Last year when Jukebox the Ghost released their third album, Safe Travels, I was critical of it for getting too serious at a detriment to the fun and upbeat style I loved about them. I posited a theory of “third album syndrome” and wondered if Vampire Weekend could escape it. Turns out they could. Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend’s third effort, is out now. I’ve been listening to it for a week now, and it’s my favorite album of all time.
Modern Vampires is a continuation of the technological experimentation first pushed with 2010’s Contra. Auto tune, pitch-shifting, and echoes all play a part in the first single off the album, “Diane Young”. It’s modern, in that it is available to the band only through computers, but it sounds and feels completely natural. It’s so tastefully done you don’t recognize it as techno. It’s just good punk rock.
Modern Vampires pushes also the clever lyrics and wordplay we’ve come to expect of Vampire Weekend. “Leave me to myself / Lead me to my cell” is a particular favorite, off “Everlasting Arms”. “Hannah Hunt” is brimmed with eloquent lyrics: “A gardener told me some plants move but I could not believe it / Til me and Hannah Hunt saw crawling vines and weeping willows / As we made our way from Providence to Phoenix”.
“Hannah Hunt” is my favorite track off the album, and I think Vampire Weekend’s best track to date. It, like all of the songs on Modern Vampires, has been ceaselessly iterated upon. Nuances catch your attention the third, fourth, and eighth times you listen to it (and you will). When Ezra Koenig sings “In Santa Barbara…” the guitar shifts to a tropical sound and you can hear the lapping waves of the ocean in the background. It may sound cheasy reading about it, but trust me, it is beautiful. “Hannah Hunt” is a soft track for two and a half minutes, and then five drum beats bring it into the most equisite ninety seconds of songmaking I’ve ever heard.
All of the songs give of this aura of development and iteration. It is clear that the Vampires have been relentless pursued perfection on this record. Each song is handcrafted and stands on its own. At the same time, they are together cohesive and tell a story. Said Rostam Batmanglij (guitar, keyboard, and backup vocals) in a recent interview:
I think we realized there’s no easy way to arrive at having twelve songs that you’re very proud of. There’s no shortcuts that can be taken. You just have to write and write and write and rewrite and revise. Hopefully that’s what we’ll always do. We’ll always be as hard on ourselves as we were on this record.
If I had one major criticism of Vampire’s debut, it would be that the tracks were too individual. Individually great, yes, but as a whole it eas clear the album was a collection of singles. Contra swung perhaps too far in the other direction; the songs didn’t stand quite so well on their own. Modern Vampires of the City is right in the middle. It’s best listened to as a whole, straight through, but you can shuffle it into your other music as you please. I don’t imagine you’ll want to listen to anything else, though. At least for a while.
Waiting three years for Modern Vampires sucked, no doubt. But if this is what Vampire Weekend can deliver with three years of work, then bring on 2016.