First Listen: Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend

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To put it shortly: Vampire Weekend has long been one of my favorite bands, and I love this album.

As other reviewers have noted, there’s a large focus on the topics of death, mortality and aging, with talk of the “low click of the ticking clock” and a cleverly titled single that belies its true lyrical nature. It’s a much darker album lyrically than its predecessors, but its still thoroughly enjoyable — there’s only one song that seemed as musically dark to me as the lyrics in the song.

One other thing that I noticed was that Modern Vampires of the City sounds a lot more Americana-influenced than the last two, which is a nice and somewhat surprising direction for the band to take. Aside from being damn good and thoughtfully crafted, this album is definitely its own. I definitely recommend getting a hold of it as soon as possible, and I can confidently say it’s going to be the album that I wear out but don’t get weary of this summer.

“Obvious Bicycle”  This is a very low-key track to open with, but I like it a lot. Koenig’s voice soars over a compelling melody. It’s soothing, like a modern, grown-up lullaby.

 “Unbelievers”  This already strikes me as a commercial-friendly song; the band usually ends up with at least one of those on each album. It’s a great summer, driving to the beach song with a vague Irish ballad influence. That doesn’t really make sense, but few Vampire Weekend songs do when you put them into words.

“Step”  Lots of fun wordplay in this one. The sound is hazy, but in a pleasant way — it doesn’t sound overproduced or overwrought. There’s a catchy harpsichord musical hook in the background that reminds me a bit of M79.

“Diane Young”  I’ve listened to this song plenty of times by now, so I can’t really give it a fair “First Listen,” but I’ll talk about it anyway. I love the use of pitching effects in the chorus and the occasional surf-rock guitar riffs that show up throughout. It’s a fun, danceable song about death (yes, I did just type that) and it also gives percussionist Chris Tomson a chance to truly flex his muscles.

“Don’t Lie”  Every album by every band I’ve ever listened to always has one track that takes some time to grow on me. “Don’t Lie” is that track on Modern Vampires. I can tell it has the potential to become one of my favorites, but it’s not quite there yet for me. I do love that Koenig takes some opportunity to explore his lower range here, though.

“Hannah Hunt”  Another low-key track. We’re about halfway through the album, actually, and there have only been two decidedly upbeat songs. As far as the song goes, it’s hard to get a full handle on the lyrics in a first listen, but so far it seems like a gentle, somewhat melancholy love song. “You and me, we got our own sense of time,” is a particularly moving repeated lyric, and with the way that Koenig’s voice cradles each voice and note, I’m definitely a bit jealous of Hannah Hunt, whoever she is.

“Everlasting Arms”  Slightly more upbeat, which is a good choice in terms of track ordering. The percussion on this one is less traditional and more closely recalls some of the percussion choices made in their titular album.

“Finger Back”  An even more upbeat track. The vocals are fun and a bit yodel-y, and the beginning of each verse reminds me of the goatherd song from Sound of Music for some reason. I may be wrong, but this one’s got Rostam written all over it as far as I can tell — he’s got a very distinctive writing and musical style. Not sure how I feel about the spoken interlude yet, but I’ll have to give a closer listen to the lyrics to really decide.

“Worship You”  This one’s a tongue twister and makes a good companion song for Unbelievers in terms of how much it seems influenced by Americana and Irish folk.

“Ya Hey”  My favorite track on the album as of right now. It’s a perfect mixture of every musical influence used in all three of Vampire Weekend’s albums. The verse lyrics are romantic and thoughtful just as the seemingly nonsensical chorus is catchy. I’ve had more than one chance to listen to this one, so I’ve picked up that there’s more going on here than catchy nonsense words — the song makes a fervent statement about loss of faith, one that seems lyrically in place with what’s going on with the rest of the album. Another spoken interlude, but I like it more here. Like I said, maybe it just takes some getting used to.

“Hudson”  This is a haunting number, partially because of its meandering musical structure. I’m sure the lyrics match up, but I was too distracted by the ghost-children apparently singing in the background to really pay attention.

“Young Lion”  Beautiful, choral harmonies against a simple backing; a short and perfect closing track for this album. I really don’t know what else to say except to reiterate that you should go purchase Modern Vampires of the City.

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