The internet trolls saw blood in the Hudson back in 2007, when the first pan-cultural Vampire Weekend sounds trickled out and the images of an immaculately dressed band of Upper West Siders emerged. The commentariat didn’t want to be told what to like, and so Vampire Weekend’s first full album was met in January 2008 with a pre-emptive backlash. But that album and its better successor, 2010’s “Contra,” vanquished the trolls, and “Modern Vampires of the City” blows their dust off the Triborough Bridge.
Most of the change evident on “Modern” can be chalked up to artistic maturity rather than any obvious redirections of course. The sonic nods to “The Royal Tenenbaums” and Paul Simon’s “Graceland” that dominated the first two albums are now part of the multitudes within Vampire Weekend’s sound, Ezra Koenig’s lyrical stance has achieved more weight and delicacy, and lead orchestrator and musical force Rostam Batmanglij, sort of the Steven Drozd to Koenig’s Wayne Coyne, has become a master of musical dynamics and judgment. The thoroughly lovely “Step” might quote from the early-‘90s Souls of Mischief track “Step to My Girl” and has subtle hip-hop undertones, but it is an example of Vampire Weekend absorbing more musical textures into its fabric rather than making a whole-cloth change. And “Diane Young” raves on like 21st century Buddy Holly — it isn’t ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll, but it doesn’t take a microscope to see the DNA.
“Modern Vampires of the City” is filled with great examples of the band putting daring ideas to music: the shrill, flanged Chipmunk voice that dives into the chorus on “Ya Hey” sounds like a nightmare at first, but a few spins reveal it as a genius move — it’s hard to imagine the song without it. And ballads are becoming one of Vampire Weekend’s strongest suits, just in time for Koenig’s lyrical skills to deserve an epic treatment like “Hannah Hunt.” Koenig sings about a pivotal college road trip with Hunt, who fronts her own band, Dominant Legs: “Our days were long our nights no longer, count the seconds, watching hours/ Though we live on the U.S. dollar, you and me, we got our own sense of time.” It’s Koenig’s “Born to Run” moment, and in a way, “Modern Vampires of the City” is a transformative third album in the way that “Born to Run” was for Bruce Springsteen. It is the album that takes Vampire Weekend, once a promising young band with plenty of people questioning their worth or longevity, and secures their place in rock ‘n’ roll’s future.
— George Lang