Top Ten Vampire Weekend Tracks

words fae sean hannah (@Shun_Handsome)

I think… there’s something inherently interesting [about preppiness],” Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig confesses to Anthony Mason, responding to the flak the group caught for their sartorially-obsessed image. For haters who are still hung up on the band’s appearance, Vampire Weekend’s unassailably straight-laced wardrobe is a constant point of derision, as it calls into question the matter of the band’s authenticity in rock circles. But authenticity is a moot point in most rock music anyway, and image is the most superficial of its signifiers.

Spawned from the dorms of Columbia University, Vampire Weekend compounded their belletristic interests with a democratic passion for music that spans the entirety of the globe. Koenig provided thoughtful, reference-heavy lyrics to their songs, while producer/keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij condensed his appreciation for classical, experimental, and world music into concise pop sonatas. Bassist Chris Baio plays stoically, capable of delicate melody as well as pithy foundation. Drummer Chris Tomson often favors an African-inspired floor-tom drum arrangement, recalling experimentalists like Mo Tucker as well as the rhythms of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti.

Despite eliciting such strong reactions from anti-Weekenders, Vampire Weekend have proven themselves an indelible phenomenon in this current iteration of indie rock. Their clean, poppy sound, understated sense of humor, and alacrity to explore new styles and genres with each album combine to form an inimitable aesthetic with an astounding consistency. And as the band’s forthcoming album moves at a glacial pace, with the band giving sporadic updates that quantify the album’s completion by tenths of a percent, it seems appropriate to look back at one of pop music’s most inventive bands of the last decade and evaluate their top ten songs.

10. Mansard Roof

Beginning with a hyper-specific reference to the architectural style of the same name, Mansard Roof is a treatise, an entrée into the world of Vampire Weekend. A sprightly 1-2-3 drum and organ pump heralds its opening line. “I see a mansard roof through the trees,” Koenig cheerily declares, “I see a salty message written in the eaves.” Even without the accompanying music video, it’s hard not to imagine Koenig and company dressed in Oxford shirts and Sperry’s as they contemplate the sloping roof of a nearby building while they themselves stand bayside. Mansard Roof, like the rest of Vampire Weekend’s debut album, said to the world, “We’re preppy, we’re smart, but we’re not too uptight about it.”

9. Arrows

It sounds like a song Wes Anderson would co-opt for a critical scene in one of his films, but Arrows is, in fact, one of Vampire Weekend’s most elusive and celebrated rarities. Recorded around the time of their 2008 debut, Arrows combines the energy of their live shows with the studio craft that would come to define the band. Tight, Billy Ficca-inspired drumming abounds, a rich, cello-led string section bookends the song, and effusive Afrobeat guitar runs punctuate the verses. Arrows could well have replaced nearly any song on Vampire Weekend, but part of its charm rests in its obscurity. For Vampire obsessives, it remains a well-kept secret, one that rewards those willing to dig deeper than the picayune three albums.

8.  Step

Its opening line is borrowed from a Souls of Mischief rarity, its chord progression from Pachelbel’s Canon, its chorus from Bread’s Aubrey. Vampire Weekend pulled out all the stops for their third single on Modern Vampires of the City. Serving partly as a trenchant self-examination as well as an affirmation of personal growth, Step finds Koenig at odds with his opulent past: “Home in New York was champagne and disco” while recognizing his own oncoming maturity: “I’m stronger now, I’m ready for the house.” In the song’s chorus are nods to Modest Mouse and outsider artist Jandek, both of which seem arbitrary in the context of the lyrics, but that’s sort of the point. For all of Vampire Weekend’s incessant name checking and bookish tendencies, there exists some modicum of profundity in their lyrical encyclopedia.

