As I came to my conclusive final ordering of albums, I couldn’t help but feel like my list differed from the norm. You’ll find familiar faces like Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend, but many of the albums that ended up surfacing near the top are absent from all the major lists I’ve perused in the past few weeks. Does this mean I’m out of touch or that I’ve become such an outsider that I can’t connect with the mainstream? I hope not. Those albums you find on this list that you’ve never seen included on other lists are not my attempt at being different, rather, they are albums that fell through the cracks by the major outlets and deserve a listen from anyone who still appreciates “the album” as a work of art. The BDWPS.com mission statement of “guiding you down the path less traveled” is truer than ever in 2013.
20. Mutual Benefit
Love’s Crushing Diamond
[Other Music; 2013]
Love’s Crushing Diamond is great on two very different levels. Musically, Mutual Benefit’s debut album is warm and inviting, the type of music you can sit back and let wash over you with its lush production and homespun imperfections all cascading one soothing track after another. For the album, Jordan Lee brought in a collective of friends to help capture the seven intimate songs on his debut album, and you can hear the camaraderie in the music. The strings swoon while the banjos croak; the guitars vibrate as the wind chimes twinkle – every element blends into one definitive wave of calm throughout the album.
But what really makes such an inviting album so enjoyable is the lyrics of love and loss. Lee’s soft tenor voice is easy to ignore in favor of the beautiful music, but when you do lend him your ear, you’ll here personal, heart-wrenching tales reminiscent of early Sufjan Stevens. On “Golden Wake” he ponders heartbreak singing “In the water I could see / a piece of what you broke in me,” and on “Advanced Falconry” he perfectly captures the feeling of love with “to look into her eyes / will make a fool of anyone.” This look at the highs and lows is a constant throughout the album, but the final verdict is on “Strong Swimmer,” a song about a drowning that contains the hopeful lyric “You taught me how/ to never fear those tall waves.” Love is a risk worth taking.
One of the biggest highlights from SXSW this past spring was the Torres set I caught on the first afternoon of the festival. I’d been enjoying the self-released, self-titled album for a several weeks, but not until that point did I ingest the power of MacKenzie Scott’s voice. I stood there, dumbfounded, covered from head-to-toe with goose bumps as a giant lump grew in my throat. Needless to say, she had me in a trance on the verge of bursting into a blubbering idiot.
Like a musical witch, Mackenzie brews a magical concoction with her mixture of whispering pleas and aggravated caterwauls. In fact, I would go so far as to say Scott has one of the most powerful voices out there today. To top it all off, Scott’s lyrics pour out straight from her heart, confessional and candid. While the album may not fully capture the intensity of a live Torres performance, the production gives the album a feeling of vulnerability with most tracks featuring only Scott, her guitar, and the echoes within the room. It is an album that at times can make you feel alone, but more often that not, it’s a reminder that you’re not alone.
“Come to Terms”:
18. Volcano Choir
Bon Iver’s self-titled sophomore album caused a lot of confusion back in 2011. Despite being critically acclaimed, many fans found the album’s change in sound to be too abrupt after his classic For Emma, Forever Ago. I myself enjoyed the follow-up, but I can’t deny that I felt a little frustration in the mood shift, moving from acoustic heartbreak to a full-fledged band, complete with orchestra swells, timpani drum rolls, and saxophone solos.
But let’s give Justin Vernon a break; there was no way he could meet the hype leading up to that album. Thank goodness for side project Volcano Choir and their latest album Repave, a collection of warm, toasty tracks reminiscent of those that echoed in that legendary cabin in the woods. While the self-titled Bon Iver album felt tightly constrained to an unattainable perfection, Repave shows Vernon and friends relaxed, playfully exploring each track. Without the fear of expectations, Vernon’s songwriting chops shine. Songs like “Byegone” and “Tiderays” explode in revelatory splendor, and on “Acetate” and “Comrade” the guys sound like they are just having fun. Long before Bon Iver made a blip on the musical landscape, Justin Vernon was creating music with the same crew that makes up Volcano Choir today, and based off Repave, it looks like he just needed to reconnect with old friends to get his feet back on the ground.
17. Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge
Twelve Reasons to Die
[Wax Poetics; 2013]
Ghostface has always been known to spin a yarn, especially on the Scarface-esque Fishscale, but never has he executed his storytelling in such a linear, focused fashion than on his 2013 release Twelve Reasons to Die. Each track clocks in around three minutes, mini-vignettes that serve as the next chapter in the story of Tony Starks and his life as an enforcer for the DeLuca crime family. Stark builds a reputation with the family, moves up in the ranks, and decides to split off and start his own crime syndicate. Unfortunately, Starks is wooed by a vixen named Carmella on “The Center of Attraction,” a stunning love song that quickly turns sour when Stark discovers she set him up, and so distracted by love, he’s killed by the DeLucas.
