Vampire Weekend Contra Album Review


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Vampire Weekend
XL Recordings
out January 12th

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If there was already enough about Vampire Weekend to hate back when they released their debut album – playing SNL only months after Vampire Weekend’s release, the preppy, mandatory Ivy League concert attire, the insane level of hype – Contra ups the ante. There’s more ridiculous lyrics (“fake philly cheesesteak but she use real toothpaste”), more production gambles (auto-tune and an M.I.A. sample), and in recent weeks, more overexposure to the band itself - on every music blog and every entertainment website ever in the world.

But more than anything else, with Contra, Vampire Weekend once again perpetuates the main reason why most people hate them, the biggest reason of all for the never-ending backlash: they are so damn good.

The band’s first album was nothing short of stunning, 11 tracks of instantly accessible indie-pop bliss. And while nothing on Contra is as immediately catchy as “A-Punk,” (save for “White Sky”) or as unquestionably definitive as “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” the band has once again created a record of 10 meticulously crafted songs, each one different from the next yet each one sticking to the band’s initial formula.

Most similar to Vampire Weekend’s are the tracks that stand out right away, the singles. “White Sky,” “Horchata,” “Cousins,” - these are the tracks that are on your iPod and then in your head, just as nearly every song on the band’s debut was. The remarkable thing, however, is that even these tracks - which aren’t even as close to as adventurous as some of the stuff that comes around toward the album’s end – would sound completely out of place on Vampire Weekend. “Cousins” is much more hard-hitting and frenetic than anything else the band has done in the past, “Horchata” uses no guitar at all, “White Sky” is dominated by a programmed, keyboard drum beat and a wordless chorus.

But if these tracks come out of left field for Vampire Weekend, than some of Contra’s other material is stuck in the grass at Wrigley. “Giving Up The Gun” is an arena-rocker in the vein of 90’s synth-pop. “Diplomat’s Son” samples M.I.A. “California English” uses auto-tune in phenomenal fashion, sounding less as a gimmick and more as a way for producer Rostjam Bandi to use lead singer Ezra Koenig’s vocals “as a texture, as an instrument,” as he recently said.

Speaking of Koenig, his vocal skills are improving vastly. While “I Stand Corrected” and “Bryn” were weaker, half-hearted ballads, Ezra and company provide two beautiful tracks on Contra, one phenomenally placed as the album’s closer. The song, “I Think Ur A Contra” (unfortunately spelled in text vernacular), is perhaps the band’s technically “best” track to date, with beautiful piano, acoustic guitar, and hand-beaten drums. And it’s all led by Koenig’s gorgeous crooning and surprisingly meaningful lyrics: “Never pick sides, never choose between two, but I just wanted you.”

This review is certainly a gusher, and it should be. But Contra does indeed have a few flaws. “Diplomat’s Son” probably should not be six minutes long. “Giving Up The Gun” becomes monotonous. “Taxi Cab,” while fantastic, may be a bit too under-developed.

But I’m nitpicking. Because the fact of the matter is, as always, Vampire Weekend doesn’t give the listener much to hate. And of course, that will result in a constant stream of haters. But those who are truly paying attention to the music will realize that Contra represents a band in complete control, a band that can avoid the sophomore slump by balancing the fine line between taking big risks and playing it safe, a band that, two full albums into its existence, has yet to release a song I do not like.

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