Friday, May 17, 2013

In Revue- "Modern Vampires of the City"

On a personal level, this album is almost too perfect for me at this time of my life. The long chapter written in stream of consciousness and known as college comes to an end as I'm left counting down the last few days with pockets of friends, some more terrified than others to admit this is the end. Not five minutes before the "gloom and doom" began, there is nothing but joy to be found. As the final few posters are torn from walls, leaving behind only an empty sense of familiarity, my roommates and I smile, crack open the still lingering adult beverages in the fridge, and toast to past/present/and future alike. Modern Vampires of the City is the sound of that laugh, drowning out the uncertainty that lingers just around the corner. 

Immediately on the album we're greeted by the rising of "the red sun," and LED still flickering, as the familiar stomp of tribal drums and plaintive piano reminds us this is a Vampire Weekend album. "Obvious Bicycle" makes for a curious opener, with Koenig caustically singing "no one's gonna spare their time for you," a stinging reminder for any and all transplants hopscotching between stages of life. Koenig is more forgiving, offering up the advice to "leave before you lose." The promise of morning is enough to get Koenig through, even as shadows cover the sidewalks in uncertainty.

The single "Step" is a masterful distillation of the mindset Vampire Weekend craft on this their third record, the ability to smile as you stare headlong into the abyss. The opening drum kick is a portal into another world, as reaffirming as that opening shot on "Like A Rolling Stone." "I'm stronger now, I'm ready for the house," Koenig croons from a distance in the chorus. In lieu of the following lines, "I can't do it alone, I can't do it alone," the line reads as chest-puffing of the highest order, Koenig attempting to be his own hostage negotiator. The almost ancient sounding harpsichord framing the song protects it from the rudeness of the present, and ponders on the past; "maybe she's gone, and I can't resurrect her," while Koenig again tries to force a smile and put a positive spin on things, "the truth is she doesn't need me to protect her."

"Ya Hey" works as the flipside of "Step," another moment of glee at the impending gallows. On one level the song amounts to finger-wagging of the highest order, aimed squarely at the Big Man upstairs; "the faithless they don't love you, the zealous hearts don't love you." It's one of several tracks on the LP to question religion's role in seeing us through times of trouble, on the frenetic guitar strumming of "Worship You" the group wonders "who will guide us through the end?" and "Unbelievers" embraces the "little warmth" that awaits. But "Ya Hey," my early pick for album highlight, works on a less celestial level. Replace God's boundless love for a world that spurns Him, with a lover desperately searching for the last ounce of love in a relationship the partner has given up on, and the metaphor comes into focus. Koenig can't even fully commit to playing the blame-game, admitting, "I can't help but feel that I made some mistakes," as the song swells into the cathartic chorus. While Koenig goes crawling through the "fire and through the flames," his partner just sits in silence. For his lack of faith in a higher power, Koenig is still burdened by an overwhelming faith in humanity.

For all the optimism, this album is still tempered by hard-earned reality. "Diane Young," a full-blown rockabilly rave-up that continues VW's ability to make perfect use of auto-tune is bound for the 27-Club, admitting "nobody knows what the future holds." Elsewhere, the "Hudson" plays out as one of the most dour tracks in the entire VW oeuvre, a minimalist affair replete with a ticking clock that's "such a drag," and the faint sound of a sour military marching band. In spite of the unrelenting bleakness the song suggests,  Koenig cracks jokes and tells tales of those brave souls who linger on, "rejoicing to the end." That notion of a merry few lifting seeing you through the waning days is what Vampire Weekend incisively soundtrack on MVOTC. This isn't the closing of a book, but the turning of a page, and the story is far from over.

"Ya Hey"

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