Forget what you know about Vampire Weekend. For their third album "Modern Vampires of the City" (XL), the Ivy Leaguers have outgrown their fascination with setting cutesy ideas about punctuation and campus life to Afro-pop and interpretations of Paul Simon's "Graceland."
All the potential they showed on their early albums -- the sporadically pretty arrangements, the occasionally smart turns of phrase -- has blossomed into true artistry. And they've done it by focusing on feelings over cleverness.
Yes, singer Ezra Koenig's phrasing, especially on "Everlasting Arms," will still make you think of Simon, but there isn't a spiky, Fela-inspired guitar riff to be found. Guitarist-keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij has followed new interests -- ska, dub, rockabilly -- into a new sound that's not as obvious, but generally just as sunny.
That's quite a feat considering singer Ezra Koenig and friends have moved on to worrying about death and religion. "There's a headstone right in front of you, and everyone I know," he warns on "Don't Lie," which worries about wasting time, as Chris Tomson delivers an unyielding marching drumbeat. On "Diane Young," a giddy, Elvis-tinged exploration of fast-living (the title's a play on "Dyin' Young") filled with gunfire-like bursts of drums and rockabilly guitar flourishes, Koenig chooses longevity over intensity, singing, "Live my life in self-defense -- you know I love the past, 'cause I hate suspense."
It's a good summary for Vampire Weekend's skillful "Modern Vampires of the City," finding a way to take themselves seriously while still searching for the next adrenaline rush.
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"Modern Vampires of the City"
BOTTOM LINE Starting to fulfill their potential