Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

Vampire Weekend display production and lyrical genius with their best album to date.

Additional Info

9.3

ALBUM: Modern Vampires of the City

ARTIST: Vampire Weekend

2013

Alternative

It is difficult for band to gain credibility when after a couple albums they have produced, critics keep telling them that their aesthetic is preppy, rich kids trying to make accessible music for the indie alternative masses. But what happens after the first, second, and third album have progressed the band well passed this immature stage of lyrical and production ignorance that critics claimed they had? Can they stand by their socio-economical prejudices? But what about the music? What Modern Vampires of the City has officially propagated for Vampire Weekend is that they can watch in satisfaction that those critics go hiding behind their laptops as their third album keeps increasing in popularity, integrity, and profit. One might even call it the album of the year. While undeniably keeping the band’s original upbeat bourgeois rock sound that has been well manifested through their Self-titled album and Contra, Modern Vampires of the City has portrayed almost a type of revolutionized sound for the band, or at least is able to display their versatility. This album displays ingenious experimentations with sounds, playing around warmer vocals, gospel inspired melodies, and the use of quartet instruments while contrasting against the matured lyrical content that focuses on religion, death, to quarreling couples. Without losing the trademark sound that Vampire Weekend has heavily invested in throughout their music career, their third album ricochets them into a whole new level of music mastery.

Pummeled with religious allusions to create an almost existential tone, Modern Vampires of the City is their most intellectual and confrontational album to date. With references to Latin hymns about judgment day to Greek history, one definitely will spend a fair amount of time on Google trying to grasp the meaning of each song. Yet despite the fact that their lyrical content may not be as accessible for the masses, it is what makes their music style and album one of their best. Not only are they making music that has some sense of a brain; they are making it with a brilliant ear too. On this album, the African pop music that has held high influence on them in their earlier work is more subdued but mixes in perfect harmony with other influences including classical music. With production wiz Rostam Batmanglij, the album ranges from dark and solemn on "Hannah Hunt" to that classical mixed with African sound on "Everlasting Arms". The album offers a diverse sound for Vampire Weekend while they experiment with different genres that are not their original preppy rock. With voice manipulation, lots of sampling, and angelic choruses, the band has given birth to something that is comfortable but fresh.

The lyrical genius of this twelve-track album is a key presence to what makes the album shine through with brilliance. Ezra Koenig has crafted lyrics on this album that question an entire institution, maybe even an entire society, many times in a quirky way with playing on words, especially in "Diane Young" and "Ya Hey". Whether it is questioning the name of a God or questioning how one should live his or her life based on age, Koenig tackles these heavy topics with ease and intelligence. The album’s main themes comprise of religion, age, and New York. In all of their albums Vampire Weekend makes a type of ode to the buzzing city. Multiple Manhattan references are thrown around on this album, from a falafel shop to a history lesson on "Henry Hudson". The entire album is infused with clever lyric content with a combination of wise and comical intentions. Lines such as, “Nobody knows what the future holds/ it’s bad enough just getting old/ live my life in self-defense/ You know I love the past, because I hate suspense” on "Diane Young" to “Wisdom’s a gift but you trade it for youth, Age is an honor but it’s still not the truth,” on "Step", make Modern Vampires of the City hold some of the best lyrics written in years. The album has dozens of layers, production wise and lyric wise, which makes it a challenge to fully analyze every bit, but this is what makes it a timeless listen.

What Vampire Weekend has constructed here is an album that not only is radiant in lyrical content and orchestration. That is not only strong enough to break their criticism and cultivate more fans. That is not only strong enough to be voted as one of the best albums of 2013, if not the best. They have constructed an album that is changing the idea of what rock ‘n’ roll should be. They have given birth to a new genre that can be intellectual as well as groundbreaking. Vampire Weekend is not only questioning religion and society, but also music herself. Not only are we seeing a modern version of Vampire Weekend, but as a result, a modern revision of a genre.

