Release Date: May 14, 2013
Record label: XL
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock
It's official: Vampire Weekend really don't give a fuck about an Oxford comma. On their third album, Ezra Koenig and the band have rid themselves, once and for all, of the precious post-collegiate references that used to be their calling card: The girls of Wellfleet have scattered, and apparently that second horchata didn't go down as smooth as the first. Koenig is now an old 29; adulthood is inescapable; a clock is ticking in his head.
“It’s really hard to even talk about the internet without seeming instantly corny," Ezra Koenig told Pitchfork recently, "even the word 'blog' sounds a little grandma-y." He should know. The Vampire Weekend singer and lyricist gave up on his own Blogspot site, Internet Vibes, seven years ago, as he finished up his English studies at Columbia University (the final post's title: "I HATE BLOGGING"). But before he graduated from the ye olde blogosphere, Koenig held forth on a vast array of topics-- from geography, to Wellington boots, to music writer Robert Christgau's allegedly unfair critique of Billy Joel's oeuvre-- looking at everything from a incisively self-aware, curious, and optimistic angle.
Honestly, I never expected Vampire Weekend to do much after their excellent debut album. I figured they’d always be striving to meet the high expectations set by an iconic debut, endlessly falling short and fading into obscurity. If 2010’s Contra challenged my assumptions, then Modern Vampires of the City absolutely shatters them. This is a fully realized Vampire Weekend, one that has transcended their Graceland/Afro-Pop influences and criticisms into something entirely their own.
It wouldn't be surprising to find that Vampire Weekend had worn out their welcome five years after the release of their self-titled debut. After all, they look like the antagonists from a John Hughes movie with their precise outfits and coiffed hair. Intelligent, good-looking, apparently well-adjusted: it just doesn't seem fair that these four smiling gentlemen would be able to hang around in the public consciousness and maintain relevance while making such warm and catchy pop music.
Precocious Ivy Leaguers with an arch, slyly comic secondhand sound, Vampire Weekend has always seemed slightly younger than their years, one of consequences of their intently cultivated collegiate image, replete with prepped-out garb and snappy, tongue-in-cheek lyricism. Across two deceptively complex albums, they spun songs redolent of campus quad hangouts and New England summer vacations, merging those memories under the unlikely aegis of recycled Afro-pop tropes. The truly mature Modern Vampires of the City, however, is a big departure, charting the perils and pleasures of adulthood with impressive, singular range.
It’s been five years, three albums, an SNL appearance, countless festival performances and one lawsuit from an unwitting album-cover model since Vampire Weekend dropped its self-titled debut, and still the class thing remains the predominant talking point about the band. Riding hard for the Upper West Side, the group turned its liberal arts degrees into American pop music that appropriated Afropop and songs that sent listeners to look up what the hell a mansard roof or an Oxford comma is. Of course, timing is everything, and if Vampire Weekend’s rise hadn’t coincided with the country’s severe financial faceplant, maybe their boat shoes and Columbia enrollment might not have been so big a deal.
Who gives a fuck about a Vampire Weekend privilege narrative? It’s been argued about every which way since early 2008 when Nitsuh Abebe first wrote the words “Afro/preppy/new-wave combination,” and this concept somehow upset a lot of Anglican Anglophobes, who banded together to write an astonishing number of think pieces that would make Odd Future jealous. Not to say those essays weren’t worthwhile, but let’s not retrace those steps. We’ve done it for two album cycles now, and neither the defenders, the detractors, nor Vampire Weekend themselves are going to change the conversation.
Vampire WeekendModern Vampires of the City[XL Recordings; 2013]By Joshua Pickard; May 21, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetIn recent interviews, Vampire Weekend singer and lead guitarist Ezra Koenig has made mention of the fact that he and the rest of the band purposefully went against their pop instincts during the recording of their third record Modern Vampires of the City — specifically that if a song felt too radio friendly, it had to be distorted in some way. And while the songs on this album do hint at a darker perspective from the band than either their debut or Contra alluded to, the band, possibly despite their best intentions, have still made some of the catchiest, most hook filled pop songs that you’re likely to come across this year. Even when the lyrics tend toward the murkier aspects of human nature and experience (generally amid indelible sing-a-long choruses), you can practically see the sardonic smirk plastered across Koenig’s face.
Photo by Alex John Beck.
VAMPIRE WEEKEND play the Sony Centre tonight (Thursday, May 16). See listing. Rating: NNNN The smoggy New York City photo that covers Vampire Weekend's third album is a grimy introduction to an otherwise elegant and meticulously produced meditation on youthful vanity and the weight of time. Critics have dismissed the group's past energetic forays into Afro-pop as callously ironic cultural pillaging, but the four-piece have moved on from such influences, expanding their eclectic sound in earnest.
