By: Daniel Mescher
May 14th, 2013
Vampire Weekend deserve a lot of credit. The New York City quartet, formed during the members’ tenure at Columbia University, have been a gateway for thousands of converts into the wonderful world of indie rock (my little sister, and probably countless other little sisters, included). Through two albums’ worth of Afro-infused rock, the band has managed to sound simultaneously sophisticated yet rudimentary, literate yet vulgar. It’s been three years since their last album, Contra, and in the years between the band has made headlines from a lawsuit concerning that album’s cover photo, as well as being asked by President Obama to offer support on his re-election campaign, making a shortlist of artists that also included Jay-Z, the Arcade Fire, and Alicia Keys (the Romney campaign retorted with the Marshall Tucker Band).
Ezra Koenig and company return with their finest album to date, Modern Vampires of the City. Recorded in Los Angeles as opposed to the group’s native Brooklyn, the album finds the band with a variety of new instruments and genres in their repertoire, an impressive feat for a band that has spent two albums exploring styles ranging from baroque pop to hip-hop. First single “Diane Young” is a punk rock track that, given the band’s penchant for wordplay, is probably more about dyin’ young than the eponymous heroine. The song features heavy use of formant-shifting, a studio vocal effect that simulates alteration of the singer’s throat length: this playfulness with Ezra Koenig’s vocal tracks occurs throughout the album, including the Souls of Mischief-influenced “Step”.
Given the vast styles and sounds present, Modern Vampires of the City is a slight misnomer. The studio tricks and 808s give Vampires a futuristic edge, yet tracks like “Worship You” hearken back to classic Irish folk tunes: a good deal more country than City. Centerpiece and standout “Ya Hey”’s subject prefers spinning Desmond Decker and Rolling Stones songs over modern fare, and apparently so does Ezra when his “soul swoon[s]”. Keyboardist/producer Rostam Batmanglij’s Beatles-inspired piano melody “Young Lion” closes out the album with further tribute to 1960s rock. But given these influences from both past and future, Vampires never manages to sound anachronistic, and is as immediate upon its first listen as its fiftieth.