Here’s the thing: Before releasing their third studio album Modern Vampires Of the City, Vampire Weekend had already put themselves in a position both advantageous and precarious. By blending indie-rock/pop elements with electronic production and island sounds and rhythms, they’ve managed to carve out a niche sound, complete with a niche audience that loves pretty much everything they do—so they’ve eliminated the competition, because there’s no other band to compare them to. That’s the advantage.
But it’s also a disadvantage. You see, there is no one to compare Vampire Weekend to but, well, Vampire Weekend. And with the bar set so high from their previous two records, the pressure to outdo themselves was pretty high going into this project.
So here’s the thing: they did it. Modern Vampires Of the City is not just a good album; it’s a great album. It’s the most insightful and mature work they’ve ever produced, both lyrically and musically.
On the music side of things, there’s no real shift in direction here—after all, when you’re doing something your audience loves, you don’t change it—you just try to do it better. And that’s what they’ve done. Ezra Koenig’s vocals are polished and mature, and keyboardist/producer Rostam Batmanglij has brought an extra layer of sparkle to the mix. The entire project sounds as though it’s been meticulously produced: a place for everything, and everything in its place within the sonic space.
In the lyrical space—Koenig is approaching his 30s now, and the lyrics he sings carry a much deeper, introspective tone than before as he tackles themes of life, age, the passage of time, death, etc., etc. Oh–and religion. In fact, as I listen to this record, two particular influences seem to dominate: Paul Simon and God. Both come together quite nicely in “Everlasting Arms”, in which Koenig practically channels Simon’s rambling vocal style over a riff remarkably reminiscent of “You Can Call Me Al”—except with lyrics like “Hold me in your everlasting arms,” the overall tone is much deeper and more reflective than its predecessor. References to religion, faith and God are rampant through the record as Koenig seems to wrestle on both sides of the issues without being heavy-handed in his conclusions. The keystone track, in my opinion, is “Ya Hey”, which is an obvious derivative of “Yahweh.” Over a Jamaican-influenced beat, Koenig talks to God about a civilization that rejects him despite the abundance of religion: “And I can’t help but feel / That you see the mistakes / But you let it go.” He continues through a burning bush reference: “Through the fire and through the flames / You won’t even say your name / You say I am that I am.”
Overall, Modern Vampires Of the City goes where earlier Vampire Weekend records perhaps feared to tread: deeper. A more mature band has gotten even tighter musically while creating songs of substance—songs that will make their fans want to dance while the music is playing, but will also no doubt provoke some serious conversations when the music stops. Given their unique vibe, the skeptics could easily dismiss this band as an anomaly with records one and two. But with this record, the skeptics are sure to be silenced. Vampire Weekend has arrived as an act to take seriously.