Tag Archives: Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ – Review

18 May

‘Modern Vampires of the City’ has been presented to us as Vampire weekend’s most direct album yet. Well, consider the opening line of comeback single ‘Step’: “Back, back, way back I used to front like Angkor Wat, Mechanicsburg, Anchorage and Dar Es Salaam.” The ‘back back’ bit is borrowed from a Souls of Mischief song, which in turn is sampled from a YZ song which itself borrowed a saxophone riff from a Bread song. Angkor Wat is the largest Hindu temple in the world, Mechanicsburg is a borough in Pennsylvania that was originally populated by waggon mechanics – hence the name. Anchorage is the Northernmost town in the United States and Dar Es Salaam (literally the ‘abode of peace’) is the capital of Tanzania. The thing that they all have in common? They’re all on the waterfront. In other words, this is a bit of convoluted wordplay on the word ‘front’ that requires you to have either exquisite geographical knowledge or half an hour to kill on wikipedia. The band go on to name check New York, L.A, San Fransisco, Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda – and that’s only the first verse. If this is Vampire Weekend being direct then I’d love meet them in an obtuse mood.

It’s lyrics like this (not to mention their multi-cultural music and preppy style) that has made Vampire Weekend arguably the most divisive indie band of the past decade. And of their three albums ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ is their most divisive to date. It dispenses with the more poppy elements of ‘Vampire Weekend’ and ‘Contra’ in favour of  subtle arrangements based around piano and what sounds to untrained ears almost like Baroque (and at times Gothic) orchestration.

Ezra Koening recently expressed his frustration with critics who misinterpret their intentions. “Referencing other cultures, it’s complicated. People with money, education, these things are complicated. But rather than admitting that we understood that, too, people tried to pretend that we were rich idiots ripping off African music.” In light of this interview, Vampire Weekend’s lyrics take on new meaning. Indeed, read in a different way, the lines I quoted from ‘Step’ are less a wilfully obscure example of ego stroking and more an attempt by the band to playfully poke fun at their reputation as elusive intellectuals. That verse ends with Ezra singing ‘I was a hoarder but girl that was back then.’ The joke works on multiple levels. It’s tongue in cheek. It’s irreverent. It’s a whatever you want it to be. But whatever you think, just stop and consider how damn fantastic that verse sounds. The way the exotic proper-nouns roll from Ezra’s lightly double tracked, accented voice. Consider the heavenly reverb on the drums and the twinkling keys. When it sounds this gorgeous does anything else even matter?

On ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ the band confirm what many have suspected for a long time. They are come as close to genius as any musical act performing today. This is just an extraordinary record. An indie album bursting with ambition. A pop album burning with enthusiasm. A melancholy album come alive with jubilance. A dark album that doesn’t shy away from the mainstream. A complicated album that embraces simplicity. This is the biggest triumph yet from a band who are already responsible for some of the finest albums and singles of the past decade.

The album is a map of popular music. Each instrument sounds like it’s been snapped from a different genre of a different decade and paired up with such care and precision as to beggar belief. ‘Diane Young’ alone is encyclopaedic in its references; at any given point it resembles Paul Simon and Sleigh Bells, Billy Joel and The Ramones, Buddy Holly and M.I.A. That it still sounds like classic Vampire Weekend despite sounding almost nothing like the Vampire Weekend we’re used to says a lot about Ezra Koenings distinctive voice and melodic approach, as well as Rostam Batmanjlij’s unique compositional ability.

Over twelve songs the band never put a foot wrong, and chosing particular highlights is difficult because there are so many. The pivotal song may be ‘Hannah Hunt’ a haunting ballad that predates most of the material on the band’s debut. It’s a story of two lovers as they journey across America and therefore obviously recalls the classic Simon and Garfunkel song ‘America’. The band dispense with an overarching narrative in favour of symbolic sketches that let your imagination run wild (to the sound of warped Steal drums no less). Like Paul Simon, Ezra makes no effort to stick to a rigid metre or traditional rhyme scheme – the lyrics work on his terms. His images are extraordinarily evocative: for example, he highlights the differences between the two lovers in the way they attempt to re-kindle the fire (both literally and figuratively). The narrator walks into town to buy some kindle whilst Hannah rips up pieces of the New York Times. Him, patient and willing to fork out the cash, her, angry and impatient. Both of them doubtful, disconnected and without a future.