In what sounds like a storyline straight from a Todd McFarlane comic book, Stark’s remains are then pressed into twelve vinyl records for each member of the family, unbeknownst to them that the playing of said records would resurrect his vengeful ghost. Thus begins the 2nd half of the album, a ruthless blood fest of Kill Bill proportions. Ghostface’s lyrics reveal the storyline, but Adrian Younge’s production paints the setting. Younge’s dabbling in cinema is evident throughout the album with a mixture of Italian film music, blaxploitation swerve, and spaghetti western dramatics. Add a hint of 60s psychedelic soul and 70s frenetic funk and you have the auditory equivalent of Django Unchained. My references to Tarantino films is no coincidence. It’s hard to listen to Younge’s nuanced mixture of retro film staples without imagining Mr. Blonde cruising to the “K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies,” Beatrix Kiddo rising from her grave to exact revenge, and Django riding into the sunset.
“The Center of Attraction”:
16. Fuck Buttons
I recently made the decision that I was no longer allowed to listen to Fuck Button’s Slow Focus until the next time I go hiking in the mountains. A mundane morning drive to work or a night on the patio are not suitable settings for listening to music that is this grand, foreboding, and awe-inspiring. No, this music is meant for the most remote and grandest of stages. While remaining simplistic in their approach, the band has created something as massive and majestic as the Sierra Mountains John Muir once wrote so passionately about.
Muir once climbed a tree and clung on to it to see what it felt like to be a tree during a storm, and a listen to Slow Focus is the same type of soul-searching experience (minus the threat of falling to your death). Muir once wrote that “In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world” and the same could be said of the remote, dramatic landscapes on Slow Focus. I often find dance/techno music to be a bit predictable these days, but Fuck Buttons have approached the genre in such an unorthodox way that the result is untamed and invigorating. The beats are sporadic and tribal, light-years away from the traditional pulsating dance beat heard in clubs across the country each night. That’s urban electronica; Fuck Buttons are rural electronica. If you like your electronic music to be conventional and defined like a city grid, then stay clear of the erratic terrain found on Slow Focus. But if you’re willing to face the dangerous storm in order to get lost in the beauty of the madness, keep climbing that tree – John Muir would like to welcome you to the remarkable void.
15. Alela Diane
[Rusted Blue; 2013]
In 2009, Alela Diane came into her own with To Be Still, an album that combined her tranquil vocals with lyrics that focused on the splendors of nature. On the album, Alela was at peace with the world, an inner hope flowing out with each note, pure and calming like the mighty Columbia. A lot has changed in four years. On her latest release, About Farewell, all the naivety, tenderness, and optimism about the world is gone. Instead, we are left with a somber, more mature Alela, reeling after her real-life divorce from Tom Bevitori. If To Be Still was Alela’s Ladies of the Canyon, then About Farewell is her Blue, a break-up album with tragic lyrics and more mature songwriting.
The album plays out a lot like the movie Blue Valentine with the story of the rise and fall of their relationship presented out-of-order and fragmented. As a listener, you are tasked with the job of trying to pick up the pieces left behind, and once assembled, the end results hit deep like any great break-up album should. I was never a fan of the 2011 album Alela Diane & the Wild Divine which coincidentally is the one album recorded with her now ex-husband. On the album, Alela never sounded comfortable. The lyrics lacked the passion of the prior two albums, and it lacked the emotional levity that drew me to her music so long ago. Unfortunately, it took heartbreak to bring Alela back to her strength. She may not be the hopeful wanderer of ten years ago, but she’s grown older and wiser through her misery.
Last month I got to see Windhand put on an intense set in Minneapolis, but unfortunately, I was unable to get a close up look at the pedal boards of guitarists Asechiah Bogdan and Garrett Morris. I always like to take a gander at a band’s gear, but in this case, it was a more than curiosity – it was a quest to find the secret behind Windhand’s colossal wall of guitar destruction. On Soma, the band borrows heavily from the doom metal playbook created by the likes of Electric Wizard and Reverend Bizarre decades ago, but tonally, they’ve made it an entirely new ballgame. We are talking brutal here, folks. Brutal. This is devastating, searing distortion that crawls along as slowly as a glacier, decimating everything in its path. The songs never veer far off the path, but who needs variation when the crushing monolith can bull you over with one simple riff, again and again and again, pummeling you endlessly like Sisyphus eternally pushing the immovable rock uphill.
