With two well-received LP’s to their name already, playing it safe was a perfectly viable option for Vampire Weekend’s third - Modern Vampires of the City. In spite of this, the indie-pop wunderkinds pushed the boundaries and produced a fresh, coherent and mature selection of tracks and, arguably, their best album to date.
The attempt to distance themselves from earlier records is apparent from the first moments of album opener ‘Obvious Bicycle’. The sparse, lazy track is a far cry from Vampire Weekend’s usual energy-infused opener – a sign that perhaps we are listening to a band that has made its name and is finally allowed time to breathe. The beautifully arranged track sees piano and bass take centre stage with no sign of Ezra Koenig’s Graceland guitar hooks or Chris Tomson’s tribal drumming. The melody floats whimsically on a bed of breezy backing vocals and constantly changing instrumentation. Tranquil and spacious, ‘Obvious Bicycle’ would be the perfect album closer, particularly owing to its theatrical solo piano outro that plays the song out. Perhaps however, it’s a reflection on what’s to come from the album described by Koenig as “very much the last of a trilogy”.
The classical influences obvious in the band’s debut returns in ‘Step’, another slow tune that reflects on age with lines like “the gloves are off, the wisdom teeth are out,” and “wisdom’s a gift, but you’d trade it for youth, age is an honour, it’s still not the truth”. Twinkling harpsichord reminiscent of Frideric Handel add a level of conviction to the mature content – a touch that doesn’t quite escape its own cheesiness. ‘Don’t Lie’ also alludes to classical influences with the return of the harpsichord, this time accompanied by a string section and a walking bassline. Once again, Koenig’s bright guitar riffs are absent, replaced by acoustic chords – a direction that almost likens the sound to Liam Finn’s FOMO. An absolute chameleon of a tune, the instrumentation shifts seamlessly and often, proving the band’s talent for change and need to keep songs interesting.
What could be labelled the ‘A-Punk’ of the album, ‘Diane Young’ is instantly accessible and infuriatingly catchy track with a throw back to Buddy Holly-style vocals but with a punk twist. Chris Tomson’s machine gun staccato drums sound like movie punches to the face, explosive and impossibly fast. The auto-tune experimented with in Contra is once again employed however not to such an irritating extent. The energy continues with ‘Finger Back’, a track that echoes The Ramones in its punk style chorus, before progressing to a spoken word segment and a climactic twist ending – this is a band unafraid of mixing it up. And why should they be?