7. Ya Hey

Arguably the centerpiece of Modern Vampires of the City, Ya Hey is part indictment, part paean to its mysterious second-person subject. “Oh, sweet thing, America don’t love you/ So I could never love you/ In spite of everything,” pronounces Koenig in a mellifluous, Chet Baker-channeling coo. Ya Hey is partly about failing institutions, with Koenig running through a catalogue of people and things that have taken leave of this ambiguous “you.” Like a cynical take on the wish list of GirlsLust for Life, Ezra reminds her that the Motherland, the Zion, and religious zealots will never requite her adoration. The song’s climax arrives at the 4:40 mark as the chorus repeats and Koenig is joined by full band and choir. He confidently reassures, “Through the fire and through the flames/ You won’t even say your name/ Only, “I am that I am.” Those lines manage to fit in allusions to the eternally uncool DragonForce, the venerable Peter Tosh, and the confounding Hebrew expression Yahweh puts to Moses. Each referent is given without a hint of hierarchy, as is Vampire Weekend’s m.o., which is to be expected from a man who “swoons” upon hearing a DJ transition from Israelites to 19th Nervous Breakdown.

6. The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance

You criticize the practice by murdering their plants.” Vampire Weekend weren’t great at penning sensationalistic lyrics on their first album. They were acutely aware of this, however, which is why so many of the images in that record’s lyrics are impressionistic rather than explosive. The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance, which closes the band’s extraordinary debut, doubles down on the imagery VW knew they’d be chided for by detractors. Shiny cufflinks, pinstripe-clad men of distinction, and a hoard of money ($40 million, to be precise) populate Kids, all of which are sung about with a self-aware smirk by Koenig. With an instrumental track just as jaunty as anything else on Vampire Weekend, The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance closes out the album with poise, refinement, and an admirable amount of care and dedication.

5. California English Pt. 2

A B-side in the Vampire Weekend catalogue, California English Pt. 2 ultimately lost a spot on Contra to its more energetic predecessor. But the song meets or exceeds nearly any track on that album in terms of songcraft. Featuring a collection of slowly building keyboard lines that reside somewhere between dream pop and electronica, Pt. 2 finds the group at a lyrical and musical high water mark. As always, Ezra’s libretto considers the social and spiritual implications of growing up well-off with humor and tact. “Are our parents actually Buddhist? Is the pool below me the bluest?” he wonders to himself, fully aware of the contradiction between those two thoughts. The chorus is simple enough: an exultant “Oh, California!” sung with the reverence of any one of those great Golden State artists, be they The Mamas and The Papas or Katy Perry or whoever.

4. I Think Ur a Contra

Never mind the text message spelling in its title, I Think Ur a Contra is a song of enormous breadth and depth. Parlaying a more-or-less civil break up into a meditation on the superficiality of romanticized wealth and poverty, the Contra closer showcases Vampire Weekend’s greatest asset: their ability to transmute petty angst into sweeping societal critiques. “When you turn away from me/ It’s not right,” Koenig croons over an amorphous pillow of synthesizers and fidgeting guitar effects. It’s an overly simple summation of a failed romance, one that rock and pop music employ out of fear of nuance. But at I Think’s bridge comes a dramatic change: Rostam’s sky-clearing string arrangement brings out the philosopher in Koenig as he cuts down his ex’s hypocrisies. She wants “good schools and friends with pools,” but she also wants “rock and roll, complete control.” On one end are the attractions of pedigree, on the other, the promises of populism. Koenig himself is wary of both, demurring, “Well, I don’t know.” I Think Ur a Contra is as much a scathing breakup song as it is a self-conscious swipe at the lifestyle the band had been touting for their first two albums.

3. M79

For all their enthrallment with African guitar pop and European Chamber music, Vampire Weekend are first and foremost a New York band. They sing about Washington Heights and Taqueria y Fonda as if they were the cruxes of the world, and on M79, their ode to the NYC bus route of the same name, the band limn the city as the hub of cultural eclecticism it’s known to be as well as a site of personal disillusionment familiar to natives and non-locals alike. Touchstones of the Upper West Side are mentioned casually, like the taxis and rickshaws perambulating up and down the streets and the sights in Central Park (abbreviated to “The Park”). Still, though, there’s something universal to these lyrics: as the girl in the song passes her French and Buddhist classmates at Columbia, she’s cautioned not to think anything racist or jingoistic. It’s the common dilemma of being faced with other cultures, other ways of life, and wondering just how valid they really are. Or how valid our own is.

