"Ya Hey" is, like so much of Modern Vampires of the City, something at once tender and impossibly grand—a break-up song about God. "Oh, sweet thing," Ezra Koenig coos. "Babylon don’t love you." Then comes an even more backhanded kiss-off: "But you love everything."
You love everything. The same could (and has) been said of Vampire Weekend, with and without the italicized sneer. Back in 2007, when their self-titled CD-R first started making its way beyond Columbia’s campus, you’d have been hard-pressed to read something about them that didn’t balk at their cultural omnivorousness—an Ivy League indie-pop band that name-checks Lil Jon and Peter Gabriel in the same sustained breath? Half a decade later, it is equally hard to imagine this same fact surprising anybody. As Modern Vampires showcases, a transformation has taken place within Vampire Weekend—they’ve grown into a mature, ambitious band whose music is now both airier and weightier than it used to be. But a broader cultural shift has occurred, too. The lines that used to separate different kinds of music are starting to look more and more old-fashioned, and the rigid identities by which people used to make musical taste a game of us-vs.-them are crumbling like old buildings. We are moving in the direction of a place where everybody is allowed to love everything.
And the album’s more lighthearted moments—the crash-pop of “Diane Young” or the half-rapped, harpsichord-kissed Souls of Mischief nod “Step”—feel like an anarchic celebration of this. But there’s also an unshakable sense of gravitas anchoring these songs. Multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij (who co-produced with the ubiquitous Ariel Rechtshaid) is as eloquent with atmosphere as Koenig is with words; every track on here has its own weather. The arrangements on career-to-date peaks like “Obvious Bicycle” and “Hannah Hunt” are meticulous but well-ventilated—chatter drifts in, as if through an open window, providing hazy backdrops for Koenig’s lyrical searching.
"I’m not excited, but should I be?/ Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?" a disillusioned narrator sings in "Unbelievers", glancing around at a shitty job market, mounting student loans, and a culture that likes to blame all its ailments on the helpless young. On Modern Vampires, Vampire Weekend reject the narrative that has been used to describe their generation: In the clock-smashing slow-motion of "Hannah Hunt", somebody takes the Paper of Record—you imagine it’s turned to one of those Trouble With Millennials articles—and tears it into pieces.
But this record also tears up the narrative that has up until now defined Vampire Weekend. Modern Vampires is such an overwhelmingly humane album that it makes all those words that used to stick to them (elitist, pretentious, preppy) seem outmoded, too. Maybe what this album is really breaking up with is dogma—anything that limits the scope of your perspective and what (or who) you can love. It believes in nothing so much as this moment, speaking in pitch-shifted tongues, and finding its own heaven in the Cloud. —Lindsay Zoladz