At the time of its release, Modern Vampires of the City was touted as a "deeper" offering from Vampire Weekend. While that's true to an extent, it downplays the equally heartfelt and clever songs on their first two albums. What is undeniable is that Modern Vampires is a lot less obviously showy than the band's previous work.
On paper, Vampire Weekend is mind-numbingly precocious in the way that turns many people away from indie rock’s incessant hipsterisms. Frontman Ezra Koenig fills his dizzying circumlocutions with as many quirky references as possible, evidenced by “Horchata”, the opening cut from its 2010 LP Contra: “In December drinking horchata/I’d look psychotic in a balaclava.” The band incorporates non-mainstream styles and genres—Afrobeat on its self-titled debut is one example—that demonstrate an interest in musical diversity that some might class as “eccentric”. And, most tellingly, these guys are all young (late twenties, to be exact), but their music is enamored with growing old.
As the title and the aerial cover shot of a mysterious, clouded Gotham City suggest, Vampire Weekend's latest album concerns itself with New York, the city from which the former Columbia undergraduates have observed the manners of the east coast elite since 2006. The Hudson river gets a namecheck, on a minor key rat-a-tat of a song that begins with the explorer for whom New York's river is named. The rest of the American continent looms large in the distance, just out of shot.
When Vampire Weekend released their debut album in 2008, they were selling a particularly American brand of upper-crust New England Ivy League study-abroad-influenced indie rock with notable African influences and popped collars. 2011’s follow-up, Contra, did a similar trick and while references to grammatical rules and Cape Cod architecture were not as immediately noticeable, the two albums are close cousins. But when the schtick grows old and the ivy withers on the vine, everyone in their darkest, longest, drunkest nights worries about growing old and being forgotten.
After the eager, school days feel of their debut and the worldly influences of Contra, Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig has called Modern Vampires of the City a return home, of sorts. It makes perfect sense; the album is both more mature and personal than anything they've done previously, providing a ruminative, thoughtful take on love and death seen through the prism of temporality: "Though we live on the U. S.
Reading on mobile? Click here to view video Those searching for evidence that, even in a world shrunk by the internet, culture from across the Atlantic can still seem beguilingly exotic to a British audience, might consider the case of Vampire Weekend. They arrived in 2008, a riot of preppy clothes, neat hair, African-inspired guitars and songs that suggested Ivy League backgrounds: replete with titles like Campus and Diplomat's Son, with lyrical references to punctuation, 17th-century architecture and "good schools and friends with pools". The band have protested about the detrimental effect all this had on the way they were perceived by those who didn't grasp that there was an element of role-playing involved.
The third album is the one where a band is supposed to make its big jump, but Vampire Weekend got a bit ahead of themselves. After the buzz-band hyperbole of their self-titled 2008 debut album, they came back two years later with Contra, a stunning, self-assured leap in terms of both depth and innovation. So where do they go from that peak? On their newest, the cheekily named Modern Vampires Of The City, they respond by raising the stakes and their ambition.
Let’s get some things out of the way upfront 1) the new record by Vampire Weekend is the best alternative pop album you will hear this year. Unselfconscious, technically brilliant in a way that crucially you will never actually notice, shimmering with beautiful, strange melodies and just a small smidge of actual bonkers. 2) Beyond this sentence, this review will not feature any of the following words or phrases: 'preppy', 'posh', 'college', 'Paul Simon', 'monied', 'Afro-' anything, 'fraternity', 'smug', 'button downed' or 'bafflingly sockless hipsters' (although in the latter case that’s a hard one to resist).
If lots and lots of people love you and just as many people hate you, you are doing something right.Vampire Weekend, as we all know by now, rode the wave of Pitchfork hype to stardom and wireless printer commercials. Fame. Fortune. Judd Apatow-produced movies. They drew in as many haters as lovers ….
Vampire Weekend had the misfortune of arriving in 2008, just as the landfill-indie boom was hitting its peak. Clean-cut and puppyish, the New Yorkers were often dismissed as poster boys for indie music’s most vapid incarnation: the giggly-wiggly, T4 On The Beach pig-noise peddled by the likes of The Wombats (eugh), The Hoosiers (gah) and Scouting For Girls (just kill them). But to align the quartet with such dumbfoolery was to miss the point.
Vampire Weekend is touting their third album, Modern Vampires of the City, as the conclusion of a trilogy. And that descriptor sort of makes sense—their self-titled debut introduced the world to the Columbia grads who could converse with both Cape Cod and Lil Jon, 2010's Contra expanded their palette to more international (and less annoyingly precocious) concerns, and this newest album brings their efforts back to New York, quite literally if you take the cover photo and title at face value. Even the lyric video for "Step" seems to suggest the band wants to be modern-day Woody Allens, recording the pulse of the city through their art in order to say something deeper about all of us.
