Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires Of The City Album Review
Vampire Weekend's third album Modern Vampires Of The City may just be the most ambitiously and confidently produced album you're likely to hear this year. Part of the joy of the material presented here is how deceptively uncomplicated these songs are. But dig a little deeper, and you can see why it's taken 3 years to refine this selection of quirky pop songs. While it lacks the immediate charm of the band's debut, Modern Vampires is arguably Koenig and Batmanglij's most accomplished effort to date.
Modern Vampires has been billed in interviews as the last part of a trilogy of records, and it's easy to see the similarities with what's come before. The quirky character sketches and highbrow reference points are all here. There's an underlying appreciation of a wide spectrum of musical reference points too. But there are subtle improvements with Chris Tomson's drumming sitting prominently in the mix, and Koenig gleefully playing with vocal effects throughout. Part of the reason for this will be the involvement of co-producer Ariel Rechtshaid, a man predominantly known for his involvement with artists like Usher and Kylie. By bringing an outsider into the studio for the first time, it seems Vampire Weekend have tried to expand their horizons.
Talking of horizons, the album cover itself hints at the underlying darker mood that runs through the record: an ominous picture of New York enveloped in the deadly smog that plagued the city in the late sixties. It suggests that Vampire Weekend may have found their metaphorical teeth to deal with more than just the hazy nostalgia that's coloured their previous records. Opening track 'Obvious Bicycle' is a prime example; amid the subtle drum samples and tape based studio trickery that punctuates the solitary piano, there's an almost funeral march mood as Koenig insists, "No-one's going to watch you as you go, from a house you didn't build and can't control". Meanwhile, on 'Everlasting Arms' he looks "up for the fear, trapped beneath the chandeliers". Even the religious fervour of 'Worship You' has a darker edge, and the children's choir that's been mapped onto Batmanglij's keyboard coupled with the ticking clock on 'Hudson' is just positively creepy.
But it's not all doom and gloom; lead single 'Diane Young' is a visceral piece of pop, which will enthral festival audiences this summer (although I'm not quite sure how Koenig will replicate his pitch shifting vocal performance). 'Step' samples 1990's Hip Hop act Souls Of Mischief (and by proxy the samples that they used), and 'Finger Back' sounds like a warped love letter to NYC.
While it's an album that may struggle to repeat the phenomenal commercial success of Vampire Weekend's debut, I'd argue in the long run there's more to love on Modern Vampires. It's not just because the band's affection for New York seeps through every pore of the record, but also because sonically it's a far more interesting album. If this is indeed the end to a trilogy of records, Vampire Weekend have set themselves an extremely high bar to reach for the next chapter of their career.
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