“Wisdom's an honor but you'd trade it for youth.” One of the most poignant phrases Ezra Koenig utters on Vampire Weekend's third album is also one that could sum up the entire record.
Modern Vampires of the City still sounds like the Vampire Weekend everyone knows well, but there's more to sink your teeth into. The simple reasons for this are that the members of Vampire Weekend are closer to 30 than they are to their Columbia University days, and that this is their first time working with a producer outside the band.
They're as blatantly intelligent and educated as ever. Koenig's lyrics are still clever and chock full of literary and strange cultural references. Rostam Batmanglij is still crafting songs that reference nearly every musical tradition between chamber choirs and hip hop -- and yes, that includes that Paul Simon-y sound they're known for. But this time around, they've managed to sound both more mature and more accessible.
“Diane Young,” one of the album's first singles, is the album's most likely hit. It's one of the most loud and energetic things Vampire Weekend has ever done, with manic drum machines firing off, funky, pitch-bent vocals and an ear-wormy “baby, baby, baby, baby” chorus. It's that talent for making catchy pop music out of complex arrangements that makes even the most melancholy Vampire Weekend songs feel comforting and sweet. The earnestly sung “so listen up, listen up” and gentle, cycling backup vocals of “Obvious Bicycle” are soothing and even the ambiguity of “I'm not excited / but should I be? / Is this the fate the world has planned for me?” on “Unbelievers” feels somehow assuring. They're making the hard things in life easier with pop melodies and gorgeous arrangements.
There's a lot of wisdom and youth on Modern Vampires of the City. Vampire Weekend didn't have to trade one for the other and they made their best record yet.