Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
by Amanda Hoover (Journalism), published June 3rd 2013
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
It’s a rare occasion that a band I discovered in middle school has managed to defend its place on my iPod for over five years, but Vampire Weekend is one of those few survivors. Many artists play it safe and fail to evolve, while others flounder in their quest for evolution and lose their authenticity. Vampire Weekend, however, has managed to maintain their unique sound and perspective without becoming redundant or out of touch. On their third album, Modern Vampires of the City, they chronicle the clumsy shift from post-grad preps to bona-fide adulthood – and whatever that entails. What could potentially turn into a second round coming-of-age album from a group of men in their late twenties instead takes on concepts such as religion and aging while maintaining the band’s trademark, radio-friendly groove and quirky lyrics.
The album opens with “Obvious Bicycle,” a song that sounds almost hymn-like with its harmonies and repetitive drumbeat. “You ought to spare your face the razor, because no one’s going to spare the time for you,” Koenig laments softly. Whether he’s whining egocentrically or trying to impart advice about aging is a little hard to tell, but riddles like this are one of the things that immediately intrigue listeners. The next track, “Unbelievers,” picks up the pace of the album with its catchy hook and complicates things as it introduces a new character into Vampire Weekend’s extensive arsenal: God. Unsurprisingly, the big man upstairs isn’t exactly revered by existential Vampire Weekend, who vow to “die unbelievers bound to the tracks of the train” and ask, “what holy water contains a little drop, little drop for me?”
The band brings back their classic sound with “Diane Young,” Modern Vampires’ first single. It carries that instant, in-your-face chaos we recall from “A-Punk” or “Cousins.” It has us dancing before we even have time to wonder what Koenig’s singing, or better yet, what we can try to piece together from the seemingly nonsensical lyrics about a Saab engulfed by flames and government agents. Quirky and clever as ever, the band manages to avoid naming the song “Dying Young,” when it is, in fact, about just that. “Nobody knows what the future holds, it’s bad enough just getting old / Live my life in self-defense – you know I love the past ‘cause I hate suspense.” The classic, defiant guitar paired with these lines shows a resistance to aging – maybe even a resistance to evolving past the sound that many of us grew to love in 2008 when “A-Punk” took over college radio across the country.
But then, something surprising happens. Vampire Weekend trades schoolboy fantasies for philosophical religious questions in “Ya Hey,” a song whose title plays on the Hebrew name for God. Here, the band puts their Ivy League education to use with biblical references to Zion, Babylon and Moses as they explore the frustration of the one-sided aspect of religion. “Through the fire and through the flames, you won’t even say your name / Only I am, that I am / Who could ever live that way?” Koenig asks, boldly challenging the concept of a mysterious, all-knowing and all-powerful being who refuses to answer questions. The band’s obsession with Cape Cod and charming Ivy League ladies has faded to make way for a spiritual search that pushes them into a new direction while managing to avoid any philosophical cliché.
In the end, proof that Vampire Weekend is growing up doesn’t lie in lyrics about death or a quest for spirituality. Instead, we hear a sign of maturity on the shortest and final track, the Rastafarian-influenced “Young Lion.” The sweet piano melody and repetition of just six words – “You take your time, young lion” – say it all. They’ve accepted the fact that they don’t need to grow up too fast or hold themselves back in order to stay relevant with their fan base. Perhaps even with their “wisdom teeth out” Vampire Weekend hasn’t reached full maturity, but they’ve bid young adulthood goodbye and seem to be carrying on just fine, taking their time somewhere in the in-between.
Recommended Tracks: “Diane Young” “Step” “Ya Hey” “Unbelievers”