"Hannah Hunt," the best song on Modern Vampires of the City, starts the way that Vampire Weekend songs are supposed to, with a fussy, fragile breathiness and a few plucked strings. That is, it seems to be of the tony, high-society world of carefully made beds and expertly placed commas that the band explored so excellently on its first two albums, a reflection of the nattily dressed guys people picture when they think of this band. But the tension in its lyrics grows, and, in the last third, the drums burst in as the song disintegrates into a brief moment of distortion, suddenly ragged and raw while still totally controlled.
That's how a lot of the album works. It's precise and perfectly composed—probably more so than any Vampire Weekend album yet—but it's also real and immediate. Whether in the old-fashioned rock 'n' roll of "Diane Young," the sweeping Graceland-style jaunt of "Everlasting Arms" or the spry, small-stakes epic "Ya Hey," the album feels loose and confident, taking on life-and-death seriousness with a down-to-earth smile. It's lived-in and self-assured, a subtle piece of forward-thinking but familiar indie rock, the impressive product of a band that's growing older and rounding out its talent working at the top of its game. — Kyle Kramer