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Indie-rocking New York quartet, Vampire Weekend.
Indie-rocking New York quartet, Vampire Weekend.

Vampire Weekend shed their preppy image Add to ...

  • Title Modern Vampires of the City
  • Artist Vampire Weekend
  • Label XL Recordings
  • Rating 3.5/4

Well, look at you, Vampire Weekend. Last time we saw you, you were only, what, two albums old? You’re big now, though – yes, you are.

But enough with the condescension; Vampire Weekend has received enough of that since the release of its self-titled debut in 2008 (and again with 2010’s Contra). The indie-rocking New York quartet could not shake its preppy, advantaged reputation – sweater-wearers listening to Afro-pop and arguing about Oxford commas well into the Cape Cod night. The members were something like the sons of Paul Simon: well taken care of and with a health coverage plan envied by Grizzly Bear.

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Or something like that, right Ezra Koenig? “People tried to pretend we were rich idiots ripping off African music,” the front-man recently told the Guardian.

But now, onward for the band whose name sounds like a Twilight or True Blood convention. The new album finds songwriter Koenig in existential flux – “the gloves are off, the wisdom teeth are out,” he sings softly on the lofty, harpsichord-dappled Step, “what you on about?”

The melody of Step recalls David Bowie’s All the Young Dudes, a song about drags, snags and those who don’t wish to stay alive past 25. On Step, the theme is commitment and the long run: “I’m stronger now, I’m ready for the house.” Modern Vampires of the City, then, is Vampire Weekend’s bold big step – young dudes carrying the news.

The disc’s production is tight and Pro Tooled, with space often left unfilled. Rhythmically, the African moves are left behind. Unbelievers hustles like Buddy Holly and even includes a Celtic-inspired break. It’s an upbeat question on fate and faith.

Diane Young is a burst of surf-guitar ripples, hand claps and Holly-happy hiccups. Shape-shifting vocals take turns at a “Baby, baby, baby” chorus, and later there’s a line about the “luck of a Kennedy” that won’t be appreciated in Hyannis Port. Dying young, yeah, we get it.

Don’t Lie finds the band at its most retro-passionate. More harpsichord and business about headstones and lifetimes “right in front of you.” A balmy guitar outro is a nice touch, and the tones overall are never too heavy on this dynamite-sounding record. The drumming in particular is upfront and full of life.

Things close with the penultimate Hudson, a march-drummed avant-garde piece inspired by Leonard Cohen and French pop from the 1960s. It’s a piece about the 16th-century seaman Henry Hudson. A clock ticks, and that’s “a drag.”

Young Lion is an elegant, ethereal coda that takes its title from a chance encounter. Ezra was fretfully rushing to the recording studio when a stranger stopped him, smiled and said, “you take your time, young lion.”

Bowie has explained that All the Young Dudes was not a hymn to the youth, as it has been interpreted, but completely the opposite. As for Vampire Weekend, these are young lions on the clock. Much more to come from them.

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