Above all this carnage, the saintly voice of Dorthia Cottrells rings out, an angel riding proudly upon the crest of the distorted wave. No matter how noisy and irrepressible the music becomes, Dorthia stands tall, knee-deep in muck, her voice providing hope and guidance amidst the sea of doom. I encourage you to jump in, but good luck finding your way back to the surface.
13. Bill Callahan
[Drag City; 2013]
If Bill Callahan is the Pablo Picasso of music, then Dream River is his foray into Cubism. While in the past Callahan has been known to spin a masterful yarn, on Dream River he allows his minimalist imagery to tell the story. The music is just as hands-off as the lyrics, the drums always remaining muted and the guitars virtually alone throughout, only to be occasionally joined by Callahan’s definitive baritone croak. Together, the lyrics and music create a sparse atmosphere fit for the mundane yet profound portraits painted by the lyrics.
The album deals with themes of loneliness and true contentment, and as with any work of Cubism, there is no clear-cut answer as to how Callahan wants us to take it all in. We are the judges and there’s no correct answer. Songs like “The Sing” and “Seagull” present narrators who seem to be content with the lonely, bleak lives they lead while tracks like “Small Plane” and “Spring” stand in stark contrast, presenting the simplicity and happiness found in the monotony of sharing life with a partner. The most revealing track of all though may be the final song “Winter Road.” In it, the narrator is driving through a dangerously fresh winter snow. As he listens to a Donald Sutherland interview, he has the final realization of the album: “Oh I have learned when things are beautiful / To just keep on, just keep on.” Picasso couldn’t have painted it better.
12. Kurt Vile
Wakin On a Pretty Haze
The fact that Kurt Vile didn’t crack my top 10 this year should be a cause for concern from anyone who’s followed BDWPS for the past few years. I spent the majority of 2011 gushing over Smoke Ring For My Halo and went on to name it the best album of the year. To say Wakin On A Pretty Daze is a drop off would be misleading. Sonically the album features the same warm reverberations and the songs are just as relaxed and self-assured as anything done by Vile in the past.
Really, the only reason Wakin On A Pretty Daze hasn’t had as big of an impact on me is due solely to the fact that Vile sounds happy. Yes, happy. Don’t get me wrong, happiness is cool and all. In fact, I think more people would enjoy the latest Vile album over Smoke Ring For My Halo (most people opt for happiness I suppose). But for me, what made his work in 2011 so insightful was the discontent and despondency found within Vile’s mumbling voice and bitter lyrics. No, Wakin On A Pretty Daze isn’t “insightful”; it’s joyful bliss. It’s the music of a man who is basking in the love of his friends and family, and his music exudes with the warmth of that love. Like always, Vile is singing straight from the heart. Who am I to fault him for being content?
11. Arcade Fire
In September, Arcade Fire front man Win Butler said in an interview, “To me the joy of making music in 2013 is you’re allowed to like Sex Pistols and ABBA and that’s fine.” I’d argue that it’s not okay to like ABBA, but Arcade Fire’s Reflektor may have me re-assessing everything I ever thought about the Swedish disco troupe. The majority of the album is dance/dub/disco music, a fact that didn’t sit well with me at first, preferring my Arcade Fire with a little more distortion and a lot more songwriting in the vein of Springsteen. But once I got past the seismic musical shift, I couldn’t help but admire their ability to create another finely crafted album. In a time where there is less and less emphasis on the album as a whole and more focus on getting that one big hit on YouTube, Arcade Fire remain perfectionists, creating a double album with parallel structure, prevalent symbols, and overlying themes.
Disc one focuses on a modern world where ideas and opinions are splattered across the internet with reckless abandoned, where our souls are captured by camera phones, where little boys learn about sex from a computer screen, where everyone strives to be different, in turn becoming the same – in short, we’ve become more connected while isolating ourselves. But Reflektor isn’t all apocalyptic. Disc 2 looks beyond Earth, both thematically and musically, the songs sounding more cosmic and mysterious, the lyrics reaching a spiritual level asking what it all means in the end. Reflektor may not be my cup of tea musically, but I can’t help but marvel at the band’s ability to create something so complex and thought-provoking. Maybe ABBA isn’t so bad after all.
