Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City (Three Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are three reactions, three impressions, three takes on Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend.
Two stellar and critically acclaimed albums, you’d expect Vampire Weekend to follow the similar formula and keep it relatively safe. However with their third album, Modern Vampires of the City, Ezra Koenig and company manage to shake things up a lot; gone are the world music influences that really influenced their percussion more than anything, and a lot of songs on this record, such as “Obvious Bicycle”, but there’s also some energetic and fun little ditties on this record such as “Unbelievers” and the lead-off single, “Diane Young”, however, the highlight of the record is in the slow cooker jam “Hannah Hunt” which keeps everything subdued and makes for a nice slow burner, and the same goes for “Hudson”, which unlike Hannah carries a lot more percussive glitching and makes for an eerie tune. That’s the great thing about Vampire Weekend, three albums down the line they look for ways to shake things up and have successfully done so with Modern Vampires of the City.
It’s been awhile since I subjected myself to an entire Vampire Weekend album, I feel like I am in retail chains often enough to keep myself familiar with most of the band’s songs. The newest installment of these, Modern Vampires of the City, feels a bit more “serious” than its precedents. The songs are chock full of accoutrements like electronic distortion, chamber pop elements, sampling, and other needless detritus that seeks to add gloss to otherwise simple pop songs. That being said, as far as pop goes, there are some hooks here that work pretty well for the band’s purposes. Still, I think Vampire Weekend were at their best when they were creating pretension-free (well relatively) sparse pop tunes. Modern Vampires sounds to me like a band who has started believing its own hype and are adjusting their sound to fit that mold (i.e. less fun, more “substance”). It does work for the band some of the time – there are a few tunes like “Step,” “Hudson” and “Young Lion” that I didn’t mind. But otherwise I don’t really think this sound is for me.
One of us has changed. When I first heard Vampire Weekend’s debut material in late 2007/early 2008, I loved it. I thought their debut LP was quirky and smartly walked the line between being art-sy and pretentious, incorporating various sounds that didn’t feel ham-fisted or overtly exploitative. They wrote tracks that were easy to digest, but didn’t feel like bloated attempts to write generic pop songs for people who are willing to pay $50 to see a concert in a theater. I was even there at their first show in Minneapolis, the mega sold out shindig at the Triple Rock Social Club, and loved it. Now, five years later, I am on the opposite side of the fence. I found myself, through the few times I was able to listen to this record, reaffirming all of the negative things things I argued against just a few years back. Their new album, Modern Vampires of the City, finds me entering the skin of the detractors I disagreed with not so long ago. It sounds like rich frat boys got a belly full of bud light lime, had their parents bankroll a slick studio and took a giant shit on their ironic eight-track version of Graceland. I tried to find a song I could say “but the redeeming track on the otherwise disappointing album was…,” but I genuinely couldn’t find a track where I felt comfortable saying that. Ultimately, my strongest connection to this record was during the lyric from the glossy pop song “Unbelievers,” where Ezra Koenig asked “I’m not excited, but should I be?” Either I’ve wandered off into a new musical world, or the band have regressed into the negative caricature I once dismissed. Either way, I’m not excited.