Call this the one where they grew up
Releasing their self-titled debut album in 2008, Vampire Weekend immediately leapt from college dorm parties to indie fame. Their upbeat pep blended international rhythms with tales of campus romance and Cape Cod summers. Contra, the 2010 follow-up, graciously sidestepped a sophomore slump, and continued both the sound and themes established the first time around. With Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend hang up their collar-popped polos and graduate.
Their fundamentals remain untouched. Staccato guitar and spritely beats on tracks like irresistible “Unbelievers” and “Finger Back” keep the bounce from past hits like “A-Punk” and “Cousins” in play. There’s plenty of fun to be had here. On the punnily titled “Diane Young,” they’ve added a 1950 rockabilly roll to their sped-up rhythms, as well as an era-appropriate hiccupy vocal modernized by the goofy use of autotune.
Where they’ve grown are on the more thoughtful tracks. In the opening “Obvious Bicycle,” singer Ezra Koenig beckons “Listen, don’t wait” over piano chords and gently thudding percussion, and by the piano-recital closer “Young Lion,” he instead recommends, “You take your time.” In between, he tackles fate, love, growing up, wisdom, truth, and repeatedly, spirituality and religion. Not immune to atmospheric tracks in the past (see album closers “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” and “I Think Ur a Contra”), Vampire Weekend embrace a more self-serious mood without crossing the line into pretentiousness.
The final tracks of the album gel together into their own suite. “Ya Hey” — second punny title — finds God as an outcast, denied by all from the “faithless” to the “zealous hearts,” yet remaining a mysterious and benevolent force. This segues into the glitchy gothic trip of “Hudson,” complete with military precision snare drums and a cathedral-quality choir. Not wanting to end on too sour a note, the sweetly simple “Young Lion” closes out Modern Vampires, reminding us we’ve got time to figure out these bigger ideas. There’s always grad school…