“My ears were blown to bits, from all the rifle hits, but still I craved that sound.”
–from “Giving up the Gun”
Music has always been, for me, a matter of survival. It’s really quite simple. I can’t execute easy day to day activities (walking my dogs, travelling in buses, doing Maths in a not-so-distant past) without the aid of my trusty green Skullcandy earphones (which have been through hell and back thanks to aforementioned dogs) and my ever growing playlist. Of course there’s no way I’ve covered even a fraction of all the amazing music there is out there to hear and among the fraction I have covered, I haven’t heard a fraction of those as well as they deserve, but there are some that left a deeper imprint on my soul than others. One of these was a relatively unknown (at least at the time), American group called Vampire Weekend.
It actually all began with a particularly catchy phrase in a particular song of theirs which a particularly annoying friend had chosen to hum at me for weeks on end. The phrase in question was “who gives a fuck about an Oxford Comma?” (not Koening certainly), and after having it repeated to me a million odd times, I was finally forced to give a fuck. And I proceeded to give several. Over time, songs like “Obvious Bicycle” and “Step” became permanent parts of my playlist and Vampire Weekend was officially relegated to my “They’re really good but not intriguing enough for me to look for more of their work” list.
Till I encountered a small piece of writing, allegedly done by Ezra Koening (VW’s lyricist and lead vocalist) in his college days, while trawling the internet.
Now Koening’s lyrics had always struck a powerful chord with me and were, in fact, one of the primary reasons why I’d loved the band’s songs. This short story however opened a whole new dimension into his psyche and therefore his songs, as well. There were clear parallels between his prose and the music I’d heard the band create. It was around the same time that I realised I had a term paper due in about two weeks (for Rushati and my) Professor X and for the purposes of invigorating academic inquiry (aka hours of listening to Vampire Weekend on loop), I decided to use them as my topic.
One of the major (and in my opinion rather ridiculous) criticisms that the band has faced is the attack on their privileged Ivy League backgrounds prompted (possibly) by their penchant for dressing in suits, Oxford brogues and chinos. Most listeners felt that while the music was no doubt, of a superior quality, the image cultivated by the band, was less so. Being graduates of a premier institution and having lived lives of considerable privilege, none of them really fit in with the typical socially conflicted, economically stricken and psychologically affected image of the indie rock artist and many, therefore considered them over privileged cultural imperialists (or the whitest band on the planet). In addition, their songs which included subject matter involving baroque architecture (“Mansard Roof”) and obscure points of English grammar (“Oxford Comma”) didn’t do much to help the situation. The “whitest band in the world” tag is however, quite strange considering not a single one of them comes even close to the being White Anglo Saxon Protestant (one’s Jewish and one’s Iranian for Christ’ sake!)
Lyrically and musically, VW’s third album is quite different from the first two. All three have this unique, fun, Afro-pop quality to them (including extensive use of a lot of African instruments), but most of the songs in Modern Vampires of the City are far darker, with various perceivable layers of meaning (“Hudson” being downright creepy, in my opinion). “Hannah Hunt”, however, one of the album’s most stand out tracks is hauntingly beautiful and can’t help but linger, like a mellow aftertaste. “Diane Young” and “Unbelievers”, though they both bear a distinct resemblance to earlier songs like “Giving up the Gun” and “Cape Cod”, are actually quite different and far more cynical and fatalistic than their predecessors (Diane Young being a pun on dying young).
Though their musical experimentation borders on the genius at times, what has always stood out for me are Koening’s vocals and his incredible lyrics. Even a cursory reading of any Vampire Weekend song (even the earlier ones), reveals a depth of understanding that is rare to this generation of singers and songwriters. To put it in Koening’s own words, “the gloves are off, the wisdom teeth are out, what you on about, I feel it in my bones.”
Yes. Yes, I do.
Hope the second post of Melodies, written by the beautiful Rohini, has titillated your musical-feels as much as mine.
Here’s the person behind the screen:
Aaand, just in case you didn’t know by now, here’s what she wrote for:
See you next Friday with Rohit’s post on upcoming band Years and Years!