Vampire Weekend – Contra [Album Review]

by Woody on January 13, 2010

Recently released is the new album of one of the more polarizing bands in indie music, Vampire Weekend’s Contra.‚  Ambivalence runs thick with this band and regrettably that is unlikely to change with this album.‚  I’ve written of Vampire Weekend previously after attending a show in Manhattan’s Upper Westside late in 2008.‚  At the time I referred to the band as a “guilty indulgence.”‚  Breezy and syrupy in a way that turns me off when I’m trying to “appear” hip or radically indie and breezy and syrupy at times when I’m searching for exactly that.

Sophomore releases are interesting, particularly for those bands that seemingly spring from nowhere and eventually take the world, at least temporarily by storm. And I put VW into that category.‚  More times than not, bands slip back into the oblivion from which they once emerged.‚  Yet, there’s occasionally those moments when a band evolves and grows in an unanticipated, yet refreshing way.‚  In my opinion, that’s the case with Contra.‚  Yes, there’s the signature Afro-beat, light, syncopated vibe to go with the sometimes tiresome lyrics on some of these tracks (ala the opening number, “Horchata”), but there is also an altogether more textured sound that when paired with some of their more ambitious arrangements only fully reveals itself after repetitive listens.‚  I found some notable traces of influence of fellow Brooklyn natives and Hear Ya “favorites”, Animal Collective.‚  Undoubtedly, that statement is going to turn some of you off, but please don’t let it.‚  There is nothing overly dense or off-putting here, only some welcomed subtle layering that produces surprising results.

The most accessible track is “Giving Up The Gun.” The song that portrays the closest resemblance to the debut is “Cousins.”‚  For me, the last 3 songs, beginning with “Giving Up The Gun” and ending with “I Think UR a Contra” emphatically conclude an album that will continue to propel this band forward amongst its fans.‚  Add to that list, the carefully composed “Taxi Cab” and you have a great slice of music. As for the lyrics, there’s still moments when you may find your eyes instinctively rolling, but I also found the content a little more off-center, less collegiate than their previous work.

For a band that has been incessantly labeled over the last two years, and sometimes in ways that are entirely unflattering and unfair, it should come as no surprise that some of the tracks on Contra strike convincingly at the absurdity of such practices.‚  In fact, it reminds me of the first time I saw VW at Pitchfork back in 2008.‚  Standing close to me was a guy who kept yelling at the indifferent appearance of the crowd, “oh, I guess they’re just not cool enough for all of you”.‚  Well, we should all forget the labels, the lists and the Cadillac commercials and attempt to appraise this music, like anything else, honestly.‚  If you find yourself gravitating towards it, even slightly, join the club and don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.

Vampire Weekend – Horchata

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Woody January 13, 2010 at 7:50 am

That is an excellent review and you nailed their dynamic on the head. As someone who thinks that Graceland is one of greatest albums ever released, I was immediately drawn to their debut. The follow up is good and I like that they are trying some new things but it hasn’t fully clicked and moved into Pantheon territory.

Matt January 13, 2010 at 8:29 am

Great review. I also heard some hints of Animal Collective. I enjoyed their first album and I like Contra just as much. Nothing earth-shattering, just good fun pop music.

Jon January 13, 2010 at 8:13 pm

I totally agree with your review, the first few singles just sounded like more of the same, but those last three songs were the first hint of some actual growth. After “Ottoman” I would love to see them work more with Mark Mothersbaugh, but I am happy with this as far as sophomore efforts go.

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