I know how late I am on this new Vampire Weekend album, ‘Modern Vampires of the City’. It came out last year and has already run through both the Grammy and end-of-the-year-list cycles, picking up a Grammy for Best Alternative Album and the distinction of number 1 album of 2013 according to BOTH Pitchfork and Rolling Stone. Even though I think the Grammies have zero legitimacy, it was pretty cool that VW won. Pitchfork has been drooling over VW (rightfully so, I think) since their first album so the band has never had to worry about their cred in that department. But that Grammy win definitely added some different demographics to the VW-listening camp. Before I heard this album, the only Vampire Weekend songs I had known were ‘Campus’, ‘Cousins’, and ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’. For some reason, only songs that start with ‘C’. I wish I could explain that. Anyway, I remember that I saw the music video for ‘Cousins’ on MTV when I was a sophomore in high school. ‘Campus’ and ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’ were shown to me by a very good friend after that. Past those three songs, though, the only other thing I really knew about the band was what the album art from ‘Contra’ looked like, via either Pitchfork or Wikipedia, I can’t remember which. Regardless, this new album really made an impression on me, and I’ve had it on repeat almost constantly since my roommate lent me his CD copy. At first I was thinking about just doing a traditional review, but instead I wrote these little things that are half fiction and half memory (think like early Pichfork reviews but with way less name-dropping and hopefully less pretension). These little microfictions are me trying to get at what I feel like the mood of each song is, what each song reminds me of, where the song puts me, whether that’s a real place or a distant place I’ve never been to. I also included lyrics (as quotes) that wouldn’t stop murmuring to me even after I was done listening to the songs for the day, lines that would surface to the front of my thoughts when I woke up in the morning, lines that bubbled up when there were lulls in the day. Some of these things are just memories, others have the parts of the song I liked the most along with some fiction, and some are just the parts I liked in the song. It helps if you listen to the album as you read this, too, whether as a first listen or as a re-listen. Alright, now get ready for the nice litany of adverbs and adjectives that I littered all over…
1. Obvious Bicycle: It’s nice that the song starts off with the word ‘morning’. I also like the chorus of ‘so listen, oh, don’t wait': relaxed urgency. Wait, is this song VW imagining what it would be like to get a Grammy? (‘so keep that list of who to thank and mind/ and don’t forget the rich ones who were kind’) Prescient, man. Anyways, that piano at the end. I’m younger, 10 or 11, listlessly coasting up and down the streets of Astoria, Queens, my parents trying to find a parking spot. I’m looking up and out of the window at the silent blue sky and the quiet gray buildings reaching upwards. You could really substitute any car ride, in any location, the sky is still out there in the suburbs and even though the highrises aren’t there, you can still find houses and restaurants and shopping plazas that stretch out and sometimes bleed into the sky.
2. Unbelievers: This song’s got soul. The whole ‘Want a little_____ but who’s gonna save a little ______ for me?’ refrain that gets repeated with ‘light’ and ‘grace’ substituted in the blanks is great. Very church-y. Even though I’ve never been to a church with organs, the overall mood is spiritual and wondrous. This is the church of the new and I’m kneeling in the pews. It’s never felt so good to be condemned. ‘Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?’
3. Step: Saturday. Twilight in Hoboken, Brooklyn’s little cousin over in Jersey. Cars are going by, blaring, walking down the sidewalk, in and out of clouds of cigarette smoke. I’m alone and people are giving me shifty looks when I pass them. There’s no subway here underneath my feet but I still feel a vibration every once in a while in my bones.’
4. Diane Young: The play of ‘dying young’ on the name ‘Diane Young': ah, very clever, VW. This song’s got a mix of some 50’s crooning with some surf rock riffs, you gotta love the pitch getting lower as Koenig repeats ‘baby, baby, baby, baby, baby’, doing his best Elvis impression. Though he sounds way more like Buddy Holly in the part when it’s only his voice over a little percussion. With this song I’m instantly at a diner, somewhere there’s a jukebox playing some Chubby Checker, I’m dancing and twisting over a shiny and freshly polished black and white checkered floor, milkshakes and roller skates are gliding to and fro and poodle skirts are flowing. Meanwhile, Eisenhower’s in office, the U.S.S.R. is thawing, a Beatnik somewhere is looking for a publisher for his road trip travelogue, and both the 50’s and the girl I’m going steady with are pregnant with the 60’s. Don’t be a square.
5. Don’t Lie: Those drums. Cool. I’m in church again, just for a second. I leave after making sure the priest’s back is turned to his flock to walk down smoky streets, past lines of trees, alongside a ribbon of highway that weaves between the hills behind the patches of forest. I’m in a cemetery now, headstones, a blank gray. Turn around and see a very very calm purple sunset.
