the City is set to change some minds though — the album, and the lyrics in particular, is in my mind, the band’s career highlight thus far. Modern Vampires of the City is thoughtful, catchy, fun, weird, and well-crafted. On this album, Vampire Weekend captures some of the magic that made Animal Collective’s Merriwether Post Pavilion so good — the songs here are strange, eclectic, and progressive, but for all of its unfamiliar parts, everything is centered with great pop-centric melodies.
Vampire Weekend’s bread-and-butter has been their ability to take modern indie rock and fuse it with traditionally-African sounds. While this is still largely true on the quartet’s third album, it may be less true than it has been on previous albums. Instead, the music feels more eclectic here than it ever has been before. Every now and then, the guitars or vocals will twang with some of the African motifs, but for the most part, the band seems more interested in trying out new instruments or vocal modulations. The album begins with “Obvious Bicycle” and “Believers.” These first two songs are fine, the first is a midtempo, laid back song that doesn’t really announce the album in any way; the second track is more upbeat with some folk/americana vibes carrying it through its run time. However, beginning with the third track, “Step” the band finds its footing — the song has a well worn feeling, both musically and lyrically, as frontman Ezra Koenig recalls the places that he has been, presumably on tour away from home. It’s characterized by a soft melancholia that never overplays the emotion.
“Diane Young” seems to be one of the early favorites on the record. The song is a fast, synthesizer-driven, R&B-infused pop song — where I may have called attention to the lyrics on Modern Vampires of the City, this track certainly isn’t a good showcase of that. Instead, the song is just 2 minutes and 40 seconds of good times and fun. “Hannah Hunt” recalls some of the same sounds that “Step” uses, but to arguably greater effect: it’s one of the most warm and beautiful songs on the record with just the right amount of restraint. “Everlasting Arms” is driven by African-themed percussion; the bass and keys take a backseat to the drums and vocals here. The song has a strong melody, and it sounds the most familiar of the bands’ work out of all of the tracks collected here. “Ya Hey” is one of the catchier songs on the album, and it makes use of some high vocal modulation that is sure to annoy some — the band makes it work here in this context though. The lyrics deal with religious/existential doubt as seen from a young Jewish person — who knew crippling religious doubt sound so fun? “Ya Hey” (or “Yaweh” — get it?) is probably my favorite track on the entire record. The final track, “Young Lion” is less than two minutes long, and it leaves the record on a note that is just as fuzzy, grey, and distant as the album’s cover art.
I would recommend this album to anyone interested in modern alternative/indie rock. Vampire Weekend’s third album shows a band that grown tremendously since 2010’s Contra — the music and lyrics are all sophisticated but not stuffy, different but not pretentious, and well crafted but not overly technical. I would recommend Modern Vampires of the City to fans of Yeasayer, Animal Collective, MGMT, or Passion Pit. If you are a fan of the band, hearing this album is non-optional. If you’ve listed to the band’s previous two records and not been impressed, Modern Vampires of the City offers enough new sounds and ideas that the band may be worth trying out again. Myself, I wasn’t head-over-heels for their self-titled debut or Contra, but I absolutely love this album. I really hate the name of it though (I’ve been trying not to comment on it this entire review).
Essential tracks to sample/download: “Diane Young,” “Ya Hey,” “Hannah Forever,” and “Everlasting Arms.”