Using the chord progression of Pachelbel’s Canon in D is a surefire way of building a song that gets people right there. But to really give it that edge you need to furnish it with your own bric a brac.
Using The Souls of Mischiefs’ Step To My Girl as a starting point, Step is a love song steeped in Vampire Weekend’s (often derided) intellectual pretensions. As the opening lines demonstrate:
“Back back way back I used to front like Angkor Wat
Mechanicsburg Anchorage and Dar es Salaam”
As it goes on, we get the sense that lead singer Ezra Koenig is basically trying to convey something about being caught up in early love while finding his way in the world. But because it’s all such a jumble, and all so deliciously confusing, it comes out as a kind of stream of conciousness impression, rather than a clear-eyed view. At one point (after the line “The gloves are off, the wisdom teeth are out“) he even asks himself “What you on about?” But the confusion of the lyrics – the almost wilful obfuscation – is what makes the song really hit: because it’s all bound together with that gorgeous, familiar melody and some beautiful singing. The way he sings the lines “I can feel it in my bones” and “I can’t do it alone” (in the chorus) is enough to stop you scratching your head: because you realise that whatever he is on about, it’s all from the heart.
And weaving throughout, there’s the clever tricks: the hints at hip-hop, the slowed voices, the opening harpsichord, the melody from Bread’s sappy Aubrey, the synthetic angelic choir, the organ fills, the white space and the kitchen sink. Wonderful.