2. Hannah Hunt

Travel has long been a staple of Vampire Weekend’s lyrics, but it was often underscored with the lightheartedness of a vicenarian viewing the world’s wonders from a safe distance. The trips to Spain, Cape Cod, and Darjeeling were just perks of the privilege the band would spend much of their career trying to shake off. But on Hannah Hunt, the desultory couple driving to Santa Barbara from Rhode Island discover a malaise in themselves that vacationing can’t allay. The song’s breezy, twinkling piano and guileless rhythm section betray its despondent subject matter, often submitting graciously to Koenig’s weary vocals. That is, until the song reaches its infamous bridge. “If I can’t trust you, then dammit, Hannah!/ There’s no future, there’s no answer,” he cries, the music swelling under him in a pained climax. On Hannah Hunt, Vampire Weekend perfect the musical travelogue, stealing it away from hackneyed Springsteen wannabes and reclaiming it for the indie crowd.

1. Diplomat’s Son

The penultimate song on Contra, Diplomat’s Son synthesizes every trick the band employed on their sophomore record into a six-minute mini-concerto. Delicate synths (more refined than the simple keyboards on Vampire Weekend), expansive, varied percussion, and lush orchestral dalliances comprise this experimental Afro-pop melodrama. Co-writers Koenig and Batmanglij construct the scene with stark lyrical economy, penning lines like, “It’s not right/ but it’s now or never/ And if I wait/ Could I ever forgive myself?Diplomat’s Son describes the turmoil of a man questioning his sexuality as the trappings of his privileged upbringing begin to fail him. Buzzing TVs are left unattended at home, car keys are hidden at a party, white shoes are strewn inside a bathtub. In a moment of hasty abandon, he gets high and sleeps with a close friend, who departs before morning. Like Contra on the whole, Son finds Vampire Weekend moving away from the faux-existential crises of post-collegiate life and stepping into the real world, one of frustration, confusion, and desertion.

Our 20 Most Anticipated Albums of 2018

words and header by liam menzies (@blnkclyr) unless specified

Remember how phenomenal that one song you heard from 2017 was? That album that you couldn’t stop yourself from spinning as soon as it had reached the end of its vinyl? At this point in the year, it can be all too easy to look back with rose-tinted glasses at the year that has passed and while it was great, it would be idiotic of us to ignore what the next 12 months have in store for us. We may very well miss out on some of your hotly anticipated ones, whether that be the album being hidden at the time of writing or sheer ignorance, but the team has put their heads together to come up with this list of the records we can’t wait to get into our ears…


Black Foxxes – Reoli

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Why: Another band that you REALLY should be listening to, Devonshire trio Black Foxxes will be releasing Reoli on March 16th. Their debut album, I’m Not Well, came out in 2016 to high praise, and whilst the themes in the album, including depression, anxiety & frontman Mark Holley’s struggle with Crohn’s disease are a heavy drink of water, the album is incredibly listenable and a must have on anyone’s playlist. Whilst only one song has broken cover from this album, the smart gambler would put a few chips on this being a dark horse in the album of the year contest. – oliver butler (@notoliverbutler)

When: 16th March 2018.


Blood Orange – LP4

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Why: Having released one of 2016’s most underrated records Freetown Sound, Dev Hynes is set to follow it up with his fourth full-length album this year. It seems set to be a challenging, introspective listen if his 2017 interview is anything to go by: “A lot of the new songs on the new album deal with growing up and childhood in England [..] looking at the country that made me”. Admitting that it’ll be a little dark in the same piece, Blood Orange LP4 is set to be an important listen.

Proof: Image above as well as this DIY article.


Brockhampton – Team Effort

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WhyAfter the, let’s be honest, far better than it had any right to be SATURATION trilogy, you’d be forgiven for being a bit burned out on the best boy band since One Direction. But it just seems that that isn’t the case at all. Now free from any continuity restrictions that the Saturation trilogy enforced them to, this next album will hopefully see even more innovation and surprises from BROCKHAMPTON. ethan woodford (@human_dis4ster) & jake cordiner (@jjjjaketh)

Proof: This tweet right here from the boys themselves.


Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy

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Why: Before you rush into the comments to tell us that Twin Fantasy was released in 2011 – we know, you’re not special for knowing that. The reason this Car Seat Headrest album is included on our list is down to Will Toledo mistakenly announcing via a now taken down listing that a re-release will be happening. However, as opposed to the traditional meaning, Toledo has the benefit of a bigger budget, a full band in fine form, and endless time to tinker, meaning what we’ll get seven years later will be the album he really wanted to make.

