Modern Vampires of the City

Modern Vampires of the City

If Vampire Weekend’s 2010 album Contra was the sound of four bright overachievers fussing over the zany contradictions of their young millennial lives, Modern Vampires of the City finds the band members retreating to their studies and pondering the gravity of what they’ve seen. Released in 2013, Modern Vampires of the City features hooks as clear and all-American as Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty (“Unbelievers,” “Diane Young”). And the production—handled by Rostam Batmanglij and Ariel Rechtshaid—is as weird and sumptuous and hyper-real as experimental electronic music or great hip-hop; the album is a forest of sound, full of clicks and warps you can easily get lost in (if getting lost is your thing). And like the great Paul Simon albums to which Vampire Weekend’s work is often lazily compared, Modern Vampires of the City manages to sound melancholy and world-weary, while still imparting a sense of inspiration that runs through the gray like a bright-orange current (“Ya Hey”). All these little details—not just the album’s sounds, but also Ezra Koenig’s lyrics, which take stock of people and places and gestures with forensic specificity (“Step”)—build to a point where the big picture of Modern Vampires of the City becomes suddenly, movingly clear. This is their attempt to craft an album on the scale of U2, or Foo Fighters, or Tears for Fears: pop-rock as both entertainment and spiritual salve. The references to gospel (“Don’t Lie”) and Baroque oratorio (“Hudson”) and rousing Celtic fight songs (“Worship You”) only further the point—they’re thinking about God stuff now. And while a lyric about having a religious epiphany while listening to a festival DJ transition from Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites” into The Rolling Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown” during the bridge of “Ya Hey”—all in the context of James Joyce’s “The Dead”—might seem annoying or overly bookish, it’s also a reminder that music saves lives. Or, at the very least, gives us the feeling, however temporary, that it could.

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