The guys in Vampire Weekend changed how they wrote songs, how they record and what an album of theirs even looks like -- the cover for "Modern Vampires of the City" is not another artsy old Polaroid, but a 1966 black-and-white photo of a smoggy New York skyline.
None of which will change some minds.
Contact information ( * required )
"There's certainly going to be people who listen to this album and say, 'Wow, more of the same from Vampire Weekend. I knew I hated these ... college boys,'" frontman Ezra Koenig said.
Those ranks are thinning. Blowing off Vampire Weekend as smirking, preppy Ivy Leaguers too quaint and precious for their own good is a position becoming tougher to defend. Tables are turning. Now it's their eye-rolling critics who risk not being taken seriously.
"Modern Vampires of the City," the New York quartet's third album and the follow-up to the 2010 smash "Contra," is its best to date. Band members call the album, released last week, the completion of a trilogy, and it will likely crumble whatever mass-appeal barriers are left.
"I wanted us to embrace our identity in a way. I wasn't afraid of sounding like we had before in some ways, because I think there was an opportunity to go deeper than we ever had before," guitarist and keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij said. "That's what I think we're doing on a lot of levels on this record."
"Modern Vampires" is still a distinctively Vampire Weekend album: harpsichords, gospel pianos, Jamaican influences are liberally applied. But they're also being more accessible. First single "Diane Young" rocks along behind a punk riff and pounding percussions.
Members of the group had largely avoided writing songs together before starting the new album. This time, though, three songs -- "Don't Lie," "Everlasting Arms" and "Hudson" -- all got their start during a cottage retreat to Martha's Vineyard after the group took a cue from their friends in the band Grizzly Bear and got out of New York City.
The trip was not a getaway to clear their heads. Batmanglij and Koenig, the band's songwriters, rolled through intense sessions during what was an entirely foreign and experimental approach to filling out an album. Koenig would walk around the grounds of the cottage with a legal pad, jotting down ideas, while Batmanglij stayed in the house and tinkered with putting songs together.
Then Koenig would walk back through the door.
"I'd set up a vocal mic and I'd say, 'Go! Do it!'" Batmanglij said.
Koenig said he also holed up in a house on Long Island, which he called "an experiment to see how I would react to not talking to a single person for four days." In all, the band spent a year and a half making the record, which doesn't strike Koenig "as all that crazy" given four previous years of nonstop touring and recording.
He was happy with the results.
"We easily could have released an album a year earlier if we had just rolled with the songs that we'd written up to that point," Koenig said. "And, you know, maybe half of it would have been the same. But then another half would be mediocre. I really can't stand the idea that we'd ever release a song that felt like a throwaway."