Live photos from Merriweather / September 2010 by Jeff Martin
Modern Vampires of the City hit the interwebz earlier this week, but officially goes on sale 5/15. You can also currently stream the album through the iTunes Store.
If you’d asked me how committed I was to Vampire Weekend in 2008, I most likely wouldn’t have said anything less ambiguous than, “We’re just having fun right now.”
I loved Vampire Weekend’s Vampire Weekend. But just like most everything else I loved as a college freshman, I really only loved the idea of it. At the end of the day, I was prepared to let Vampire Weekend evolve gradually into a very good memory — the same way I knew that college itself someday would. I would not have held this against them.
And it was so fun, the time we shared. Waltzing starry-eyed through the quad in madras shorts and a loose fitting button-down shirt, “Oxford Comma” popping cleanly through pearly white, Apple-issue headphones, I was taking advantage of a rare opportunity to enjoy being wholly typical. And sure, it was all made possible by an idea I carried around with me of a band of Ivy-Leaguers who said, “Fuck it. We’re smart enough to do basically anything we want; let’s start a band.”
When it came to early summer evenings spent on rooftops and front porch stoops, should “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” have emerged in polyrhythmic layers through abused speakers just as everything beneath the sky took on its purply-orange hue, you might have found me with closed eyes and a smile, seated in a broken lawn chair – surrounded by a music video’s worth of undergraduate extras – basking fully in the idea of Vampire Weekend.
When Contra entered my iTunes library in 2010, I wanted to do more than not hate it. It didn’t seem to have a sign directing me to “Sink Teeth Here” like their first effort did, and I quickly pushed it aside in favor of albums like CEO’s White Magic and Wolf Parade’s Expo 86. What Contra seemed to mean more than anything was that Vampire Weekend was special, and, like freshman year itself, doomed not to be repeated under pleasant circumstances. On whatever quest I might go to replicate my first experience with Vampire Weekend, I was at this point doomed to be Gatsby — a charlatan, seeking a lost love that – much like Fitzgerald’s Daisy – sounded “a lot like money.”
Disclaimer: If this Great Gatsby reference seems like a stretch, I apologize; I simply thought that if there’s a place to get away with referencing a book about New York City that every college kid will read at some point, it’s in a review of an album by a band from New York City that every college kid will listen to at some point.
In Gatsby-esque terms, then, Vampire Weekend is what you would call an old flame, but one that always felt based on a kind of fanciful abstraction, not real life. “Old flames can’t warm you tonight, so keep it cool my baby,” sings Ezra Koenig this time around, and, as it happens, Modern Vampires in the City comes across like Vampire Weekend at peak coolness.
Modern Vampires is excellent. It’s so good, in fact, that it makes Contra better in retrospect; it allows the sophomore effort to be understood as a kind of necessary middle step between points A and C in a band history that now seems conveniently structured like a working syllogism.
With the end of each track and the start of the next one throughout Modern Vampires comes a carefully designed shift in mood. You’ve most likely heard “Step” and “Diane Young,” which appear together as track numbers 3 and 4 respectively, and you can probably imagine the palette of weird-pop textures the rest of the album consists of in similar jump-starting sequences.
One of the clearest things about the album is how much work must have been put into it. Even clearer is the degree to which their efforts resulted in a technically spotless LP. Far more relevant, though, to what makes this particular album one that I’m considering making long term plans with: I find it to be genuinely moving.
Imagine, if you could, an old flame standing at your doorstep – one that you cared for in a suspiciously similar way to how I cared about Vampire Weekend five years ago.
This person is now faultless – he/she lacks any of the errors you once perceived that had made him/her seem, mm, fun, but inconsequential to you as far as the “long game” was concerned. “The gloves are off, the wisdom teeth are out,” his/her lucid expression now indicates. It becomes clear to you very quickly that this old flame of yours has experienced a great deal in the years you both have spent apart, as he/she now conveys a humble and very real association with both faith and despair. You cannot help but find this newfound aspect of his/her character fascinating.
To your amazement and perhaps also your pride, the person at your doorstep now seems to have arrived gracefully at the idea that what we usually refer to as God is actually a subjective conversation that we all, each of us, experience entirely on our own, and even further, that any attempt to communicate the intricacies of this conversation seems to do more to destroy the phenomenon than illuminate it.
The best part about this individual is that he/she doesn’t need to articulate any of this to you, and especially not the way I’m saying it here. You are able to infer all of it because your old flame has mastered the art of implying large, hyper-specific concepts in magnificently subtle ways.
If anything heavy – like death, for instance – comes up in conversation, he/she confronts it but doesn’t dwell. Perhaps he/she says something diffusive yet enticing, like, “Everyone’s dyin’, but girl you’re not old yet,” or something a little less flippant but more poetic, like, “There’s a headstone right in front of you, and everyone I know.” Whatever the case, it could not be clearer to you that said individual now understands something of a profoundly good nature. Whatever it might be – you want to understand it with them.
Modern Vampires of the City is here to show us that Vampire Weekend isn’t just a fuck-buddy from yesteryear, and that our appreciation for it wasn’t the biproduct of chance collisions like age, location, and weather. It demonstrates that Vampire Weekend can create something sustainably good.
It isn’t just a “grown up” Vampire Weekend we’re dealing with. They didn’t simply get better at emulating Paul Simon without imitating Paul Simon, and they didn’t throw out any rulebooks either. They just worked very hard putting together a really honest record — one that’s more than just an idea.