Deerhunter have described Monomania as their “nocturnal garage rock” album, a fitting description, but don’t be fooled. No matter how much riffage and chest thumping chicanery the band executes, the lyrics tell a much deeper story. If this is their attempt at making a Stooges album, then they must have thought “Search and Destroy” was more about the “forgotten boy” and less about that whole “searching to destroy” thing. If Bradford Cox is destroying anything here, it’s himself. On opening track “Neon Junkyard” he looks through his trash heap of painful memories and decides by the end that one must learn from the agony instead of collecting it. It may start with this uplifting message of introspection, but the remainder of the album quickly becomes a stroll through said junkyard of past misfortune and shame.
The second half of the album gains a focus on heartbreak, more specifically, stories of homosexual experimentation gone wrong. Amidst all these intimate tracks is the revelatory “Sleepwalking” where the narrator realizes that for years he has been ignoring his loneliness. And when he finally does take a look at his life of pursuing a “hopeless dream” that “life will never bring” he looks inwardly to reveal his “heart is hard now.” Connecting back to the album opener’s message of learning from mistakes, “Sleepwalking” shows him waking from his avoidance dream to realize the pain buried beneath the rubble. Just like the junkyard of torn debris and heartache, Monomania’s reliance on distortion and attitude are all just bravado masking the album’s tender fragility. With a little digging, you might just find the heart of the album, scarred yet still beating.
[Dead Oceans; 2013]
Over the past 10-years Matthew Houck has pretty much remained grounded in his barebones approach, often bare to the point of painfully hitting a raw nerve. A constant within his work has been a candidness that is so confessional and heartbreaking that the listening experience tends to make you feel like Houck’s psychiatrist. Just like Dylan in 83′ with his album Infidels, Houck put a twist on his approach with Muchacho, bringing in artificiality to help dampen the blow of sincerity. Lush orchestration flourishes throughout the album and guitar licks swirl around each note like the ghost of Mark Knopfler has returned from 83’ (no worries – Knopfler is still alive).
In the middle of all this beauty and space sits Houck and his distinctive voice. His nasally croak stands in stark contrast with the beauty of the melodies, his heartbreak still evident, even amidst the musical equivalent of Van Gogh’s “Starry Starry Night.” Just as it worked for Dylan in 83, the dichotomy of the voice and the verdant production results in a more palpable listen with the emotional heft still intact. Like Dylan learned 30 years ago, sometimes it is better to mix a little sweet with the sour.
“Song For Zula”:
8. Chance the Rapper
I had a common complaint about most of the hip-hop mixtapes I listened to this year: sloppiness. The whole idea behind the mixtape concept is to help virtual unknowns get their music out there, but lost in this movement is the artistry of putting together a cohesive, focused album. Who would have a thought a 20-year old kid from Chicago would be the one to show how a mixtape can still be a well-produced, provocative collection of catchy songs. Acid Rap is one enjoyable trip – mischievous, colorful, and mind-expanding. Chance’s lyrics are often humorous, but amidst all the silliness, there is a heart to Acid Rap. “Cocoa Butter Kisses” is a sentimental look back at childhood, “Juice” delves into the death of his friend Rodney Kyles Jr., and the 2nd half of “Pusha Man” takes a dark turn with Chance lamenting the high murder rate in Chicago. Musically the album ranges from jazz, funk, and soul.
Unlike most rappers today, Chance avoids chest thumping, opting to be brutally honest at the risk of ruining his cred, whether it be the fact that his parents “saw it fit that he talk right,” his belief that the best thing around is love, his struggles with drug addiction, and his fear of summers in Chicago when “everybody dies, so pray to God for a little more spring.” While you’re at it, pray for more amazing music from Chance the Rapper.
“Cocoa Butter Kisses”:
Okay, I admit it – I was never a fan of Black Metal. I know this makes me tragically unhip, and I know it tarnishes my credibility as a music journalist (acceptance is the first step). It wasn’t for a lack of trying, but no matter what band I checked out, I just couldn’t get past the machine gun drums, grating guitars, and rasping screams. It wasn’t until Deafheaven’s Sunbather that I finally got it. I’m not going to go so far as to suggest Deafheaven are a Black Metal band (although the argument could be made), but with Sunbather they’ve taken those same elements of the movement that I despised and polished them up for me to enjoy in all their grandeur. The key to their approach is their ability to bring a little light into the darkness. Rather than tear through one pummeling song after another, Deafheaven have mastered the ability to move impeccably from a blistering guitar riff to a soft piano interlude in mere seconds. It’s these hills and valleys that make the release so much more rewarding.