"Wisdom’s a gift but you trade it for youth, age is an honor but it’s still not the truth"

1. Obvious Bicycle
The album starts off with a slow paced and anticlimactic track that commands attention with Koenig’s vocals that overpower the simple piano background and African styled drumbeat crafted by Batmanglij. His vocals echo over each other as if in a church setting with the angelic harmonies that glimmer at the latter half of the track. Ending with a simple but elegant piano fade out that sums up the song in a more than satisfactory outro. Aside from the mellow-tempered rhythm, the track has a darker tone when it comes to its lyrics. “You oughta spare your face the razor/ because no one’s gonna spare the time for you,” Koenig dictates to what may be a miserable protagonist or lost generation. The song reads as if counseling to another about trouble with unemployment and that he or she should not have to waste time impressing others if they won’t give he or she the time in the first place. The bleak lyrics leave much room for open interpretation, but the melancholic tone is what makes the song captivating. With the vague lyrics and solemn opening melodies, the album presents a much darker tone than what Vampire Weekend has produced in the past that manifests an intrigue just alone from the well-crafted introduction.9.5
2. Unbelievers
The song ruminates an older sound of Vampire Weekend that reflects classic tracks such as "Holiday" and "A-Punk". It’s upbeat with a pop sound that are apparent in the fast paced drumbeat and whistling organ. The piano that chimes in on the chorus adds to that hyper state of mind that the song commands. The song is a completely opposite transition from the opening, but it is reassuring for the familiar fans of their music since it is not much of change in mood as their title track. What really makes the song exciting is the oddly sounding Scottish inspired horn and piano section bridge that adds to the optimistic and heroic tone. But when listening to the lyrical content of the track, one can tell that this song also holds an odd, melancholic mood. Koenig chirps, “We know the fire awaits unbelievers/all of the sinners the same/ girl, you and I will die unbelievers/ bound to the tracks of the train,” as he is most likely talking about the religious backlash of being heathen. It carries this romantic underbelly as Koenig preaches about how he will bite the dust with his lover. But what makes the song so great is the mockery that Koenig brings to the table about religion. “I know I love you/ and you love the sea/ but what holy water contains a little drop/ little drop for me,” are another example of the religiously charged content. The melody screams old school Vampire Weekend, but the brilliant and mature lyrics bring a new layer of originality to the table. 9.5
3. Step
"Step" is one of songs off the album where one can see that Vampire Weekend has played around with experimentation in production and orchestration. The lyrical content also could be considered one of their best ever written. Using a sample from Souls of Mischief, Step is an intriguing compilation mastered by Batmanglij of a graceful piano riff topped off with a 17th century sounding piano effect, hollowed vocals of Koenig and eerie organ effects. Along with voice manipulation and angelic chorus backup vocals, the song is peculiar, yet beautiful in a whimsical sense. Not only is this track filled with production genius, but also displays lyrical cunning. From lines that are a clear ode to Manhattan with comical relief, “And the punks who would laugh when they saw us together/ well they didn’t know how to dress for the weather/ I can still see them huddled there on Astor,” to honestly, ingenious lines that are weighted with a cringing honesty such as, “Wisdom’s a gift, but you trade it for youth/ Age is an honor but it’s still not the truth,” Koenig has outdone himself on this track with so much content to dive into. From Greek allusions to different locations whether consisting of religious value or extreme commerce, the song jumps around at the beginning making a comment on religion in relation to wealth. The song can very well possibly be an ode to the wonderful lady, music herself, a personification of Koenig’s relationship with music. “Your girl was in Berkeley with her communist reader/ mine was entombed within a boom box and walkman,” Koenig sings as if an isolated music connoisseur. This track will keep the listener running circles in order to find the true meaning whether about music, religion, or the maturation of entire youthful generation that is focused on a number that defines oneself. But who knows? What makes this track brilliant is its ability to captivate, inspire, and question all with a hypnotizing melody. 10.0
4. Diane Young
