Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

Release Dates: January 29, 2008

★★★★★ Tracks:

Oxford Comma

I Stand Corrected

Vampire Weekend is a household name now. Shit, even my mom has heard of them. Ever since we were introduced to their self-titled release in early 2008 the band has been a part of the collective musical conscience. Those who deem music essential in the age of iTunes and torrents, basically Pitchfork and anyone who frequents Brooklyn’s L train, have been touting them since the first single, “Mansard Roof,” hit in 2007. In my opinion, the point in time in which Vampire Weekend was released was also when Pitchfork really broke in to the mainstream, and it was their appraisal that catapulted the band to pop star status. The groupthink and culture Pitchfork has helped to create combined with the exponential popularity of both the website and the band has naturally led to a lot of criticism. Not only were many turned off by Vampire Weekend’s Columbia college degrees and Cape Cod vacation references, they were growing tired of the hipster hype machine championing bands that sing things like “who gives a fuck about an oxford comma?” There are now entire websites dedicated to mocking the Pitchfork culture; a music publication site has its very own Weird Al Yankovic.

While I understand the cynical sentiment towards the whole process, it doesn’t necessarily make Pitchfork any less important to the current music industry, or less knowledgeable than they were when it was still cool to talk about them. As of now, they're probably the most important agent in determining a band’s success. In a piece by Time (little behind to be putting that piece out in 2010, don’t you think, Time?) Big Boi’s manager discusses how huge it was that his new album received a positive review from the website. Just as Rolling Stone was a barometer for music in the 60’s and 70’s, Pitchfork has become the de facto voice during the digital era. And it’s not just because it was deemed cool by the kids in Brooklyn, it has more to do with the fact that, regardless of their sometimes elitist writing and snarky attitudes, they recommend some really good music. So Vampire Weekend and Pitchfork share an intertwining narrative, both piggybacking off of each other to represent the mainstreaming of a new generation of independent music, while acting as contentious pivotal forces on pop culture. It becomes all the more interesting with nearly every entry Pitchfork writes on the band; they continually bring up the divisiveness Vampire Weekend causes without ever really getting down to one of the core elements that fuels the dissension -- themselves.

So getting back down to it, is Vampire Weekend deserving of the appraisal? Sorta. Their first record is an interesting mix of Caribbean pop and indie rock combined with the clever, if sometimes abrasive, vocals of Ezra Koenig. There are a few great songs here; the organ-driven “Oxford Comma” was one of the better singles of 2008, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” has a charming eccentricity to it, but “I Stand Corrected” is my favorite, a beautifully restrained piece that works almost exclusively off of keys and a simple bass line. As for the album as a whole, it’s a pretty damn good, sophisticated pop record actually, but it’s just not something I find myself coming back to often. Now is this more indicative of my personal tastes, or will the rest of the crowd determine this is a disposable piece of pop as well? Your guess is as good as mine. But with fourteen million hits on their biggest youtube single and counting, Radio City Music Hall sell-outs, and two chart-seeking albums, it looks like I’m in the minority.

Part of the digital era I find so depressing is how disposable music has become. The sheer velocity of a band’s rising popularity can blow things out of proportion. The time (and money) invested in the music we consume isn’t anything close to what it used to be when we had to go to record stores to find albums, or read liner notes for band influences, or go to shows and actually catch the opening acts. We had no other option but to familiarize ourselves with a record we purchased because, among other reasons, it might be a while before we got our hands on another. Now that people can simply click a couple of buttons before the next buzz band is uploaded to their iPods, band’s shelf lives are growing incredibly short. Compounded by the mass frenzy to find those buzz bands before everyone else does, Vampire Weekend might still become an afterthought eventually. But chances are diminishing. And while it seems most either love or hate the group, I stand somewhere in the middle. I hear the charm in the music they create; it’s fun, it’s breezy, and although polarizing, they do appeal to a wide array of music lovers. It’s just not something I find essential to my collection. Pitchfork might be over-zealous in declaring the next big thing from time to time, but this record’s popularity is proof they have a firm grip on the music industry. With another Billboard charting record under their belts in Contra released just this year, Vampire Weekend will hold on for at least a little while longer as well.

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