Review Summary: A change of direction and style for Vampy Weeks, but with that much-loved je ne sais quoi that made their previous albums so enticing
The combined musical genius of Ezra Koenig, Rostam Batmanglij, Chris Baio, and Chris Taylor was first introduced to the general public in 2008 with the release of the self-titled debut album of New York City’s Vampire Weekend. With light and sugary guitar hooks, bouncing and bobbing hair, and a clean and accessible indie rock sound unlike anything else that had achieved mainstream success at the time, these four, clean-cut young guys became immortalized in the genre they helped redefine. Appearances on late-night television, a shout-out by Rolling Stone magazine in their “100 top albums of the decade” and “500 top albums of all-time” lists (it placed 56th and 430th, respectively), and incredible recognition from fans across all genres of music; surely it couldn’t get any bigger and better, right? Wrong – well, sort of. "Contra" followed in 2010, again solidifying Vampire Weekend’s status as heroes of their genre. All of this meant one thing; whatever their third album would be, it would have to be amazing.
And I am happy to report that it is, in fact, amazing
. Abstract instrumentation and a slight departure from the indie pop sounds the world had fallen so madly in love with? Both risky moves and surely hit-or-miss (spoiler alert: it’s a hit). Production on this album was a lot simpler and stripped back than it was on prior records. The bright cheeriness cemented in the pretty and poppy, catchy and cutesy guitar hooks on tracks like 'A-Punk' and 'Cousins,' to name a few, is not as prevalent on this album. 'Unbelievers,' for example, is a rather simple song, with lyrics featuring religious themes like: “We know the fire awaits unbelievers/All of the sinners the same/Girl you and I will die unbelievers, bound to the tracks of the train.” Also featured on that track is an infectious brassy breakdown. Lead single and album favorite 'Diane Young' is a rollicking, banging melody with some impressive percussion and the occasional bleeping synth noise, pitch-shift, and saxophone freak-out. 'Finger Back' is a track that feels slightly out of place on here; it’s very jittery and frantic, from the vocals to the instrumentation. While it may not feel like the rest of the album, it certainly feels like Vampire Weekend and is a very fun listen. Oh, and let’s not forget the break in the middle of the song where Ezra talks about…well…really nothing in particular. “See ya next year in Jerusalem…” His mind kind of wanders from there and I’m sure there’s some sort of deep imagery associated with what he’s saying but for the life of me, I can’t figure it out (and I’m not going to try).
Another musical factor that comes into play frequently on "Modern Vampires of the City" is the orchestral string melodies. 'Step,' 'Hannah Hunt,' 'Everlasting Arms,' and closing track 'Young Lion' feature lovely, beautiful sounds and the accompanying vocals, guitars, bass, and drums only help to support them even further. 'Ya Hey' has the potential to be a really pretty song, and it is – but I’ll admit it. The chipmunk vocals in the chorus…I’m just not digging them. Personally, I feel it's weak and bogs down what is an otherwise good song.
To put it simply, "Modern Vampires of the City" is not a rehash of previous Vampire Weekend outputs. It is not the same sounds you’ve heard before and in my opinion, that’s a good thing. These guys sound more mature, classy, and refined as ever, and the entire album is just sweet. Definitely check it out if you’re a fan and even if you aren’t.