Like many others, I was intrigued when the provocatively-named Vampire Weekend burst onto the scene in 2007 with its self-titled album packed with sassy lyrics and adventurous melodies. The following year, I saw the band at the Wiltern in Los Angeles – the tickets were $25, which is the last time that’ll ever happen – and when they brought out a real live string quartet for “M79,” I was hooked.
I found it hilarious that the band was criticized for being part of the the East Coast intelligentsia, pampered and privileged and Ivy League through-and-through, when in fact it was precisely that class they were mocking in their songs. I mean, come on: “Know your butler, unlike like other guys”?
Naturally, I was excited for the band’s sophomore release, but to me Contra was something of a disappointment. Not that it’s a disaster – the Vamps are much too clever for that. Rather, it felt like they were treading water, staying safe in the vein that made the first album a hit. But finding odd words to rhyme with “horchata” can only go so far. I wanted the band to grow up.
And grow up they did. Modern Vampires is the one we’ve been waiting for. Rich, complex, soulful, musically challenging – it’s art rock you can listen to. Ezra Koenig, the band’s singer and lyricist, told the New York Times that he had come to see the three albums as a “bildungsroman,” a coming-of-age story. Indeed, the first is collegiate, the second is twenty-something mischievous. The third album, though, is a different creature altogether. Reflective, mournful, even spiritual – it’s the band in full bloom.
Koenig’s lyrics and Rostam Batmanglij’s compositions display a wonderful maturity, both in musicality and meaning. Hymnlike choruses and straightforward keyboards dominate throughout. Of course, there’s the zippy, radio-friendly “Diane Young,” but it’s contrasted with songs like “Step” and “Hannah Hunt” that are just so jaw-droppingly beautiful that you don’t care if you can’t dance to them.
Koenig said (to the NYT) he “didn’t realize at first how many references there are to death and ticking clocks” in the work, but figured, “I guess that’s what makes an album unified, these little musical and lyrical tropes.” It’s an accurate statement. Each song on the album has its own particular identity, yet the work demands to be played through in its entirety. And I have – many times.