Sunbather is comprised of seven songs that range from three to fourteen minutes, but you’ll never know the difference thanks in large part to the band’s seamless transition from one track to another, the crushing assault perfectly countered with brief moments to collect your thoughts before the storm returns. While the vocals and drums often take on the spirit of Black Metal, the guitars are far from the low-fi garble often associated with the genre. Instead, the guitars serve as a wall of ever-growing splendor, layer upon layer of distortion accentuating the chiming lead guitar riffs, all working together as one well oiled, black metal machine.
6. Majical Cloudz
The first time I listened to Impersonator in its entirety, I was hiking alone in the Uncompahgre Wilderness on the 4th of July. I thought it would be a calming listen on a beautiful afternoon, but instead it magnified my isolation, not only in those secluded woods but in my own life. That 40-minutes of listening remains one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had with music in 2013, an impromptu therapy session with Devon Welsh’s singing my prognosis.
Impersonator has the strange ability to make you feel uncomfortable and at ease, both at the same time. All of the songs are the definition of simplicity: a droning synth breeze, a soft thumping bass drum in the distance, and Devon Welsh’s baritone, standing front and center, enunciating every painful memory and mis-step in such a matter-of-fact manner that you feel like you’ve gained access to his diary.
With so little going on, the listener can’t avoid the blatant honesty being revealed. The melodies are warm and syrupy but the lyrics are sharp and cutting, tales of loneliness, seclusion, and regret abound. While you might want to marvel at the beautiful wilderness that is Impersonator, beware of the raw, inescapable truths hiding in the shadows.
“This is Magic”:
5. My Bloody Valentine
For some reason, I expected the first My Bloody Valentine album in 20 years to lean more toward the pop-tinged songs that gained the band notoriety (“Only Shallow,” “When You Sleep,” “When You Wake, You’re Still In a Dream”). So imagine my surprise when I finally did hunker down to check out the new album, mbv, and discovered they’d gone the opposite of my expectations and released an album completely devoid of sugary hits, an album so dense and foggy that you feel like you are being held captive by the band in the unventilated bow of a schooner for 47 straight minutes. Seasickness will set in within the first nauseating 30-seconds of album opener “She Found Now,” the claustrophobic atmosphere reverberated, the pulsating waves of endless tremolo guitar. This is not an album rehashing the past; Shields has led us into uncharted waters.
Without the anchor of a major label holding MBV locked in melodic territories, Shields is free to completely let loose without worrying whether his alarming auditory-humidity completely overtakes you. The irony of the situation is that it looks like the freer Shields is to explore, the more claustrophobic his sound becomes. The strangest thing about this already bizarre album is that it often resembles a repetitive, mess of warbling, reverberating guitars, unpredictable drum loops, and aloof vocals that will have you asking yourself, “This music is 20 years in the making?” Then again, as you listen closer to that same repetitive, mess of warbling, reverberating guitars, unpredictable drum loops, and aloof vocals, you’ll be wondering how someone could create something so intricate, so unique, and so staggering in only 20 years.
“Who Sees You”:
4. Grant Hart
It’s been a rough few years for Grant Hart. Both his parents died, his home (which has been in the family for over 100 years) burned down, and while dealing with all this loss, his former bandmate (Bob Mould) released a tell-all autobiography where he not only persecutes Hart and embellishes his use of heroin, but he also takes time to mock Hart’s now dead mother. As if by fate, while at his lowest of lows, Grant Hart has found his redemption through his recent concept album, The Argument. Using an unfinished William S. Burroughs space odyssey adaptation of Milton’s Paradise Lost as his inspiration, Hart is able to convey his own parallel journey to Hell and back.
An album based on a classic piece of literature steeped in religious imagery may sound like pretty heady stuff, and the idea of it being executed over 20-songs may seem quite daunting. However, Hart is able to soften the enormity of the concept by conveying most of it through short pop songs that could easily thrive on their own. You would think that with an album so audacious that the production would be over the top, but Hart has stayed true to his lo-fi roots on The Argument. The songs are still as grandiose as the project requires, yet the production is warm and personal. When I listen to Hart’s intimate, hands-on approach to recording, I can’t help but think of his former band mate, Bob Mould, whose most recent albums have reeked of over-production and even auto-tuning (gasp!). Maybe Mould has made a bigger name for himself since the break-up of Husker Du 25 years ago, but when it comes down to quality vs. quantity, Hart has come out the victor despite all that he has been through. In the battle of good vs. evil, Hart’s The Argument is proof that there is still hope for the little guy.
