I’ve always liked Vampire Weekend, but to be honest, before this album I’d gotten a bit tired of them. They’d lost my attention. I thought it was just me, and wouldn’t have been able to put my finger on why I wasn’t into them anymore. That is, until I heard Modern Vampires of the City. Then it all came together.
I remember a time in grad school, learning about how mystery stories, specifically detective stories, work. We get a big narrative of mystery, and then at the end the detective delivers a second narrative that casts new light onto the entire story we thought we knew. Important details become irrelevant, throwaway moments become linchpins, and the whole thing suddenly makes sense we felt but didn’t really see earlier. For me, Modern Vampires of the City functions as a second narrative in my experience of Vampire Weekend.
With this album, Vampire Weekend delivers on their potential. That’s what it took to get me to realize that they hadn’t done that before. It’s possible I never saw that potential to begin with. Vampire Weekend was fun and light, and somehow simultaneously melancholy and playful. If done well that can be enough. At least for a while. Yet, there wasn’t enough substance to hold me for the long haul (If I never hear A-Punk again I’ll be ok with that).
With MVotC, they added a depth and complexity to their music. It wasn’t that they changed entirely, this isn’t The Edge saying that Achtung Baby was the sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree. Vampire Weekend’s subject matter did get a little weightier, more questioning and skeptical (or did I just miss that before?). Yet, that weight doesn’t take away their inherent optimism. They’re still fun, still light and bubbly, but somehow by going deeper into that playful melancholy… or melancholy playfulness, they found depth I wouldn’t have expected possible for them stylistically. However, once I heard it, it became clear it was there all along.
Vampire Weekend was already popular. They were talented and made people dance, which helped them find success in the indie and commercial market. But it is this album that moves them into a different level artistically, and if they continue with this kind of growth then they (or some version of them after they break up) will be a part of the music landscape for a long time.