Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires Of The City

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Vampire Weekend never seemed built to last; neither its prep-school visual aesthetic nor its African-tinged pop suggested longevity. But five years after Vampire Weekend debuted, “Oxford Comma,” “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” and “A-Punk” sound not just as good as they did then, but better. 2010’s Contra offered more of the same, in good ways and bad, and now the boldly (or is it just badly?) named Modern Vampires Of The City—“very much the last of a trilogy,” according to frontman Ezra Koenig—arrives to put it all in perspective. Anyone hoping that the winsome, cocky, popular boy would grow into a fat, balding man will be disappointed. Instead, he’s turned out handsome, thoughtful, and sophisticated.

Unlike its two predecessors, which burned hot but only in spots, Modern Vampires feels like a rare thought-through album in the iTunes age. (That didn’t stop the band from releasing dribs and drabs piecemeal over the past few weeks, but that seems to be a fact of modern music-making now.) Its best songs are its slow jams, but every minute feels part of a larger whole rather than just a smattering of hits fleshed out for the sake of fleshing. It’s a pleasant surprise that begins cautiously, with the wistful “Obvious Bicycle,” a ballad that nods more toward The Kinks or pre-disco Bee Gees than Paul Simon, setting the layered tone for the rest of the record.

“Step” is that song’s closest cousin and Modern Vampires’ best song: Though it seems almost timid at first, with a loping bass and sweet harpsichord, it evolves into a weirdly eloquent mouthful, with lyrics about Angkor Wat and Croesus. Koenig has become an even keener lyricist over the years, delivering smarty-pants references with sing-along lines (in this case, “The gloves are off / The wisdom teeth are out / Whatchu on about?”) in perfect combination. “Step” throws the greatest curveball imaginable, too, dropping in a quick chopped-and-screwed vocal. It’s puzzling in all the best ways.

But it’s not all grand word-slinging and old instruments: “Diane Young” and “Finger Back” provide the punk ballast to every little twist and turn, though only the former feels like a hit.  Then there’s “Ya Hey,” not the album’s strongest song but the one probably destined to be most talked-about, since it kinda-sorta references both Outkast and God. In a way, “Ya Hey” feels like the bridge to whatever might be coming next for Vampire Weekend. The band itself probably doesn’t know quite what that is yet, but as a capstone to what it’s done so far, Modern Vampires Of The City feels pretty perfect.