vampire-weekend-fontsAlarms bells rang the moment I read Ezra Koenig’s interview in the NME a few months back. “People tried to pretend we were rich idiots ripping off African music”, he said defensively. But such statements belie the truth, that the revulsion Vampire Weekend inspires from certain people is getting to them. I was shocked to learn that they had detractors and obviously in vast numbers. Seriously, what’s not to like? Their exceptionally witty lyrics? “I climbed to Dharamsala too/I met the highest Lama/his accent sounded fine to me…Crack a smile/adjust my tie/know your butler/unlike other guys”. And in those dark days of 2008 when the landfills were overflowing, and it looked like we might have to glue all the copycat indie bands together – who were multiplying at a bacterial rate – and fire them into space, and us journalists were running out of words to describe the same shit, Vampire Weekend, with their fusion of excessively accessible quirky indie and African music, were a beacon of hope. But they were always a bit too clever for their own good – who are their peers? Successful, intelligent outsiders usually end up the victims of reverse snobbery, and it seems that Vampire Weekend can weather the storm no longer, for Modern Vampires of the City is a step away from those things that made them stand out from the crowd, and a step closer to my metaphorical meteorological indie glueball.

The first listen to a great band’s new album is often the worst. Expectations are pulped. Waning are the oddball arrangements and witticisms, in are shockingly generic songs like ‘Don’t Lie’, which is anthemic in an unprecedentedly formulaic way – the name Snow Patrol wafts across my consciousness. ‘Diane Young’ – a terrible piece of wordplay (I’ll let you work it out) – is, however, anything but terrible. The super-dense fuzzy drumming and the borderline-annoying fx on the vocals are classic VW – undoubtedly their many detractors will love hating this track – but it also throws into stark relief the joylessness of the rest of the album. What is Vampire Weekend if not fun?

Elsewhere, one of the toned down starkly simple tracks, is also starkly beautiful. ‘Step’s slowly plodding ‘Air on a G String’ lilt, harpsichord segueing in and out, is stunning, and though it’s very similar to the two previous tracks, this time it just works. ‘Giving up the Gun’ is arguably Contra’s most satisfying moment, and often it seems that Modern Vampires of the City is Vampire Weekend’s attempt to turn that song into an album. But where ‘Giving up the Gun’ felt like a sigh of relief from the frenetic madness, Modern Vampires of the City plays like one long sigh of resignation. There’s insufficient variety, and you can’t contrast something with nothing.

‘Worship You’ sounds like Vampire Weekend neutering A Clockwork Orange, it’s fast and frenetic, but somehow moribund. ‘Ya Hey’ is an excellent song, but even I find the helium-induced Chipmunk chorus a quirk too far.

This is a hard one to call. Objectively, Modern Vampires of the City, is a really well crafted well written album – Ezra Koenig is a superb vocalist and songwriter – but the whole thing just falls flat. In their attempt to ‘normalise’ their sound, Vampire Weekend won’t win over their detractors (once prejudice sets in it’s very hard to overcome), but may turn off their fans. Taking flack for making smart, accessible, quirky music must be hard, but harder still is to understand that those same qualities that annoy certain people are to others the most captivating. Let’s hope Vampire Weekend remember this before they find themselves liked by many and loved by no one.

7 out of 11

Release Date 13/05/2013 (XL)


Chris Gilliver

I started out writing for the Manchester Evening News as a freelance journalist back in 2008. The idea that I would be given free access to music and gigs seemed somehow miraculous to me, and I proceeded to take full advantage of the situation. When the M.E.N. decided to constrict its coverage to only the very biggest bands, Simon Poole approached me with a plan to make sure that all the very talented musicians of this world that pass through and/or live in Manchester would not go unnoticed. As the New Releases editor here at Silent Radio Towers, it remains my proud duty to cast a critical eye over the music and reviews that come my way in a manner that is both supportive and fair. Above all, I strive to write as entertainingly possible. Favourite musicians include the Pixies, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Mercury Rev, Os Mutantes, The Knife, Beach House etc etc. I'm a firm believer that all genres (except nu-metal) contain music of great quality...