This week on Tracking – a regular series in which we discuss our current favorite songs – you can listen to additions from Vampire Weekend, The Knife, Autre Ne Veut, Angel Olsen and Smith Westerns.
(Click on the arrows to navigate through the songs.)
Vampire Weekend – “Step”
It’s pretty surreal to write that one of the year’s best songs borrows a melody from former pop star Vitamin C, but it does. Ezra Koenig’s opening refrain, “back back way way back I used to front like Angkor Wat,” follows the very same structure as the starting verse of Vitamin C’s “Graduation Song,” that unavoidable, slightly unbearable anthem celebrating “all the times we had together.”
Fortunately, this fleeting moment marks the only similarity between the two songs. “Step” has no schmaltzy strings, no painfully obvious Hallmark-card message, no soulful sing-along finale. Instead, it’s a magical new tune from a band that continues its career-long trend of releasing new music with consistent, instant excellence.
With a harpsichord, a piano, a drum-set and the soft sounds of a choir, Vampire Weekend has crafted a stunner in “Step,” which finds the foursome transforming an old-school rap song into a sentimental ballad; effortlessly blending typically witty lyrics with gorgeous production and the heartfelt vocals of Ezra Koenig.
Koenig’s voice has always been compared to Paul Simon’s – their voices naturally share a certain pitch. Here on “Step,” his vocals may be even less reminiscent of Simon’s than usual, but the connection between the two artists has never been more apparent. Koenig has developed that rare, uncanny ability, reserved for legends like Simon and James Taylor, to cut directly through the recorded medium and project straight to the ears of listeners. He’s singing in the room with you.
If “Step” isn’t magical enough on its own, the stunning, hypnotic lyrics video only adds to the song’s allure. Channeling the opening shots of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” and the title cards of Wes Anderson, Koenig’s seemingly random assortment of words fill the screen, “Magnetic Poetry”-style, sprawled out on top of subtly beautiful images of New York City.
Until now, all of Vampire Weekend’s music videos have been silly, rambunctious affairs – the frenetic confetti splash of “Cousins,” the werewolves of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” the ping-pong match of “Giving Up The Gun.” Those videos worked, since there has always been a streak of goofiness running through this group’s image. But there has also always been a glorification of young life in the city (dating all the way back to “Ladies Of Cambridge”), and it’s never been visualized better than with these minimalist shots of a black-and-white NYC.
For three years now, fans have patiently waited for new music from this Columbia crew. With yesterday’s release of “Step” and “Diane Young,” we now know what took so long. Great songs like these don’t come around too often. Neither do bands like Vampire Weekend. – Adam Offitzer