Saturday, October 2, 2010

CONTRA - Vampire Weekend (2010)

Let's be clear. In the ongoing, polarized argument over whether Vampire Weekend is one of the more promising or overhyped bands of recent years, I fall decidedly in the "more promising" camp.

I could care less if their "Police crossed with Paul Simon" sound feels lifted straight off of Graceland, or that they are white Ivy Leaguers appropriating traditional African and Carribean music, or that their lyrical focus remains steadfastly on the life and times of young, rich East Coast preppies. The fact is, no one else out there, with the possible exception of Syracuse's Ra Ra Riots, is making pop music even remotely like this right now.

So if you're going to accuse a band of being derivative, why not take aim at Japandroids, Dum Dum Girls, Wavves, Best Coast or any number of the umpteen million No Age/Vivian Girls shit-fi punk imitators that have sprung up in the last couple years rather than this talented, ambitious, and relatively unique band.

Okay, now that I'm off my soapbox, what about the album?

Well, Contra finds Vampire Weekend clearly intent on proving their critics wrong.

The musicianship is stronger, the arrangements more daring, all while retaining that genuine pop essence and Ray Davies-gone-college-prep lyrical slant that made the 2007 debut such a find. But on the downside, the band is maybe too intent on proving they're no fluke, for throughout Contra, one can't shake the impression that despite many excellent songs, the band is just trying too hard.

When they do relax, as on Taxi Cab and Giving Up The Gun, the results are excellent, but for the rest of the album, everything feels a touched forced. The uptempo numbers in particular don't quite hit the offhand, playful "rightness" of debut classics like A-Punk, Walcott, or Cape Cod Kwasa Kwasa.

So those hoping for the charm, high peaks and easy grace of the debut will probably be a touch disappointed, but in the end, this is still a very entertaining and inventive pop album.

Status: Solid Recommend.

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: White Sky, Holiday, Taxi Cab, Giving Up The Gun.

Component Breakdown:
1. Horchata - 6
2. White Sky - 8
3. Holiday - 8
4. California English - 6
5. Taxi Cab - 8
6. Run - 7
7. Cousins - 6
8. Giving Up The Gun - 9
9. Diplomat's Son - 8
10. I Think UR A Contra - 8
Intangibles - Average.

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