by / January 6th, 2010 /

Vampire Weekend – Contra

 1/5 Rating

(XL)

Vampire Weekend’s superb 2008 debut album may have been that year’s most divisive record, but it could also have been the year’s most unifying. Despite soundtracking dozens of movies and adverts – and hence achieving mass popularity – the band’s 34-minute pop opus proved strong enough to withstand been broken up into brief looping jingles, maintaining a very special spot in the hearts of their more discerning listeners.

Balancing out the yinyang, the New Yorkers’ most scathing critics often seemed to be eschewing the actual music and rebelling for the sake of it (against their upbringing, their clothes, their erudition, their influences); essentially against the fact that this music was being tailor-made by four young gentleman to cater for their own exact specifications.

On your journey from shop-to-home – Contra in hand – you will realise that Vampire Weekend aren’t going to stop being themselves anytime soon, proudly ignoring the heckling of a bitter few. The front cover is emblazoned with the found image of a preppy-looking young lady from the 1980’s, modelling a customary polo shirt. Over her face, as on the debut, the name of the group is printed in the Futura typeface (recently made ‘indie’ by Wes Anderson). Furthermore, a cursory glance at the tracklisting throws up a couple more words to add to your ‘to google’ list. However, this isn’t an example of Ezra Koenig being snooty about his private education. It’s more just a case of an artist speaking in his own dialect.

The opening track – ‘Horchata’ – is named after a milky rice-based Latin American beverage which has assumedly actually been a notable quirk of his life experience; notable enough to trigger the memories and inspire the symphonies which greet it here. Like a Christmas tree from erection to decoration – from its bare beginning to its jittering melée of wintery warmth – its rich, artisan production comes to resemble the drink which stirred it.

Positively perspiring now, the following two songs are as opposingly summery to the first as is possible. As if a bright upstroking rhythm wasn’t enough, ‘Holiday’ unpretentiously reveals all within its title, striving and succeeding to move Cliff Richard down a notch on your sunroof-open July road trip playlist. Meanwhile, ‘White Sky’ puts a mild Michael Jackson vocal tic and flecks of Animal Collective on top of Paul Simon’s Greatest Hits to output a gorgeous bundle of joy. If there are going to be better songs than this in 2010, we’re in for some serious fun.

At times, it sounds as though the band is trying to slightly force experimentation. Though this isn’t to say that they ever fail, the closest they come to doing so is ‘California English’; a woozy stew whose autotuned vocals sit atop an overly-polite hardcore-esque rhythm and whose structure dupes us into thinking that the cyclic song is actually going somewhere. ‘Giving Up The Gun’ is a superior experiment; a turbo-charged, much-evolved, and spell-corrected rendition of ‘Giving Up Da Gun’, a tune by Koenig’s pre-Weekend project L’Homme Run. ‘Cousins’ is less alien, smacking of a very conscious decision to write “a new ‘A-Punk'” – a spunky dancefloor-filler with enough instrumental interludes to keep the editors of movie trailers happy – just in case the public doesn’t take too kindly to some of the moves they’ve made.

Though it’s not as if their fans are likely to snub anything here. Vampire Weekend may have joined the ranks of the likes of The Strokes, Weezer and Arctic Monkeys as another band who once produced something truly awesome and which they must then spend their entire career attempting to better, to no avail. Contra, however, is a very valiant attempt, and is one which sees them figuratively and literally graduating from the ‘Campus’ of their debut, and which reinforces the cliché that a new album is just another chapter of an ongoing narrative. Or perhaps it’s more like Koenig’s second novel, featuring similar prose and familiar characters and settings to the first, but telling a whole new story in a whole new way.

Listen: Spotify | Bandcamp | Soundcloud | Youtube

  • myth

    listened to the album on myspace and got bored shortly after….love the cousins single ,but the album is just a lot of meh!
    tired of them pretty quikly come to think of it once the summer ended been a while since the album been on in my house.

  • John Hennessy

    This defo gets better with every listen. Perhaps not as immediate as its predecessor but some real lyrical and musical progression here. Kinda been spoiled from year end Dirty Projectors( Stillness Is The Move) and Yeasayer( Ambling Alp) releases but reckon this’ll kick major butt live!

  • Really impressed with Contra. The songs are plentiful and melodies are positive and uplifting, as expected. Thought the Paul Simon influence was a strange thing to say, Id say more an African influence! Strong ‘Kenya sound’ to their drums in a few songs but that’s about it.

    Surprised you didn’t mention the use of a vocaliser on California English. Thought it worked really well. Other than that, the review is spot on!

    Overall, album is a great start to 2010.

    Also, they seem to have announced a fully fledged European tour but no Irish date! Anyone know why? MCD and Aiken fighting over them or what?

  • Simon, the autotuned effect on that song is mentioned alright.

    They play MCD shows so no doubt it’ll be announced soon.

  • Kar

    Why is there no Irish date?! …same with Delphic, Phoenix and The Drums are all doing European tours soon promoters over here need to step it up!Sorry off topic…

  • Have Phoenix ever played here?

  • Simon Merriman

    Your right, you did mention the autotune. My bad!

    Re Phoenix, hazarding a guess here, Oxegen in the past few years?

  • John Hennessy

    Phoenix played in Spirit a few years back Niall.

  • @ Kar,

    You’re not missing much with Delphic – a dreadfully dull band in a live setting with about as much charisma as a melon.

  • Phoenix definitely played Oxegen ’06 – but they do seem averse to coming here.

    Mmm melons…

  • Kar

    Still I’d like the opportunity to see them myself without having to leave the country, oh well!

  • @Simon I know that saying something is Paul Simon inspired is essentially saying that it’s African-inspired, but I was kinda referring to the fact that the riff in ‘White Sky’ reminds me quite a bit of ‘Crazy Love Vol. II’ from Graceland!