The modern, thinking indie rock fan’s band of choice, Vampire Weekend return from extended leave with their third album. While MVOTC doesn’t represent a seismic leap from their earlier material, the general feeling is of a much more considered collection, with greater emphasis on song craft. The immediate highlight is first single Step, in which frontman Ezra Koenig seems to draw inspiration from early 90s hip-hop collective Souls Of Mischief’s Step To My Girl.
“Perhaps the young of this generation haven’t the stamina to launch the epochal transformation they seek; but there should be no mistaking the fact that they want nothing less. ‘Total rejection’ is a phrase that comes readily to their lips, often before the mind provides even a blurred picture of the new culture that is to displace the old. – Theodore Roszak, The Making of a Counter Culture The opening lines of Modern Vampires of the City speak a thousand truths: “Mornings come you watch the red sunrise/ The LED still flickers in your eyes/ Oh, you oughta spare your face the razor/ Because no one’s gonna spare the time for you.
If nothing else, I at least have to give Vampire Weekend this: with the release of their third album Modern Vampires of the City, they have almost entirely done away with the tired narratives that surrounded their first two (great) albums. No more will you hear about cultural appropriation, polo shirts, and the Ivy League; these discourses have been abolished in favor of one praising the band for their newfound maturity. Intuitively, this seems like great news: the endless speculation around Vampire Weekend’s collective mores and social identity often masked the music underneath, which was at its core breezy and agile indie pop.
Sometimes strange things happen and bands once easily written off go and do something completely unexpected, like making a record so good that it forces the listener to reconsider most of their preconceived notions and hang-ups about that band and their audience. Sometimes that listener is me and the band is Vampire Weekend and the record is Modern Vampires of the City, and this combination throws me into crisis mode. Like most of the Glow’s staff, this hasn’t been a band I’ve been particularly fond of.
Your future has disappeared, but you can always Keep Calm And Have A Cupcake. So says much of modern indie, offering twee songs about skipping through the meadows with a farmer's daughter while Southern Europe teeters on the brink of implosion and your dreams of sitting on a beanbag in a funky creative industries job are shredded like damp lettuce. So it's nice to hear someone in their twenties, you know, confronting reality in any way at all, even if you might not have expected it from Vampire Weekend.
“I Think UR a Contra,” which closed out Vampire Weekend’s last album, 2010’s “Contra,” revealed a side most people didn’t associate with the New York indie-rock band: tenderness. Looking back, it’s clear that song, which struck a particularly elegiac note, was the first sign of what to expect on “Modern Vampires of the City,” the quartet’s strong new third album that marks a huge leap forward. Showing a maturity in both the songwriting and musical ideas, it’s the rare third record that abandons what came before it.
What do we talk about when we talk about Vampire Weekend? Initially so much of the discussion focused on the band’s effete image and what many saw as that image’s uncomfortable marriage to Afropop. The undeniable quality of Contra, the band’s second album, pushed the distracted talk about signifiers of privilege into the background, and now, save for the vocalising in the chorus of ‘Ya Hey’ and the ‘Graceland’ bounce of rubbery bass and drums on ‘Everlasting Arms,’ the band’s African influences are nowhere to be found either. So what now? On their new album, Modern Vampires of The City, Vampire Weekend sound like a band in complete control.
Vampire Weekend has referred to Modern Vampires of the City as the final installment in a trilogy of LPs. You can trace the progression in "Everlasting Arms" and "Finger Back," which introduce a few wrinkles to the band's steam-pressed Afro-pop. Yet the New Yorkers' third album also sounds a lifetime removed from its 2008 postcollegiate debut, working, as its cover suggests, on more of a grayscale to offset its typical summer colors.
“I’ve had dreams of Boston all of my life,” Ezra Koenig sang in “Ladies of Cambridge,” the B-side to Vampire Weekend’s first single in 2007. Six years later, he seems to be perfectly content with New York. Manhattan has dominated the press roll-out for Modern Vampires of the City. The album cover makes it fairly clear what city these modern vampires roam in.
If you’ve done something right the first time, where is the need to recreate it? Looking back on what has worked so well for Vampire Weekend in the past—wistful Afro-pop, earthy Caribbean instrumentation and lyrics about punctuation—it becomes clear that recreating past glories simply wasn’t an option for the band’s third album, Modern Vampires Of The City. In a jarringly beautiful manner, Vampire Weekend has grown. Working with production svengali Ariel Rechtshaid (Charli XCX, Usher), the group has employed every tool at its disposal: sampling, the subtle wah-wah of pitch-shifting, Rostam Batmanglij’s expressive ingenuity on the keys and an overarching melancholia.
Listening to ‘Modern Vampires Of The City’ you start to recognise what a singularly odd band Vampire Weekend are. Their first two full-lengths have sold nearly 1.2 million combined copies, yet theirs was always a sound delightfully out of sync with everything else. This third album opens with ‘Obvious Bicycle’, whose percussion sounds like someone jumping up and down on a pogo stick.