Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
Record Label: XL Recordings
Release Date: January 29, 2008
How do we separate web buzz from substance and fleeting trends from mainstays? It is not difficult to be bombarded with message board posts and blogrings introducing us to the latest break out band, that one premier artist that will be the modern day rock and roll savior.
Columbia graduates Vampire Weekend know, better than most, the power of internet promotion. Not long ago, the band made history by being the first artist to gain a spot on the cover of Spin magazine before releasing their debut record and also received overwhelming support from pitchfork.com when all they had to show for themselves were popped collars and a CD-R demo recording. So, after you peel away the outer layer of web log drone and indie hearsay, revealing the bare sonic material, what can be said about the music itself? After all, that’s what’s important here, isn’t it? Is it possible to truly separate the two dimensions of newly popular music? For the sake of this review, let’s hope it is.
While studying at Columbia, the boys of Vampire Weekend became interested in the pop music of Africa, eventually blending it with their own melodic ideas. Syncopated keyboards and lofty vocals open Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut on “Mansard Roof.” Obviously literate singer Ezra Koening casually rolls off the dense lyrics, “The Argentines collapse in defeat / The admiralty surveys the remnants of the fleet / The ground beneath their feet is a nautically-mapped sheet / As thin as paper while it slips away from view.” The record continues with “Oxford Comma,” a song about punctuation that name drops Lil’ John without missing a sunny, strummy beat.
The band’s first single, “A-Punk,” is a jittery tale of a young woman intermingling with high society straight out of her Ivy League roots. Koening’s tasteful guitar tones tend to stay on the clean side, letting his equally bright vocals to come to the forefront. Ringing in at less than two and a half minutes, it is not a lengthy listen, but what the song lacks in duration, it makes up for in likability.
By now you might be wondering why on earth you would want to listen to a group of four Ivy League grads wearing sweaters and boat shoes. The answer lies in the group’s delivery. The songs of Vampire Weekend come off as incredibly unpretentious, and the group's costly education only benefits the music, as two of the members majored in music, adding precision to their performance. Koening’s vocals are exuberant and cut through extremely clearly while the rest of the band provides an equally joyful backing. Drummer Chris Tomson acts as more of a percussionist than a rock drummer, incorporating hand drums and other auxiliary instruments on “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.” The eclectic sound textures don’t stop there, as Vampire Weekend add haunting strings to several of the album’s tracks, most notably on “Walcott,” where the band drops out leaving Koening’s croons and a too-perfect-for-words inspired cello arrangement.
Whether or not listeners will pay attention to Vampire Weekend in years to come remains to be determined, but with so many bands paying more attention to their hairstyles and wardrobes than crafting significant music, Vampire Weekend offer a breath of fresh, indie air.
This is one of the best reviews I've read in a while. Even if I still dislike the band's name (given the negative connotation with "vampire" in today's scene), I'm now interested in the music. The album is on sale at amazon.com for $9.99, so if you like what you hear (and read), pick it up.
I'm going to piggyback SCMaley and admit that I'm an elitist who also stays away from the hype machine. VW certainly deserves kudos for landing on the cover of Spin and getting the SNL spot without a major record label or any radio airplay, etc. etc., but I can't find a lot to love here. I do dig "Oxford Comma," and a few others, and will admit there is a real sense of innovation and lyrical genius, but it wears thin by the end of the album.
I echo Adrian's sentiment and agree this is one of the better AP.net reviews I've read in quite awhile. Unfortunately having seen this band perform live twice, their extreme arrogance has left a sour taste in
my mouth and won't be generating positive press from me anytime soon. They are however crazy talented musical geniuses.