Life is short; that insight is passed on to us throughout our lives but we only begin to take it increasingly more seriously as we grow older. How old before the preciousness of our time on Earth begins to sink in? Of course, it varies from person to person, and even in each person, our thoughts on it can vary from day to day. Pinnacle events in our own lives or the world among us can push the scope of life to the forefront, making us wonder, and filling us with a vast array of contemplations and feelings: hope, sadness, regret, loss, excitement, anxiousness, fear, freedom, discipline—to name a few.
On their third album, Vampire Weekend reflect on many of the heavier, contemplative aspects of life, and they do so with thoughtfulness, intelligence and humility. Modern Vampires of the City is a bold and impressive step for the (still) young New York band, and it rightfully secures their place as one of a handful of bands who have managed to bridge extensive commercial popularity with widespread critical acclaim.
Many associated Vampire Weekend’s 2008 self-titled debut, and the band itself, with buzz, blogs, and, of course, preppy clothes. They rode a wave of positive criticism, including a coveted Pitchfork Best New Music rating to sold-out shows across the country. Vampire Weekend is a fun album filled with melodic bursts of catchy songs, many themed on collegiate life, corresponding to the band’s formation while the members where attending Columbia University in New York. With such a promising debut, the pressure was on for the follow-up, and in January 2010, Vampire Weekend released Contra to both critical and commercial praises. Somehow they found a way to back up the initial Vampire Weekend buzz frenzy, and they did so with music— a fantastic second album.
Modern Vampires is noticeably more serious, and even darker, than the band’s previous two albums. However, it’s not Radiohead serious and dark, it’s Vampire Weekend serious and dark, which still finds a way to be colorful, upbeat, and makes you want to move a bit and smile a bit when the songs play. Lead single, “Diane Young,” is a prime example. Even outside of the obvious word play of the title, lead singer Ezra Koenig steers through the unfortunate realities of tomorrow: “Nobody knows what the future holds/ And it’s bad enough just getting old.” The track covers some bleak outlooks but it’s paired with a relentlessly excited composition, thus the lows never seem to be all that low. The wonderful festival-ready anthem, “Ya Hey,” is similarly carried by an optimistic arrangement on its uniquely pitched, yet powerfully catchy chorus.
Lead track “Obvious Bicycle” sets the album’s atypical mood early on by incorporating a mild, somewhat subdued pacing that never spikes or speeds up —a contrast from many of the jumpy and eager favorites found on Vampire Weekend and Contra. It’s a terrific, calming start to Modern Vampires. It’s also worth noting, the track showcases an unwinding ending of a slow and simple piano arrangement—another departure from Vampire Weekend’s more characteristic abrupt endings. “Don’t Lie” models a similar slow closing along with a beautifully involved and enchanting melody. On it, Koenig continues to question a distant, but ever-approaching death: “I want to know does it bothers you/ The low click of a ticking clock.”
“Step” and “Hudson” both spotlight unique and expansive instrumentation. “Step” is light, fresh and carousal-like while “Hudson” is smoky, grand and haunting.Guitarist and keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij is behind many of the initial Vampire Weekend song progressions and he continues to keep the tunes fresh and unique without masking or displacing the Vampire Weekend sound.
Striving ballad “Everlasting Arms” powers behind the honest and simple chorus (“Hold me in your everlasting arms”) and steady Chris Tomson drumwork. The tranquilly sparse “Hannah Hunt” is one of the strongest of the strong on Modern Vampires. It’s highlighted by a fevered ending, in which Koenig brims with despair and frustration, straining, “If I can’t trust you then damn it Hannah/ There’s no future/ There’s no answer.”
Modern Vampires of the City illustrates Vampire Weekend’s growth, maturity and progression while not losing the self-aware fun and spark that made everyone go wild for them back in 2008. The content of the album is heavier and more serious than what they’ve tackled before, but in doing so, they’ve been careful not to preach, frighten or even take themselves too seriously. Vampire Weekend has again made a new album that’s better than its excellent predecessor. To maintain this pattern would be daunting for most bands, but with Vampire Weekend it doesn’t seem to be an unobtainable goal, as they are quickly securing a place beyond the level of what most bands can do.