Parsing the lyrics to new Vampire Weekend single “Step”

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Yesterday post-colonialist indie darlings Vampire Weekend released two songs off their upcoming album, ‘Modern Vampires of the City':

  • Lead single “Diane Young,” in which Ezra Koenig laments the loss of an arsonist girlfriend
  • “Step,” a low-key paean to international studies classes.

The web is ABUZZ with people wondering what it all means. Could “Step” be a hidden tribute to the ABC show ‘Step by Step’, which dealt with familial discord in the same uptempo, driving fashion as sophomore effort ‘Contra’? Do the pitch-shifting “babys” on “Diane Young” suggest surprise parenthood for lead singer Ezra Koenig, and if so who is the mother? Mindy Kaling?

Obviously we’ve all got a ton of questions. But you know what? Lifting Fog has ANSWERS.

Since “Diane Young” is an obvious response to the Ke$ha dance ballad “Die Young” and leaves little to critical inquiry, we focus today on VW’s less buzzy-song, “Step”. Is it sexy? No. But what it lacks in driving percussive force it more than makes up for in references to classical antiquity. Take a look/listen:

Probably anticipating posts such as this, VW went ahead and pre-printed the words for us over the video, the ultimate twee mash-up of Gordon Willis’ black and white ‘Manhattan’ imagery with Wes Anderson’s favorite font, Futura. Lyrically, we’re thrown into the  deep-end right away.

Back, back, way back I used to front like Angkor Wat
Mechanicsburg, Anchorage and Dar es Salaam

The places we’ve traveled, Koenig suggests, define our spiritual path in ways both obvious and subtle. Angkor Wat being the largest Hindu temple (and largest religious monument) in the world, we can assume that “fronting” here means a sort of religious dishonesty. In the context of Angkor Wat, this makes sense — note that the temple’s original Hindu tradition was eventually replaced by Buddhism. The road to God takes many turns! Sometimes through Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania (home of Williams Grove Speedway) and Anchorage, Alaska before we arrive at our true destination: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city and a regionally significant center of commerce.

The connecting tissue between these places is really sort of obvious when you lay it out.

Ancestors told me that their girl was better
She’s richer than Croesus
She’s tougher than leather

You’ve all read Herodotus’ ‘Histories’ and will immediately recognize the name of Lydia’s fabulously wealthy king, the death of whom had a profound impact on the Greek (Hellene) people. To note that this girl was “richer than Croesus” suggests her family wealth surpasses that of most of the Forbes Top 100, even settling in the Top 10%. Basically: she doesn’t need you to buy her BAM season pass!

The chorus takes a break from browsing the classics section at Barnes & Noble to explore some fundamental truths about 20-somethings. Take

The gloves are off, the wisdom teeth are out
What you on about?

Gloves being a symbol of both status as well as social attachment and not a reference to fighting, which is no option to today’s sensitive man, we can assume that their coming off represents a return to active, street-level living. The kind where you can grab a vendor hot-dog, sidestep an oil slick on your way to the park. We can’t spend all our time in libraries! Wisdom teeth are the third molars, often extracted between the ages of 18-25. “Why are you asking about that?” Ezra seems to prod. “It happens to everyone.”

I’m ready for the house
Such a modest mouse
I can’t do it alone

In the wake of recession, our Millenial generation has been slow to adopt the post-graduate socio-economic trajectory espoused by our parents. While many of us do not have cars or health insurance (heightening the “wisdom teeth” line above), fewer still are homeowners. We are and will likely remain for the foreseeable future a generation of renters. The reasons for this are largely financial but, more significantly, may speak to our aversion to commitment. To say that one is “ready for the house” suggests having attained a higher sense of self, a willingness to move past the hemming and hawing of lease agreements into a more lasting relationship, property-based or otherwise.

Modest Mouse had their biggest hit with 2004’s “Float On,” a pre-hipster ode to civil disobedience and the joys of recreational use of uppers.

We know the true death, the true way of all flesh

I mean that’s just ‘True Blood’. Everybody take off your backpacks and stay awhile; we can have fun, too!

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  2. RowRow Says:

    Am i missing something here? to me “Step” has a classic beat in true VP fashion, how is it “lacks in driving percussive force”?

    • Henning Says:

      “Lacks in driving percussive force” is a music illiterate guy’s way of saying “these are words I strung together.” You’re absolutely right, RowRow!

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