May Music Review – Vampire Weekend, Daft Punk and Public Service Broadcasting

We suggested you might like to listen to the new Vampire Weekend album, Modern Vampires of the City a couple of weeks back, and if you did, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I do. I haven't been a huge fan of the band up to now, finding the “world music” type guitars and whole Graceland (Paul Simon) vibe too insincere and derivative.

But on this, their third album, a new maturity and individual vision has burst through. And above all, there are simply very, very good songs here, from the laid-back chill out of Obvious Bicycle, (see video), through the manic rockabilly drive of Diane Young, to the clever theologically-focused Ya Hey and the gorgeous, reflective Hannah Hunt. But the track that sums up this album for me is Step, (see our previous review) combining a lovely tune, slightly mysterious lyrics (there's a fair bit about love, but also loss and mortality throughout the album), quite complex song structure and instrumentation, and what sounds like a harpsichord playing Bach in the background!

If that sounds pretentious, the end result isn’t – just a song that sounds great as a casual listen on the radio yet repays more serious attention. Does it replace Tegan and Sara as my album of the year so far? Not sure, but maybe, so let's go with the same 9.5/10 I gave that!

Daft Punk with Random Access Memories is the most anticipated and fastest selling album of the year. The title gives a clue as the enigmatic French duo  range through the eras of dance music and their own memories. The return of disco is how it is being discussed, but actually it is a more complex beast than that. And it is a beast of a record, weighing in at almost two hours of music. What I admire is the downright weirdness of quite a few of the tracks. If you love Get Lucky – and who doesn't, so the mega-live version is below - then buy this by all means, but don’t expect 12 similar tracks. For instance, you get Giorgio Moroder, disco guru, simply talking about his career over backing music that illustrates his style. Or an 8-minute song written by Paul Williams, an old school Hollywood composer (I found “Touch” pretty hard work actually), and indeed much of it is stimulating and entertaining.

But.. it seems to me that the rave reviews are generally coming from reviewers in their 30s and 40s reliving their dance-orientated youth, but also appreciating the obvious “cleverness” on display. I don't see many 16 or even 25 year olds buying this frankly – this is dance music that can play in the background at suburban barbecues (although a couple of tracks will be skipped I predict because of the weirdness), rather than something “the kids” will be getting down to in Ibiza this summer. Icona Pop's is a much more contemporary – and, dare I say it, “vital” (in both senses of the word) dance record than anything here, even Get Lucky. Still, an interesting and largely enjoyable listen, just not quite up to the hype – so 8/10.

Now something even stranger in many ways – Public Service Broadcasting, with Inform,  Educate, Entertain. PSB take spoken extracts from old British propaganda / public service broadcasts, often from around World War 2 time, or films from the 30s and 40s, and set them to rhythmic, dance influenced musical tracks. The results are unique, enjoyable, and at times, strangely moving, as chaps and gals with clipped accents that we just don't hear these days talk about designing the Spitfire aeroplane or how difficult life was after the war.

Whilst dance is an influence, and some of the tracks have had dance remixes, it is very listenable in a non-club environment. It’s hard to see how they can build a 10-album career out of this but I enjoyed it at least as much as Daft Punk album – another 8/10.

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