Make us your home page

Review: Vampire Weekend still thinking hard on third release

Singer-guitarist Ezra Koenig leads Vampire Weekend. The band releases third album Modern Vampires of the City on Tuesday.

Getty Images (2008)

Singer-guitarist Ezra Koenig leads Vampire Weekend. The band releases third album Modern Vampires of the City on Tuesday.

At first it sounded like a novelty gag, maybe an arch slice of Christopher Guest satire: four polo-clad Columbia University stiffs playing Afropop (really: Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa) and warbling earnestly about grammar (no, really: Oxford Comma). Vampire Weekend couldn't be for real, right? Indie rock comes with a fair amount of elitism, but tribal songs about butlers?

Now we know: Singer-songwriter Ezra Koenig, who sounds like an older Holden Caulfield, and his three popped-collar NYC pals were serious about merging their experiences ("In December drinking horchata / I'd look psychotic in a balaclava") and their musical influences (Paul Simon's Graceland, particularly). More important, Vampire Weekend was seductively great at it. The band's 2008 self-titled debut was obnoxious but inclusive — snobbery you could dance to — and 2010's Contra took that grooving sound to stadium levels, including the sorta-hit Giving Up the Gun, which played like the Clash after a thorough chemical wash.

Third album Modern Vampires of the City, to be released Tuesday, is yet another stellar offering from VW. The band's percussive creativity remains peerless in modern pop; tribal rhythms, synth wriggles and funky xylophone stutters drive the consistently strange songs. There's just one little difference this time around: Vampire Weekend is ready to be loved by everyone.

• • •

As a tie-in for Modern Vampires of the City, American Express is sponsoring a series of "real" video encounters with the band and actor-director Steve Buscemi, playing himself as a music-clueless buffoon mentoring the boys. It's funny stuff (all available on YouTube), and the merging of VW and AmEx makes sense. The band's listenership is growing up and, presumably, growing wealthier. Plus the guys are tired of being indie; it's time to ride a big hype wave, and AmEx has the juice to do that.

• • •

It will also help the band's household potential that the new LP, for all the highbrow references and thoughtful touches, also indulges in broad strokes. Credit the band's secret weapon, producer and keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij, for keeping things fresh. Clocking in at 2 minutes, 41 seconds, first single Diane Young has a steroidal Buddy Holly feel with hard hand claps, surf guitar wipeouts and go-go thunder drums from skinman Chris Tomson. It's the quartet's most "fun" song yet, a frenzied slam dance for people who laugh at New Yorker cartoons.

If you're looking for Afropop, the anthemic track Everlasting Arms has a familiar vibe, but let it be known the band is in remodeling mode. Hannah Hunt is built not unlike a chilly piano-minded Coldplay ballad — that is, before its eruptive Springsteen-esque coda, a road-trip song about a man and a woman trying to flee their rigid East Coast roots, not unlike a certain band trying to surprise a few folks.

The band is feeling so confident it tries for a grand gesture every time out; it doesn't always work — the over-the-top Hudson with its creepy chorale coos especially. But for the most part, the band is a frenetic, on-target wonder. The Elvis Costello postpunk of Unbelievers ("Want a little warmth / But who's going to save a little warmth for me?") is either about atheism or simply being lost, and the postpunk winner finds Koenig contemplating universal notions, not just those affecting the Lacoste set.

Same goes with burbling cut Step, never mind those perplexing first lines: "Back back way back I used to front like Angkor Wat / Mechanicsburg, Anchorage and Dar es Salaam." It's the stuff that comes in the song's pulsing finale that counts, the former Ivy League brats realizing that all of us, rich and poor, face the same questions: "Wisdom's a gift, but you'd trade it for youth / Age is an honor, it's still not the truth." You don't have to subscribe to the Paris Review to understand that.

Sean Daly can be reached at Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.


Vampire Weekend

Modern Vampires of the City (XL Recordings)

Grade: B+

Review: Vampire Weekend still thinking hard on third release 05/11/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 4:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Tuesday May 30


    Finding Neverland: The hit Broadway show follows the story behind playwright J.M. Barrie as he struggles to find inspiration to create Peter Pan, until he meets four young brothers and their beautiful widowed mother. 7:30 p.m., Carol Morsani Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, …

    Mitchell Wray, Jordan Cole, Finn Faulconer and Ben Krieger as the Llewelyn Davies Boys in the National Tour of Finding Neverland. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
  2. Big rents and changing tastes drive dives off St. Pete's 600 block

    Music & Concerts

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kendra Marolf was behind the lobby bar of the State Theatre, pouring vodka sodas for a weeknight crowd packed tight for Bishop Briggs, the latest alternative artist to sell out her club.

    Sam Picciano, 25, left, of Tampa and Molly Cord 24, Palm Harbor shop for record albums for a friend at Daddy Kool Records located on the 600 block of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida on Saturday, May 20, 2017. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
  3. Restaurant review: Features Gastropub in Riverview is fine as movie theater fare, but unimpressive otherwise

    Food & Dining

    Movies aren't exactly dying. Despite all the sturm und drang of predictions that Netflix and streaming videos would kill the cinema, global box office receipts hit $38.6 billion in 2016, a 1 percent gain over the previous year. But that doesn't mean going to the cinema is precisely what it was a generation ago. …

    A cheesesteak sandwich i at the Features Gastropub.
  4. From the food editor: I love that food is a huge part of Master of None's transcendent second season


    Deep into a late-night binge of Master of None, Aziz Ansari's Netflix series that returned for its second season May 12, I realized I was laying as far back on my couch as possible, blanket clutched up to my chin, eyebrows permanently raised.

    Dev (Aziz Ansari) and Arnold (Eric Wareheim) eat lunch in Modena, Italy, in the second season of "Master of None."
  5. Three 'MasterChef' contestants from the Tampa Bay area talk cooking inspiration and more


    When Gordon Ramsay's MasterChef begins its eighth season tonight, the Tampa Bay area will have three contestants to root for. A marketing director from Tampa, a dentist and Palm Harbor native, and an employee for a steel supply company are all trying to impress a trio of judges with their home-cooking skills.

    Jeff Philbin in MasterChef. (Photo courtesy of Fox)