Vampire Weekend -- the album -- sounded a lot like Graceland, inasmuch as most of us hadn't heard that bright Afropop guitar tone on any other albums in the intervening 20 years, and Ezra Koenig's lyrics were as epigrammatic as Paul Simon's, if in a different way. It wasn't just the guitar, even though it was probably mostly the guitar -- the rhythms, his voice, most everything else on the album sounded foreign, if not actually African. It sounded unfamiliar.
And using "Afropop" as shorthand for that unfamiliarity -- the stuff in Vampire Weekend that wasn't self-consciously Ivy League or more broadly indie-sounding -- turned out to be extremely convenient. It worked for Contra, too, though not as well.
But Modern Vampires of the City came out Tuesday, and the guitars have mostly vanished -- only the other stuff is left. We need to call a moratorium: It's time to stop using "Afropop" when you mean "Vampire Weekend."
People have been asking whether Vampire Weekend actually sounded like Afropop for years now, and I'll leave that question to the experts. But now that they don't even have the guitars -- now that we're certain they don't sound like Afropop this instant -- we need to find some new deeply reductive frames of reference.
I'm happy to help.
This one emerged fully formed the day the "Diane Young" lyric video came out and a bunch of music critics got to the "baby, baby, baby" section at the same time. The hiccuping vocals, the saxophone (is that a saxophone?), the dying-young lyric -- Buddy Holly! Done!
Luckily for us, that's not the only trace of pre-invasion rock on Modern Vampires. "Unbelievers" is paced by an (extremely polite-sounding) imitation-"Peggy Sue" stomp; "Finger Back" and "Worship You" are weirder, but they seem to establish Vampire Weekend's default okay-we're-rockin'-out-now mode as owing more to the '50s and '60s than anything that's come after.
Famous harpsichord player's first solo album
Conventional music wisdom dictates that when a member of a band releases his first solo album -- especially if he plays all the instruments on it -- he's going to overstuff it with whatever he played in the band. A drummer will play one solo too many; a guitarist will drown his own vocals in distorted rhythm parts.
And a harpsichord player would probably produce an album that sounds like this one -- filled with elaborate keyboard leads that sound, to us classical-illiterate masses, like someone in a movie is playing them underneath an enormous powdered wig.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Songs like "Step" and "Ya Hey" are built around those parts, courtesy multi-instrumentalist/writer/composer Rostam Batmanglij, but this facet of their sound has been around from the beginning. It's helpful, then, that Vampire Weekend has already used the appropriate costumes in a music video:
At this point, three albums in, they just sound like Vampire Weekend. It turns out -- to my minor disappointment -- that the bright guitars aren't so immutable a part of that as the fussy arrangements, or the weird samples, or the precise lyrics. Maybe now we can finally figure out what to call everything that's left.