“Is the Sky the Limit”:
3. Kanye West
[Def Jam; 2013]
You can call Kanye West arrogant, a crybaby, or even a hypocrite, but you can’t deny his unabashed determination in the face of hatred. While the rest of the celebrity world is quick to apologize to the media or enter rehab to save face, Kanye has doubled-down on his defiance with Yeezus, a polarizing album that refuses to follow the norms of hip-hop. The production is cold and cavernous, icy synths and blistering bass lines accentuating Kanye’s confrontational attack. He could have released a radio friendly album like Drake or Jay-Z, but instead he refuses to appease to the masses. He boldly states “I am a God,” samples “Strange Fruit” in a song about infidelity, and likens his struggle with corporate America to slavery. Yes, Yeezus can be ridiculous, but there’s something admirable in his assertion that he’d “rather be a dick than a swallower.”
Those who are quick to simplify Kanye as an arrogant fool probably haven’t really listened to his music. Yes, all of the tracks feature his ego, front and center, but there is also a level of desperation and fear buried deep in tracks like “Hold My Liquor” and “Guilt Trip.” The alienating production mirrors Kanye’s feeling of disconnect with the world around him. Instead of cowering in fear of the darkness caving in on him, Kanye embraces the dark side with Yeezus, creating music that is as harsh and defiant as Kanye himself.
2. The Flaming Lips
[Bella Union/Warner Bros.; 2013]
On the surface, The Flaming Lips come off as a fun-loving bunch of guys with their silly appearances in car commercials, their live show circus theatrics, and their songs primarily about love. While the necessity of love remains a theme on their latest release The Terror, it is so buried beneath grit and grime that one may miss it due to the apocalyptic nature of the album. While 2009s Embryonic took the band’s usually affable demeanor to the darkened edge of the cliff, The Terror is a free fall into the abyss. If time slows down when you die, then The Terror suggests what that experience feels like in the span of about 70 minutes – horrifying and liberating at the same time. Being the best Flaming Lips album since The Soft Bulletin, The Terror stands in stark contrast to the lush orchestration and positive energy of their classic work. The Terror is Soft Bulletin’s deranged step-brother.
In the past Wayne Coyne has found hope in humanity, but The Terror shows a change of heart with a message of loneliness in a desolate, flawed world. From start to finish a constant drone can be heard in the cellar below, threatening to crack the floorboards any moment, and that big crack happens near the end of the album when vicious tracks like “Turning Violent” and “Always There… In Our Hearts” arrive in a sadistic downpour. Throughout the album, Steven Drozd’s metallic, Gang of Four style guitar riffs scream out harshly, slicing through the muck of retro-synths piling up on the deserted highway. By the time the dust has settled, the final track arrives, a beaten and torn cover of The Beatle’s “All You Need is Love.” Yes, it’s true – all you need is love. But The Terror raises the question: what do you do when there’s no one left to love?
“Always There In Our Hearts”:
1. Vampire Weekend
Modern Vampires of the City
At first, I liked Modern Vampires of the City for the same reason I enjoyed past albums – memorable, upbeat songs with infectious melodies. But a few months ago as I drove to work listening to “Everlasting Arms,” I caught myself singing along to the line “I took your counsel and came to ruin/ leave me to myself, leave me to myself.” This was not the usual Vampire Weekend fare of horchatas and Oxford Commas; this was a “Dear John” letter to God. Unlike past albums that were simply collections of highbrow pop songs, Modern Vampires of the City is a candid dialogue about religion.
“Unbelievers” laments religious sects’ belief in the unavoidable doom for “All of the sinners” and “Worship” mocks the ceremonial traditions of “only in the way you want it/only on the day you want it/ only with the one stand and every sing day you want it.” The most boisterous and upbeat song, “Ya Hey,” also serves as the album’s darkest point, Ezra Koenig sneering at God’s negligence: “All the paranoid styles /All the tension and fear/ Of a secret career/ And I can’t help but think/ That you’ve seen the mistake/ But you let it go.” Many of the tracks feature gospel music elements, church organs, angelic choirs, and harpsichords abound, which could be seen as an ironic twist on the content, but I think all in all, Modern Vampires is an album aimed at finding joy in the midst of uncertain times. Whenever faced with the fact that his relationship with God is a one-way venture, Ezra turns to the one he loves who reciprocates and understands him. Instead of cowering in fear of “the tombstone right in front of you,” Vampire Weekend would rather relish the moment. It’s not an album denouncing God; it’s glorifying love.