Friday, March 14, 2014

Album Review - Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend
Modern Vampires of the City
XL Recordings (2013)

Artistically significant charm is a tough musical bogey. On their third LP, Modern Vampires of the City, New York based indie sensations Vampire Weekend deliver deceptively dense, diverse, yet accessible pop that delights. It's the kind of album that connects with music snobs, English scholars, and teenagers alike; dance music for the contemplative. It's a bold musical vision, fully realized.

The songs bear little relationship to each other, but they nonetheless feel like parts of a cohesive piece. The vibe is intelligent pop, with the sophisticated poetry of Columbia educated lead singer and lyricist Ezra Koenig feeding a philosophical mood. (If Koenig was more focused on sex than philosophy, it would be easy to hear screaming girls in your head.) This from the album opener and mellow morning drive mood music, "Obvious Bicycle":
So keep that list of who to thank in mind.
And don't forget the rich ones who were kind.
Oh you ought to spare your face the razor,
Because no one's gonna spare their time for you.
Why don't you spare their world a traitor,
Take your wager back and leave before you lose. 
The morning of "Bicycle" quickly becomes night, and the dance party begins. If Jim James nailed his own version of Graceland, with a twist of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, this would be the near result. Koenig has a background in African music, and it permeates much of the record, especially the superb "Everlasting Arms." His vocal chops match his lyrical prowess. Like James, he knows how to measure his vocal effort, alternately rocking you to sleep or bringing down the house, as the context requires.

As one would expect from Ivy League musicians, inspirations are diverse. "Arms" opens with orchestration before launching us to the African savannah. The album even brings Irish hyper folk into the mix (the Riverdance ready "Worship You"). "Don't Lie" lays gospel organ over a marching band drum roll. 

Intelligent and versatile, VW can weld campfire folk into soaring electronica without sounding contrived. Album highlight "Hannah Hunt" pulls the listener quickly through an initial burst of synthesized chaos into crackling love song serenity...
Our days were long our nights no longer,
Count the seconds, watching hours.
Though we live on the US dollar,
You and me, we got our own sense of time. 
Once a trance is obtained, the listener is ripped momentarily out of it with percussive shots of out-of-nowhere piano and renewed electronic noise. Then, a peaceful drumroll leads immediately back to ... serenity. The song is a model of lyrical quality and restrained texture, delivered in a taught sub 4 minute package. "Hunt" is emblematic of the album's quirky, taut genius. 

As a body of work, Modern Vampires is a bold experiment in intelligent pop, beautifully executed both musically and lyrically. I can't get enough of it. Casual fun should always be this serious; deep art this charming.


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