Vampire Weekend – Contra
Record Label: XL Recordings
Release Date: January 12, 2010
I remember reading a review of Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut years back that read simply, in big block letters, GRACELAND 2K8. I would call it lazy, but the writer so intelligently realized a waste of time when he saw it. Because back in those dark days before cell phone projectors, slapping an 8.2 on Vampire Weekend while spending the majority of a review dissecting “You Can Call Me Al” was perfectly acceptable. And maybe I should take the hint and stop here while placing my (says you!) stupidly inflated score of 87% in that score doohicky over there. But the gay bar I frequent to bolster my self-esteem doesn’t have Trivia Night until Tuesday, so here we are.
Since (says you!) Vampire Weekend don’t care about anything and are douchenozzles, it seems silly for me to claim an emotional connection with Contra. However, Ezra Koenig’s lyrical reality-through-simplicity stance is what leaves the strongest mark. His falsetto stands as the only thing about Contra that is more forceful than Vampire Weekend. Songs like “Diplomat’s Son” and “Horchata” are relatively straightforward ditties about love, loss and the like, but Koenig wraps these greater motifs in solid storytelling to initiate a fanciful world that still seems within reach.
Led by a newfound yet subtle electronic influence, due no doubt to guitarist/producer/everything-man Rostam Batmanglij’s recent foray into club music with side-project Discovery, songs like “California English” and “Giving Up The Gun” bounce along with a far more urban vibe than the blatant afro-pop of Contra’s predecessor. These are still far and away twisted pop songs, but the catchiness hits you well before the (says you!) pretentiousness. “Taxi Cab” melds a vaudevillian piano section with electronic drum machines. It’s old meets new meets old because Koenig maintains his Dr. Seuss-like astuteness. When he sounds his most pedestrian is when he is at his smartest.
But none of this should sound like a departure. Contra is still a Vampire Weekend album and it’s certainly one that past fans will presently like. It may be less vigorous, but only if you’re searching the surface. The horn section of otherwise nonchalant “Run” and the heartbreaking strings of showstopper "I Think UR A Contra" imply a fondness for the palpable drama of musical theater. “Cousins” is an outside-the-lines punk-lite whatchamacallit that can still please just about every ear. Pop music this is, and pop music it will always be. But I guess because none of this matters anyway, let me use quantitative data – the horror! I’ve already listened to Contra 3X more than I’ve listened to Vampire Weekend. Which doesn’t mean Contra is better, but just that I like it more. That’s good enough for me. What about you?
Recommended If You Like: Paul Simon, Discovery, intentional indie