As I get older, I realize that I am uncomfortable with constantly taking the “safe route. This sentiment especially applies to the way I feel about the state of music in its evolution. For example, I am always wary of the typical Beatles “fan, due to the simple fact that the revolutionary group is a safe mention to anyone looking for acceptance amongst music aficionados. That is not to say that all Beatles’ fans ONLY refer to the Beatles when talking about music, it is just an observation.
Regardless of my armchair philosophy, I do realize that there is “safe music that is good (at times, even great) and catchy, while also being able to satisfy the left side of the cranium. This is something that New York indie pop outfit Vampire Weekend has been able to constantly do throughout their short but rather definitive career. The quartet continues to do so on their latest full length, Modern Vampires of the City, releasing a collection of accessible, fun and baroque pop songs of the independent persuasion.
Hit the jump for the full review!
Vampire Weekend began their career in 2006 when members of the band met while attending Columbia University. Frontman Ezra Koenig and drummer Chris Tomson met first, with the two remaining members, Chris Baio and Rostam Batmanglij, joining shortly after. In 2008, the band broke through with their self-titled debut, which was met with almost universal acclaim, mainly due to the band’s ambitious and expansive sound, incorporating world music and classical elements.
Two years later, the collective received even more praise for their sophomore effort, Contra, which was the 12th independent record to debut at number one on the Billboard charts. At this point in their career, Vampire Weekend is transitioning from the typical “indie band into something more aspiring and far-reaching. With all of the momentum leading up until this point, Vampire Weekend shows that on Modern Vampires of the City, they have no intention of slowing down.
“Obvious Bicycle kicks off the album in an upbeat way, with its soaring melody and some chorus vocals dabbled in the back of the mix. The piano that comes in about half way through the song is also a nice touch, adding to the uplifting vibe of the track. The lyrics on the track can be interpreted a little differently from the actual music, as Koenig sings “You ought to spare your face the razor/ Cause no one’s gonna spare their time for you. The song is pretty straightforward and it segues nicely into the second song on the album, “Unbelievers, which is even more upbeat in its vibe, as well as its tempo. I strongly believe that fans of Belle & Sebastian would enjoy this track for its subject matter, along with the twee pop sensibilities. In fact, the only thing the differentiates this song from a typical Belle & Sebastian song is Koenig’s distinctive vocals, which are way more engaging and urgent that of Stuart Murdoch.
The album’s first two singles, “Step and “Diane Young, are definitely two of the more standout moments on the album. The former shows Vampire Weekend’s more meditative and charming side. Although I personally believe the boyish charm is kind of corny and can only go so far, I do applaud the songwriting on this track, in addition to the pop allurement. I’m stronger now, I’m ready for the house/ Such a modest mouse Koenig sing, signifying a “step (haha, get it?) in a new direction. “Diane Young turns it UP, containing the swagger of 1950’s swing music, reminiscent of pioneers such as Buddy Holly. What Vampire Weekend adds to this track though is personality, with a capital P, introducing new age production that does not feel “gaudy” or “showoffish,” as well as the pitch-shifted vocals.
Unfortunately, for me, the album feels kind of disoriented on the second half. There are some moments where the band clearly expresses their musical ability and talent, such as “Ya Hey, which features some more uplifting chorus vocals. I also like the synergy of the track and how everything complements each other. I have come to appreciate the song even more since I first heard it and I believe it would be able to grow on me, if it was not for the ANNOYING ASS CHIPMUNK VOCALS. In all seriousness, I believe that the pitch-shifting here worked against Vampire Weekend. While I don’t expect the band to take my personal musical taste into account (courtesy Anthony Fantano), I do believe that the band exhibited more interesting and better performed musical ideas elsewhere on the LP.
Another example is the song “Finger Back, where Koenig sings this weird, sped up and paranoid-like vocal melody. It sounds pretty obnoxious, to the point where it is hard getting through the entire song. The task would have not been a hard one if the actual music on the track motivated me to listen through. To make matters worse, this is not the case, for the instrumentation on the track is one of the more underdeveloped moments, musically, on the album. This track does not display the ensemble’s full potential and if this was my first exposure to Vampire Weekend, I would have ignored listening to the album.
The album does redeem itself on the last two songs, “Hudson and “Young Lion. The former conveys more of a minimalist approach, with an ambient backdrop set with some more chorus vocals. Similar to some moments earlier in the album, “Hudson offers a godly coda, tugging at your spirituality (or lack thereof). “Young Lion ends off the album in a humble way: it is a simple piano ballad, one that rings “chamber music. Koenig insists that “You take your time, Young Lion, as if this lion has all of the time in the world. Maybe he is singing to the entire audience in general. Regardless of who he is singing to, the song offers some closure.
All in all, I found Modern Vampires of the City to be enjoyable, for what it is worth. Granted, I clearly SEE the talent and musicianship in the members of this band. I understand their pop appeal and chic style and how well they can craft songs. I want to be able to see what others can see on this album, feel what they feel. However, in the end, Vampire Weekend did not offer enough for me, personally, in order for me to keep coming back to this album in its entirety. I will probably come back to tracks such as “Diane Young and “Hudson but in the end, this LP did not have the edge or guts that I look for in music. Albums such as Monomania, Silence Yourself and You’re Nothing will provide me with that fuel.
– I do not knock you if you are feeling this album. Modern Vampires of the City is one of this year’s most accessible and fun albums. If you are looking for a band that displays some tight and intricate musicianship, in addition to some strong songwriting, please check out this new Vampire Weekend LP.
– If you want to feel like a tough guy or you just like some “edge to your music, then steer clear. That is not to say that this album is not ambitious or that it is boring, it just does not pump up the testosterone. You may want to dance… but you will dance nicely and obey the rules. Also, the collegiate boy charm may be off-putting for some people (I know it was for me).
Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City is available at Fuzz Records.