July 2013

Arts & Letters

‘Modern Vampires of the City’ by Vampire Weekend

By Robert Forster
XL / Remote Control

Academy Awards, 2031. Rostam Batmanglij is at the podium accepting the Oscar for Best Original Soundtrack to that year’s art-house blockbuster, Silver Highway, the long-awaited follow-up to The Great Gatsby from veteran Australian film director Baz Luhrmann. Batmanglij – a stocky man in his late 40s, in whose face it is still possible to see traces of the boy – thanks his colleagues and friends and his old rock band, Vampire Weekend. At this point the cameras cut to the group’s former singer, Ezra Koenig, now one of Hollywood’s most respected screenwriters, famed for a series of scripts centred on his days studying English at Columbia University. Koenig waves to the stage in gracious acknowledgement.

For some watching at home in their entertainment capsules, this exchange is easily understood, while for others (mostly younger family members) the connection registered between the two men on the screen is obscure. The curious will go to Internet4 to discover that the band mentioned in the speech, which also contained Chris Tomson on drums and Chris Baio on bass, made five albums between 2008 and 2016. And besides uncovering the group’s founding at Columbia University and the immediate success their fresh take on African-flavoured pop achieved, they will soon reach the arguments that rage over aspects of their career, including that predictable perennial: which was their best album?

Some prefer the innocence of the debut, while the more strident push for the group’s perceived masterpiece, the spoken-word, electronic reggae of Visions. Still others are passionate about the third album, Modern Vampires of the City. On this record, which Koenig in contemporary interviews called the final album of a trilogy, the band relinquished some of their sonic trademarks, especially the “funky” guitar, for a keyboard-and-drum combination that supported Koenig’s best vocal performances thus far, and his most emotionally engaged set of lyrics. Several songs, ‘Step’, ‘Ya Hey’, ‘Unbelievers’ and ‘Hannah Hunt’, would feature on 2019’s Criminal Gold, a 16-track best-of that was to be the band’s last release before their back catalogue was deleted and placed in what keyboardist Batmanglij termed “administered obscurity”.

Later during the night of the 2031 Academy Awards, Kontra Kontra, the New York–based Vampire Weekend tribute band, play at an East Village bar. At midnight the lights are dimmed and the hundred people in attendance, some of whom once knew the band, sing along to the chorus of ‘Step’ – “The gloves are off / The wisdom teeth are out / What you on about?” – and remember the wonder of hearing the song in their younger days. 

Robert Forster

Robert Forster is a singer-songwriter and co-founder of The Go-Betweens. His collection of music criticism, The 10 Rules of Rock and Roll, was published in 2009.

July 2013

From the front page

Image of Energy Minister Angus Taylor.

Meet and bleat

Australia’s emissions targets have been soft – they’re about to get harder

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Morrison’s climate flip

Australia has a lot of catching up to do on emissions reduction

Image of whale sculpture

Inner space

Taking to London’s streets in lockdown, with thoughts of Orwell and Henry Miller, plagues, eels, decorative cakes and what might be done in the belly of a whale

Image of album artwork for Brazen Hussies soundtrack

Song sisters

The soundtrack to documentary ‘Brazen Hussies’ shows a breadth of feeling about women’s liberation in Australia


In This Issue

“We’re all conservatives now”

Guy Rundle interviews Julian Assange at the Embassy of Ecuador, London
© John Woudstra / Fairfax Syndication

Inside Tony Abbott’s mind

What would an Abbott government look like?

Alex Gibney’s ‘We Steal Secrets: the Story of WikiLeaks’

This documentary’s sympathies are not with Julian Assange

The Age offices in Collins Street, Melbourne c. 1903. © Fairfax Syndication

The death of Fairfax and the end of newspapers

Where is the journalism we need going to come from now?


More in Arts & Letters

Image of Dhambit Munuŋgurr's Bees at Gäṉgän, 2019

Blue is the colour

The idiosyncratic work of Yolngu artist Dhambit Mununggurr

Image of ‘Empire and the Making of Native Title’

Dividing the Tasman: ‘Empire and the Making of Native Title’

Historian Bain Attwood examines the different approaches to sovereignty in the New Zealand and Australian settlements

Image of Shirley Hazzard

Shirley Hazzard’s wider world

The celebrated Australian author’s ‘Collected Stories’ sets private desperation in the cosmopolitan Europe she revered

Image from ‘Mank’

Citizen plain: ‘Mank’

David Fincher’s biopic of Orson Welles’s collaborating writer favours technique over heart


More in Noted

Image of ‘Jack’

‘Jack’ by Marilynne Robinson

History and suffering matter in the latest instalment of the American author’s Gilead novels

Image from ‘The Dry’

‘The Dry’ directed by Robert Connolly

Eric Bana stars as a troubled investigator dragged back to his home town in a sombre Australian thriller

Image of ‘The Living Sea of Waking Dreams’

‘The Living Sea of Waking Dreams’ by Richard Flanagan

The Booker Prize winner’s allegorical new novel about the permanence of loss

Image from ‘Kajillionaire’

‘Kajillionaire’ directed by Miranda July

A family of con artists are the American writer-director’s latest offbeat protagonists in a surreal but heartfelt film


Read on

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Morrison’s climate flip

Australia has a lot of catching up to do on emissions reduction

Image of album artwork for Brazen Hussies soundtrack

Song sisters

The soundtrack to documentary ‘Brazen Hussies’ shows a breadth of feeling about women’s liberation in Australia

Warrior culture

The allegations of Australian war crimes have shattered the national digger mythology

Fever dream

A vision of America in November 2021


×
×