Modern Vampires Of The City
, May 17th, 2013 06:15
Your future has disappeared, but you can always Keep Calm And Have A Cupcake. So says much of modern indie, offering twee songs about skipping through the meadows with a farmer's daughter while Southern Europe teeters on the brink of implosion and your dreams of sitting on a beanbag in a funky creative industries job are shredded like damp lettuce. So it's nice to hear someone in their twenties, you know, confronting reality in any way at all, even if you might not have expected it from Vampire Weekend.
While data centres could be filled with blogosphere vitriol penned on boat shoes and Ivy League roots, Modern Vampires Of The City at the very least proves that they're not the American Mumford & Sons. A pretty revelatory moment occurs on the spectral, slow march of penultimate track 'Hudson', in which Ezra Koenig berates "the legendary wooden gate that first established real estate" and an album that seems to have been steering its central characters to a tentative domestic bliss is upended by panic attacks, a "rising tide", a "99-year lease" and a class divide, while chopped up percussion and a ghostly female voice soundtrack some kind of American dream coming crashing down.
I don't mean to get all A-level English on you, but the lyrics really are central to navigating this record; it's one of the few albums I've listened to in the past twelve months where I've felt the urge to bother interrogating them in any depth. Playful and a little wistful at the outset, the stories get more mordant as the album unfolds, charting an attempt at running away that seems to go sour. By 'Finger Back' Koenig's having his brain bashed out with a baseball bat and 'Ya Hey' feels the lick of hell's own flames on its unhinged chorus. Koenig seems to have bloomed into one of those top-class melodists who are capable of imbuing rather pleasant honking noises with some deeper meaning. Keep the lyric sheet in hand on the first few listens, is all I'm saying.
Words aside, Modern Vampires sounds like it's been stitched together from a variety of sessions, the selected highlights of a whole host of studio experiments, although significantly less terrible than that sounds. There's much fun to be had trying to work out how some of the tracks got off the ground, what the initial spark would have been; wondering, for example, why 'Ya Hey' ended up the way it did, switching between orchestral swoon (with a surprisingly well-deployed choir) and stomping bass-and-handclap combo. The chorus on 'Step' – a track that brings to mind 'Osaka Loop Line' by Rostam Batmanglij's under-rated Discovery project – sounds like a home demo that got it right first time, while 'Diane Young's exhilarating collision of rock & roll pastiche and pitch-shifted vocals is bracing.
Occasionally, the record falls asleep at the wheel and a couple of mid-tempo chuggers have Vampire Weekend sounding like Earnest Pop Act #42. Arcade Firey lighters-in-the-air cut 'Worship You' is the worst offender, drowning under gallons of reverb, and while 'Unbelievers' is perfectly pretty (and, to its credit, has an accordion on it), it's basically a Paul Simon cover. I still can't quite make friends with the spoken word moments, either, one of which crops up on the otherwise exhilarating 'Finger Back' and refuses to sound to me like anything other than Terrence and Phillip Go Pop.
But that's the price you pay for listening to a band who seem determined to grow up while staying goofy and resolutely unfashionable. Because of that eccentricity, Modern Vampires quite often touches brilliance, and does so without audibly straining for 'maturity' or pushing hard to be some po-faced Great American Album. It spins a city populated with believable people, racing against clocks, most of them going nowhere, trying to stay young. By the second listen, when you know that they're all getting sucked into the 'Hudson' anyway, it's even better.