The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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May 20, 2013

Jeremiah Tucker: New Vampire Weekend album has shades of 'Pet Sounds'

JOPLIN, Mo. — Vampire Weekend's last album, "Contra," peaked in the almost-title track "I Think Ur a Contra," the last song on the album. After the music drops out and frontman Ezra Koenig croons to an unnamed girl, "You wanted good schools and friends with pools; you're not a contra," he has a realization.

"You said, 'Never pick sides, never choose between two,'" he sings, "but I just wanted you. I just wanted you."

The New York band's third full-length release, "Modern Vampires of the City," an instant classic and the best album of the year, feels like a sequel to that song. It is a record about being on the cusp of real, out-of-your-20s, unromantic adulthood and the terror that accompanies the narrowing of your options.

"Even when you're pretty confident in some things, like loving somebody," Koenig said in a recent interview with Pitchfork.com, "there are still a million other things that contribute to anxiety about the future and the choices you're making."

On "Don't Lie," one of the albums numerous standouts, Koenig asks, "I want to know, does it bother you? The low click of a ticking clock?" adding, almost as an afterthought, "There's a headstone right in front of you, and everyone I know."

Mortality and crises of faith abound on "Modern Vampires," as dark as an album composed during a writing retreat to Martha's Vineyard can be.

Not to be hyperbolic, but the album it most reminds me of is The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds," another emotionally resonant album from a band previously known only for their sunny pop songs. And like Brian Wilson, Vampire Weekend, working with producer Ariel Rechtshaid, uses all the tricks of modern recording, such as radically pitch-shifting vocals, to push its sound in a new direction without ever sacrificing melody or warmth.

The result is a beautifully weird pop album, colored by a blending of discursive musical influences, from hip-hop to '70s pop to world music, all filtered through Vampire Weekend's distinct sensibility. It feels like a piece of the band's two previous albums, but also the culmination of their promise.

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