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When I first heard “Campus” by Vampire Weekend off their self-titled debut album in 2008, I became instantly hooked on this indie rock group from New York. Their music was just so enjoyable and addictive that it was nearly impossible for me not to smile while listening. It didn’t take long for me to put Vampire Weekend as one of my favorite indie bands of all time, second only to The Shins. My excitement only continued unabated with Contra, their second studio album that came out in 2010. The two albums were so similar that only a committed fan could pinpoint which song came from which album on shuffle. It was the simple reasoning that if you loved the first, you would absolutely love the second. With all the similarities, it’s safe to say that I’ve subconsciously developed an understanding of what Vampire Weekend is supposed to sound like: glorious indie pop that makes you tap your feet.
It’s for this reason that I was really caught off guard when I first heard the singles for Modern Vampires of the City. The first single I heard was “Diane Young,” which was released along with “Step” on March 19th, and my immediate reaction was “Wow. This is…different.” Unfortunately, that wasn’t in a good way. “Diane Young” had the poppy beat that made me enjoy Vampire Weekend in the first place, but the distorted guitars and clear use of autotune while singer Ezra Koening repeats the word “baby” hit me like a brick wall. I hadn’t heard these in a Vampire Weekend song before and it felt strangely out of place. My confusion only continued with “Step,” which had a decidedly darker tone than many of their past songs and also featured some autotune. The later single “Ya Hey” also had this darker tone and even had a weird Alvin and the Chipmunks style chorus. It was for all of these reasons I had difficulty forming a solid opinion about these songs. They were different to the point where it was off-putting, but it was still decidedly Vampire Weekend and retained the elements that made me love their music to begin with.
What can a fan do when one of their favorite bands decides take a different approach? Give the songs another shot of course. It’s pretty obvious that the band wants to separate itself from the sound that made them so popular in their past two albums. This move is risky as it can extremely alienate their fan base, but also sort of expected as bands should experiment with their sounds and try something new every so often. It’s how legendary artists have survived for over 40 years, making new music every step of the way. So instead of viewing the changes as unwanted and upsetting, I viewed them as simple musical evolution and started playing the songs over again.
With a new perspective, it didn’t take long for these songs to get stuck in my head. Despite all the changes, this is still the Vampire Weekend I know and love. Remember how I wasn’t a super fan of “Diane Young” to begin with? I’ve now played it over 10 times. It’s catchy, it’s fun, and the “baby” parts consistently come to mind, for better reasons than before. “Ya Hey” gets my feet tapping, and “Step” truly is an enjoyable song. “Unbelievers,” the second track off the album, is probably the most similar to previous tracks on Vampire Weekend and Contra, so naturally I was attracted to that one too. The rest of the tracks are enjoyable on their own, but be prepared for some more down tempo and darker tracks than usual, especially “Hudson.”
Modern Vampires of the City is Vampire Weekend’s attempt to change up their sound from their past two albums, leading to a lot of experimentation and some darker vibes. Even the album cover itself is very bleak – it’s Neal Boenzi’s 1966 photo of the smoggiest day in New York City history where 169 people were killed by air pollution. Despite this, the album still has plenty of upbeat tones that will attract plenty of Vampire Weekend or indie rock fans. Just keep your mind open to the changes and don’t let them ruin your experience. If you do, you’ll miss out on one of 2013’s finest releases.