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Thursday, 06 June 2013 13:44

Album review: Vampire Weekend ages boldly, gracefully on 'Modern Vampires of the City'

Album review: Vampire Weekend ages boldly, gracefully on 'Modern Vampires of the City'
Written by Tyler Williamson
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Vampire Weekend
"Modern Vampires of the City"
XL Recordings

Eschewing Paul Simon's "Graceland" comparisons to soar through pop, gospel and folk, Vampire Weekend contemplates the timelessness of getting older on "Modern Vampires of the City."

As emotional as the album strikes on repeated listens, frontman Ezra Koenig never reveals the band's answers to the myriad of questions age ushers in. Artfully coming across as a Sunday brunch conversation commiserating over insecurities, "MVOTC" treats the listener as an intimate confidant. The bandmates know their answers for the world -- typically concerning the aching yearning that restlessness and complacency so disdainfully forces upon each of us -- but it's being on the cusp of the decision that dominates "MVOTC." Despite the Columbia intelligence some would hold against them, it seems as if the guys have one of the most basic questions for those who will listen. Does anyone else worry about these things like me?

Vampire Weekend exquisitely maintains its sound while accomplishing the largest shift in the band's evolving wheelhouse -- "Obvious Bicycle" literally serves as a primer for the change. Repeatedly, the album dips into a wide-open section where the echo floodgates open and the band glides into choir-like arrangements, notably on tracks like "Ya Hey." In an interview with the BBC, Koenig let on as much prior to the album coming out: "A lot of the time we are coming back to things we already know, but finding new ways to be excited about a sound or an instrument."

However, he utterly refuses to let it be that easy. In regards to the religious sentiments inherent in some of the lyrics, he explained, "When you're working, you're guided by your instincts and, to an extent, you get lost in them. I've honestly been making these connections for the first time [upon hearing the album completed] like a fan or journalist would."

Whether just living up to the self-proclaimed title of a "smart-ass" or speaking in earnest, Ezra Koenig attempts to find the niche for those who differ on "Unbelievers." "We know the fire awaits unbelievers," he sings, "all of the sinners the same." All at once, it speaks to companionship, religion and where one fits in society. Questions like "I'm not excited, but should I be? Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?" combine with more curiosity than fear and result in the earworm masterpiece the fans expect.

"Hannah Hunt," excellent in its own right, fleshes out yet another learned lesson of the foursome. Reportedly, Mr. Koenig sent the song to the former classmate it was named for, getting positive feedback before pressing the album -- a considerably more desirable outcome than settling out of court, such as with the woman featured on the cover of the last release.

Despite advance release (and extra exposure) for the single "Diane Young," it still edges the rest for most played, at least for this writer. Infectious and stomping, the track even approximates an 8-bit carousel ride through its immolation. Professing the utter worthlessness of dying young, the two most vicious digs -- "But you've got the luck of a Kennedy" and "Out of control but you're playing a role" -- are made perfect by the level of disdain. Not a chance this acquaintance understands what's being stated to her (or him), even as the band tries to quietly see themselves out the back door. Luckily, Ezra stops short enough to level with everyone: "No one knows what the future holds, said it's bad enough just getting old."

With its third album Vampire Weekend has continued to make intelligent and innovative music -- and it has done so with indomitable grace.

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