Friday, November 19, 2010

Vampire Weekend - Contra

Release Dates: January 11, 2010

★★★★★ Tracks:



I always get a kick out of indie rock outfits vying for position on the Billboard charts with mainstay mainstream artists like the Black Eyed Peas and Taylor Swift. It makes me proud of the greater American public for seeking out music other than the hits they’re force fed through...wherever the masses hear new music these days. The second single released, but the first song I heard from the new album was “Cousins.” Sounding similar to “A-Punk” or “Mansard Roof,” it had me thinking a repeat of Vampire Weekend was likely. However the rest of Contra is much more electronic and uses a wider array of instrumentation. The opening track incorporates a harmonium, a Kalimba thumb piano (the steel drum sound), synths, both electronic and classic-style drums and a few other foreign sounds. Strings and horns are much more common, and dominate tracks like “White Sky” and “Run.” Samples are used in “Dimplomat’s Son,” and vocals are used more as tonal compliments this time around. While all of this can be intriguing, I also think it detracts a little from what Vampire Weekend did so well in the first place; the skill at which they played their primary instruments and the knack they had for complex songwriting. Ezra Koenig’s voice is still the focal point, but he is more abrasive here than ever. He rhymes “Horchata” with balaclava, aranciata, and masada, he hoop and hollers on “Cousins,” and nothing released this year tests my patience more than the falsetto squeals of “White Sky.”

As its name could suggest, Contra has two opposing sides. The first half of the record is mellow, more experimental and atmospheric, while the latter songs quicken the pace and refocus on some of the band's original strengths. We get the album’s highlight in “Run,” which breaks down in to a frenzy of horns and percussion, “Cousins” is incredibly fast and quirky with a slick bass line, their most accessible song on the album in “Giving Up the Gun,” and the M.I.A. sampled “Diplomat’s Son” is a great reggae-infused piece. Were they able to repeat the energy of the second half throughout Contra, it would have had a lot more force. Regardless, the departure from their earlier sound has given Vampire Weekend much more room to work with in preparing for a third album. I see why Vampire Weekend would want to expand their sound. Nearly a decade ago indie rock to pop star icons, the Strokes, made a second album that sounded exactly like their first, and although it was fucking great, they ran out of ideas when they moved on to their third. Vampire Weekend might have set themselves up for longevity, but their first two records don’t match the soul or the hooks of their predecessors. In fact Contra isn’t much different than its neighbors atop the charts; good pop with a couple of great moments, but largely forgettable.

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