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Vampire Weekend: Contra


Vampire Weekend: Contra

Label:Xl
Format:Album
Media:CD
Release Date:2010
Genre:Indie Rock

By Bret McCabe | Posted 1/20/2010

Knocking a band for its pedigree is kinda pointless. Witness Vampire Weekend, the New York quartet whose African rhythms-inspired pop on its 2008 self-titled debut was hailed with equal ecstatic fanfare and condescending righteousness. It's not as if VW's four twentysomethings are the only Ivy Leaguers to mine black music (see also: Jon Spencer), or if Ezra Koenig is the only frontman penning lyrics riddled with polysyllabic wit (see also: Stephen Malkmus), or if the band is the only one rediscovering marginal 1980s genres alongside the music of other cultures (see also: the past decade).

The boring matter of fact is that the worse thing about VW's entire steez is that it's so effortlessly successful at being so pleasantly inoffensive. Much like Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion, VW's sophomore effort Contra is an album of arms-wide-open pop that isn't going to ruffle any feathers. The melodies bounce with an infectious gait. The rhythms skip along with a jaunty punchiness. And the lyrics--despite all the ruling-class idleness set in third-world vacation spots or tony Manhattan addresses--are as superficial as any pop song, just with a slightly better SAT verbal score. Koenig isn't political or provocative, he's quintessentially mundane.

And all of the above comes together in endearing cheekiness threaded into Contra's 10 songs. If it's not as immediately contagious as the debut, it's only because VW goes for a slightly plusher sound, spotting the background mix of its uptempo sprints ("Cousins") with rhythmic textures while accenting downtempo introspection ("Taxi Cab") with keyboard cascades. Those are merely Contra's two extremes, as the album is more varied and diverse, from "Giving Up the Gun"'s electronic jitters to "Run"'s flowering horns to the Tom Tom Club wobble of "Diplomat's Son."

That Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth-y groove accurately positions VW's musical stew. The title Contra may be a precious response to the Clash's 1980 Sandinista!--hectoring even a dead Joe Strummer is a fool's errand--but VW's fey pop bliss and musical pastiche is totally early-'80s new wave. Forget Paul Simon--if there's anybody's pocket VW picks, it's Haircut 100, right down to the trebly guitar work, bittersweet romanticism, and winsome vocals.

E-mail Bret McCabe

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