Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City
May 14, 2013
What It Sounds Like: Indie rock/pop with, as always, heavy hits of baroque styling and numerous other undefinable characteristics.
This was high on my list of “most anticipated” records of 2013. Their self-titled release back in 2008 broke all the rules of how to be successful: they recorded it at various times, posted tracks outline, and the blogosphere went wild without any promotion at all from the band – they didn’t even have to try – they just caught fire. They were even the first band to ever grace the cover of Spin Magazine before officially releasing their first record. It was insanity. 2010’s Contra was far from a sophomore slump, and saw them taking steps forward in diversity, bringing everything from rave-like tunes to African beats to bits of rap to the forefront, all while completely staying in touch with a very “indie rock” philosophy and never overproducing or over dramatizing themselves.
Could they really do it three times in a row?
Could they really win the triple crown of record releases?
Let me start out by putting it this way: after my first listen through Modern Vampires Of The City, I wanted to rip this record apart and slap it with a three or four out of ten. This wasn’t Vampire Weekend. This was a indie rock band playing slow tempo songs with little inspiration. What’s up with Unbelievers? Could you write a more simple indie-pop song? Hannah Hunt? Four minutes of…almost nothing! Some slight piano, bits of drumming and synth here and there, and a chorus that is slightly amplified at the end. What is this? Talk about taking a band was who really unique and upbeat and turning them into an ordinary, boring mess!
I must stress to you now – that was simply my first listen. It’s a lesson on why you should never judge a book by its cover, or make snap judgments, and why some of the best things in life don’t simply hit you like a bolt of lightning. It’s why “love at first sight” can’t stand on its own two pretty feet. It’s why hearing some unbelievable news for the first time doesn’t usually give you the full story. Slow and steady does win the race. Good things take time.
This is what I came to realize with Modern Vampires Of The City. Is it now my favorite Vampire Weekend record? Not at all. To be honest, my instinct is still telling me that it is my least favorite out of the three, but it is far far far from the initial three I wanted to give it. On this plus side, lyrically – it is by far the deepest and most poetic record that we have gotten from Ezra and the gang – and while musically, after much introspection, it gets a solid seven out of ten, the lyrics undoubtedly bump it up to an eight.
For a rock guy, and for someone who wants to hear upbeat numbers over chilled-out tracks, it was easy to look back and understand my distress. The instrumental power simply isn’t there on this record – the boys decided to take a much more minimal approach, and as much as I love lead single Diane Young, with its rapid-fire drum fills, surf rock guitar breakdowns, and a vocally distorted chorus that I guarantee you will find yourself singing back numerous times – it’s an absolute, possibly unintended magic trick of misdirection, because the rest of the record sounds nothing like it – not even close.
Another lesson to take from this record, and to show you that Vampire Weekend are truly a remarkable collective, is how they manage to make fuller sounding songs while still using so little instrumentation. Step throws us back into a Victorian-era ballroom, Venetian masks and all, with a delicate structure and lustful glances from behind disguises. Maybe she’s gone and I can’t resurrect her / The truth is she doesn’t need me to protect her / We know the true death, the true way of all flesh / Everyone’s dying, but girl you’re not old yet Ezra Koenig sings on a lead-in to one of the catchiest, simple, barely-there chorus deliveries on the record. There’s nothing there, and at the exact same time, everything is in its place. It’s a mystery, but solvable or not, it still works its magic and completes the trick. The same could be said of Everlasting Arms on a slightly different scale – a more upbeat track, but still incredibly simple, but perfectly executed. I took your counsel and came to ruin / Leave me to myself, leave me to myself / Oh I was made to live without you / But I’m never going to understand, never understand. Hardly complicated, wonderfully smooth, easily overlooked – but certainly not one to be missed.
Would you believe me if I told that you that the double-header of Finger Back and Worship You, two of the more upbeat songs on the record, are actually my two least favorite? Not terrible, but if I read that they were leftover B-Sides from Contra, I wouldn’t be surprised.
It’s a crazy world, I know.
Ezra is certainly a man of intricate, thoughtful lyrics – there’s no denying this. Hudson, which speaks of a man (or more possibly many men) who return from war to find themselves lost (ex: Over and over again / All these never-ending visions / Over and over again / Like a prize that’s changing hands) is striking in its sincerity. The epic and much debatable Ya Hey is either 1) Ezra himself mocking God or 2) questioning how our Supreme Creator could love a world that mocks Him to His face. So many questions, so little time for answers.
Are the chipmunk-tuned vocal effects in the chorus really us as people of the world, craving God when we need Him and discarding Him when we don’t in a childlike manner?
Is the phrase Ya Hey a play on Yahweh?
Is Exrz himself included in The fatherland don’t love you / The motherland don’t love you?
When he sings Through the fire and through the flames / You won’t even say your name / Only “I am that I am” / But who could ever live that way? – is he referring to being humbled and awestruck by a God who can continue to love a people who have turned their back on him? Or is he questioning the character of a so-called God and why He would even put up with all of this sin and destruction in the world if He is as all-powerful as He claims?
Do I even have the energy to try to compare/contrast Desmond Decker’s Israelites and The Rolling Stone’s 19th Nervous Breakdown to try to figure all this mess out?
I do not. Certainly not in this write-up. I’m being long-winded as it is.
Look, we all have preconceived ideas. I was ready to rock out to some Cousins and Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa. We’re not doing that here in the slightest, and you know what? They may have only satisfied me on the surface.
We’re being more introspective.
We’re reinventing ourselves once again.
As much as we may think that we want bands to make the same record again (because the sound is already so familiar and catchy to us) – in the long run – we really don’t.
Clones are boring. Restructuring within the same vein is impressive.
This is Vampire Weekend restructured, and with an open mind, it absolutely works.
If you had to listen to two tracks: Diane Young / Step