Music Reviews
Modern Vampires of the City

Vampire Weekend Modern Vampires of the City

(XL) Rating - 9/10

Honestly, I never expected Vampire Weekend to do much after their excellent debut album. I figured they’d always be striving to meet the high expectations set by an iconic debut, endlessly falling short and fading into obscurity. If 2010’s Contra challenged my assumptions, then Modern Vampires of the City absolutely shatters them. This is a fully realized Vampire Weekend, one that has transcended their Graceland/Afro-Pop influences and criticisms into something entirely their own.

All the quirks and little experiments seem to fall into place into something larger: their forays into auto-tune throughout Contra, the sporadic orchestration of their debut album, and the flashes of serious songwriting on both have coalesced into a magnificent record defined by ponderings on mortality, the passing of time, and fading relationships.  The chorus of Don’t Lie captures the tone of the album in a single phrase: “I wanna know/does it bother you/the low click of a ticking clock/there’s a lifetime right in front of you/and everyone I know.” It’s the happiest sad song about mortality you’ll hear all year. Koenig remains obsessed with the passage of time throughout the record, as if he’s suddenly become aware that it’s limited.

The band's ability to write upbeat songs about being depressed defines much of Modern Vampires. It’s still not always clear what Koenig is talking about, but he remains adept at putting the right words in the right places. He’s not peddling the obvious nonsense a la Anthony Kiedis or Chris Cornell; he makes the abstract feel meaningful. Hannah is a prime example, using a series of short vignettes to describe a slowly fading relationship. It’s a song that makes me want to break out all the music reviewing superlatives I know, a gorgeously building ballad that’s certainly among Vampire Weekend’s best. And by “among Vampire Weekend’s best”, I mean it’s the best four minutes of their career.

The light-but-heavy feeling of the record is buoyed by its sonic excellence. Every song is meticulously crafted, every sound seems to belong exactly where it is, and the production is absolutely sublime. Koenig’s guitar work- certainly a defining feature of the band before- has been pushed to the back, replaced with orchestral arrangements, prominent bass and synths. Ridiculous attention to detail has never sounded so effortless. From the perfectly constructed vocal harmonies on opener Obvious Bicycle to the rapidly shifting arrangements of Everlasting Arms, the album is full of surprises and moments that reveal themselves on each new listen.

It’s an immediately striking album that’s worth spending time on. Vampire Weekend have managed to transcend a sound they seemed locked in to, all while maintaining their identity. Modern Vampires of the City is nothing short of a pop music achievement, a standout album in a year full of standout albums.