It's largely The Ezra Koenig Show at this point, but Vampire Weekend’s live show now includes an impressive seven-piece band bringing old and new favorites to life.
10. Julianna Barwick - Nepenthe
When an artist known for idiosyncratic, personal work hits the big time, there is always some concern that success, and the expectations that come with it, will somehow spoil their work. Fortunately, fresh off of the critical success of The Magic Place, Julianna Barwick was able to avoid these pitfalls and leverage her newfound resources to create an intriguing new album. Working with collaborators for the first time and using more complex production techniques allowed her to expand her unique ambient soundscapes, making them more elaborate without losing the personal touches that have always made her work unique.
10. Rhye - Woman
Here's hoping Rhye's Woman is what everyone buys their significant other for Valentine's Day next year because, man, does it hit you right in the feels. Milosh releasing a solo album in the latter half of this year could unfortunately signal that Rhye has already come and gone. If that is the case, at least the enigmatic duo left the music world with an instantly classic album of heartfelt, honest love songs.
Twenty artists. Three stages. One day. Free.
These are the standard components of Virgin Mobile’s annual FreeFest, which celebrated on Saturday, September 21 its fifth consecutive year being free-of-charge to a majority of the 50,000 attendees who descended upon Merriweather Post Pavilion. Add to that equation one-hundred-percent chance of rain and one muddy lawn, and you have FreeFest 2013.
For this year’s festival, Virgin Mobile made use of virtually all 40 acres of Merriweather’s wooded grounds to provide festival-goers with extracurriculars to enjoy before and between artists’ sets. Among them were interactive art installations, a chalkboard “wish wall”, quintessential festival merchants vending hippie goods, and local music organizations like U Street Music Hall and Ram’s Head Live giving away tickets to upcoming shows.
New York City’s “tropical grit pop” duo Ghost Beach kicked-off FreeFest at noon in the aptly named Dance Forest nestled in the northeastern corner of Merriweather’s woods. The stage was relocated from where it stood in previous years to an area with significantly more trees, the most obstructive being a mere ten feet from the stage, blocking patrons’ views of the musicians performing. Then again, it was the Dance Forest. Fifteen minutes later, The Knocks warmed up the main, Pavilion Stage with an electropop set that featured a remix of M83’s “Midnight City”. As hard as the duo tried, they did not get attendees moving and dancing as much as they might have hoped.
Ezra Koenig and his Vampire Weekend cohorts headlining this years FreeFest (Photo by Joy Asico)
10. Jim James - Regions of Light and Sound of God
If Erykah Badu moved to a cabin in the wilderness to chop wood and distill spirits while somehow growing a beard in the process, this is the psychedelic folk R&B record she would record when she came back to the grid. And that is absolutely a compliment to Jim James. Hell, that’s a compliment to anybody.
9. Chelsea Light Moving - Chelsea Light Moving
Chelsea Light Moving accomplish many objectives on their eponymous debut. One listen (or many) makes it obvious that their intention is to appear, to disappear, to punish, to reward, to compel, to deny, to uplift, to dishearten, and to engage. Simultaneously. At high volume. But mostly they came to rock. And to help you get some of the smaller items out of your place. So if you have an end table that needs to be moved, or perhaps a bookshelf or an ottoman you’re not into anymore... Well, you know who to call.
8. Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
Somebody likes old soul records as much as I do. And that somebody isn’t content to just listen to them and remember when. No, that somebody decided to make his own classic soul record. While some were disappointed that The 20/20 Experience wasn’t a continuation of the sounds Justin Timberlake explored to great ends with Timbaland on FutureSex/LoveSounds, my ears found this blend of classic and neo-soul refreshing and inspiring. I cannot wait to hear volume 2...
10. Cayucas - Bigfoot
Still searching for the best soundtrack to your summer? Bigfoot is it. From happy-go-lucky opening track “Cayucos” to eponymous album closer “Bigfoot,” Cayucas present eight catchy, summery tunes sure to make your next vacation playlist. And hey, they might put you in such a good mood that you’ll forget about the sweltering heat!
9. Rhye - Woman
Three months after its release, Woman's sensual, eargasm-inducing first track "Open" still blows me away upon each listen. "Open," along with about four other tracks, including "The Fall" and "3 Days," serve as the album's highlights while the remainder are forgettable. Yet, Woman is such a short album that it is easy to listen to on repeat before realizing you have been doing so for hours. With the seductiveness of Woman and their mysteriousness, Rhye have made an impression on the music world, but only time will tell if they stick around long enough to do it again with a second release.
8. Savages - Silence Yourself
This is not yet an album to which I can sing along word-for-word (as tends to be the case with my favorites), but Savages’ debut is almost too in-your-face and harsh for that. Savages are more about the statement they are making through their music and live performances. Between writing manifestos and mandating no phone usage at shows, the ladies of Savages are sure to calculate the band’s each and every move. One thing’s for certain – their abrasiveness has taken the music world by storm and provided a necessary, refreshing realness.
SOUNDS LIKE: A less Paul Simon-y Vampire Weekend at their best.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Modern Vampires of the City makes up for the sophomore slump Contra.
Five and a half years ago, when Vampire Weekend released their debut, self-titled album, much of the music community brushed off the Columbia University quartet as preppy and spoiled. Meanwhile, myself and all other "hipsters" (as anti-Vampire Weekenders enjoyed calling fans) were left to defend the band's merits. To my tenth grade ears, "A-Punk" and the ten other tracks on Vampire Weekend were anthemic, witty, and clever. What other bands were writing about mansard roofs, Oxford commas, and the Khyber Pass? While the band again demonstrated their brilliance as songwriters and musicians on Contra, I was, admittedly, less impressed by and enamored with the band's sophomore effort. (The album featured too many vocal effects and synthetic sounds, as exemplified in "California English," for my taste.) Despite the minor letdown, my hopes for Modern Vampires of the City were high and, boy, has Vampire Weekend delivered.
"Unbelievers," the second track on the band's third, most recent release encapsulates what Vampire Weekend does best - writing smart, socially conscious, sometimes bleak lyrics with meanings best extrapolated when considered separately from the accompanying poppy, superficially lighthearted music. Lyrically, "Unbelievers" grapples with death, mortality, and religion, recurring themes throughout Modern Vampires of the City that were first introduced on singles "Diane Young" and "Ya Hey." More specifically, "Unbelievers" speaks to non-believers living in a predominantly religious world:
"We know the fire awaits unbelievers, all of the sinners the same
Girl, you and I will die unbelievers bound to the tracks of the train
I'm not excited, but should I be? Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?"
The fact that crowds at arenas and festivals worldwide will be singing along with Koenig to such grim lyrics might seem morbid. However, fans' willingness to do some comes down to Vampire Weekend's genius ability to craft upbeat songs that give off a carefree air upon first listen. The catchiness of "Unbelievers" derives from the driving drum beats and guitar lines that emulate the sound of that fast-approaching train bounding toward the unbelievers tied to the tracks. Interspersed organ-like keyboard sounds and the trumpet, saxophone, tuba, and flute that make themselves known in the song's instrumental interlude further embed the lyrical heaviness into the tune's overall catchiness.
"Unbelievers" is one of many outstanding tracks on Modern Vampires of the City, a must-hear even for those who initially wrote off Vampire Weekend.