The New York City band Vampire Weekend has carved out a sense of immaculate melancholy for our era as surely as Steely Dan once did for Upstate New York in the '70s. Characterized most immediately by the earnest, concise, sometimes surprisingly expansive vocals of Ezra Koenig, Vampire Weekend makes atmospheric music. The atmosphere calls attention to confusion, doubt and a feeling of purposeful aimlessness, all presented within exceedingly well-crafted choruses and precisely metered lyrics.
Throughout the new Modern Vampires of the City, there are nods and bows — but never full commitments — to religion and a spiritual life. The singer asks to be held "in your everlasting arms"; he fetishizes a crucified or satanic "red right hand" in a song called "Worship You"; the band deploys the Latin phrase for "to God"; Koenig gets a thrill, in "Unbelievers," that only an invocation of the unearthly harmony of the Everly Brothers can do proper justice.
Ultimately, however, the quest pursued on Modern Vampires of the City is not a religious one so much as a venture that Vampire Weekend makes to musically invoke the grandeur of pop. The big, booming drum sound that predominates here, the jittery and sometimes organ-like keyboards — these are sounds rooted in the comforts of pop history that provide Vampire Weekend with its secular faith. Modern Vampires finds sustenance in invoking songs ranging from Desmond Dekker's "Israelites" to The Rolling Stones' "19th Nervous Breakdown." It finds release in periodic explosions of rock 'n' roll.
Like the New York-based, Whit Stillman-directed films that have frequently seemed like the cinematic predecessors to Vampire Weekend's post-prep-school music, these guys make eloquent, plaintive noise about the fellowship of people sharing their breakdowns with each other — and exchanging precisely worded jokes about the vulgar challenges of modern life. They don't find their redemption in communal worship so much as they find it in the company of clever yet fundamentally sincere people such as themselves.