Thursday, January 7, 2010
Artist: Vampire Weekend
Record Label: XL
Release Date: 1/12/2010
Over the past several years, there has been a significant influx of Afro-beat’s influence on indie music. Bands like The Very Best, Ruby Suns, and Fool’s Gold have emerged into the spotlight, reviving a style of music that had fallen to the wayside in recent memory. Out of this subgenre, no band has captivated the hearts and minds of listeners like Vampire Weekend. With their Graceland-influenced, self-titled debut in 2008, the band invigorated both critics and fans alike. With their increased acclaim, however, the band became a prime example of over-licensing music in ads and commercials (MLB, Sony Ericsson, etc.). Despite their initially overdone exposure, their music has been able to withstand the test of time, leading up to their sophomore follow up Contra (2010).
Rather than sitting on their laurels and established sound, frontman Ezra Koenig and company have chosen to expand their role as multi-cultural appropriators. Contra brings in enough different genres, ethnic influences, and other elements from world music to be deemed as a ‘melting pot’—which at times resonates magnificently, and at others points overstretches its boundaries. Paul Simon and his African-influence still remain at the heart of the band’s tone, as evident with their triumphant and carefree staple “White Sky.” This time around, however, the band attempts to tackle Joe Strummer and The Clash—including their use of reggaeton and dancehalls’ influence, as well as numerous other genres. The problem in emulating Strummer, however, is that they lack the edge that The Clash possessed in incorporating these styles. As a result, tracks like “Holiday,” “California English,” and “Taxi Cab” are overreaching affairs that lasting all too long, leaving the band in somewhat of an identity crisis.
Contra does manage, however, to connect on some of its home-run swings. Beyond the lush, textured opener “Horchata,” Vampire Weekend’s best moments come during the album’s second half. The odd quirkiness of the percussive textures on “Cousins” seem off-putting upon first listen, but ultimately prevail as an exciting and energetic display fiercer than any songs found in the band’s repertoire. This liveliness continues into “Giving Up the Gun”—a baile funk groove bearing a slight resemblance to a faster-paced version of Guster’s “Happier,” along with hints of James Murphy’s electronic textures. Going from their upbeat, dance-heavy side, Vampire Weekend shift gears entirely on the beautifully mellow and contemplating “I Think UR a Contra.” This closing track endures as a brilliant composition that showcases the band not at their most expansive or dexterous, but with a delicate fine-tuned orchestration that resonates as one of their best songs to date.
Overall, Contra is a mixed bag—at its best, an ethnic harbinger delivering their unique brand of fusion to indie-rock ; and at its worst, a collage world music gone sour. Fortunately for Vampire Weekend, their sprawling exploits tend outweigh their shortcomings.