Movie Reviews
11:02 am
Tue May 28, 2013

Vampire Weekend Comes Of Age In 'The City'

Originally published on Thu May 30, 2013 10:02 pm

The New York City band Vampire Weekend has carved out a sense of immaculate melancholy for our era as surely as Steely Dan once did for Upstate New York in the '70s. Characterized most immediately by the earnest, concise, sometimes surprisingly expansive vocals of Ezra Koenig, Vampire Weekend makes atmospheric music. The atmosphere calls attention to confusion, doubt and a feeling of purposeful aimlessness, all presented within exceedingly well-crafted choruses and precisely metered lyrics.

Throughout the new Modern Vampires of the City, there are nods and bows — but never full commitments — to religion and a spiritual life. The singer asks to be held "in your everlasting arms"; he fetishizes a crucified or satanic "red right hand" in a song called "Worship You"; the band deploys the Latin phrase for "to God"; Koenig gets a thrill, in "Unbelievers," that only an invocation of the unearthly harmony of the Everly Brothers can do proper justice.

Ultimately, however, the quest pursued on Modern Vampires of the City is not a religious one so much as a venture that Vampire Weekend makes to musically invoke the grandeur of pop. The big, booming drum sound that predominates here, the jittery and sometimes organ-like keyboards — these are sounds rooted in the comforts of pop history that provide Vampire Weekend with its secular faith. Modern Vampires finds sustenance in invoking songs ranging from Desmond Dekker's "Israelites" to The Rolling Stones' "19th Nervous Breakdown." It finds release in periodic explosions of rock 'n' roll.

Like the New York-based, Whit Stillman-directed films that have frequently seemed like the cinematic predecessors to Vampire Weekend's post-prep-school music, these guys make eloquent, plaintive noise about the fellowship of people sharing their breakdowns with each other — and exchanging precisely worded jokes about the vulgar challenges of modern life. They don't find their redemption in communal worship so much as they find it in the company of clever yet fundamentally sincere people such as themselves.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

The band Vampire Weekend has released its third album called "Modern Vampires of the City." The band's chief lyricist, singer Ezra Koenig, has said that he's come to think of this new album as the third of a trilogy about growing up and maturing. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OBVIOUS BICYCLE")

EZRA KOENIG: (Singing) Morning's come. You watch the red sunrise. The early day still flickers in your eyes. Oh, you ought to spare your face the razor because no one's going to spare the time for you. No one's going to watch you as you...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Vampire Weekend is the New York City quartet that has carved out its own sense of immaculate melancholy for our era as surely as Steely Dan once did for Upstate New York in the '70s. Vampire Weekend, characterized most immediately by the earnest, concise, but sometimes surprisingly expansive vocals of Ezra Koenig, makes atmospheric music. The atmosphere is one that calls attention to confusion, doubt and a feeling of purposeful aimlessness, all presented within exceedingly well-crafted choruses and precisely metered lyrics.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T LIE")

KOENIG: (Singing) One look sent knees to the ground. Young bloods can't be settling down. Young hearts need the pressure to pound. So hold me close my baby. Don't lie. I want him to know God's love's dying. Is he ready to go? It's the last time running through snow where the vaults are full and fire explodes. I want to know, does it bother you? The low click of the ticking clock. There's a lifetime right in front of you. And everyone I know.

TUCKER: Throughout this album there are nods and bows - but never full commitments - to religion and a spiritual life. The way the singer asks to be held in your everlasting arms; the way he fetishizes a crucified or satanic red right hand in a song called "Worship You"; the way they deploy the Latin phrase for "to God"; the way he gets a thrill, in "Unbelievers," that only an invocation of the unearthly harmony of the Everly Brothers can do proper justice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNBELIEVERS")

KOENIG: (Singing) Got a little soul. The world is a cold, cold place to be. Want a little warmth but who's going to save a little warmth for me? We know the fire awaits unbelievers, all of the sinners the same. Girl, you and I will die unbelievers bound to the tracks of the train. If I'm born again I know that the world will disagree. Want a little grace but who's going to say a little grace for me?

(Singing) We know the fire awaits unbelievers, all of the sinners the same. Girl, you and I will die unbelievers, bound to the tracks of the train. I'm not excited...

TUCKER: Ultimately, however, the quest pursued on "Modern Vampires of the City" is not a religious one so much as a venture that Vampire Weekend makes to musically invoke the grandeur of pop. The big, booming drum sound that predominates here, the jittery and sometimes organ-like keyboards, these are sounds rooted in the comforts of pop history that provide Vampire Weekend with its secular faith.

This is an album that finds sustenance in invoking songs ranging from Desmond Dekker's "Israelites" to The Rolling Stones' "19th Nervous Breakdown." It finds release in periodic explosions of rock 'n' roll.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

KOENIG: (Singing) You torched a Saab like a pile of leaves. I'd gone to find some better wheels. Four five meter running around the bend when the government agents surround you again. If dying young won't change your mind, then you're baby, baby, baby right on time. Out of control but you're playing the role. You think you can go to the 18th hole. Or will you flip-flop the day of the championship? Try to go it alone on your own for a bit.

(Singing) If dying young won't change your mind, baby, baby, baby, you're right on time.

TUCKER: Like the New York-based, Whit Stillman-directed films that have frequently seemed like the cinematic predecessors to Vampire Weekend's post-prep-school music, these guys make eloquent, plaintive noise about the fellowship of people sharing their breakdowns with each other, and exchanging precisely worded jokes about the vulgar challenges of modern life. They don't find their redemption in communal worship so much as they do in the company of clever, yet fundamentally sincere people such as themselves.

GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed "Modern Vampires of the City," the new album from Vampire Weekend. You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org. And you can follow us on Twitter @nprfreshair and on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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