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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Music: Modern Vampires of the City

Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend

A few days ago I was afforded the chance to listen to this album in its entirety. Having anticipated it ever since the days post-Contra, I knew I was potentially risking letdown from the (largely unfair) expectations that had been built in my mind. From the singles that had been released over the course of this album's creation I grew more and more excited as the songs gave so much promise. Despite my best efforts I was already judging this album before I listened to it.

Being a self-admitted Vampire Weekend fan I took a few moments to consider whether I would be in my right mind to judiciously comment on Modern Vampires of the City. Fans often have a way of excusing faults or embracing the body of an artist's work that critics might otherwise unilaterally pan. Make no mistake though, this is the life of a fan and I believe it is not only important but necessary for music as a whole. All this being said, I was indeed caught off-guard by what Vampire Weekend did with their latest effort. In a surprisingly twist, they made a critic out of someone who has confessed in the past that they could do no wrong.

They created an album that caused reflection on why I enjoyed their music so much in the first place.

MVotC is by far their most sonically varied, furthest reaching, and thematically consistent music to date. From the opening lines of the album, Ezra sings of abandon within a larger world that seems to care not for the thoughts of the lonely persona he lyrically paints against a soft melodic background. "Unbelievers" further expands upon the notions contained within the album by establishing a thesis of a strangely interesting subject for the band: God. Religion at the very least, perhaps metaphorically standing in for a more over-arching topic takes center place on MVotC. The track sings of dying a sinner for the lack of a belief system, curiously wondering if there's room for people like that in the world while also questioning whether or not there is any agency in this disposition. Does this person have a choice, or is he/she damned to a unearned fate they cannot control? Perhaps most notable is how Vampire Weekend composes these songs under the guise of pop music and catchy instrumentation that make for foot-tapping tunes blinding the (very heavy) lyrical weight if one does not pay attention.

"Diane Young,"was one of the double A-side singles released in mid-March alongside "Step" and seems to be another hint at the wit of the album which masks the content with another upbeat melody. Perhaps it is a stretch to think but for argument's sake let us assume that Diane Young refers not to a woman, but a wordplay that might also be read as: Dying Young. The premise built from the onset of the album seems to be playing towards living a more or less bohemian or rebellious lifestyle questioning the outcomes associated with not falling in line. In this case "dying young" would be one of the potential threats to an existence that chooses to live without a higher power guiding it.

"Everlasting Arms" seems to be reconciling with this problem seeking advice on how to potentially be saved. In a further development however, the speaker fully acknowledges the semi-paradoxical difficulties associated with buying into a proposition that he does not fully align with. A key line asks again whether or not it is possible to be subservient to a system that cannot be easily understood. The troubles of this "main character" -if there can be said to be one- continue to deepen as we ourselves move deeper into the album. As a side note, this song seems to be the most familiar sounding to VW's back catalog, and also interesting the one that most resembles something would have come off Paul Simon's Graceland.

 As the albums moves through "Worship You" and especially, "Ya Hey" the central figure to this tale appears to have fully abandoned the possibility of being a true believer. The lyrics challenge the concept of accepting God when the world around this narrator (again by his/her choice or not) seems to be actively rejecting the idea as well, making it near impossible to do anything but that. Further in the song, a reference to The Rolling Stones' "19th Nervous Breakdown is given likely as evidence towards the exasperating sacrifice one is required to make in order to believe. Ultimately it is rejected. The title of "Ya Hey" itself might be another disguised word play aligning with the ideas of the album as a whole. Appearing in the lyrics, distorted, Ya Hey sounds close "Yaweh," which would be the Hebrew word for God, or The Lord.

The second to last track is perhaps the only one that seems to match tonally to the lyrics. "Hudson" veers far from the released singles diving into far moodier and dark territory than the band ever has before. Through such stark lyrics as:

The time has come
The clock is such a drag
All you who change your stripes
Can wrap me in the flag

 It could be inferred at this point within the album that the speaker accepts that he/she will never be able to change how they think and therefore how they live. By accepting this, their life has become a ticking time bomb to a fate that may or may not actually befall them. The character in this tale will notably leave this world having tried to see the other side of things and despite being unable to, will ultimately be proud of having reached a decision upon independently considering the potentially grim outcome and staying honest to what they believe is the truth.

Almost as though the album were an incredibly formal and academic way of defending a "punk" attitude.

Of course the album works sans all of that, and I highly recommend it for reasons beyond what can be discerned through its lyrics. If you're looking for music with a little something extra, this album might be just the one for you. Vampire Weekend have impressed me once again and I will continue to relentlessly hype myself in preparation for their continued output though all the years I've left.


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