If it isn’t already entirely obvious based on the desaturation of the album cover, Modern Vampires Of The City is a decidedly greyer affair than previous efforts. Both despised as the posh’n’privileged poster children for 21st century indie rock and revered as upfront, forward thinking purveyors of pop, Vampire Weekend have thrown away the assorted crayons and replaced them with graphite and charcoal. Though their music is still littered with obscure, educated references and ambiguous concepts, it’s also evolved from some of the jarring and obnoxious attributes of their prior two albums, even if that just seems like an inevitability anyway. In the same vein as many other follow-ups, this album sees the band reach triumphant new heights – even if they find themselves precariously perched on the tightrope that separates “cool and engaging” from “gritted-teeth annoying”.
To its credit, Modern Vampires is the most thoughtfully crafted album of the three. It largely flows with ease, and there is certainly enough variety here to render it a comfortable, attractive listen, it just might take you a few runs through to decide what you like and what you don’t like. Take the mangled, high-pitched vocal sampling on ‘Ya Hey’ – it can be fingers-in-ears irritating on one occasion, complimentary and catchy on another. ‘Everlasting Arms’, whilst built on splendid percussion, has a pesky vocal chop in the form of “everlah-hasting arms”, and ‘Finger Back’ can be a nauseating thing, not properly fitting in with the album’s greyed aesthetic. It sounds overwhelmingly like Animal Collective, what with its yelped chorus vocals and overcompensatory application of reverb, and doesn’t hold up against the much stronger tracks surrounding it.
These are but subjective gripes, and owing to the fact that overall Modern Vampires is unexpectedly brilliant, it’s easy to just see past them. There is an apparent admission of childish naivety in ‘Step’, with Koenig singing that “the gloves are off, the wisdom teeth are out, what you on about?” – as tired a sentiment as it may be, the album is more grown-up and resigned than its predecessors, and the addressing of such is apt. Then on ‘Unbelievers’, perhaps the closest relative to the Vampire Weekend of yesteryear, we are treated to lofty electric organ, soft vocal harmonies and brief, releasing passages. It all sounds so simple, but there is some strong songcrafting at play here. ‘Diane Young’ is characterised by a short moment of pitch-shifted vocals, perhaps unnecessary but sonically rewarding regardless, although even without it the song is an energetic and dizzying display covering sheltered and misspent-yet-well-spent youth.
Who would have thought that the album’s greatest moments come with the slower, darker numbers? It’s certainly the case that Vampire Weekend have perhaps alienated fans that were gripped by the immediacy of ‘A-Punk’ and ‘Cousins’, but it has to be said that ‘Hannah Hunt’ is one of the band’s most absorbing tracks to date. It is laboured and methodical, and it won’t resonate with the adrenaline junkies, but all of the elements mesh perfectly, not least of all the smirking vocal melody, especially with the line “A man of faith said hidden eyes could see what I was thinking / I just smiled and told him that was only true of Hannah”. Even further from our perceptions of this band, at the tail-end of the album is the track ‘Hudson’, amelodic and aching over shivering snare, with creepy organ and choir – at times, everything converges and sounds pretty, but then there’s a separation and more discordance.
I won’t pretend that I know or understand some of the underlying themes at work here, clearly the members are well-versed and deep thinkers, but from a musical standpoint this is a real progression for Vampire Weekend. They have been willing to sacrifice some of their accessibility in favour of creating something with more substance that will lend to their sustainability. Modern Vampires has garnered my interest in the band and their route where before I simply thought of their two albums as nothing more than semi-enjoyable romps. As polarising as they seem to be, Vampire Weekend know what music they want to make — they won’t, nor should they, budge on it.