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.