Review Summary: If you're not excited, you should be.
This is a band that’s always had a love-them-or-hate-them vibe surrounding their music and image. The Ivy League backgrounds of the members and the “inauthentic” African influences in their music were easy reasons to dislike the band. However, if haters weren’t grasping at straws already, they’re going to be now, because Modern Vampires Of The City redefines Vampire Weekend. They’ve cut out the alienating aspects of their sound and moved towards something singer Ezra Koenig described as ‘darker and more organic’. It’s something pretty spectacular.
Gone are the trans-continental influences, but if you think that’s Vampire Weekend backing down, you’re mistaken. Songs instead draw from closer-to-home baroque/chamber pop inspirations, like the organ-led “Unbelievers” or closer “Young Lion”, an ominous album retrospective featuring a hauntingly beautiful piano melody. Much of Modern Vampires consists of these mid-tempo tracks that seem so essentially Vampire Weekend yet also so… fresh? Many people have struggled to compare this record in terms of quality to the band’s last two albums. It’s likely their best.
The “A-Punk”/”Cousins” of the album is first single and instant ear-worm “Diane Young”, which, along with “Finger Back”, should satisfy fans of Vampire Weekend’s chirpier numbers. These were once the band’s high points but this is no longer the case. The best material on MVOTC comes in the form of the melancholic “Step” and the downright tragic “Hannah Hunt”. The former sees Koenig croon in the nonchalant way only he can, “Everyone’s dying, but girl you’re not old yet”, and a just-as-impassive harpsichord motif responds. However, whatever vulnerability he has stored inside of him explodes in the final chorus of “Hannah Hunt”. After a TV commercial-worthy (in the best possible way) piano breakdown, Koenig cries out “If I can’t trust you then damn it Hannah, there’s no future, there’s no answer”, and the breaking of his voice in its upper register is both startling and yet comforting. Vampire Weekend is capable of emotion, of tragedy. It’s beautiful.
There’s not one track I wouldn’t recommend checking out at least once, however not everything is as fantastic as the aforementioned highlights. The choruses of “Everlasting Arms” and “Worship You” fail to live up to strong melodic/rhythmic ideas, and the spoken-word bridge in “Finger Back” is sure to elicit a few eye-rolls. But, ultimately, both fans and haters of the band owe it to themselves to check out this album. It’s really, really, (really) great.