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Vampire Weekend

Contra


[XL; 2010]



By ; January 15, 2010 


Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Vampire Weekend debuted in 2008 to a barrage of hyperbolic press claiming that they were the foremost purveyors of “afrobeat” in western music. Reactions to this ranged from glee on the part of some reporters looking for the future of music, annoyance by others who named them “colonial villains,” but mostly with bemusement from music fans who just enjoyed them for their fun, slightly wonky take on indie pop.

From the start of “Horchata,” the opening track on Contra, the follow-up to the group’s wildly successful debut, you get the feeling that Vampire Weekend have taken these comments a bit too seriously. The song is catchy and tuneful in the same way as most of their debut, but heavy use of neo-tribal drumming and marimba throughout the song makes it seem as though Vampire Weekend have decided to expand their sound purely by integrating more instruments of African origin. Thankfully for all parties involved, this is not the case.

As with many contemporary artists, they have decided to inject their sound with more electronics, but they have not done a complete electro-overhaul a la Yeah Yeah Yeahs or Bloc Party. Instead, they keep their sprightly indie guitars and keyboards intact and just add a few tuneful blips to the mix. Unfortunately, for quite a few of the songs on Contra, Vampire Weekend have seemingly decided that their electronics are all they need in the hook department, and this just isn’t the case. Most examples of this appear near the start of the album, including “White Sky,” which features a chorus that is composed merely of Ezra Koenig yelping wordlessly in a falsetto (also new to this album) which leaves no lasting impression. The next track, “Holiday,” is a truly basic Vampire Weekend song yet again lacking in a hook, and the misguided use of autotune on “California English” derails the song entirely.

Despite its flaws, Contra is not a complete misstep. It takes a turn for the better with the brilliant middle one-two punch of “Taxi Cab” and “Run.” The former is a ballad which features a gorgeously simple piano melody and subtle violins and is something truly new to Vampire Weekend’s oeuvre, while the latter includes one of the best choruses of the album and proves that the band can implement horns in their sound competently. Overall, the second half of the album is far more successful than the first. Standout tracks include “Cousins,” which is the closest to anything from their debut and back to what Vampire Weekend do best: frenetic drums and noodling guitar; and “Giving Up The Gun” on which Vampire Weekend prove that they truly can successfully inject electronic influences into their sound.

One consistent problem with Vampire Weekend, or more specifically Koenig’s lyrics, is the seemingly constant need to rhyme, no matter whether the lyrics make sense or not. A perfect example of this is the opening line of the album “In December drinking Horchata / I’d look psychotic in a balaclava.” On their debut, they had enough youthful exuberance driving their music that they could pull off ridiculous lines like these. In some instances they manage the same on Contra, but at other times – not least the one mentioned above – they stick out like a sore thumb and just sound silly. In the end it’s a personal decision as to whether you’re going to let the lyrics detract from your enjoyment of the album or not, but as the band grows up lyrical mishaps such as these are going to grate more and more.

Contra is the sound of a band who are trying to expand upon a hugely successful debut by integrating new styles into their music while not changing their sound completely. At times this has left them seemingly combining two half-baked ideas and failing to create an entirely successful one. For the most part, however, the successes on the album outweigh the duds and will be enough to keep people interested in the band. Contra doesn’t quite deliver on the promise of their debut but certainly doesn’t write off this still young band who undoubtedly still have plenty to offer.


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