“Good poets borrow; great poets steal.” It was with that famously misinterpreted mantra that T.S. Eliot was said to have justified the myriad of references that comprise his most beloved poems. Five years after their clever appropriation of African music influences divided the blogosphere, Vampire Weekend have produced a blissfully expansive work of Eliot-worthy complexity. Musically and lyrically, Modern Vampires of the City is a dense mosaic of allusions, but its brilliance lies in the way it comes off so effortlessly catchy and direct.
In the past, the band’s songwriting has erred on the side of economical, but here they fearlessly pilfer, blending together elements of Persian folk, French pop, Irish ballads, and strummy, romantic Americana. The result is deeply rewarding: From the widescreen hymnal of opener “Obvious Bicycle” to the gymnasium-dancefloor smash “Diane Young” to the gleeful, vocal-bending epic “Ya Hey” to the skittish heartland anthem “Worship You,” Modern Vampires is flush with standouts. Singer Ezra Koenig delivers lyrics that (like Eliot’s own work) will confound and delight scholars, confronting the central themes of 21st century existence: impending death, spiritual confusion, the decline of America, and, most importantly, the quest for meaning in a city full of strangers.
By ambitiously pushing the boundaries of the three-minute pop song, Vampire Weekend have established themselves as a force of dazzling songwriting innovation and set a new standard for intellectual show-offery. Equally hummable and challenging, Modern Vampires of the City is nothing short of an instant classic, a staggering work of contemporary art that will be relevant for as many hours as the relentless pace of our culture affords.
Playlist picks: You choose.