When: Feb 16th.


Codist – LP2

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Why: Sleep? Who needs it?! The Codist boys certainly don’t seem to need any as they’re set to drop the follow up to their 2016 debut Nuclear Family (which was pretty fucking good). Having dropped an EP last year on the newly founded LP Records label, we’re psyched to see what this Glasgow rock outfit have tucked away for us.

When: This lil video right here.


Courtney Barnett – LP3

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Why: After a successful collaboration with Kurt Vile on Lotta Sea Lice, fans of Courtney Barnett are eager to see what the up and coming Australian artist is going to ramble about on a new LP. Sometimes I Sit And Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit was one of the best albums of 2015 due to its undeniable charm and with some well-earned experience from subsequent ventures, we’re excited to see what changes she’ll be making on this record.

Proof: Barnett chatted to Zane Lowe about the new album on his beats1 station.


Danny Brown – LP5

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Why: If the fact that this Detroit rapper’s last album Atrocity Exhibition was our 2016 Album Of The Year isn’t enough to get you pumped up then what’s wrong with you? Danny Brown crafted one of the most exciting and wholly original hip-hop albums of the century alongside Paul White and with this new album set to be “produced by one producer, who’s legendary in hip-hop“, we can’t wait to see what path Danny leads us on.

Proof: Brown admitted on Twitter that he’s working on a currently untitled new album.


Dorothy – 28 Days in The Valley

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Why: Dorothy are probably the best band you’ve never heard of. Or, if you’ve heard of them, one of the best new bands on your radar. Signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label, the bluesy brawlers will be releasing 28 Days in the Valley this year, their follow up to 2016’s ROCKISDEAD. Mixing heavy, bluesy rock with frontwoman Dorothy Martin’s swelling vocals, Dorothy have a crunching modern sound that’s full of classic influences. – oliver butler (@notoliverbutler)

Proof: The band admitted the album is set to drop in early 2018.


Drenge – LP3

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Why: Hopefully set to return after almost a 3-year absence, Sheffield trio Drenge will look to return with a vengeance. Looking to combine the best aspects from their different but both excellent albums so far, LP 3 will no doubt be well worth the wait. – ethan woodford (@human_dis4ster)

Proof: It exists (unless the guys were in an Edgar Wright mood).


Gorillaz – LP5

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Why: While the critical reception to the band’s much-anticipated comeback album Humanz wasn’t what anyone was hoping for, that doesn’t mean we aren’t any less excited for what’s to come. Not much is known about it at the moment but if it’s a Gorillaz record, expect it to be grandiose, entertaining and ignite a lot of discussions.

When: The group’s Jamie Hewlett admitted the album’s existence.


Grimes – LP5

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Why: Explaining in an Instagram video she’s been “in the studio every day trying to legit make something you’ve never heard before”, Canadian artist Claire Boucher has consistently impressed since her 2010 debut and her upcoming LP seems to be no different. With a focus on being fresh and exciting, Art Angels managed to win Grimes a lot of new fans and whatever she has next will, regardless of quality, keep them as well as old enthusiasts surprised.

Proof: This article right here.


Injury Reserve – LP2

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Why: After impressing everyone with their debut studio album Floss and further keeping that smile on our faces with last year’s Drive It Like It’s Stolen EP, this zany and fresh hip-hop outfit seem set to keep the golden streak running with a follow up LP. “we’re about to go hole up in a cabin in northern Arizona and simultaneously put together the best tour of 2018 and the best album of our career so far” is what Parker Corey said recently on his Twitter so with their confidence so high, it’s appropriate to get suitably hyped for LP2.

Proof: New full-length album confirmed here😉


Interpol – LP6

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Why: Marking 15 years since their landmark debut Turn On The Bright Lights, Interpol have performed the album in its entirety across a series of sold-out shows this year. Such a momentous occasion felt like the perfect time to wheel out some new material, which is precisely what happened at London’s Alexandra Palace. Included in the encore was Real Life, the first taste of what to expect from their follow up to El Pintor – a mouth-watering prospect as we wait to see what direction their post-Carlos D era takes them in. kieran cannon (@kiercannon)

Proof: The aforementioned performances of new material last year.


