Thursday, May 16, 2013
This article also appears on GroundControlMag.com
"Want a little grace, but who’s gonna say a little grace for me?” Ezra Koenig sings on “Unbelievers,” the second track on Vampire Weekend’s new Modern Vampires of the City. Since landing on the cover of Spin in March 2008, lauded as “the year’s best new band” with a debut album that was just weeks old, it’s easy to argue that Vampire Weekend has received quite a bit of grace. The success of their self-titled debut quickly propelled the Columbia grads to prominence, but didn’t shield them from all the hype and expectations that come with it. Now, with the release of their third album, it’s more apparent that the grace Vampire Weekend has been afforded has been well earned.
Steering away from the single-minded approach that so many other bands employ after they've broken through as big as Vampire Weekend has, Modern Vampires of the City sets itself apart quickly in that it doesn’t have one mode in which it operates. There’s room here for the melancholy (“Obvious Bicycle,” “Hannah Hunt”) and the hopefully upbeat (“Finger Back”). The album’s first single, “Diane Young,” feels like a retro throwback with it’s near dance-ready pace and vocal cues seemingly taken from Jerry Lee Lewis on “Great Balls Of Fire.” It’s probably no coincidence that the song title could easily sound like “dying young.” While the album doesn’t offer one clear tone, it does serve some hints that Koenig and his bandmates are thinking about getting older.
“Unbelievers” plays like a more subdued “Walcott,” where that song’s frenetic pace has matured. Here, the bridge has a regal quality - sounding like something along the lines of “Scotland The Brave” - and Koenig is no longer just feeling stuck in Cape Cod, but stuck in the larger world. The singer uses these feelings as fuel, doing some of his loveliest singing on “Everlasting Arms,” a song which begins with an Eighties vibe, and ends with oddly haunting instrumentation courtesy of Rostam Batmanglij. “Don’t Lie” too marries a bit of a retro feeling with worries about growing older, as Koenig sings, “old flames / they can’t warm you tonight / so keep it cool, my baby.”
If Contra felt like it leaned more heavily on the band’s interest in African pop and differentiated rhythms, Modern Vampires feels more influenced by the likes of The Shins, The National, and Bon Iver. Even if “Step” borrows from Oakland hip hop group Souls Of Mischief, its chorus could have just as easily been sung by James Mercer as Koenig, backed by a Victorian-sounding harpsichord playing a “Pachebel’s Cannon”-inspired line.
Where Vampire Weekend's self-titled debut was instantly arresting for its jangly, catchy songs packed with odd imagery and repetitive choruses, Modern Vampires of the City asks politely for deeper listening. The somber “Obvious Bicycle” feels like more of a closer than an album opener, but it’s a song that trades in gentle commands, making a chorus out of the words “listen” and “don’t wait.” Which is precisely what Vampire Weekend would have you do.