There’s a telling line near the end of Vampire Weekend’s latest single, “Diane Young,” from their new album ‘Modern Vampires of the City.’ The song goes, “Nobody knows what the future holds / And it’s bad enough just getting old / Live my life in self-defense / You know I love the past because I hate suspense.” Against the aesthetic of Vampire Weekend’s entire musical catalog to date, this sentiment imbues “Diane Young’s” playful, vintage rockabilly with both self-awareness and self-effacement.
Kid as they might, however, there’s never been any doubt as to the debt Vampire Weekend owe to their many musical inspirations. Heck, you can practically see the Paul Simon albums lining the walls of the recording studio where the band recorded 2010’s ‘Contra,’ though that’s as much to do with singer Ezra Koenig’s witty lyricism and irrepressible singing voice. Another classic act to fertilize the sound-scape of ‘Modern Vampires’ are The Kinks, specifically on the drawing room waltz that is “Step,” the album’s other standout single. From its harpsichord hook to Koenig’s falsetto affectation, the track seems like a seed from which a Wes Anderson movie would spring fully formed.
Together, “Step” and “Diane Young” represent ‘Modern Vampires’ at its formidable best. Vampire Weekend on the whole have this capacity for endearing themselves to their listeners that just makes them pleasant to listen to, if not always challenging or deeply engaging. For all Koenig’s pretensions, Vampire Weekend’s famed knack for hyper-literacy only really click when they make it feel appealing, and here that’s not always the case. Not to say that the weaker tracks are those that go over the listener’s head, just simply that it’s the catchiness of the song that redeems the content, not the other way around. The penultimate “Hudson” is particularly indicative of this dynamic, its melancholy dirge harshing the good will engendered earlier and also overshadowing the brief lullaby farewell of “Young Lion.” “Hannah Hunt” and “Everlasting Arms” are similarly unengaging, merely adopting the spirit of fun by which their siblings were born and molded.
Really and truly, though, these occasional aberrations can’t stifle the rosy cheer of the album on the whole. There’s too much inherent pleasantness to tracks like “Ya Hey,” it’s high-pitched refrain wielding an infectious-grin charm even as the song passes the five minute mark. More immediate satisfaction can be found on the like of “Unbelievers” and “Worship You,” their locomotive beats carrying a freight of romantic optimism and good times. “Finger Back” not only keeps the good times rolling, but actually kicks the relentlessly high spirits up several notches, to the point where it borders on creepy while still being a blast.
That may be the greatest shortcoming of the aforementioned draggy bits: they’re just enough below ‘Modern Vampires’ otherwise base average of quality as to seem by comparison. Then again, “Don’t Lie” and “Obvious Bicycle” manage the trick of toning things down for a bit while still engaging our attention and affection. There’s nothing saying that a song has to be perky to be fun, and despite some shortcomings here, Vampire Weekend understand that as well as anyone. They just elect to save their best stuff for when it’s most visible; when it shines brightest.