Tom Hoskins gives Vampire Weekends new album 3 Stars
Modern Vampires of the City sees Vampire Weekend distance themselves from the influence of world-music and college life narratives. They now have more in common musically with traditional alternative pop than Graceland, and Ezra tackles far more universal themes than Oxford Commas and Horchata.
“Obvious Bicycle” is a surprising opener; slow-paced, unusually direct lyrics and vocal lines focusing on harmonies instead of White Sky yelps, it displays a mature Vampire Weekend, a strange concept to many. This is immediately countered with the momentum of “Unbelievers”, but it is the former which impresses. On Modern Vampires Of The City a more reflective Vampire Weekend have emerged, and bizarrely their old self is holding them back.
“Step” and “Ya Hey” are spectacular, possibly the best songs Vampire Weekend have written. The former, over a looping chord progression with harpsichord and choir, beautifully declares a coming of age, with Ezra’s lyrics as sharp and charming as ever: “And punks who would laugh when they saw us together, well, they didn’t know how to dress for the weather”. “Ya Hey” takes Ezra’s wisdom one further, as he looks straight at God and interrogates him. But this isn’t the rant of one of Richard Dawkins’ disciples; his questioning takes on an almost childlike clarity, partly aggressive but partly desperate for comforting answers. Somehow he wants to sympathise, and sounds genuine when asking “Who could ever live that way?” Not even chipmunk vocal effects and a pun for a song title can banish the harrowing poignancy that Ezra’s sense of vulnerability evoke. Similarly, the other slow-paced songs stand out as objects of beauty: “Hannah Hunt” creates an atmosphere calmer than silence and “Hudson” is an eerie statement about human anxiety about mortality.
Yet despite being upbeat, often in the face of misery, the catchier songs disappoint. “Unbelievers” sounds a little forced, and I wonder if this determination of belief (“Girl you and I will die unbelievers, bound to the tracks of the train”) wouldn’t have been better placed in a similar context to “Ya Hey”; “Worship You” veers alarmingly close to Coldplay territory in the chorus; “Everlasting Arms” puts their newfound theme of love in their old musical style, but it’s not as effective as the first two albums. The exception to this is “Diane Young”, the one moment on the album where Vampire Weekend perfect the fast and powerful pop-song. Depressing subject-matter dressed up as a pretty-sounding lady (another pun!), an unshaking momentum, entertaining vocal effects, a beautifully simple refrain and Ezra’s sharp lyrics reminds of their ability to make the simple both different and exciting.
It may seem worrying that a Vampire Weekend album isn’t, ostensibly at least, all sun and joy; Modern Vampires Of The City contains incisive observation and melancholy reflection upon the mortal world. Yet there is still an over-riding sense of optimism in their determination to enjoy life while it lasts, and even a certain catharsis – an emotional realm Vampire Weekend would never have been expected to occupy