The Peter Gabriel referencing, African music influenced, calypso-drenched, hiccupping beats and relentless energy with which Vampire Weekend made themselves known seem so long ago now. Indeed, that debut is over five years old and the faint disappointment of follow up ‘Contra’ is firmly banished by an album which could yet come to define exactly what heights this band are capable of scaling. It was an album for which I had moderately high hopes but was hardly on the edge of my seat about. When I was given it as part of my reviews pile early this year, I had the review half-written in my head before I’d even played it. More of the same, pleasant but not revelatory. I was pleasantly surprised and rather quickly riveted.
The melodic gift is there in abundance but the palette used to explore it has been vastly enhanced and Ezra Koenig’s vocals are rich, varied and, at tines, transcendental. Having described this record as “darker and more organic”, it’s certainly true that the band have found a sonic subtlety that suits them. Songs take unexpected diversions: the charging rhythm of ‘Worship You’ is wonderfully offset by a distorted, intense and giddy solo, which slowly collapses into a multi-tracked wash of soaring vocals. The very particular signature sound with which they had become associated is pushed to the background. It hasn’t gone, but it is part of a far greater whole now.
The opening four tracks should be enough to convince you to stick with it for the duration. ‘Obvious Bicycle’, with percussion that sounds like a typewriter’s heart meeting, is a swooning way to commence, while ‘Unbelievers’ shows that they can still do perky without being annoying. Single ‘Diane Young’ sounds as good in context as it did free of it, but it is the album’s third track that has stuck with me for months on end. The sense of time having passed and scars having been gained is all over this album, not least on the truly stunning ‘Step’, with fabulous refrain “the gloves are off, the wisdom teeth are out”. Any sense of irritation listeners may have experienced at the hands of previous efforts will be washed away by this breathtakingly perfect tune.
Rampant hyperbole may not be warranted by every single track here – although the howl unleashed towards the end of ‘Hannah Hunt’ deserves a mention and it is my speciality – but ‘Modern Vampires Of The City’ conveys one hell of a sense of permanence from a band that once seemed ephemeral and frivolous.