Review: Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Published on May 15th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
To our ears, Vampire Weekend are much more worthwhile when they’re indulging their ‘weird’ side. Take “Cousins” from the band’s previous album, 2010’s Contra: it’s jerky, frenetic and explosive in a way that didn’t so much challenge our preconceptions, cultivated by their eponymous debut LP, as bitch-slap them to the ground with a solitary glove. “They’re actually pretty good, you know,” this writer has been heard to say, albeit without any further investigation bar subsequent single releases.
Dodgy pun aside, “Diane Young” fuelled our expectations for Modern Vampires of the City by addling the senses with delightfully odd pitch-shifted vocals and a cartoonish psychobilly surfing the kind of firecracker drumming that helped ignite “Cousins”. The album itself begins promisingly enough with “Obvious Bicycle”, a Beach Boys/Animal Collective/Shins kind of deal that threatens to ‘take flight’ in predictable fashion but instead shows commendable restraint. “Don’t forget the rich ones who are kind” might well be directed at those who decry their supposedly privileged background, not that that’s worth our time getting into or yours reading about it.
Ensuing number “Unbelievers” sounds the first alarm bells by sailing a little too close to the wind of naff, before “Step” confirms their intent to go for ‘song craft’ in a way that’s not entirely becoming of them; Ezra Koenig’s voice is technically proficient but not distinct enough to invest their more straight-laced moments with the originality required to sustain interest levels. There is however an unexpected pitch-lowered vocal right at the end, which perhaps they should have made more of; but then that would make them Ween and they wouldn’t be headlining main stages at major festivals. (Ween are great: go and listen to Ween.)
“Don’t Lie” is agreeably daft with its ornately twinkly harpsichord and stomping drums, but the next few songs pass by with little incident. “Finger Back” is energetic enough to click things back into gear and the floaty, quick-trotting chorus of “Worship You” makes amends for Koenig’s erring-towards-irritating quickfire vocal delivery, so Vampire Weekend have clawed themselves back into a position of relative strength by the time their most recent single “Ya Hey” (see what they did there?) rolls authoritatively into town.
Modern Vampires of the City continues its late surge with the grand “Hudson”, which drops such delightful lines as “The water took its victim’s name” and “We watched the Germans play the Greeks / We mocked the 99-year leaks” amidst its ominous strings and strange, skittering rhythm section…leaving it to the lovely toy piano and celestial harmonies of “Young Lion” (no, not “Little Lion”) to bring a frustratingly inconsistent album to its conclusion.
Vampire Weekend are not without their strengths; they just need to settle upon what those are and indulge them. Maybe they wanted to but were being watched over by ‘concerned’ record execs. We couldn’t tell you, so speculate away.
Rocksucker says: Two and a Half Quails out of Five!
Modern Vampires of the City is out now on XL Recordings.