Night Music: Vampire Weekend, “Unbelievers”

The third Vampire Weekend album came out a couple of months ago. I gave it a listen back then and found confirmation of my previous thoughts about the group.

I listened to the first album a lot. The synthesis of African guitar sounds and punchy rhythms was appealing, especially coupled with clever often funny vocals. It was kind of like the first Talking Heads album’s lyrics coupled with Fear of Music’s music, at least it seemed at first. But the more I listened the thinner it became. Clever wears out, and the jangly sounds started to feel flat. They didn’t swing, they just chirped, a quality exacerbated by a lead vocalist with a razor sharp inflection and little warmth. I didn’t mind if I heard one of those songs on the radio, but I never put on the record after a while.

The second album seemed like more of the same, and I never really gave it a shot.

The third album was different, at least on the surface. The music and rhythms were more varied, the arrangements were more ambitious and grander. But I played it just once and didn’t go back to it, despite the good reviews, because I was still bothered by the vocalist. Too many smarts, too little heart, I thought. The music was making grand gestures to rock history, to the popular canon, but the words sounded too brittle and perfect, too much part of the guy’s head, too little a part of any place farther down.

At the same time, this seemed to be a year with little guitar rock, and so when the best records of the year lists started showing up and Modern Vampires of the City seemed to be on every one, I thought it might be good to give it one more try. I haven’t gotten through all of it, but my first impression is mostly intact. Still, there is a little more here than I was giving it credit for.

I like the drums and the keyboards in this song, and the words aren’t always irritating. It’s a good tune, strong musically, kind of sing-songy and neither dumb nor overthought (mostly). I still hate his voice. He sounds like a liar to me. I guess that’s not going to change.

One thought on “Night Music: Vampire Weekend, “Unbelievers”

  1. I have the first Vampire’s disc, and found it thin as did you Peter, so I kind have given up on them. Not that they are bad: more that they just don’t grab me in any serious way, shape, or form. That is, they don’t leave me after a tune wanting more.

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