By Liam Finn
What do Vampire Weekend have to do to get a hit single?
Look at the main stage of festivals and they’re there. Look at the Top 40 and they’re pretty much AWOL.
Thankfully, the British album-buying public – all seven or so of them remaining – has come to the rescue. Modern Vampires of the City, released in May, went to Number 3 in the album charts, mimicking the performance of 2010’s Contra.
And there’s a reason for the album reaching the chart’s heights: it’s brilliant. Admittedly, Modern Vampires – as with Contra – isn’t as accessible as the New York quartet’s instantly-catchy debut. But even more than the Vampires’ second album, this record taunts you to repeat, and repeat, and repeat, until the conversion is complete.
Back to the question of singles. How did Diane Young only get to Number 50 when it was released as a double A-side with Step? Drums masquerading as a machine gun; gimmicky pitch-shifting; a video in which a guest at the Last Supper smokes weed out of a saxophone.
Even God can’t inspire chart success. Ya Hey’s title might be a divinely-derived play on the Outkast song, but apparently no number of yodelling Smurfs is sufficient. What if the album’s second track, Unbelievers, is released as a single? Any song with a chorus even more beautiful than that of Giving up the gun should be record of the year. It will take more than the disbelief in the lyrics for it to get lucky.
The album has everything. As well as that incredible chorus on Unbelievers, guitarist and keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij weaves singer Ezra Koenig’s poetry into the most perfect melodies, whether conjuring up the album cover’s skyline on Obvious Bicycle or the terrifying Hudson. And there’s so much musicality. Koenig’s singing is distinct on each song, beating all syllables-per-minute records on Worship You, but reaching a falsetto on Step and Hannah Hunt. Textures vary from thin, heartbeat drums to polyphonic harpsichord backings.
Even without comparisons to its predecessors, Modern Vampires is dark. Mr Reaper emerges from the lyrics and production on the Hudson requiem. Koenig has admitted that Diane Young is a pun on premature death. You can’t escape his warning of “a headstone right in front of you” on Don’t Lie. Nor does he want you to.
Yet if the sombre imagery leaves Vampire Weekend’s debut sounding positively juvenile, it’s for the best. The first album remains a classic, but this successor is the work of a group refusing to regurgitate past glories. Modern Vampires throws off the shackles of lazy comparisons to Graceland and confirms that Vampire Weekend are one of the best bands of our generation.