In the series Albums That Soundtrack Our Lives, we hear from a selection of students reflecting individually on albums that shaped their life in one way or another. Whether it’s a breakup, loss, nostalgia or good memories shared with friends; we look at albums that have changed the lives of different people from different places, using music as a unifying experience.
Next up is Rebecca Scott, who offers Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City as her pick. Coated in peppy, up-beat vocals and bouncy drums you may associate with “every car advert in 2008”; Rebecca maintains there’s more to Modern Vampires than meets the eye and why it’s accompanied her from her teenage years into young adulthood.
I think it’s fair to say that someone’s favourite album tends to say a lot about them; the sounds with which one surrounds themselves can offer a sort of window into the soul. In writing this article, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that through my pane of glass lies the epitome of 2013 indie Tumblr: Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City.
If you’re not too familiar with Vampire Weekend, they’re typically known for two things: providing the soundtrack of every car advert in 2008 with that quirky little “Hey! Hey! Hey!” ditty, and being the de facto poster boys for teenagers who read a little too much Hemingway in National 5 English. Their sound has changed and matured throughout the years, from collegiate Afro-pop in their self-titled debut, to the more Grateful Dead-infused stylings of their 2019 effort, Father of the Bride (which I rambled on about here). But the era in which I think Vampire Weekend were at their most unabashedly brilliant was with the release of their third studio album: Modern Vampires of the City.
Modern Vampires is phenomenal. The band took the whole quirky Ivy League, wait-until-my-father-hears-about-this image that they’d been associated with since their blast onto the scene in the late 00s and turned it entirely on its head. Gone were the days of African drums and Peter Gabriel comparisons, replaced instead with a disillusioned sense of the American Dream and an overwhelming aura of all-encompassing depression. The album artwork certainly reflected such a tonal change, with a monochrome image of a foggy Manhattan gracing the cover. This was a darker record – and it could be recognised on sight.
The lead single, Diane Young, is as overflowing with literary references as one would expect a Vampire Weekend song to be – although it deals with a remarkably darker subject matter than any of the band’s previous releases. A play on words of “dying young”, this is an upbeat firecracker of a single which still manages to remind the listener of the inevitability of their own demise: “Nobody knows what the future holds, and it’s bad enough just getting old.” The racing guitars and pounding percussion are almost enough to distract from the bleakness of this song’s lyrics and the overarching theme of death (a lá Foster The People’s Pumped Up Kicks). Just almost.
Modern Vampires really comes into itself in the back half of the record, wherein my all-time favourite Vampire Weekend song graces us with its presence. Hannah Hunt is the most ethereal 3 minutes and 57 seconds available to mankind, in which lead singer Ezra Koenig deals with the breakdown of a relationship. The first two-and-a-half minutes are quiet and subdued, almost like a lullaby; the soft crooning of the slow electric guitar and piano build throughout the song, before erupting into the most wonderful symphony around the three minute mark as Koenig now yells: “If I can’t trust you, then damn it, Hannah”, his voice almost cracking with the intensity of emotion he’s putting into the performance. It’s a perfect example of a slow burner, and by God it pays off.
But I think my real attachment to this record manifests itself through the memories I’ve made with it. I began listening to Vampire Weekend shortly after Modern Vampires was released, and so that album has acted as a backdrop for so many of my adolescent experiences. I can vividly remember listening to Unbelievers as I cycled around my estate surrounded by dawn and dew on my morning paper round as a 15-year-old; chanting along to Worship You in the car with my brother soon after I passed my driving test; crying as I stood front row at Madison Square Garden in 2019 while they performed Hannah Hunt.
I’ve lived a million lives since I was 14, it seems, and yet every one of them is sound-tracked by this incredible 40-minute record. I’ve still yet to tire of it, and at this point I honestly don’t think I ever will; it’s Vampire Weekend’s masterpiece, and I’m glad I grew up with it.
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