Vampire Weekend are deeper than perfection
Vampire Weekend have always been a band that make me want to bust awkward dance moves while filling me with child-like happiness. Their albums are full of playful, abstract lyrics that feel refreshing and light to the ear, though full of meaning.
The band is back with their third album, Modern Vampires Of The City. Songwriting duo Ezra Koenig and Rostam Batmanglij travelled to LA to collaborate with Rostam’s longtime friend, producer Ariel Rechtshaid, which marks the first time the band worked with an outside producer. They used alternative recording methods, laying down the drums and bass on analog at Vox Studios, which was built in the 30s. Those tracks were then reintegrated and manipulated to create a fantastic mixture of old and new. There is an interesting mix of 80s influences on this album that at times is subtle and others quite obvious. This body of work comes off darker and more introspective, yet Vampire Weekend are at their most human and relatable on MVOTC. The lyrics have more aim than usual, lending to a mature and finished sound. The band feel increasingly comfortable experimenting with a veritable PEZ dispenser of influences, while still keeping the classic Vampire Weekend sound that we know and love.
MVOTC is an album that feels rooted in our time of economic and ecological uncertainty. One of my favorite tracks, “Hudson,” was inspired by the death of Henry Hudson, who was mutinied by his crew and cast out to sea never to be seen again. It’s a hauntingly beautiful choir fit for a horror story. It feels like a funeral for a New York City that is no longer. “Finger Back” is another strong track. You want to jump and dance around your room like a maniac all the while Ezra is singing “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t want to die.” It’s not an easy juxtaposition to master. It’s practically suicidal, yet hopeful, at the same time. “Hannah Hunt” is a slower track with a similar theme of time. While Eastern-style strings sweep the background, he sings, “though we live on the U.S. dollar/You and me, we got our own time.” Another standout track is “Ya Hey.” It sounds like electronic yodelling. His vocal effects are fantastic and wide-ranging, similar to something that you would find on a Broken Social Scene record. Ezra’s voice is often on the edge of awful and grating but somehow that is what makes it wonderful. Unorthodox vocals feel invigorating in the era of American Idol because, in the end, music is about something deeper than perfection.
There is an emotional intelligence here that can only come with age. Somehow the dark undercurrents of this album don’t pull you down – there is light and it’s in each other. They know exactly how to bring you up and down, take it soft and strong, fun and serious. It’s a journey of beautiful chaos and, while it clearly touches on the idea of ageing, there is an overall feeling of hope that remains.
This is a sound that has poppy elements, but on their own terms. So many times modern music feels formulaic and it’s obvious who the artist (or record company) wants to target. Vampire Weekend are comfortable doing their own thing and brushing off the criticisms of their use of world sounds, their looks, or Ivy League background because, seriously, who cares? They are who they are and don’t need to change that in order to sell more records. They could, but they won’t. In this day and age that is practically revolutionary. Stop worrying about the unusual mixture that is Vampire Weekend and enjoy the ride through the city of vampires.
Review by Tenley Nordstrom.