Published May 27, 2013Despite feeling that facile misperceptions of his band as WASPy elitists or cultural appropriators were "uncharitable," Vampire Weekend's singer and co-songwriter, Ezra Koenig, knew that, with 2008's self-titled, African highlife-inspired debut and their more worldly, exquisitely-produced 2010 follow-up, Contra, they must be on to something.
With characteristic eloquence, he claims that "The fact that people freaked out so much at the time confirmed my feeling that there was something inherently interesting or worthwhile about riffing on preppy clothes and money. I can't believe how little music talks about money and class, when you consider that it's the biggest social issue or problem that we have."
Not that they're too worried any more. The band, comprised of bassist Chris Baio, drummer Chris Tomson, and keyboardist/producer Rostam Batmanglij, are transcending the cultural appropriator tag with a mature, profound record that eschews the peppy, guitar-centric sound of their first two albums for a grander, almost neo-classical palette. The record is also the best of their short career.
Modern Vampires of the City employs plenty of warm, resonant piano, strings, and even harpsichord to convey a crumbling sense of grandeur. It's a largely melancholic album that, even at its most upbeat, still retains an air of harsh realism.
With the members of Vampire Weekend now in their late 20s, Koenig admits that Modern Vampires has "a bit of a coming of age feeling. Every album we make reflects where we're at in our lives: the first one is very naive, 'school days'; the second one is the expansion of the world, it has a more international flavour to coincide with when we were touring the world; there's something about this record that feels like a deeper return home, kind of like a 'there and back again' story."
Lyrically, Modern Vampires continues to address class, but where Koenig's fascinatingly literate lyrics once seemed occasionally and purposefully abstruse, he's now tackling larger, universal concepts like love and death, all through a prism of mortality and temporality.
Lines like "wisdom's a gift, but you'd trade it for youth," from stately first single "Step," and the image, from "Unbelievers," of being "bound to the tracks of [a] train," suggest an almost hopeless feeling of powerlessness, but Koenig points to "Hannah Hunt" as an example of the album's complex optimism.
"One of the reasons I wanted to include it on an album is because of the lyric in the chorus, 'Though we live on the U.S. dollar, you and me we got our own sense of time.' Especially on this album, I felt like it kind of encapsulated a lot of what was going on on the record. I like that idea; even though there's one thing [seemingly insurmountable] happening, there is a kind of personal transcendence that can happen."