It has to be said that Ezra Koenig is one of the most underrated vocalists, maybe, of all time. He has the ability to control his consonants and vowels unlike any other singer out there. (If he tried his hand at hip-hop I don't think I'd be surprised or disappointed.) He knows his words well (hell, he majored in English Literature at Columbia). Koenig's audacity in his vocals is just one of many things that makes Vampire Weekend unique. I am constantly blown away by how much he can fit in to one breath.
But there's more to it than that. There always is.
Out tomorrow on XL Recordings, Modern Vampires Of The City is officially joining the world and rounding out the third record of Vampire Weekend's discography - that is, right now, perfect. This record might have a title that rubs you the wrong way (it is weird, but whatever) but the record itself will leave you happy for days. (And you'll be listening to it for days.) Vampire Weekend took everything they learned in their twenties and turned it into a beautiful soundtrack about growing up, (growing up in New York City) and figuring out life. What else would twenty-somethings be concerned with?
A lot of this record is slower than you'll expect. There's no "Cousins" or commercial-ready "Holiday," but there's maturity, like on tracks "Ya Hey", "Don't Lie" and "Hudson." I'm only a few years behind Koenig and his band mates, but I get a sense of what he's talking about when he says "though we live on the US dollar/you and me/we/got our own sense of time."
Growing up has never sounded so good. "I wanna know/does it bother you?/low click of the ticking clock/there's a lifetime right in front of you/and everyone I know."
This record is sharp and wip-smart. Album opener, "Obvious Bicycle," sounds like a different version of the Vampire Weekend we've all spent the years falling in love with. From what sounds like the grind of a tambourine and hand drums, they're slowing it down on purpose. Like kids who finally want to be taken seriously: "You better spare your face the razor/because no one's gonna spare the time for you/you outta spare the world you labor/it's been 20 years and no one's told the truth." And this is just the first track. Around 2:15 in there's this industrial open and close the chorus does. Then the piano holds, like you used to play with the pedals as a kid, and it's magnificent. The bass of it undulates and the treble tinkles in and out.
Track two, "Unbelievers," has the movement of early Vampire Weekend songs we're used to. Those train-a-rollin' beats and Ezra's speedy vocals. "I'm not excited/but should I be?/is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?"
"Step" is unbreakable. It's airy at first and then wakes you up with the sounds of a 19th century-arranged electric piano part, that dances its' way around the rest of the track. Meanwhile, the sentiment matches the structure of the song. Growing up has never sounded so good and strange. I know we can all relate: "the gloves are off/the wisdom teeth are out/what you on about?/I feel it in my bones/I feel it in my bones." I feel it in my bones, too, Ezra.
Before, when the band released the video for Diane Young (of a Saab engulfed in fire. Destroying youth? Destroying beauty?) no one saw this record coming. We didn't see how it would perfectly slide in as track four. We didn't guess it would be one of the feel good songs. We didn't guess that it would take advantage of us in so many ways. "Irish and proud/naturally/but you got the luck of a Kennedy." This song is so catchy I wouldn't even call it hooky. It's better than that. You need to listen to it a number of times to even hear it because the melody just swallows you. (And then it just gets stuck in your head.) The production throws you around,speeding up and slowing down the vocal tracking (a nice feature used throughout the record). It makes you want to run a race, dance in the streets and air-conduct an orchestra. For a song that feels so good, it's strange to know what it's actually about. Koenig says they didn't want to call their song "Dyin' Young", so they named it after the Diane Young Anti-Aging Clinic in Manhattan. Who knew? "No body knows what the future holds/it's bad enough just getting old."
Because I might as well mention every song on this record, "Young Lion" is charming. The piano wraps itself around you and all the boys (the band's other everyman Rostam Batmanglij, drummer Chris Tomson and bassist Chris Baio) chime in to round out the record with a choir. It's only 1:45 and ties the record into a bow-tie: striped, polka-dotted, solid - whatever you like. There are a lot of colors on this record but it's not psychedelic. It's not generic or unusual - it's unforgettable.
Modern Vampires Of The City is refreshing. Vampire Weekend did it again. They are good at so many things and making records is just one of them.