With a pun about getting old that is at the forefront of this track and a quirky and chaotic rhythm, "Diane Young" is a rollercoaster of wisdom and indie rock excitement. The song is harnessed by a strong and upbeat drums backbone with synth sounds and voice manipulation. This track is proof of the evolution that the band is undergoing because of its chaotic nature. The song erupts about a minute and a half in with a breakdown of drums and screaming guitars all alongside of this video game like keyboard explosion. There is something nostalgic about the song as it collapses and builds back up. It could be the distorted guitar in the background that is reminiscent of classic rock like The Kinks. Or it could be Koenig’s repetition of “baby right on time” that is a modern day try at scatting. This song is chaotic and out of place for the modest band, but not only does the production amaze, the content of the song is just as well crafted. Diane Young referring to “dying young” the song plays off as a funky jam about a girl, but at the heart of the song is a subliminal message. Talking of youth and how getting old sucks lines such as, “Nobody knows what the future holds/ it’s bad enough just getting old/ live my life in self-defense/ You know I love the past, because I hate suspense,” make it relatable and sincere. Koenig toys with the idea of immortality, the inevitability of our fatal absence, but in such a fun way. The song is a great single with depth. It’s the type of song that makes one want to swing their hips while contemplating life, like an existential Elvis, Koenig brings exciting edge. It is quite brilliant. 9.5
5. Don’t Lie
The droning drumbeat that Tomson carries throughout the track is its anchor with the dull lull of the organ and the classic orchestral sound to back it. The effervescent song goes on for a comfortable three and a half minutes as Koenig sings of death and religion. “I want to know does it bother you/ the low click of a ticking clock/ there is lifetime right in front of you/ and everyone I know,” are quite poetic in nature and add a lot of value to the track giving it the depth that is consistent throughout the entire album. The ending riffs, reminiscent of early Weezer, are a good choice; they fade out the song into Hannah Hunt in a well-constructed manner. The track is a nice break from the exciting and fresh tracks that lie before, being a nice flashback to some classic Vampire Weekend. 8.5
6. Hannah Hunt
Another star track on the album, this song is pulsating and charming that builds to an extremely successful climax. It starts off with the rustling of chatter and fuzzes that transition into a fragile piano piece by Batmanglij. Koenig’s vocals are stunning and the standout of the track with the low drums and warped bass screams. The lyrics are romantic and dazzling, telling about a couple on a road trip across the country; lines like “though we live on the US dollar/ you and me, we got our own sense of time,” bring the needed lyrical brilliance. Like many tracks on the album, Koenig tells a story or an idea with his voice, but this track specifically showcases his ability to tell a story with elegance and intricacy. About three-fourths of the way into the track, it erupts into a type of organized chaos as Koenig shouts, “If I can’t trust you then dammit Hannah.” And then soon comes to its awaited rest. Its delicacy and diligence makes it a really stunning track. 10.0
7. Everlasting Arms
This track seems to carry on the religious theme with reference to misunderstanding a deity and how the narrator wants to. “I was born to live without you/but I am never gonna understand,” could be the lyric that carries the heaviness of the song along with the chorus that Koenig sings, “Hold me in your everlasting arms,” where “everlasting arms” is an extremely religiously charged phrase. Also the phrase “Dies Irae” is a term that stands for a hymn about the day that the lord will rise and judge the masses. They also could be mentioning their first self-title album with the lyrics, “looked up full of fear/ I was trapped beneath the chandelier that is going down,” Koenig coos. This reference could be about being held back by their first album and breaking from the music criticism that was projected at them. Regardless, the drumbeat of the song is African inspired with the classic beachy and fast paced guitar background. The song has some characteristics that could make just as cohesive on Contra, but the religious motifs and eerie orchestral nature of the song keep it refreshed. It’s a nice slower paced track that keeps the album jointed. 8.5
8. Finger Back
A song that could be mistaken for something off of Contra with the upbeat melody that starts off with a preppy optimistic drumbeat coupled with an agreeable acoustic rhythm that is suggestive of Neutral Milk Hotel and, maybe even Animal Collective, and then transitions into Koenig’s shrill of a voice. Like going for a nice and mild car ride and then breaking into a high speed car chase, the chorus picks up pace with a fuzz filled background. The noise of chatter and an organ solo makes for a nice break as the song builds and falls until Koenig divulges a monologue about a girl who has the potential to fall in love with a guy in a real falafel shop in Broadway, which is commenting on the difference of race in relationships. Despite the song’s spritely manner, it is almost playfully violent with lyrics like, “Bless me with a heart attack/ a real crise cardiaque/ and show me where to find the surgeon’s knife,” “I know that I’ve been wicked and the road to hell is wide/ cursed by curiosity that made us go inside,” along with the section of the song where Koenig scats “Blood” over and over again. Koenig could be commenting on how the narrator asks to be punished for the way he is living, which could be connected to a harsh guilt complex created by some traditional religious practices. The line that holds the most power within the entire track is, “I don’t want to live like this/ but I don’t want to die,” and if taken out of context of the song could be a life motto. It is universal in its meaning as sometimes we have no idea how to live our lives, but we don’t want to resort to the extreme; it’s a gorgeous lyric. It’s relatable content and infectious tempo makes it a great track. 9.0