Unlike the youthful, free-spirited debut and the anxious but still fun ‘Contra’, ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ is unafraid to tackle the big questions. There are constant, thinly veiled references to ‘ticking clocks’ and on ‘Ya Ha’ Ezra interrogates God directly, exclaiming “you won’t even say you’re name, only ‘I am that I am’.” On ‘Unbelievers’ he knows that ‘the fire awaits unbelievers’ whilst on ‘Everlasting Arms’ he asks ‘could I have been made to serve the master?’ This master is referenced again on ‘Step’ in which the narrator remembers an odd couple standing on the street corner listening to ‘The Master’. In this instance it is more likely to be a reference to Grandmaster Flash. But possibly God. or maybe the album by Rakim that Ezra is a known admirer of. Or maybe it’s this album’s master he is referring to, as it was no doubt mastered in NYC. It’s more classic intertextuality. It sums up the album. All at once it’s high art and low art, spiritual and pop, self aware and playful, ambiguous but direct.

This is the closing chapter of a trilogy of albums, but unlike most trilogies it ends on a high note. There are many threads running between the three records, one of them comes On ‘Everlasting Arms’ when Ezra talks about being ‘trapped beneath the chandelier.’ This could be a reference to that iconic cover of the debut – an album so successful it would be hard for any band to follow. Fans may miss those iconic chiming guitars and African rhythms but its to the band’s credit that they haven’t tried to replicate that sound for 2013.  And if Vampire Weekend have ever felt daunted or weighed down by expectation then they show no sign of it here. You’d be hard pushed to find a more ambitious, tuneful, confident and highly considered record in 2013 – or any other year for that matter.

9.5/10

Chromeo ‘I Could Be Wrong’

15 Sep

Ft. Ezra Keonig – this is pretty special, it’s taken from Chromeo’s new album ‘Business Casual’, and just wait until the sax solo comes in…

Yeasayer ‘Odd Blood’ – Review

2 Feb

‘POP GOES THE BAND!’

Remember Mystery Jets first album? The weird one? ‘Making Dens’ was a pretty fine piece of work but the chances are you remember the band for their poptastic second album ‘Twenty One’. It was a change of direction, a pretty mainstream direction, but it worked wonders for the group. Yeasayer have attempted to make the same transition with their second album, ‘Odd Blood’, and the results are a little bit more mixed.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a good album, at times it’s pretty brilliant and It’s also as weird as they come. But my first reaction was one of disappointment. Their debut ‘All Hour Cymbals’ did for Middle Eastern music what Vampire Weekend did for African music. That may be a bit of a simplification but the group essentially took the music and themes of world music and westernized them. It was a beautiful vocal based record with some eccentric tendencies, catchy melodies and an indie sensibility.

I was expecting ‘Odd Blood’ to be progression of the same idea, in the same way that ‘Contra’ progressed Vampire Weekend’s sound. Instead this album is a fairly radical departure for the band. The harmonies and vocal chants have largely be scrapped which is slightly sad, and the exotic instruments have also been replaced by exotic computers. As I say, this is still an eccentric album (the first track is one of the freakiest beginnings to any album I’ve ever heard) it’s just eccentric in a different way.

So Yeasyer have gone synth pop, kind of. ‘O.N.E’ and ‘Ambling Alp are bona-fide hits in the making, both counting among the catchiest songs I’ve heard in yonks. lyrically they have also moved on from bizarre tales of the future to songs about more down to earth themes, there is even a song called ‘Love Me Girl’. Well the guy is clearly in love with someone, on ‘I Remember’  he repeats ‘You’re stuck in my mind all the time.’ This track is another winner.

If the album was this consistent over ten tracks then I would say their move to synth pop has been a success. However, like the first album, there are a couple of duds on here. Nothing shockingly bad (although ‘The Children will certainly raise a few eyebrows), but ‘Strange Reunions’ feels a bit like filler and the album ends on a rather anti climactic note with ‘Grizekla’. Luckily the strong songs far outweigh the weak ones but it does mean that ‘Odd Blood’ is a very good album rather than a great one.

