This is a long overdue review of one of the best albums (and Djake’s favorite album) of the year so far. Vampire Weekend’s tertiary album, Modern Vampires of the City, may well be this group’s finest. I can only describe it as being nostalgic; upon first listen it already sounds like your favorite album. What I mean by that is, although it is not my favorite album of the year (that coveted title goes to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories), it merely sounds like it. It’s as if someone took one of your old favorite albums and made it better…but without ruining it.
There are many reasons Modern Vampires sounds like a old friend. The album borrows ideas from other genres and even some of their previous releases. “Obvious Bicycle” takes its beat from the song “Keep Cool Babylon” by Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus.
“Unbelievers” is so Buddy Holly. “Diane Young” is Buddy Holly-ish too. Not to mention, this song has some super cool voice manipulation going on.
Listen, it’s cool!
I listened to an Ezra Koenig interview and read about the effect. It’s called formant shifting. It’s basically a type of sound editing that has the same effect as changing the size of your vocal tract. The bigger you are (usually) the longer your vocal tract is, and the deeper your voice is. The smaller you are, the shorter it is and the higher your voice is. It would be like having Andre the Giant and a pre-pubescent boy singing with Ezra Koenig. They could be singing the same notes, but if Andre sings, it’s going to sound a lot deeper just based on the proportions of his vocal tract.
“Step” uses another outside source as it’s backbone: the tune “Step to My Girl” by Souls of Mischief. Also, I’m convinced that the chord progression is the same as Pachelbel’s Canon and Gigue in D (aka. the song played at every wedding).
In “Don’t Lie” there’s a brief moment of baroque pop in the background (around 0:54 in the video) that is reminiscent of “M97″ from their self-titled album.
Koenig utilizes his versatility in “Finger Back” by implementing some falsetto in the style of Contra.
“Worship You” apparently began as a Celtic-type song.
Now we come to “Ya Hey”, the veritable climax of the album. This song is addictive. The title’s meaning becomes more clear upon hearing the skewed voices in the chorus. “Ya hey” becomes “yahweh”. Of course, the story in the song is familiar if you listen to the lyrics: “through the fire and through the flames / you won’t even say your name / only ‘I Am that I Am'”. The parable of the burning bush has never sounded cooler.
The final track of the album, “Hudson”, has aspects of trip-hop à la Massive Attack or Portishead.
Some might view this familiarity as a bad thing; unoriginal. To that I say, nothing is really “original”. Borrowing and sampling in music has been going on FOREVER! During the Renaissance, composers frequently used pre-existing hymns or chant melodies in their music. Brahms uses a theme from a Bach cantata in the final movement of his fourth symphony. Percy Grainger traveled around England to record people singing folk songs on wax cylinders, which he then adapted and integrated into his compositions. There are countless examples of this! I’m tired of the pretentious whining about the merit of a musician based on “originality”. Everybody borrows from everybody else; a musician’s merit is not based on whether or not they borrow ideas from other musician, but how well they do it and how well they make it their own. Modern Vampires nails it.
(I must thank Djake for bringing so much of this to my attention!)