And my favorite song(s) of the year is/are (sorry):

1. “Unbelievers”/”Ya Hey”- Vampire Weekend

Let’s rap about humility for a second. It’s not a trait that’s easily discovered in rock ‘n roll, much less rock ‘n roll made by millenials (is that what we’re called nowadays?). It’s not a trait conducive to art in the first place. Artists create, they reorganize objects and ideas into an emotionally revealing state, they play God, in a sense, and the God concept can’t be humble. I’m sure Vampire Weekend struggled to be humble all year, as well. The album cover to Modern Vampires of the City for a time had a billboard on Sunset Boulevard and prominent placement in Times Square, arguably the two most viewed spaces in the world. That album, which was written about the purposelessness of life and the immense void left by a God who never existed in the first place, is now considered essentially by consensus to be the best album of the year. And they’re supposed to be humble about all of this?

To be fair, no one asked them to be humble, but they’ve done so anyway, balancing a reverence for their preferred musical genres (60s pop, African pop, New York pop) with the forward thinking required to catch the attention of kids only willing to spend a few seconds sampling new music (myself included). What we have in this Vampire Weekend is a band that understands perfectly well how to make the same music that rock stars make, scrap it, rebuild with their own subtle tastes, and be willing to give a full-length interview about the entire process in which the interviewer will receive a few compliments and happy memories along the way.

So yeah, I think very highly of this band, and when constructing this list I knew right away that a song from this album would be number one, but narrowing it down to just two turned out to be a painstaking process that irked me for weeks. I’d choose the entire album minus “Don’t Lie” if I could, but that would be a waste of time and would water down the prestige (ha!) of this countdown. Though I am sorry to be splitting the victory, I have full confidence that both “Unbelievers” and “Ya Hey” deserve the spot equally. If it makes you feel any better, call them 1a and 1b .

“Unbelievers” and “Ya Hey” approach large, unanswerable topics, and they use two sonic strategies to arrive to the same conclusion. “Unbelievers” opens up about the inevitability of spiritual discrepancies: there may be God, there may not be a God, we don’t know, but we do know that someone is wrong, and the unearthing of that knowledge may be simultaneously the great enlightening and the great downfall of interpersonal relationships. Behind lead singer Ezra Koenig’s spiritual doubts is Rostam Batmanglij’s bouncy orchestration, delicately fostering the happiest background noise since The Smiths pulled the same stunt on their classic, The Queen is Dead. Pairing heavy subject matter with a buoyant background is a brave move only the most talented musicians can pull off, and “Unbelievers” bounces around beautifully in Paul McCartney/Paul Simon pitch-perfect peppiness.

“Ya Hey” isn’t as light as “Unbelievers.” It doesn’t bounce; it marches along at the required pace necessary for the message to sink in: “The motherland don’t love you/the fatherland don’t love you/so why love anything?” Koenig’s question doesn’t come out of apathy but genuine curiosity; love exists (it’s a big theme on the album), but maybe we’re not using it correctly, and he wants to know why. After a few listens, the song becomes so complex that even the clever/ballsy move to invert the title of one of the most celebrated pop songs becomes nothing more than an aesthetic decision meant initially to provide a talking point before first pressing play. “Ya Hey” claims everything by acknowledging that nothing is worth pondering, and Koenig’s is a wisdom that forces us to answer our own questions.

Earlier this year, I wrote a rambling comparison of the Abbey Road medley to tracks 6-10 of Modern Vampires of the City. I’m not going to publish it because it’s terrible, but I am going to stick with the idea that Vampire Weekend merits comparisons to the Beatles, maybe not sonically, but definitely in terms of their impact on their generation of listeners and how they’re operating on a much higher level than all of their contemporaries. It’s easy to call them the best band in the country, but it might be better to say that they play God and acknowledge all the responsibilities, and by doubting their own existence they absolve themselves from any of the credit they so rightly deserve.


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