So Yeasayer have aimed for success and good on them, they certainly deserve it. This is a bold departure for the band and It’s going to win them more fans than it will loose them. ‘Odd Blood’ has some strange moments but it is surely destined for the radio, and thats just fine with me.

7.5/10

Vampire Weekend ‘Contra’ – Review

23 Jan

For as long as there’s been pop music there’s been a tension between the artistic and the commercial. By it’s very nature pop aspires to be popular but that shouldn’t mean selling out or restricting your sound to what is radio friendly. Every now and then a genuine band will become successful on their own terms; it happened with New Order, Blur, Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys to name but a few. Now with a number one album under their belts Vampire Weekend can join those ranks.

Although it feels like they never went away it’s been two years since Vampire Weekend released their debut and ‘Contra’ picks up nicely where that left of. First single ‘Cousins’ led me to believe that this would be a similar record to the first, but in fact there has been a lot of progress. It still sounds undeniably like Vampire Weekend (Ezra Koenig’s unique vocal style, the clean guitar sound and the African inspired rhythms are still prominent) but a new and better Vampire Weekend.

The band combine their traditional instruments with new and unexpected ones. A drum machine features heavily as does a squeaky synth almost as retro as the cover art. Yet It all feels somehow cohesive and logical, which is probably because the songs are all of such high quality. There‘s no ‘Oxford Comma’ on here, sure, but then again the band clearly aren’t going for simple hooks this time around – complexity is the name of the game. Accessible complexity at that.

‘White Sky’, ’Holiday’ and ‘Cousins’ share the same happy vibe as a number of tracks from the debut but they also present a glimpse of the new, polished sound that defines the record. At times it can feel like these tracks have been produced to within an inch of their lives, they are so clean you could eat a meal of them, but that has always been Vampire Weekend’s way and any fan will be used to the precise style by now (even if I was slightly longing for some feedback or grit). Elsewhere the band play with samples and hip hop beats on ‘Diplomat’s son’ whilst retaining that ‘New York meets Africa meets Oxford’ charm that has become truly theirs.

Other highlights include their first ballad  ‘Taxi Cab’ and what sounds like a real hit in the making, ‘Giving Up The Gun’. The album ends with a subtlety that even the most ardent fan would have to admit is somewhat lacking on the rest of the album. ‘I Think Ur A Contra’ is awash with acoustic guitars and falsetto vocals that compliment the song perfectly.

‘Contra’ is an accomplished second album that confirms Vampire Weekend’s position as one of the best bands around. This isn’t as enjoyable as their debut and it’s a bit of a hard nut to crack, but it gets better with every listen. Not since ‘Kid A’ has there been such an experimental and ambitious album to hit number one in America – yet at its heart this is a pretty perfect pop album.

8.5/10

Albums to look forward to in 2010!

28 Nov

1. TBA – Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson was working with the likes of Will I Am and Akon right before his death but the album had been in the works for many years before that. It was planned to be released ages ago but Jackson kept pushing it back, but now we may fnaly get to hear it in 2010. This is the most anticipated album of next year because everybody is interested to see what Jackson was up to in his final years of productivity and how he would sound in the 21st century, working with some of the coolest names around. Who knows in what form we will hear material, we just want to hear it as he would have wanted.

2. TBA – The Strokes

We have been waiting for the next Strokes album for so long there is an almost certainty that it won’t live up to expectations. That said, ‘Phrazes For The Young’ was unexpectedly good and hopefully the next Strokes album (If it comes next year) can be even better. The chances of them pulling of another Is This It, or even ‘Room On Fire’ may be slim but most people would be happy with something more thought out than ‘First Impressions of Earth’ which wasn’t as bad as some people remember but hardly set the world on fire.

3. TBA – The Drums

Easily the most anticipated debut of next year, The Drums ‘mini LP’ released a few months ago was a breath of fresh air and hopefully the album will build on that. It’s not been said whether fan favourites such as ‘Lets Go Surfin’ will appear on the record but new songs including ‘Forever and ever amen’ almost certainly will.

4. Astro Coast – Surfer Blood

A great new band who combine surf punk and weezer-esque anthems, this album is out in January and is already getting a lot of buzz. Set to include the awesome ‘Swim to Reach The End’.

