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Top 20 Albums of 2013

Top 20 Albums of 2013

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7. Vampire Weekend
Modern Vampires of the City
[XL Recordings]

Vampire Weekend have so thoroughly dug into their beachhead on the music scene that they could remain forever comfortable cranking out plucky, airy songs that sound genetically engineered for blazingly bright Tommy Hilfiger commercials. The title to their third album, Modern Vampires of the City, is taken from a line in a Junior Reid song, but its creepy imagery (along with the cover photo of a fog-shrouded New York) suggests that the band are not content to be vigilant in their chipper outlook. Where some of their previous material could almost seem blithe in its melding of brisk, bouncy music with lyrics that ooze privilege, songwriters Ezra Koenig and Rostam Batmanglij waste no time in establishing the difference with their new work, opening the album with “Obvious Bicycle,” a relatively sedate, spare track about a man heavy with his own insignificance and loneliness (“Oh, you ought to spare your face the razor/ Because no one’s gonna spare their time for you”). Rather than jolting the album to life in a bid for the listeners’ collective attention, Vampire Weekend has the confidence to lure them in.

vampire-weekend-modern-vampires-of-the-cityThe next song, eventual single “Unbelievers,” observes, “The world is a cold, cold place to be,” before asking, “Want a little warmth/ But who’s going to save a little warmth for me?” This may be the unofficial thesis of the album, the songs continually returning to preoccupations of the vast distances that occur in a complicated society with disappointment and emotional emptiness always ready to double-back and blindside anyone who thinks they’ve pushed past them. Vampire Weekend has moved on from excitedly demonstrating their own smarts to openly pondering the pitfalls of life, doing so with a surprisingly tender honesty.

If the sentiments of the songs can feel more artfully confined than on previous Vampire Weekend albums, the music is freer than ever. There are vestiges of the band’s trademark gin-cut Graceland vibes, but more often they are clearly pushing in different directions, recognizably with the same sonic sensibility but trying to find ways to fray away the tethers that could hold them back. There’s a pleasing variety to the music that heightens the sense of unpredictability in a way the mirrors the tensions found in the lyrics. Each song is packed with fascinating little details (the tingly organ in “Don’t Lie,” the stuttery interplay of instruments on “Finger Back”), so much so that each listen to the album provides the same wonderful sense of discovery. – Dan Seeger

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