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

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller

The prevention state: Part four

In the face of widespread criticism of strip-searches, NSW Police offers a candid defence of preventative policing: You are meant to fear us.

Image of Scott Morrison

A national disaster

On the PM’s catastrophically inept response to Australia’s unprecedented bushfires

Image of Scott Morrison

A Pentecostal PM and climate change

Does a belief in the End Times inform Scott Morrison’s response to the bushfire crisis?

Police NSW festival

The prevention state: Part three

As authorities try to prevent crimes that haven’t happened, legislation is increasingly targeting people for whom it was not intended.


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 Cardi B

Bodak moment: Pop’s decade of superstars

Cardi B delivered the song of the decade as a new league of superstars overcame the significance of bands

Photo of Liam Gallagher

Don’t look back in anger: Liam and Noel Gallagher

As interest in Oasis resurges, talking to the combative brothers recalls their glory years as ‘dirty chancers, stealing riffs instead of Ford Fiestas’

Conversion on the way to Damascus by Caravaggio

Damascene subversion: Christos Tsiolkas’s ‘Damascus’

The literary storyteller’s latest novel wrestles with the mythology of Christianity’s founder, Paul the Apostle

Cover of Peter Pomerantsev’s ‘This Is Not Propaganda’ [detail]

Agents of chaos: Peter Pomerantsev’s ‘This Is Not Propaganda’

The Russian expat journalist wonders if democracy can survive the internet, as social media is used to promote feelings over facts


More in Noted

Utagawa Yoshimori, The Tongue-cut Sparrow [detail]

‘Japan supernatural’

The Art Gallery of NSW’s examination of Japan’s centuries-long artistic traditions depicting the spirit world and the macabre

Cover of ‘The Topeka School’

‘The Topeka School’ by Ben Lerner

The American author’s latest novel canvasses the seething hate speech of the burgeoning alt-right and white-boy rap battles in the Midwest

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”


Read on

Image of Scott Morrison

A Pentecostal PM and climate change

Does a belief in the End Times inform Scott Morrison’s response to the bushfire crisis?

Image of Scott Morrison

A national disaster

On the PM’s catastrophically inept response to Australia’s unprecedented bushfires

Image from ‘The Truth’

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s ‘The Truth’

The Palme D’Or winner on working with the iconic Catherine Deneuve in his first film set outside Japan

Image from ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’

Four seasons in 11 days: ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’

Céline Sciamma’s impeccable study of desire and freedom is a slow burn


×
×