Monday, 13 May 2013

Review: Modern Vampires of the City

by Henry Cunnison

Vampire Weekend have often won praise for the enormous range of influences on their work: guitars inspired by Africa to whole songs heavily drawing on Simon and Garfunkel. They are a reminder that, even in today’s commercialised society, not all music has to sound the same. However, they have also been attacked for their excessively academic lyrics, reflecting their Ivy League education, demonstrated in their single “Oxford Comma.” Modern Vampires of the City, released today (13th May), is probably their best offering yet, by maintaining their wide influences while featuring songs that have a focus on real issues, such as love, mortality and religion.
The songs maintain a staggering depth and often reference a bewildering range of works, including those of Samuel Butler. "Step" manages to turn an initially simplistic and almost cringe-worthy premise of “stepping to my girl” into a song that confronts aging and death, while mentioning Angkor Wat and hip hop group Souls of Mischief. There are so many levels of meaning and different interpretations that the song forces re-listening, in an attempt to gain a great understanding of it.
The lyrics often reflect the growing up of Ezra Koenig, the lead singer. A common theme is mortality, perhaps a consequence of the 29-year-old realising that life is not infinite and that “there’s a headstone right in front of you” as he sings in "Don’t Lie". Even the title of "Diane Young" hints at this theme. The use of heavy vocal adjustment, normally something to be approached with caution, creates throughout the album different voices and themes, from the high-pitched voice of the baby and old man in "Diane Young" to the underwater feel of "Step", which reflect those found in the lyrics.
Musically, the album, although on a few occasions sounding dangerous generic, offers creativity and boldness for the most part. "Step", which could have become a classic indie depressing-lyrics-sad-acoustic guitar combo, instead becomes an innovative upbeat song through the use of a harpsichord. Both "Hudson" and "Diane Young" offer eclectic combinations of the electronic and the acoustic.
A personal favourite is the song "Ya Hey", which, rather than a passing reference to "Hey Ya", the song by the Outkast, is about religion, about Yahweh. The lyrics of the song are deliberately elusive in their meaning, but to me the song offers a reflection of Koenig’s own questioning of religion, and perhaps his rejection of it given the vocalisation of Yahweh, which is not meant to be spoken aloud, and his criticism that “you won’t even say your name…only I am that I am”, the last part a direct quote from the Bible.
Modern Vampires of the City is a work of experimentation, depth and brilliance. It is music made for music’s sake, something that seems to be lacking today. It manages to blend electronic alteration with passion and emotion, new with old, an upbeat sound with often negative lyrics. It is not just Vampire Weekend’s best album to date, it is one of the year’s best as well.

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