Song 138: Vampire Weekend, “Ya Hey” (2013)

Vampire-Weekend-Modern-Vampires-of-the-4.21.2013.jph_Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City is getting crazy hype, and all of it is deserved. It’s inventive, insanely catchy, and complex. I loved (and still love) their Graceland-meets-indie-pop self-titled debut, but they’ve steadily moved away from that sound in the past five years. Modern Vampires has some of the baroque arrangements of the band’s first record, but plenty of the informality that made its follow-up so much fun. Frontman Ezra Koenig says Modern Vampires finishes what the band thinks of as a trilogy, which makes sense: the album sounds like a summing up, the end credits to a coming-of-age film.

I’ve listened to this album many times over the past couple of days, and to lead single “Ya Hey” even more times than that. It’s an astounding song, sonically dense and lyrically packed. “Ya Hey” is nothing less than a conversation with God, a song questioning the faith we put into something that gives us little tangible faith in return. “Through the fire and through the flames,” sings Koenig, “you won’t even say your name. Only ‘I am that I am.'” References abound (the “Yahweh”/”Hey Ya” sort-of-pun; a quick nod to “Israelites”), but it doesn’t feel like showing off. As Pitchfork points out, Koenig was on track to be a teacher before his band went big, and his lyrics make clear that he would have had a lot to talk about.

My favorite moment in “Ya Hey” is when, after a couple minutes of the song pulsing in your face, you start to hear chants in the distance. That moment startled me when I first heard it, and after dozens of listens, it still takes me by surprise. We need more bands like Vampire Weekend, more musicians who visualize songs with forefronts and backgrounds.

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