5. TBA – LCD Soundsystem

The follow-up to the best dance album of the noughties can’t be as good as ‘Sound of Silver, can it? The cynic in me says no way but if anyone can do it then LCD Soundsystem can.

6. Congratulations – MGMT

They have previewed a few tracks from congratulations and they all sound like classic MGMT. The album may be a double, with one disc dedicated to pop and the other psychedelia, or that may have been a massive joke. Either way this is going to be a big, crazy event.

7. Contra – Vampire Weekend

Cousins didn’t really live up to my expectations, it sounded too similar to what I have heard from VW before. Hopefully this isn’t too representative of the album because it would be a shame if ‘Contra’ is just a retread for the band. I really look forward to finding out.

8. TBA – British Sea Power

‘Do You Like Rock Music’ was so much better than I could have hoped, and it’s true follow up is due next year. No hint yet on which direction the band are going in but I doubt we will see much of a departure from the art rockers.

9.  The Soft Pack – The Soft Pack

At the beginning of the year The Soft Pack seemed to be the most exciting band in indie. At the end of the year they still haven’t released their debut and bands like Girls and The Drums have stolen their thunder. But finally The Soft Pack will be releasing their LP in January and I can’t wait.

10. TBA – Arctic Monkeys

‘Humbug’ split fans down the middle but it seems that their next album will see Arctic Monkeys repeating it’s hard rock and long hair formula. They say they want to record it fast and keep it heavy so it’s perfectly possible that we will get to hear the album late next year.

11. Odd Blood – Yeasayer

Yeasayer are one of the most innovative bands of recent memory, their sound is a combination of vocal harmonies, world music, tribal chants and electronica. ‘Ambling Alp’ was the first taste from album number 2 and if the rest of the record is as good then ‘Odd Blood’ should be one to look out for in 2010.

12. Gershwin/Disney projects – Brian Wilson

The Beach Boys genius has got two projects lined up for 2010. He will be reworking the music of Gershwin in the traditional Brian Wilson style and then he will be having a go at the Disney classics. Both albums will be released on the Disney label next year and whilst they could be disasters, if anyone can pull it off then Brian Wilson can.

New Vampire Weekend song!

5 Oct

Vampire Weekend have certainly been building up the anticipation for their new record nicely. First we had that weird viral campaign that got every one talking (the Polaroid of the girl), and now they have given us a very early sneak peak of the album in the form of ‘Horchata’. This is the album’s opening track and it is available to hear and download for a limited time from this website…

http://www.vampireweekend.com/

It is a cool song with some interesting instrumentation and typical witty lyrics about an obscure drink, winter coats and a sidewalk. It has a synth that reminds me of the band’s side project ‘Discovery’ and a drum machine that gives the song a pounding beat. It definitely feels different to anything on their debut album, although it still sounds very much like the Vampire Weekend we love. I can’t wait to hear the whole record now.

Vampire Weekend – Contra!

15 Sep

For the last week or so I’ve been spotting an advert that seems to be everywhere – a Polaroid of a woman in a yellow polo shirt. No text, just a photo. When you click the photo it takes you to a website with the picture maximised but no other information. Until now. That is because the Polaroid has been revealed to be the cover of the new Vampire Weekend record. Not only was this a great advertising move by the band and XL (although the album is still months away) but it’s a great photo that fits in nicely to VW’s continuity.

This was not the only bit of Vampire weekend news today as now when you click on the advert it takes you to VW’s homepage which gives us yet more details of the album. The album is called ‘Contra’ and it will be released on January 11th in the UK, a lot later than expected. Below is the tracklisting…

01 Horchata
02 White Sky
03 Holiday
04 California English
05 Taxi Cab
06 Run
07 Cousins
08 Giving Up the Gun
09 Diplomat’s Son
10 I Think Ur a Contra

I’ve already heard live versions or demos of 4 tracks and if these are anything to go by then I wouldn’t expect a huge change from the band’s previous stuff. ‘Cousins’ sounded a bit like ‘Bryn’ from their debut and Run was like ‘Blake’s got a new Face’. ‘White Sky’ sounds most interesting of the tracks I’ve heard and shows a development from the more sophisticated end of ‘Vampire Weekend’. I certainly can’t wait to hear ‘Contra’ in full this Winter.

Contra