- Craig Graziano
Modern Vampires of the City is perhaps the catchiest, most joyous-sounding album to explore death that I have ever heard. The third release from collegiate prep rockers Vampire Weekend shows emotional and musical growth as lead singer Ezra Koening struggles with his own mortality.
Vampire Weekend got their start building on riffs and melodies from 80's pop stalwarts Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon, exploring African rhythms and sweet, tender vocals. Such influences defined their 2008 self-titled debut and their second album, Contra, but the concluding volume of their trilogy finds the band striking out on their own, forming a stronger identity while drawing from subtler inspirations.
Sure, there are still some hallmarks of the band's early sound. Like the previous albums, the songs switch off between affectionate whispers such as "Step" and pulsing energetic anthems such as "Diane Young," all with crystal clear production.
Despite a mostly upbeat tempo, the songs never escape Koening's existential anxieties. Just say the title of that latter song out loud, or listen to the bridge of "Finger Back," with its desperate plea "I don't wanna live like this, but I don't wanna die," to identify his troubles.
In the face of all this dread, the band manages to make some of the most beautiful music of their career. Rostam Batmanglij's use of keyboard give Koening's lyrics a well-earned grandiose sense of purpose. The previously mentioned "Step," pairs a rolling harpsichord with a variation of Pachelbel's Canon in D and a hook borrowed from rapper YZ, making for a gently magnificent song.
Modern Vampires of the City affirms that Vampire Weekend still has a lot to say and, more importantly, can back those words up with lush orchestration. Fans of both indie rock and pop music can find much to agree on over an album like this.