Justin Timberlake – Man Of The Woods

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Why: It might be cool to hate on chart music but if there’s an artist who manages to make even the biggest of bucket hat wearing indie lads bop to a pop tune, it’s probably gonna be Justin Timberlake. With this pretense, you might expect another slick listen but from what has been teased so far, expect something more akin to Bon Iver than anything else – that might repulse some but for people like ourselves who wish to see big stars push themselves in interesting directions, we’re utterly intrigued to see what Man Of The Woods has to show.

When: Feb 2nd.


Kanye West – Turbo Grafx 16

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Why: When you have the late, great Lou Reed praising you then you must be doing something right and the ever egotistical Kanye West looks set to continue his golden run with his new gaming inspired record Turbo Grafx 16. With the record set to feature sampling from the likes of No More Heroes and Super Mario Galaxy in addition to hosting appearances from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Chance The Rapper and Young Thug, Kanye may be set to deliver the oddest record of 2018.

Proof: gBzFazu.png


Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons – Age of Absurdity 

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Why: After hitting the road playing a mix of originals and covers, plus a six-track EP in 2016, Phil Campbell and his band of bastardy men are ready to release their first full-length album; Age of Absurdity. So far, this band has proven that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as Phil’s sons Todd, Tyla & Dane are all incredibly talented musicians in their own right. – oliver butler (@notoliverbutler)

When: January 26th.


Screaming Females – All At Once 

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Why: A band we weren’t aware of up until a recent Spotify recommendation, Screaming Females packs in one of the best rock/punk vocalists in the form of Marissa Paternoster who is just on the mic as she is on the guitar. First cut off All At Once, titled Glass House, is anthemic and builds up to a climax that blurs the line between shaky and untenable: if that’s anything to go by then this LP will prove to be one of 2018’s best rock albums.

When: Feb 23rd


Simon Neil – ZZC

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Why: Big Si dropped a track on Christmas Day, so that’s good enough for me to believe his long-teased solo effort is finally almost here. The aforementioned track, titled The Myth, is a 7 and a half minute long instrumental that goes from orchestral to mathy as fuck rock at the drop of a hat. It’s really, REALLY good, and if it’s an indication of the direction of rest of the album, it sounds like the untethered, mental Simon Neil that die-hard Biffy Clyro fans have been pining for is back, and back with a vengeance. – jake cordiner (@jjjjaketh)

Proof: Si has been teasing this for years now and with The Myth being the opening track, this surely means it’s sooner rather than later for his solo effort.


Vampire Weekend – LP4

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Why: While the band members themselves certainly haven’t been slacking, whether that be contributing to anime or making their own solo album, it’s been a long ass time since Vampire Weekend last blessed us with some new music – half a decade to be exact. With the likes of Kanye West being cited as an inspiration for the yet untitled fourth LP, it’s hard not to be intrigued by what the New York lads have in store for us.

Proof: This juicy lil interview with Ezra Koenig.


The Xcerts – Hold On To Your Heart

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Why: The three singles already released from this album are some of the band’s best work to date and, from what we heard on their live tour in October, the other tunes are certainly going to be a treat as well. gregor farquharson (@grgratlntc)

When: 19th January.

 

TRACK REVIEW: ROSTAM – EOS

That new Vampire Weekend album you’ve been waiting patiently for might be pushed back further with the recent release of multi instrumentalist and producer Rostam Batmanglij’s new single EOS.

EOS came about naturally after Rostam discovered an old voice memo on his phone.

It’s rare that that happens for me—I’m always collecting ideas on my phone but usually it’s individual building blocks of a song, this was the essential elements all coming out together.

Whilst the track is significantly less vibrant than his more layered, varied past songs like Don’t Let It Go To You and Wood, EOS is by no means a bad track as it features lots of the production flair that made Vampire Weekend’s 2013 LP Modern Vampires Of The City such a hit with trademark choirs and organs. A calm and chilling song that portrays the fatigue Rostam was feeling at the time, the closing line “lo and behold you were here now you’re gone” sang over a lone, simple piano manages to get a smile out of you.