9. Worship You
Koenig shows off his max oxygen consumption with this track as he spits out verses as if an auctioneer. This track is triumphant and stimulating. A cross between a horse race and a battle cry, this track is anything but boring and has that signature Vampire staple of high energy. The tiresome drumbeat and relentless acoustic guitar contrast against Koenig’s airless and flowing vocals, especially during the chorus. The electric fuzz synth sounds in the middle of the track are a bit random but coexist really well against Koenig’s howls. Another song oozing with religious content that may involve a critique on the way people view God and how they worship in their religions. “Only in the way you want/ only on the day you want/ only with the understanding every single day you want," Koenig sings without out haste commenting on the way people praise their God in such a close minded understanding of the way that their religion says to and asks for a change with the lyrics, “calling on a change we want it/ calling on the same we want it/ calling for the misery to always be explained we want it.” That last verse may also be connected to the line “your red right hand,” which is a Paradise Lost reference to God’s consequence. Koenig’s vocals are really enchanting on this track, which balances out the religious heaviness of the song. This track has a lot of aspects going for it, whether it is its charming acoustics or intriguing native sounding backup vocals. It’s an underdog of the album. 9.0
10. Ya Hey
This track is one of the more controversial ones on the album as Koenig utilizes another play on words for the main verse, but most importantly a play on words with one of God’s many names, Yahweh. Playing around with a belief that that name should never actually be said a loud and instead utilizing the child like “Ya Hey” is brilliant along with making the song rich and weighted with religious allusions (Including lines in the chorus: “Through the fire, through the flames,” and “You say, ‘I am that I am’,”) without making it too thick for people to enjoy or even without Koenig enforcing a true religious opinion. Koenig is just questioning a topic and institution that is not always the easiest to lend reason to. With an unclear idea of what God is and what its name is and what an imperfect world we live in, this song does not specifically comment on an aspect of religion, yet possibly just on its entirety. With its infectious head bob enticing beat, strong bass line, voice manipulations, hymn-like chorus, all contrasted against classical piano, the song well exceeds a grade A in production as well. The song is slower paced and not as exciting as other singles such as "Diane Young" but its pulsating rhythm and strong build up make it for a timeless classic. The voice manipulations that Koenig’s voice undergoes on this track are one of the best aspects of the song. It’s something that we have never seen Vampire Weekend explore, except on this album, and on this song especially it is extremely well crafted and a good choice for the track. This track, albeit heavy in lyrical content, is written in a vague and light way that does not distract the listener from its production magic, yet instead the two aspects of the track go hand in hand in a harmonious manner in order to make a hit track. 10.0
11. Hudson
Another track that sounds completely different from original Vampire Weekend, instead of sounding like an upbeat jolly good time, this track resembles more of a death march in a battle; it is more of an antagonist instead of a protagonist. The angelic choir in the background and the flute solo adds a classic and eerie tone along with steel like synth sounds. Baio’s heavy bass hauls the song along with the delicate violin details. The song is charged with Manhattan history right from the start as Koenig discusses the death of Henry Hudson, leading to the name of the Hudson River as well as commenting on the island belonging to many strong colonial powers throughout time. “The time has come/ the clock is such a drag,” verse coupled with the ticking clock sound effects, create the atmosphere of never ending history that plays at odds with New York City. Like an inevitable fate, the track drones on in its mystic demeanor with its head held high, as Vampire Weekend has impressed once again. 9.0
12. Young Lion
A modest conclusion to the well developed Modern Vampires of the City. This track was inspired by an encounter with a stranger who said, “You take your time, young lion,” to Koenig as he ventured to the studio. The unusual track is a short and sweet two minutes that consist of haunting vocals and a classical piano hook that carries it all the way through. It is a pretty track that could be kept on repeat like a broken record without irritation. Its subtlety is what makes the track successful by itself and even more successful as a closing track; it does not overdo it in any manner or undermine the album to result in an unsatisfactory ending. It is simply just right. 9.5
Written by Margaret Farrell
Margaret Farrell is a writer from outside Chicago. She is currently a student at New York University, studying journalism and creative writing.



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