|Recording information: Downtown Studios, New York, NY; Echo Park Back House, Los Angeles, CA; RB's Apt; Slow Death Studios, Burbank; Vox Studios, Los Angeles, CA.
|At the time of its release, Modern Vampires of the City was touted as a "deeper" offering from Vampire Weekend. While that's true to an extent, it downplays the equally heartfelt and clever songs on their first two albums. What is undeniable is that Modern Vampires is a lot less obviously showy than the band's previous work. They trade in Contra's bright eclecticism for a less audacious production style and smaller instrumental palette: guitar, organ, harpsichord, and the occasional sample combine into a rarefied sound that suggests a more introspective version of their debut, and the band bookends the album with some of its most literal and insular chamber pop on "Obvious Bicycle" and "Young Lion." Modern Vampires' quieter approach also showcases what might be most enduring about Vampire Weekend's music -- endearing melodies and carefully crafted lyrics. It also fits Ezra Koenig's preoccupations on this set of songs, chief among them the fact that we're all going to die. The band sums up all of this brilliantly on "Step," where the music's hip-hop beats and harpsichords reflect the allusions to Souls of Mischief and growing pains in Koenig's lyrics. Elsewhere, Vampire Weekend tones down the quirks that may have polarized listeners before; songs like "Everlasting Arms" and "Unbelievers" walk the fine line between cheery and grating so well that they could win over those who previously found them too peppy and preppy. Similarly, Modern Vampires of the City's political allusions are also subtler than they were on Contra, where the band brandished them like college students all too willing to display their awareness of current events: Koenig sounds offhanded when he sings "though we live on the US dollar/We got our own sense of time" on "Hannah Hunt," and even the album's most overtly political song, the darkly verbose "Hudson," adopts a more historical stance as it incorporates everything from 17th century explorers, pre-war apartments, and exclusive New York neighborhoods into its meditations on fate versus free will. Of course, Vampire Weekend can't completely stifle their exuberance, and the album's louder moments stand out even more vibrantly against the subdued ones. "Diane Young"'s brash, buzzy mix of doo wop, surf, and punk feels like a nod to Contra as well as Billy Joel's "You May Be Right," and Koenig sings "I don't wanna live like this, but I don't wanna die" with so much joy on "Finger Back" that it celebrates life as much as it contemplates mortality. Ultimately, Modern Vampires of the City is more thoughtful than it is dark, balancing its more serious moments with a lighter touch and more confidence than they've shown before. Even if Koenig and company fear getting old, maturity suits them well. ~ Heather Phares