Revisiting Vampire Weekend
Ten years ago, on the 29th of January, four Columbia University graduates transcended the mustiness of college gigs and thrust themselves into the national spotlight with their self-titled debut album, Vampire Weekend.
Releasing their album to critical acclaim, Vampire Weekend quickly usurped The Strokes as the kings of the New York indie music scene, and began a hot streak of albums that have established them as one of the most important and acclaimed bands of the past decade. With their fourth album Mitsubishi Macchiato coming out later this year, I thought it would be fitting to reflect upon what started it all.
Although now the members have aged and are well into adulthood, when Vampire Weekend was first released the group was fresh out of college, and the kinetic energy synonymous with youth can be felt throughout each song. With the opening three notes of Mansard Roof, we feel the playfulness and fun that dictates both this song and the rest of the album. A lightness decorates the drums, keeping the song moving, and the speedy, high pitched guitar filling in the bridges amplifies this aesthetic. From an early point, one can hear the musical genius of Rostam Batmanglij at work, with his compositional production contributing to the airy feel of the album. The insertion of an African influence on the sound throughout the album adds a dynamic that actually vivifies the representation of their Ivy League, American lifestyle, rather than equivocates it.
Vampire Weekend’s worldly sense of musicality seems to reflect their Ivy League backgrounds, and this further extends into their lyrical content. While these days frontman and primary lyricist Ezra Koenig is using his talents to write smash hits like Neo Yokio, ten years ago he so aptly captured what it was like to be a college student and a New Yorker in a way that I believe no one else has done since.
“If Wes Anderson has a lyric equivalent, Ezra Koenig would be it.”
Perhaps most clearly demonstrated in Oxford Comma is Ezra’s display of the ultimate rewards of the English Literature major: the ability to seamlessly oscillate between referencing Old English Dramas and Lil Jon, while simultaneously allegorizing not giving a f*** about the Oxford Comma to living a more relaxed, simplistic life. Leaving the subject matter to be handled by any other hand than Ezra’s would breed intense loathing and accusations of elitism. However, in Ezra, the subject is made so playfully pretentious and fun with his lyrics that it becomes impossible to hate. His plethora of witticisms are crucial to the Vampire Weekend aesthetic, and while they can appear playful and spirited, that doesn’t detract from the truths they reveal. Campus is a painfully truthful depiction of university life in the iPhone age. While many on the outside assume these institutions to be bastions of constant, academic learning, the actual world of elite colleges seems much more akin to that Ezra’s telling, one filled with awkward hookups and lounging on expensive grass, contemplating 21st Century love to pass the ennui.
When you combine the sonically tight compositions and witty lyrics, you end up with journeys like Walcott, a piece about vampires invading Cape Cod. To evoke feelings from the emotional gutter of our insides by telling a story set within the homeland of the bourgeoisie is a skill unique to Vampire Weekend. While they have had their fair share of opponents who have accused them of celebrating the WASP life and remaining ignorant of the realities of the world around them, one can’t help but feel those realities are being addressed somewhere within the music. While ten years have passed since these youthful souls spoke of keffiyehs and the M79 crosstown bus, their impact remains felt on the world. The album breathed fresh life into an indie scene championed by the emotional weightiness of bands like Arcade Fire or grungy, a post-punk feel of the Arctic Monkeys. Who knew the one thing that indie music needed in 2008 were four college graduates dressed in button downs and boat shoes?