The 2013 release of Modern Vampires Of The City, which got Vampire Weekend more widely recognised by critics outside the indie sphere whilst leaving some fans with a bitter taste after abandoning their calypso-afrobeat trademark, seemed like a perfect milestone to take a break. It topped many album-of-the-year lists and allowed the band to be regarded less as a fleeting, over-hyped indie love affair and more as a classic New York staple. Since then, we’ve heard Ezra Koenig dabble in electronic music here and there, with guest appearances on Major Lazer and SBTRKT albums. However, as a former DJ himself and the rhythmic core of the band, this is bassist Chris Baio’s element. The Names is an eclectic blend of preciously wide-eyed pop and all-consuming, hedonistic dancefloor-ready house. As curious as this combination might be, it results in a very human hybrid, executed with such finesse that comparisons to last year’s Caribou album are inevitable.
Soothing yet driving, the album’s layered melodies, bright choruses, and astute looping cast a sinister trance upon the listener that is oddly inviting. On opener Brainwash yyrr Face, a disjointed melody and humming synths would make the casual listener believe this was a run-of-the-mill house record, as Baio adds layer after layer, idea after idea – vocals only inserted when necessary – culminating in a Balearic climax. The title track then departs from the darkness of the party with an intro of an aquatic quality. The percussive thump and indulgent use of looped vocals bring it to the warmer, more familiar ground of his original band. This perfectly segues into the lilting lead single Sister Of Pearl – strategically made so as to attract Vampire Weekend fans with its staccato piano, dandy skip and eccentric vocal delivery. Yet lyrics such as “See me in a distant land / Recognise I’ve fallen mad” set the introspective mood of an album that is, in its entirety, a sprawling journey into his own psyche.
It could be argued that the album exhibits two of Baio’s infatuations: his dancefloor dexterity and his penchant for the poignant. Very seldom does one come across an artist with the ability to turn a heart-rending confession to a full-on club banger. I Was Born In A Marathon exemplifies this as it emerges from a rave, laden with syncopated bass, into a sudden stop – a moment of clarity. This is the only form of punctuation in an album that seamlessly flows from song to song, and it is done for effect – to convey feelings of awkwardness and uncertainty, as he expresses guilt over drone attacks carried out by “the state [he pays]”. It is a curiously political twist, nevertheless it an insight into his off-kilter consciousness.
Luckily, Needs lightens the tone; wandering multi-instrumental melodies come and go, taking off to the skies at their own fancy, grounded back again by the slightly comical, over-dramatised diction of this anglophile in the chorus. All The Idiots takes proceedings down a shady techno alley, from which Matter materialises as a mere extension of the previous song with added vocals for human vulnerability, as he describes falsely waving off other people’s concern for him – the plight of the introvert.
True to its name, Endless Rhythm sports the most irresistible beat on the album, without even having to resort to house’s usual tricks – Baio does this by way of drums and bobbing, rounded electronics. It’s a devilishly simple ode to songwriting and lines such as “Something in it spoke to me / Does it speak to you?” and “Never heard a lyric that I really liked” expose some charming self-awareness and a tad of wit. Album closer Scarlett rounds the album appropriately; it’s warm yet sharp, like morning light through a window, whereas the preceding album was drowned in melancholy – as if this sonic introspection has ultimately reached its affirmative fruition.
Baio’s forays into many genres, textures and emotions result in a debut that carries its own weight and stoutly refuses to be regarded as a mere off-shoot of another band. It is a complete piece of art with the purpose of capturing Chris Baio’s optimism, his paranoia, and the sonic dichotomy that his rational and romantic selves create. It’s an absorbing and earnest listen from start to finish.