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Vampire Weekend - Take the city gates by storm
on 13 May 2013
With hindsight we would do well to remember how many critics thought that Vampire Weekend's eponymous debut might be their first and last record. The "Upper West Side Soweto" template did seem to offer limited development opportunities and suspicions lingered that this was just a slice of novelty cultural tourism by (at best) a bunch of privileged preppy white boys and at worse four Ivy League bozo's. Their excellent sophomore album "Contra" started to suggest a band with much greater staying power who were moving into very interesting darker corners. Now their third album "Modern Vampires of the City" confirms a new album that is an undoubted keeper by a band who must now be ranked as best amongst their peer group. Repeated listens confirm an almost perfect pop album strong on infectious song-smithery, populated with hooks large enough to catch Tuna and lyrics so smart you can award an A+ diploma to each track. Yes MVOTC is essentially about New York but within its vinyl grooves are songs which tackle themes of faith, death and after-life albeit with a broad smille on their face. While at one time the band may have seen "the dawn in the colours of Bennetton" this superficiality has passed and the opener "Obvious bicycle" it is so beautifully melancholic that it could appear on a Mercury Rev album. The same applies to "The Unbelievers" which sounds like Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue" rewritten for the 21st Century with a splash of world music thrown in for good measure. Ezra Koenig's skills are brilliantly honed on an album standout "Step" which is both a doo-wop track with harpsichord and shows that he has studied his Brian Wilson songbook well. It is a gorgeous song that cries out for the repeat button. The foot is further pressed down on the gas pedal for the buoyant single "Diane Young" surely destined to be the 'alternative' pop record of the summer? It is worth checking out the "making" of this song on the net which forms part of the excellent series of videos where the band enlist as their "Director" the actor Steve Buscemi to hit the streets to hustle New Yorkers into buying tickets to their Roseland Ballroom concert.
Darker hues are fleshed out on the rubbery pop of "Everlasting Arms" a lush pounding song with a infectious drum undercurrent, wobbling bass and on repeated listens a rather funky sheen. Then we have the ubiquitous "Ya Heh" which has just about colonised every music blog for the last month with its regretful lyric of "America don't love you", huge cartoon character backing to the infectious chorus plus an ending to die for. Lookout in addition for "Hanna Hunt" which shows how Koenig's songwriting craft is maturing at warp speed not least the wistful line "If I can't trust you then damn it Hannah, there's no future, there's no answer." The ultimate sign of a great pop band in this reviewers humble opinion is to construct a pop song at around two minutes and make it indelibly mark. The 1.45 seconds of the final track "Young Lion" achieves this with a gentle rolling piano and melody that sticks like superglue. Granted it is still early days with "Modern Vampires" and one of the longest tracks on the record "Hudson" has yet to really land a blow. This is countered by the sheer fun and outrageous audacity of "Finger love" which could happily grace an Animal Collective album and fit like a glove. The spoken interlude in the song is followed by Keonig recalling "Remembrances of holy days in Tarrytown and Rye/I don't wanna live like this, but I don't wanna die". Finally "Worship you" reminds you of the theme tune for the old TV series Bonanza, surely always a great sign?
While "Modern Vampires of the City" may not be the best album of 2013 (time will tell) it is by a country mile the most enjoyable listening experience of the year thus far. It is a life affirming album by a band entering their prime. The good news is that any doubt around the longevity of Vampire Weekend is dispelled by this record. This fact alone should be a cause of celebration. A while ago one Amazon reviewer had the audacity to describe Vampire Weekend as the new Talking Heads. They are two very different beasts but in the context of this new album we get a huge pot pourri of whimsical, esoteric lyrics combined with a mix of elements of punk rock, art rock, avant-garde, pop, funk, world music, and Americana. Does this sound familiar? Whatever the case "Modern Vampires" is a completely joyful album which you are going to want to own pronto.