6. Hannah Hunt: ‘Don’t Lie’ bleeds into this one, so the sun has set, I leave the cemetery, walk, walk, walk away, I know an old love is in town, an old love could be a new love, a new love could be an old love: then a dark beach, I can’t focus on the stars because I see you and you alone, I like watching you watch the stars and I’d rather focus on the black between the stars and between us than the stars themselves, anyway. ‘We’ve got our own sense of time’. Now I’m in the backyard, watching a frisbee glide between outstretched arms, I catch you smiling at me but then I drop it.
7. Everlasting Arms: Gameboy in the minivan on the way to church. Strings, the melody is soft, softer than skin. ‘I was made to live without you, but I’m never gonna understand’. A sweet soft synth, mellow melody. A small yellow candle, burning slowly, silent prayers before dinner.
8. Finger Back: This is the one that has the same fun as ‘Cousins’ and ‘Campus’. Not that the other ones aren’t fun, but this one is most directly related to those two. I like the spoken word part too. They take all the beautiful parts of Christian church music and distill out the Greek and the Latin and the stilted stiffness of serious worship. ‘Jerusalem’ is fun to say, and even more fun to sing. I feel like for this one, coming up with some kind of story or memory would inevitably be too corny, what with the story that the song already tells. Not that it’s not a great song, it’s probably my favorite on the album. Listen to this song extra carefully, then. I’ll just throw in another lyric I loved, instead of getting creative: ‘I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die’.
9. Worship You: I have no idea what instrument that is that wavers all over the place in this song. Sounds electronic, like some kind of processed kazoo. Whatever it is, it’s pretty chaotic, melodies rising suddenly and dropping just as quickly.
10. Ya Hey: Ok, up until this track, VW had managed to not be too cliché or weird when it came to all the religious themes going on. They could have gone a way cornier route, but instead they focused on the complexities involved in faith, blah blah blah, but at this point in the album I started to feel like they got silly (in a bad way) with the wordplay. Yes, ‘Ya Hey’ sung at an annoyingly high pitch with just the right intonation sounds like Yahweh, great. I don’t know, at first I did like this song a lot but I’m starting to not like it. Honestly, that high pitched voice that comes in is literally the only single thing that I disliked about this entire album. Everything else I found zero fault in. Oh, and ‘Through the fire and through the flames’?? NooOoOooOoooooalllright as I’m listening to this song again I’m remembering why I liked it in the first place. Disregard everything I just said, except that last part, of course. Actually disregard that last sentence. In reality disregard this whole thing. I mean, what made you want to read this? Do you know me personally? Did I send you a link to this article and in a slightly passive aggressive way coerce you into reading it, making you stop whatever it was that you were doing on your computer before? Did you happen to find this article through Google? Did you graduate from Clark like 15 years ago and while you were here you were part of ROCU, you had a show and everything, and you hadn’t checked up on ROCU or anything Clark-related in a while, but you heard that they probably, almost definitely, they must’ve made some improvements to the studio since you had your show, now you can stream the station through the internet, I don’t think ROCU had that 15 years ago, and you found the website and noticed this blog entry at the top of the page and decided to click on it because you vaguely remembered hearing about Vampire Weekend from a co-worker or the news or Rolling Stone? Jesus, do something better with your time, pet an animal that doesn’t normally get pet, like a fish or a possum or a turtle, and after that eat some food, too, you’re probably hungry, if it’s any time after 11 PM, or even before, I get pretty hungry between meals, too, just do something, anything, better than this, please. A million different tongue-in-cheek, addressing-the-reader-in-the-second-person pleas to ‘do something better with your time’ are now confronting me and redressing me for adding another one to the heap, I should stop, I’m stopping, I’m done.
11. Hudson: This is the darkest song on the album. Sort of like floating along the Hudson River at night. One thing that they don’t tell non-native New Yorkers is that from the Jersey side, you can see the Manhattan skyline reflected pretty damn well in the river water. I’m not sure what that means. I was gonna say something about how that could save tourists money, they wouldn’t have to stay in the city to experience the city, but you can’t see the skyline from within the city anyway, I guess what I’m getting at is that seeing the reflected skyline is just as good as seeing the actual skyline which is just as good as being in the city because you will feel just as outside the city when you’re actually in it as you feel when you’re standing on the other side of the Hudson in Hoboken or Jersey City or Edgewater staring at the skyline, slowly realizing that everything across the way can never be accessed or breached and remains forever unattainable.
12. Young Lion: As this album, song, article, piece, come to a close, I’ll let this song speak for itself. I hope that I maybe ‘enhanced’ your experience of this album. I also hope that maybe, at some point while you were ‘reading’ this, you thought that at least one word or one sentence I wrote had some kind of ‘meaning’ to you, some personal ‘resonance’, something of that sort. I guess at the very least, you learned a little bit ‘about’ my life. If this had no ‘meaning’ then that’s fine too. I can’t (and hopefully in this piece I didn’t) pretend to know and empathize with all your idiosyncrasies and complexities and subtleties, dear reader. I’m not really sure why I wrote this, then, but thank you for taking the time to read it! Ok, bye.