BEST OF 2013: 19. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City

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.

Dealing with all the Hoo Ha

Predictably enough, the new Supergrass album has split critical opinion. Every time they loom back into view the sheer quantity of fence-sitting causes creaks and splintering to be heard the length and breadth of this fair isle. As each critic finally decides which camp to settle in, the predictable dusting down of the phrases ‘return to form’ and ‘hardly essential’ ensures that anyone reading more than one reviews section will have no idea what album is actually like.

As it happens, this isn’t their finest work. Sorry, I should point out that I’m being serious at this point. It’s better than I thought when I first listened to it, but it’s just not up to their exacting standards. It’s not that it’s a bad album; it’s actually rather good. It’s just that it’s not a great Supergrass album. I adored ‘Road To Rouen‘ and, come to think of it, each of the four studio albums prior to it. Each one was different but you never got the sense that there was a pre-planned objective behind them, other than to make great music.

Diamond Hoo Ha‘, as the new album is rather unpleasantly titled, is comparable to The Divine Comedy‘s ‘Absent Friends‘. Now, bear with me on this, as it doesn’t seem an obvious comparison. ‘Absent Friends‘ was the album that followed the indie-kid, Godrich-influenced delights of ‘Regeneration‘. Now, ‘Regeneration‘ was supposed to be the big springboard to success via Parlophone’s wads. As history records, that wasn’t entirely the case and Neil Hannon fired the rest of the band and weirdly enough went back to wearing a suit and using orchestras. The resultant album was ‘Absent Friends‘. And so to the point. ‘Road To Rouen‘ was the departure, the sales were hardly phenomenal and so the quick dash back to familiar territory occured.

Diamond Hoo Ha’ is a balls-out, polished pop-rock album. It’s very seventies in its makeup and much of the album blends together into one satisfactory, but not particularly outstanding, chunk of music.

I really want to like this. I have adored this band for nearly thirteen years now, and the idea they could make something that’s only good is almost beyond comprehension. I’m persisting with it and, I should say, certain tracks are growing on me, but I can’t see where the all-important spark is suddenly going to leap out from. As is the case with all of their previous albums, the vinyl of this is the best way to hear the album, avoiding the slightly mashed sound of the CD, and it’s a decent pressing.

I’m not suggesting that you definitely shouldn’t buy it – if you’re a Supergrass fan, there’s enough here to like – but proceed with caution.

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It’s amusing to look back over the last posts on this blog before it entered into hibernation and see how my tips regarding Laura Marling and Adele have proved pretty much spot on. Sadly, Adele’s album turned out to be a still-born turd of the highest order. Sorry about that. If I had any influence in you purchasing that, I apologise unreservedly.

However, Laura Marling has produced an album that is truly adorable. Unassuming, subtle yet complex and hugely accomplished, ‘Alas I Cannot Swim‘ is better than I’d actually hoped for. Let’s get the one problem I have with it out of the way first. It doesn’t have ‘New Romantic’ on it, which is a wonderful little tune. Yup, that’s all that I have to moan about.

The Joni comparisons have already done the rounds, but I also heard elements of Beirut and early, song-based Tim Buckley in the beautifully constructed musical backdrop of these songs. I can’t really do her justice with mere words.

Here’s the aforementioned ‘New Romantic

And this is the most recent singles, ‘Ghosts

Finally, on the subject of Laura Marling, this is the latest Mystery Jets single, ‘Young Love‘, on which she provides guest vocals. Don’t bother with their album, mind. This song’s the highlight.

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I guess this is the point where I should point out other great music I’ve heard recently that you might wish to have a listen to. And why not? If the hype surrounding MGMT has passed you by, then you owe it to yourself to purchase a copy of the album ‘Oracular Spectacular‘ at the next opportunity. Even Sainsbury’s are selling it. The sound is, to use a technical term, fucking bonkers. They’re a bit like the Chemical Brothers remix of Mercury Rev that was knocking about a few years back, but with better vocals.

You can see high quality copy of the video, and thus hear the song by clicking here

Vampire Weekend‘s self-titled debut is well worth a punt. It’s indie with a world-music influence, or at least that’s what those really big papers you can’t read on a train are telling us. It’s a chaotic collection of three minute pop brilliance, done in a very different way to pretty much all the indie that’s out there at the moment.

Here’s recent single, ‘A-Punk’

Elbow‘s ‘The Seldom Seen Kid‘ has been mooted as a ‘career best’ in some circles, and I wish to associate myself with said circles. If it’s possible to associate yourself with a shape, that is. Anyway, one of the most under-rated bands in Britain have delivered an album with tremendous story-telling, phenomenal basslines and a musical landscape so intricate that after many, many listens I’m still discovering new things each time I play it. I adored the last record, ‘Leaders Of The Free World‘ and the two prior to it were almost as wonderful and yet Elbow are very much a C-list band who drift into the public conciousness every now and then, only to drift back out again pretty much immediately thereafter. Fuck knows why.

Current single, ‘Grounds For Divorce‘, is splendid, although not much of an indicator of what the rest of the album sounds like. Still, a line like ‘I’ve been working on a cocktail called grounds for divorce’ deserves some recognition.

The new Billy Bragg album has its moments, but is hardly a revelation. That said, lead single, ‘I Keep Faith‘ is one of the most beautiful things he’s ever done. I can only find a solo version via Ver Tube, but the one you need to hear is the band version. I can only imagine a world where you could click here and find an mp3 of it.

Other things of note to emerge recently include the latest Nick Cave album, ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!‘ which sits somewhere between the ‘Abattoir Blues / Lyre of Orpheus‘ set and Grinderman. Splendid, although the limited edition isn’t worth the extra cash.

Lightspeed Champion‘s ‘Falling Off The Lavender Bridge‘ is a fine collection of folksy indie and the new album by The Charaltans, ‘You Cross My Path‘ is the best thing they’ve done in a while. You can download it for nowt via Xfm.co.uk

And finally…

Everyone’s already salivating over this, but it would seem rightly so. I knew that Alex Monkey and Miles Rascals had collaborated but beyond that knew nothing else. However, when Zane Lowe was being Chris Moyles on Easter Monday, the debut single was played and I fell in love immediately. The main reason for this is, I would imagine, the fact that the song uses the drum beat so loved by Scott Walker on his ‘Scotts 1-4’ series, that was plunded equally splendidly by The Divine Comedy on a regular basis. Anyhoo, they are The Last Shadow Puppets, and the sublime single is ‘The Age Of Understatement‘.