The 10 best Vampire Weekend songs, ranked

In preparation for their upcoming record 'Father of the Bride,' we count down the top 10 best tunes from the celebrated indie-pop tricksters.
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Vampire Weekend/Alex John Beck

Vampire Weekend knocked the indie universe sideways in 2008 with its blisteringly great self-titled debut. Ezra Koenig, Chris Baio, Rostam Batmanglij, and Chris Tomson delivered a dazzling blend of African rhythms, chamber-punk oddity, and erudite lyrics that rightly won the Columbia classmates legions of devoted followers. Their next two records, Contra (2010) and Modern Vampires of the City (2013), further rocketed the group towards their current status as one of the most revered musical acts of the 21st century.

In preparation for their long-awaited double album Father of the Bride, I’ve scoured the group’s back catalog for what I believe are their greatest songs. It wasn’t an easy task, as there’s hardly a dud among the entire lot. Favorites were omitted, tears were shed, blood was spilled, and loyalties were tested. But I finally got a proper list together, one I feel represents the finest this brilliant band has to offer.

Far be it from me, though, to be the sole gatekeeper of good taste. Be sure to sound off in the comments with your personal favorites I may have missed. This is, after all, what the Interwebs are for.

#10

“Diplomat’s Son”

(Contra)

The wacky six-minute queer epic stands as one of the greatest testaments of Rostam’s mastery as a writer and producer. A sample of MIA’s “Jimmy” lays the foundation for layer upon layer of gorgeous sound. Thunderous piano, pastoral strings, crashing drums, an old-school 808 breakdown—it all meshes together into one magnificent whole. It’s one of the great manifestations of what V-Dub does best: buoyant, cheerful tunes with a slight eerie undercurrent.

Listen: “Diplomat’s Son”

#9

“Hannah Hunt”

(Modern Vampires of the City)

What happens when the young elopers from “Run” face reality and realize their romance is doomed? Theoretically, it sounds something like the disarmingly beautiful “Hannah Hunt.” Inspired by a former classmate of Ezra’s, the track is driven by a serpentine beat with long, jazzy bass tones. Koenig’s somber, unadorned narration gives way to a magisterial final chorus with one of his most impassioned vocal deliveries: “If I can’t trust you, then damn it, Hannah / There’s no future, there’s no answer.”

Listen: “Hannah Hunt”

#8

“One (Blake’s Got a New Face)”

(Vampire Weekend)

A tale of artifice—of stealing things that aren’t yours and passing them off as your own. English Breakfast tastes like Darjeeling. A Spanish brownstone in old San Juan. A couple of New Yorkers lifting a track from reggae legend Mighty Sparrow for use in their song about artifice. No one knows for sure who Blake is or where they got that new face of theirs, but odds are they took it from someone else. Easily among the band’s most deliriously catchy riffs, punctuated by Rostam’s bubbly synths and Koenig’s crazed dog yelps.

Listen: “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)”

#7

“Ya Hey”

(Modern Vampires of the City)

VW’s third album saw them transition fully into the gut-punchingly personal mode of songwriting they hinted at on Contra. Case in point: “Ya Hey,” a stark saga of faith, doubt, and desperation. The track’s protagonist feels abandoned by God—and by extension, the entire world. The ethereal underpinnings, the communal background chorus, the distorted pseudo-religious chant—they all seem to mock the very idea of organized religion. The song is simultaneously the dark night of the soul and the morning after where you wonder what all the fuss was about. “Through the fire and through the flames,” Koenig sings, “You won’t even say your name / Only ‘I AM that I AM’ / But who could ever live that way?”

Listen: “Ya Hey”

#6

“White Sky”

(Contra)

A minimalist, lovestruck trip through the architecture and art of the city V-Dub calls home. Rostam’s simple computer loop (with a few playful guitar flourishes) keeps a steady pace throughout the whispery bohemian narrative, all leading up to the track’s ecstatic, orgasmic chorus. Koenig’s vocals ascend to their highest heights, backed by percussive heys and Tomson’s deft drumming. “White Sky” ranks among the boys’ most effective mood pieces, nailing down that crazy feeling of falling in love in the big city.

Listen: “White Sky”

#5

“Diane Young”

(Modern Vampires of the City)

VW embrace the punk side of their wheelhouse on the nihilistic “Diane Young.” Where their earlier work dealt in images of well-to-do preppers, “Young” is the sound of the establishment being thoroughly dismantled, brick by orderly brick. Koenig unleashes his scuzziest guitar work to date, his voice filtered through an unsettling pitch-shifter as he contemplates the terrifying lifestyles of the young and reckless. The band’s never sounded heavier before or since. If ever there was a Vampire Weekend song that demands to be played at full volume, it’s this one.

Listen: “Diane Young”

#4

“Holiday”

(Contra)

Is it any wonder that Tommy Hilfiger and Hyundai snagged this sprightly two-tone ska-infused number for their Christmas ad campaigns back in 2010? It’s one of those perfect little two-minute pop songs, bursting with insanely catchy hooks, playful guitar bleeps ‘n bloops, and ecstatic drum blasts. The song would be good enough on its own composition-wise. But Koenig goes a step further and offers some sly commentary about U.S. military policy. For America, he posits, the world is nothing more than a playground—a planet-sized vacation destination where it can act out its twisted war games with impunity. Surf’s up.

Listen: “Holiday”

#3

“Unbelievers”

(Modern Vampires of the City)

“I’m not excited, but should I be? / Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?” The celebratory atmosphere of “Unbelievers” stands in stark contrast to its bleak worldview. Driven by thumping drums and swirling organ, the group builds up to a jubilant eruption of horns and accordion. Ezra, meanwhile, is lost in his own loneliness. He wonders if there’s a place for him in a world where love is religion, where those who don’t believe die “bound to the tracks of the train.” Among the most engrossing of Modern Vampires’ many portraits of personal isolation.

Listen: “Unbelievers”

#2

“M79”

(Vampire Weekend)

A delectable chunk of baroque-pop, “M79” paints a vivid portrait of the kind of preppy, overly-privileged teenagers the band would have encountered in droves growing up in New York. Divine harpsichord riffs and floods of shape-shifting strings float in and out while Koenig sings of a microcosm of rickshaws, bleeding madras, and lazy bus rides through town. There’s never a dull moment here, with an exhilarating new rhythmic turn popping in at any given second. It’s a tightly-wound machine springing gloriously to life before us.

Listen: “M79”

#1

“Step”

(Modern Vampires of the City)

Simply put, “Step” is the most elegant, majestic, and beautiful piece of music in Vampire Weekend’s repertoire–the definitive work of a true music lovers’ band. A simple riff on a Souls of Mischief track blossoms into a profound meditation on the fickle, eternally-evolving music world and VW’s place within it. Even without that added context, the song works perfectly as a stream-of-consciousness romantic rant. Rostam and Ariel Rechtshaid’s glorious production lifts the track heavenward. The ghostly chorus may as well be a modern update of Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major, with lush keyboards and ethereal angelic choirs providing an ideal backdrop for Koenig’s musings.

“Step” represents everything that’s great about this band. Their extraordinary arrangements. Koenig’s unflappable wit. Their fearless experimentation. Their ability to blend sounds past and present into something so uniquely their own. (Plus, “Back, back, way back I used to front like Angkor Wat / Mechanicsburg, Anchorage and Dar es Salaam” just might be the greatest opening line of any verse in any song ever.)

Listen: “Step”

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