Posts Tagged ‘ Vampire Weekend ’

Best Albums of 2013

In 2013, I reviewed 57 albums, 34 of which were released this year. Here are my picks for albums of the year, with the usual caveats: I know my experience was far from complete, but I think I do a good job of picking out the things I’ll be interested in. If the list seems weird, it probably has more to do with my taste than with the number of albums I bought. I pick my top 5, with confidence that even if I heard all the popular releases this year, these ones would still likely fit in my top 10. And if I discover the ones I missed later, I’ll include them in my list of the best “old discoveries” of the year.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

Modern Vampires of the City cover

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

Like everyone, I found Vampire Weekend’s debut to be a surprise hit. Also like everyone, I intended to check out their follow-up, but never got around to it. It didn’t seem too important to buy another literate-but-light-on-meaning pop album with affected African vocal inflections. Now the band has a third album, and, like everyone, I was surprised to hear people talk about it in the same surprised, glowing terms they used for the original Vampire Weekend. So I come to this one without much expertise, not knowing how much of the growth I’m seeing would have been evident had I been paying attention a few years ago. However, I can say that Modern Vampires of the City is an incredible album.

Yes, you’ll have to get past an awful album title. And a drab cover photo of New York City in 1966. And the first track, “Obvious Bicycle”, is not going to grab your attention. But after those first five minutes, all of the album’s weak points are out of the way. What’s left is a masterfully crafted set of songs that make the band’s gimmicky sound and themes seem perfectly natural. If you don’t think you’re interested in pop albums, Modern Vampires may be especially for you. Vampire Weekend doesn’t seem to see any conflict between catchy, hook-filled songs and intelligent lyrics that reward attention. For example, “Ya Hey” is a fun track with a nonsensical-sounding refrain, but it’s actually about “Yahweh”. The band confronts the Hebrew god who wouldn’t even give His name clearly, faulting Him for the distance between Himself and His creation. The “Ya Hey” of the refrain is distorted in varied ways to play with the unpronounceable name.

Distortion also plays a center role in “Diane Young”, possibly the best pop song in years. It’s a mix of “baby baby baby”, lyrics about living fast, breaks in the tension that are practically a cappella, and sudden releases driven by an upbeat drum machine. In addition to all those blended aspects, the vocals are sometimes slowed down and run through cheap studio tricks that create a strong contrast to the otherwise-sugary song. Imagine a power-pop hit by Ween, and you’ll have a good idea of how this works.

It’s amazing to see the evolution from Vampire Weekend to Modern Vampires of the City. It’s obviously the same band, but where their early songs’ meanings were basically “Google what a ‘mansard roof’ is and you’ll understand”, these ones have a lot going on. (Atheism or discomfort with religion come up frequently, as in “Ya Hey”, but many songs are just general tales about life. Aging seems to be a secondary theme, as well.) The production and songcraft are excellent, with even the flow between songs feeling carefully engineered. It’s a varied but cohesive album with obvious care put into every moment. Whatever your past experiences with Vampire Weekend, this is a must-have.

Grade: A