It seems as though Vampire Weekend is trying to stray away from being Vampire Weekend. To put it more accurately, the New York-based quartet are recognized today for their preppy fashion sense, post-collegiate anthems, and Afro-pop oriented sound. Garnering critical praise and an indie-going-on-mainstream status, Vampire Weekend has also acquired a cult following from music listeners, who most likely associate the band as the “ultimate indie pop group.” Unfortunately, this has made it inevitable for the group to leave their comfort zone and to keep continuing to make the same predictable music. Despite the increase of popularity and sold-out concerts, it already seemed like people knew what was in store for new Vampire Weekend music. Luckily, all four band members have taken the extra mile to produce one of this year’s most anticipated and highly acclaimed albums, their third full-length record Modern Vampires of the City.
After the release of their 2008 cult classic self-titled debut and 2010’s similarly appealing Contra, Vampire Weekend used the opportunity to take extra measures and enhance their foreseeable sound by experimenting with different genres. Even if this meant losing fans, their artistic integrity would still remain intact, especially after the circulation of an outrageous hoax of their rumored album cover and title Lemon Sounds in late January. With a three year recording process and taken place in various locations, including New York, Los Angeles, and Martha’s Vineyard, the “anti-publicity” of MVOTC kept the mystery that was beginning to emanate off Vampire Weekend and their predictable aura. Thankfully, the four-man outfit received help from record producer Ariel Rechtshaid, whose mainstream work includes Usher, Charli XCX, and Snoop Lion. Notwithstanding the aid from an unconventional source, Rechtshaid helped Vampire Weekend distance away from the sound they’ve been so heavily associated with, which also meant going back to the drawing board several times and essentially scrapping songs that could’ve easily been catchy, chart-topping hits.
With bewitching lyrics written by lead singer Ezra Koneig and a flawless production, Modern Vampires of the City is an unpredictably insightful, heartwarming, and mesmerizing album that incorporates diverse sounds without losing sight of some of the band’s old practical rhythms. So far, the record has impressed both fans, critics, and even haters, some of whom having encountered a divine change-of-heart thanks to this album. Most of MVOTC‘s best songs can be considered instant masterpieces, much like their previous songs “A-Punk,” “Oxford Comma,” “Cousins,” and “Holiday.” But more importantly, it encompasses much more complex storytelling, darker themes, and unusual recording assets, including pitch shifting on the hyperactive, toe-tapping lead single “Diane Young.” The noisy 60s-influenced jive is one of the most energetic songs off Modern Vampires of the City, as well as one of the many highlights.
With the exception of the organ driven “Don’t Lie,” the fast paced “Finger Back,” and the ukelele-strumming “Worship You,” the majority of the album also evokes a dramatic ambience, which again exemplifies Vampire Weekend’s exploration of diverse sounds. Opener “Obvious Bicycle” instantly sets off a cathartic reaction of subtlety, as the sounds of piano riffs and (what sounds like) a pogo stick play in the background. Two standout tracks in the first half of the record — the atheist anthem “Unbelievers” and the haunting “Step” — are very different in style and lyrics, but both are equally catchy and masterful. “Ya Hey,” another enchanting tune, can be considered the weirdest song off MVOTC, with a pipsqueak vocal shouting the title intermittently, but nevertheless is another great addition to the impeccable work of Vampire Weekend. The sharp violins playing in the beginning of “Everlasting Arms” already grabs you enough to listen to the rest; the ambient “Hannah Hunt” is a delightful love ballad, despite the title deriving from one of Koneig’s college classmates (not lovers); “Hudson” is perhaps their darkest song, with the insertion of a ghostly backup choir and pouding snares, but it’s still very promising. Though the last song, “Young Lion,” is less than two minutes, its spine-chilling, piano driven composition and angelic vocals, is just as spellbinding as the rest of the album.
The album artwork, which isn’t the vintage image of a girl in a yellow, droopy dress that circulated in January, is a picture of Manhattan, taken in 1966 during the smoggiest day in New York. Despite the image’s bleak quality (and the fact that the “smoggiest day in New York” killed 169 people), it invokes a somewhat dystopian future for America, if not to say for Vampire Weekend’s future. But understanding this idea of the past and the future demonstrates the group’s visual aesthetic and analytical insight on life and the world we live in. Perhaps Modern Vampires of the City has not only changed the group’s sound, but indicates how mature they really are as artists and as individuals.
Vampire Weekend has come a long way from being soft-spoken Columbia University undergrads to a musically acclaimed band of 29-year-olds whose sensibility shouldn’t be underestimated by their youth. Somehow, Vampire Weekend has really grown and evolved into an iconic collective and thankfully, the product of their astute attitudes is another great album and one to remember for years to come.
Top Tracks: “Obvious Bicycle,” “Unbelievers,” “Step,” “Diane Young,” “Ya Hey,” “Young Lion”