It seems like it was not so long ago that Vampire Weekend was just another above-average indie rock band that had managed to bubble its way up to the surface of alternative rock media with its self-titled debut. Singles like “A-Punk” and “Oxford Comma” were catchy, quirky, and made the occasional appearance on mainstream radio and car commercials. Two years later they released Contra, which, in typical indie-pop fashion, was less well received and sounded a bit like the work of a band who rushed in to making an album too early, trying to recreate an energy they had on their first album which was simply not there anymore. Not the same harsh backlash that The Strokes received, but still, a bit of a confused effort.
Now we have their third effort, Modern Vampires. Being familiar with the typical pattern of “hot new indie band” album releases, it seemed to entail that the band would try something experimental, but would ultimately lose sight of any kind of coherent structure and produce a self-indulgent, thoroughly average release. In the case of Vampire Weekend, this is absolutely not the case.
Modern Vampires is by far the band’s best release, and is my favorite album of the year so far. If any band in 2013 truly deserves the mantle of alternative rock, it’s Vampire Weekend. The album is all so tight, every sound effect so perfect for its place in the music, every musical experiment so interesting and pleasant, I kick myself for once dismissing them as another passing fad.
The music on this album isn’t anything that will come across as strange to fans of their last two albums. Though they’ve abandoned their overt world music influences, the harps, organs, and electronic sampling remain. “Step,” for example, complements Ezra Koenig’s globetrotting reflections on growing up and the anxiety that goes along with that with sweet harpsichord and bells, highlighting the somber, yet not at all bitter, tune. “Diane Young,” probably the most upbeat song on the album, follows that rather sad note by contrasting it with something of a less serious approach to one’s death. “No one knows what the future holds, and it’s bad enough just getting old,” Koenig sings about a young person whose life didn’t go quite as they’d planned. Life is unpredictable, he opines, as are the songs on this record. The sound effects, the pitch shifting, they all add up to a really enjoyable piece of music, and don’t at all sound like they’re just shoving in blips in an effort to demonstrate electronic influence.
The theme of death and its inevitability tie the album together, but the album isn’t quite as dark as some would infer from this. On “Hannah Hunt,” where, though the two characters “live on the US dollar,” they have “their own sense of time.” As much as that is usually a cliched young adult reaction to the cynical adult world they fear they soon will enter, here the sincerity pays off, and one cannot help but empathize. The band balances wit with heartfelt emotion, here more strongly than anything they’ve done before, and when those strongest of points for the band are employed on their deepest effort yet, it results in a collection of songs unlike anything you’re likely to see this year.
Recommended Tracks: Step, Diane Young, Hannah Hunt, Everlasting Arms