1. Vampire Weekend describe their music as "Upper West Side Soweto."
2. The name was originally the title of a film Koenig made during his freshman year at Columbia University.
3. The group is referred to as a "blog band" having gained much of their early notoriety on various blogs.
Columbia University students incorporate African rhythms into songs full of literary references using the college experience - cruel professors, excruciating classes, Cape Cod weekends and wayward sophomores - as their touchstones.
Vampire Weekend formed in '06 while members were still in school. The group's music earned numerous blog mentions that created an impressive buzz eventually going mainstream when "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" made Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Best Songs of '07 (#67).
A self-released EP led to an opening slot on The Shins U.K. tour and appearances on '07's CMJ Music Marathon. Next was a deal with XL Records who put out "The Mansard Roof" EP. A Mansard roof is an architectural style that often graces stately buildings.
Vampire Weekend's full-length album, which contained "Mansard Roof" as the lead track, was released in January, '08.
In short order, Vampire Weekend was featured on CBS' The Late Show With David Letterman and NBC's Saturday Night Live (where they performed "A-Punk" and "M79"). With their album out for less than two months, Vampire Weekend was MTV's Artist of the Week. At the same time (March), Spin magazine, not to be outdone by Rolling Stone, wrote off the rest of '08 (why not?) and declared Vampire Weekend "The Year's Best New Band." The group also landed on the cover, becoming the first band to have their magazine photo taken before their debut CD was out. Now that's great marketing!
Rolling Stone entered the picture again when they named Vampire Weekend's debut the 10th best album of '08 and listed "A-Punk" as the 4th best song of the year. Over in the U.K., the album landed at #42 on NME's 'Top 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade.' The accolades didn't go unnoticed. "Ottoman" was used during the credits of (the film) Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist.
Shortly after the '00s came to an end, Vampire Weekend issued their sophomore album, "Contra." Prior to the set's January, '10, arrival the song "Horchata" was available as a free download on the band's site with "Cousins" following as the lead single.
"Contra" sold 124,000 copies in its first week to land at #1 on the Billboard Top 200. The group's self-titled debut only made it to #17.
Nominated for a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album, "Contra" lost to The Black Keys' "Brothers."
Following a supporting tour, Vampire Weekend took some time off to pursue individual projects. Most notably, bassist Chris Baio performed DJ sets and scored the film Somebody Up There Likes Me. Guitarist/keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij recorded solo material while frontman Ezra Koenig collaborated with Major Lazer (a musical project by DJ/producer Diplo).
Then the group holed up at Excello Studios in Brooklyn to record their third album "Modern Vampires Of The City." The '13 release took more than 20 months to record. "It's the longest Vampire Weekend have ever spent on an album," stated Koenig.
It was worth it. Selling 134,000 copies in its first week, "Modern Vampires Of The City" debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart. Later, the set topped Rolling Stone magazine's Albums of the Year list.
2008 Vampire Weekend
2013 Modern Vampires Of The City
Syncopated rhythms pulsating beneath an imaginative vocalist capable of surprising and often effective twists earned Vampire Weekend attention. They have been compared with early Talking Heads but their approach is far less "artistic" or affected.
Afro-pop rhythms counter-balance the preppie lyrics, keeping Koenig from sound too self-obsessed. The descending keyboard whirls ("Bryn" and "Mansard Roof") and clever cadences are appealing but not all that compelling. There's a "we're so smart" intellectual distance that pervades. Vampire Weekend really connect when they drop the facade on "A-Punk," "Campus" and "I Stand Corrected."
Obviously, Vampire Weekend's debut is closer to Paul Simon's "Graceland" than it is to Johnny Clegg, so calling their sound "Upper West Side Soweto" is a bit much - but probably no worse than all those middle class (and above) groups who aped R&B performers in the '50s and '60s. Or jumped all over Rap in the '90s. It's just hard to feel much empathy - unless you are living (or are reasonably close to) the college life. So essentially, Vampire Weekend is an adroit band for students whose parents are forking over the tuition.
Vampire Weekend's influences are more pronounced on "Contra." When they put some energy behind it, like on set opener "Horchata" or "Holiday," it doesn't matter what Koenig is singing about; a lost love or traditional drink, the music is nearly irresistible. "Cousins" takes a different track sounding like a Punk song without the sonic drive. Rather, the guitar plays a spiraling riff. Another standout is the aforementioned "Holiday," a bouncy keyboard driven track.
"Worship You" and "Everlasting Arms" are the two now obligatory "Graceland" influenced tracks on "Modern Vampires Of The City." Other touchstones are evident on "Finger Back," a slice of straight '60s pop, and "Step," a shot of psychedelic R&B - yeah, that's right. The topper is "Diane Young" which sounds like George Michael fronting ELO.