May 11, 2013

Album Review: Vampire Weekend's Modern Vampires of the City

Writing anything about Vampire Weekend begs for the obligatory look back at their history as one of the most divisive hype bands birthed by Aughties blog power, and even on the brink of their third LP, we as a music world just can’t get over our fascination as to how quickly the Williamsburg scenesters rose from being virtual unknowns who'd barely played live before the release of their excellent 2008 self-titled debut to a band positioned as festival strongholds in a span of just five years. There is of course VW's scholarly Ivy league image that's led naysayers to deride them as indie pop for privileged white yupsters -- A pretty offensive generalization to make seeing that frontman Ezra Koenig attended Columbia on scholarship (and from what an acquaintance of Koenig’s once told me back in 2010, was an education that still had him neck deep in debt even upon the release of 2010’s hugely successful Contra.) The other half of that is best summed up as a matter of taste, as nautical prep isn’t a look for everyone where as others just can't get past making the afro-punkified Paul Simon comparisons despite the Brooklyn quartet doing their best to step outside of their comfort zone by running their world beat influences through varied prisms of synth pop and indie rock to retort those claims. Regardless of the white noise pouring in from all directions, Vampire Weekend unapologetically embellish each of these talking points on their latest effort Modern Vampires of the City, silencing the argument by decisively mastering their craft in an effortlessly appealing fashion.

AS still stands by its assertion earlier that if you've heard one Vampire Weekend song, "you've more or less heard them all," however. The x factor to be celebrated when assessing Modern Vampires of the City is that -- powered by Ezra Koenig's lyrical prowess, keyboardist Rostam Batmangli's cutting-edge and producer Ariel Rechtshaid's pop precision -- they have simply written a more wondrously big album that puts them at a new level of cunning while cementing their catalog as timelessly appealing rather than an of-the-moment, flash-in-the-pan footnote within "indie" culture's legacy of tearing down icons as quickly as they build them up. Admittedly, AwkwardSound felt Contra found the handsome foursome making almost too much of an effort to reinvent themselves as electro-pop innovators as a means to steer clear of the perpetual Graceland side-eyes, but Modern Vampires of the City doesn't seem overly concerned to lean toward one end of the other. "Step," "Don't Lie" and "Ya Hey" fuse Vampire Weekend's flair for classical orchestra pop with arena-sized anthem ambitions that justify their position as Coachella subheadliners. The Cape Cod boardwalk's path has led them to shake their hips with the retro rock ghosts of Chuck Berry and Elvis on "Diane Young," while "Unbelievers," "Finger Back" and "Worship You" gallop and stomp under caffeinated pop-punk influence in a familiar way that "A-Punk" or "Cousins" did (except with less old timer nostalgia.) While "Everlasting Arms" conjures up the bass run of "You Can Call Me Al," it's Modern Vampires of the City's undisputed standout that works as a perfect LP centerpiece, and represents the essence of clean and classic pop rock song.

As for that high-brow eloquence that always makes VW tired targets of pretentious behavior, "Obvious Bicycle, "Hannah Hunt" and "Young Lion" are dramatically airy and sparse piano tricklers that listeners who find more value in the weight of Koenig's heavy-hearted verbosity surrounding faith, time and existentialism rather than what's happening in the background will bias as some of the best songs ever written, forgetting the existence of any of the Walkmen's similar-sounding work in the process. Modern Vampires of the City is as rich as the public perception of them despite its predictable movements, regardless, as the Williamsburg scene stalwarts have invested they're all into making an album representative of their kind of summer pop in its sharpest fashion statement to date. At the same time, AwkwardSound can't give them the loudest applause in the same way it could not at the end of last year with Beach House and Grizzly Bear's highly formidable releases, because in a world of risk takers and hungry young bands clawing their way for the same breakthrough buzz much like Vampire Weekend experienced in 2008, recording an album that's a linear extension of your past two efforts rolled into one under a higher resolution just isn't as striking. Sometimes a review score is better left unsaid when the music-time continuum transcends it.

Vampire Weekend's Modern Vampires of the City will be released May 14, 2013 on XL Recordings.

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