Vampire Weekend – Contra
So, Vampire Weekend’s fairly long-awaited sophomore album, Contra has leaked. Happy times.
When the first single, “Horchata,” was released, I lost my fucking mind. Vampire Weekend were probably the biggest buzz band of 2008, and though they may have been overhyped, they did deserve a lot of the praise they got. Their self-titled debut had me giddy from the word “Go,” and they deserve the popularity they got from that album.
But the real question that you, dear listener and reader, may be wondering is: do they still have it?
(OR, maybe you aren’t. Maybe you wonder how silly putty picks shit up from comic books. I don’t know. The point is, I don’t see another blogger around, so pipe down.)
At first listen, they have changed their sound a little bit. While Vampire Weekend may have been a hodgepodge of The Ramones and the joyous sounds of Afro-Pop, Contra proves that Rostam Batmanglij got a lot more fun working with Wes Miles over in Discovery this summer. In fact, save for “Cousins” and “Holiday,” it would be fair to say that most of the rock roots were gone, and replaced by beats warm enough to make you forget that it’s the dead of winter. This is by no means a horrible thing; it’s possible that the band’s “signature sound” would have started to grow wearisome after another album or two, so this breezy approach to the sound is quite welcome. All the Afro-Pop is still there, as is all that funky snare-free drumming. Oh, how inviting it all is.
To my ears, there’s only one misstep, at least upon a first listen: “California English” feels feeble and like a cash-in on the trend of auto-tuning. I don’t exactly mind auto-tuning (being the last remaining white boy alive to find “Can’t Believe It” by T-Pain completely wonderful), but it feels forced and choppy. That said, though the precise meaning of the word “contra” is still a mystery, songs like “I Think Ur A Contra” more than make up for a song like “California English”: I’ll go out on a limb and say that “Contra” is, without a doubt, the best song the band has written thus far. It builds in places, but only briefly, before fading behind Ezra Koenig’s almost mournful and broken singing: “You wanted good schools, friends with pools/You’re not a contra/You wanted rock and roll, complete control.” Everything about the song feels restrained, from Koenig’s recitation, right down to the synths and violins that frame what sounds more like disappointment than sadness, and perfectly bookends the boundless joy found at the other end of the album on “Horchata.”
And there is a lot of joy to be found on Contra: “White Sky” follows “Horchata,” a bouncy little tune with a “hey! hey!” chorus chanting along with Koenig’s vocal play (this may not be descriptive, but it’s all I can really call it.) “Holiday” follows behind this, with guitars breezy enough to have been rejected from “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” and Ezra shows absolutely no sign of letting down the smile you can almost hear. Even on “Giving Up The Gun,” his voice sounds as though it’s tinged with a little bit of regret, but the joy is still completely intact, an emotion that, for 36 minutes, is owned solely by Ezra Koenig and company.
At a scant 36 minutes, it’s easy to blink and miss Contra. Vampire Weekend has always been a speedy band, which is why a lot of people have overlooked them, or deemed them “overrated.” But, I have a feeling that, over time, Contra will reveal a lot of pleasure, even if they don’t exactly give you enough time to sit a spell and breathe in all of that joy. If you wrote the band off back in ’08, I doubt this record will change your opinion too terribly much. But, regardless, albums that sound this easy should never be ignored entirely.