Vampire Weekend’s third offering, Modern Vampires of the City, experiments with pitch-shifting, recording onto tape and even a spectrum analyzer. The 43-minute tour-de-spirituality was made with the ethos: ‘if it sounds familiar, throw it out’. Outside of Ezra Koenig’s voice sounding closer to Paul Simon‘s than ever before and the chipmunk effects of “Ya Hey,” they’ve succeeded with satisfyingly spot-on results. Still, Koenig hasn’t abandoned his layers of culturally-literate, historic references. If anything, the ‘smarter-than-thou’ factor is peaking. Here’s the top five lyrics that force you to open Wikipedia from indie-pop’s favorite know-it-alls.
This double-nod to Souls of Mischief’s “Step to My Girl” and “Pachelbel’s Canon in D” shows Koenig’s soft-spoken, whiteboy sing-rap chops with immediate references to the world’s largest Buddhist temple and Tanzania’s biggest city. However, there are even more wink-nudge moments to Run DMC (“Tougher Than Leather”), Outkast (“Tomb of the Boom”), and the fact that Koenig’s “fronting” is actually a pun: [LISTEN]
Back back way back I used to front like Angkor Wat
Mechanicsburg, Anchorage, and Dar es Salaam
While home in New York was champagne and disco tapes from L.A. slash San Francisco
But actually Oakland and not Alameda
In one of many of this album’s tracks dedicated to a god whose motives Koenig understandably can’t wrap his head around, Koenig uses plain English for the most part. However, the featured lyric breaks free from that – Mozart’s “Dies Irae” is an apocalyptic “judgement day” requiem, while the much better known “Hallelujah” is the triumphant soundtrack to Easter Sunday we’ve all come to know and love. This is actually one of the least esoteric quips of the album:
I hummed the Dies Irae, you played the Hallelujah
Starting off with a New York real estate in-joke, Koenig proceeds to liken our inability to escape our destiny to the de facto ownership rules of “99-year-leases.” He may recognize he was “born on third base,” but doesn’t take it for granted, even if his lyrics give off the occasional air of “William Bottomtooth,” as if he couldn’t deliver them without brandy swirling (begrudgingly) in his sifter:
A stranger walked in through the door,
Said all apartments are pre-war
We laughed and asked him for his name
He stayed until the end
We watched the Germans play the Greeks
We marked the 99 year lease,
Our fathers signed
Which I declined to try and comprehend
Supposedly taking the name of an actual former classmate of Koenig’s, “Hannah Hunt” shows a dissolving relationship through several lines that could be pun-based wordplay, or simply two vagrants losing trust in each other. It’s a great track, but if Koenig wanted us to see the narrator as a drifter instead of a prep, then maybe “Waverley” should’ve been left out:
Though we live on the US dollar
You and me, we got our own sense of time
In Santa Barbara, Hannah cried
Amidst those freezing beaches
And I walked into town
To buy some kindling for the fire,
Hannah tore the New York Times up into pieces
Using an actual Manhattan falafel shop as the setting, Ezra decides to get Romeo and Juliet here – only with conflicting parties in the Middle East instead of Montagues and Capulets. Luckily, there’s enough context to figure it out without the aid of Wikipedia, but seriously, Koenig – we get it, we don’t read enough:
See ya next year in Jerusalem
You know, the one at 103rd and Broadway?
Cause this Orthodox girl fell in love with the guy at the falafel shop
And why not?
Should she have averted her eyes and just stared at the laminated poster of the Dome of the Rock?