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

Crisis, what crisis?

The PM’s don’t-you-worry-about-that schtick is unconvincing

Image of Steve Kilbey

The Church frontman Steve Kilbey

The prolific singer-songwriter reflects on four decades and counting in music

Illustration

Bait and switch

Lumping dingoes in with “wild dogs” means the native animals are being deliberately culled

Cover of ‘The Testaments’

‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

The Booker Prize–winning sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is an exhilarating thriller from the “wiliest writer alive”


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 Jia Tolentino

Radical ambiguity: Jia Tolentino, Rachel Cusk and Leslie Jamison

The essay collections ‘Trick Mirror’, ‘Coventry’ and ‘Make It Scream, Make It Burn’ offer doubt and paradoxical thinking in the face of algorithmic perfectionism

Image of Archie Roach

A way home: Archie Roach

The writer of ‘Took the Children Away’ delivers a memoir of his Stolen Generations childhood and an album of formative songs

Image from ‘The Irishman’

Late style: Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’

Reuniting with De Niro, Pacino and Pesci, the acclaimed director has delivered less of a Mob film than a morality play

Still from Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

No one’s laughing now: Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

A gripping psychological study of psychosis offers a surprising change of pace in the superhero genre


More in Noted

Image of ‘Wild River, Florida’

‘Civilization: The Way We Live Now’

The beautiful photographs of often grim subjects in NGV Australia’s exhibition raise questions over the medium’s power to critique

Cover of ‘The Testaments’

‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

The Booker Prize–winning sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is an exhilarating thriller from the “wiliest writer alive”

Cover of ‘The Man Who Saw Everything’

‘The Man Who Saw Everything’ by Deborah Levy

The British author experiments with a narrative structure that collapses past and present

‘The weekend’ cover

‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood

The Stella Prize–winner returns with a stylish character study of women surprised by age


Read on

Image of Steve Kilbey

The Church frontman Steve Kilbey

The prolific singer-songwriter reflects on four decades and counting in music

Image from ‘The Report’

Interrogating the interrogators: ‘The Report’

This tale of the investigation into CIA torture during the War on Terror places too much faith in government procedure

Image of police station in Alice Springs with red handprints on wall

What really happened at Yuendumu?

The promised inquiries must answer the biggest questions raised by the police shooting of an Aboriginal man

You could drive a person crazy: Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story’

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are at their career best in this bittersweet tale of divorce


×
×