During the lead-up to Vampire Weekend’s third album, Modern Vampires of the City, the NYC indie rockers starred in a web series with actor Steve Buscemi (Buscemi and Vampire Weekend bassist, Chris Baio, are distant cousins). Already, Buscemi butchering their lyrics has become a running joke. Maybe if Steve Buscemi took advantage of our database at Rap Genius, he’d know that Vampire Weekend’s lyrics are their secret weapon. Here are the Top 10 lines from Modern Vampires of the City, selected by Stereo IQ.
– Ron Metellus
10. “The Unbelievers”
“I’m not excited/
But should I be/
Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?”
As its title suggests, “Unbelievers” is about atheism. But it isn’t only about atheism, and this excerpt is a good example of the song’s other occupations. Since no one religion encompasses half the world, this line is likely about women. Have women—who make up 51% of the world—conspired against this unbeliever?
9. “Worship You“
“We worshipped you/
Your red right hand”
References, references, references. In two lines, there’s Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Right Red Hand.” There’s the Harlem Shakes’ “Right Red Hands.” There’s John Milton’s Paradise Lost:
“His red right hand to plague us? What if all/
Her stores were op’n’d, and this Firmament.”
And then there’s God, who is credited as the songwriter of the universe.
8. “Ya Hey“
“Ut Deo, Ya Hey/
Ut Deo, Deo Annotate”
This is clearly a reference to Rap Genius. Though Ezra liked us better when went by the name Rap Exegesis, I can’t think of another reason why the word “annotate” is included in the official lyrics sheet, but is omitted from the song itself!
7. “Finger Back“
“And then blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, bloooood/
And then blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, bloooood”
The album name comes from a lyric from the Junior Reid song, “One Blood.” Also, it’s very soothing to say “blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, if you’re having a bad day.” Think Andrew W.K. – sometimes just raging is all it takes to make a smile.
6. “Hannah Hunt“
“A gardener told me some plants move/
But I could not believe it/
‘Til me and Hannah Hunt/
Saw crawling vines and weeping willows/
As we made our way from Providence to Phoenix”
Providence and Phoenix were astute choices for his road trip with Hannah. While the duo move physically across the country, the trip also signifies movement in the relationship from Providence (the word for “careful guardianship exercised by a deity”) to Phoenix (the mythical bird that rises for its own ashes). Our Vampire Weekend aficionado, Maureen Miller—Rap Genius username MoMilli—posits “Hannah Hunt” as a reference to Hannah Horvath, the lead character of HBO’s Girls. MoMilli and I are well aware that “Hannah Hunt” references Hannah Hunt, an actual person and a friend of Ezra’s, but I’m paying her rumor forward. After all, Ezra did appear in a cameo role on Girls.
5. “The Unbelievers“
“I know I love you and you love the sea/
Wonder if the water contains a little drop little drop for me”
“Unbelievers” finds our protagonist questing his chances with God and women. The two themes converge in this couplet. Water is a metaphor for love here, but also a possible allusion to holy water.
4. “Diane Young“
“You torched a Saab like a pile of leaves/
I’d gone to find some better wheels”
This is the line that launched a thousand Saab-owners into fury. The band took a literal approach to these lyrics in the music video for “Diane Young,” when they set two 900-series Saabs ablaze. Patrick George, writing for Jalopnik, lashed out against Vampire Weekend when he discovered the torched Saabs were in working order and “deeply loved.” Never step between a Saab owner and his car.
3. “Everlasting Arms“
“I took your council and came to ruin/
Lead me to myself, leave me to myself”
Add this one to the already bountiful “religious allusion” category. The speaker
couldn’t find solace in religion and decides to make a path for himself. Given false advice, he wanders onto his own course, avoiding the guidance of before but still aware enough to continue thinking about what he left.
“I just ignore all the tales of a past life/
Stale conversation deserves but a bread knife”
Lyrics like these are representative of a more resigned (a little melancholic) tone in frontman Ezra Koenig’s songwriting. Even if it this line is a bit of a bummer, it’s still a beautiful aphorism. Stale conversation deserves dull wit and dull attention—just as a bread knife slices stale bread.
“We watched the Germans play the Greeks/
We marked the 99 year lease our fathers signed/
Which I declined to try and comprehend”
I love the juxtaposition of this line. You take something innocuous, like watching European soccer and place it next to a “99 year” lease that connotes imperialism and histories that (like Ezra) I decline trying to and comprehend. When you drape history over the game, the soccer pitch starts to resemble a war reenactment.