Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City


Back in two-thousand-and-whatever Hipster Runoff wet dream Vampire Weekend broke the blog ceiling and became the biggest band in the world. I ignored them. Don’t get me wrong I love a good hype band but the impression I got was that their appropriation of Mississippi Records’ Afrobeat comps and New York affectation resulted in something that resembled a rich kid ska revival disguised as Graceland worship.

I realize now that I was probably wrong because Modern Vampires of the City is a baffling work of genius. Baffling because it’s crammed with unbelievable risk-taking but each decision pays off immensely. Even the album’s title is at once irritating and wonderful.

Until now I didn’t think it was possible to be moved by a Vevo lyric video but try not getting misty-eyed at the sight of black-and-white landmarks in New York City while you listen to “Step” a song that’s so perfect it hurts. And on paper it shouldn’t be — it references Bay Area rap group Souls of Mischief and sloppily shouts out Modest Mouse two ideas that veer treacherously close to stupidity. But it all works because the song’s an actual masterpiece all sophisticated harpsichords timeless bass lines pounding drums and heart-wrenching vocal runs like the soundtrack to a particularly existential episode of Gossip Girl guest written by Noah Baumbach.

Those kinds of audacious close-to-bad ideas are all over this album and they all pay off in their own ways. There’s a song punnily called “Diane Young” with pitch-shifted Elvis vocals a modern U2 impression for half of “Hannah Hunt” an out-of-place funk guitar on “Everlasting Arms” and sped-up folk vocals that verge on yodelling in “Worship You.” Then “Ya Hey” with its potentially Outkast-referencing title (which also doubles as a homynym for Yahweh) borrows Dan Deacon’s pitch-shifter and uses it for a meditative affront on God of all people.

Some are calling this Vampire Weekend’s Americana album and while they’ve certainly embraced more traditional instrumentation don’t confuse this with the faux-thentic hokey hoedown of those popular British Christians.

This is something much bigger an expansive love letter to pop littered with harpsichords symphonies children’s choirs pianos and not one but two spoken word sections. The production is lush and vivid while the songwriting is both complex and memorably simple. Thematically the album’s a meditation on religion spirituality and existence through New York’s inimitable greyish lens. Modern Vampires of the City inspires obsession and offers new pleasures with each listen.

It’s understandable why Vampire Weekend are often construed as elitists as their risky business demonstrates a self-confidence found in few other bands. But listen to this album a few times and it becomes increasingly clear where that confidence comes from — Vampire Weekend are better than all of us.