Vampire Weekend: “Contra” (Review)

26 January 2010

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

If you were to take the greatest hits of the Police and the soundtrack to a late 80’s Nintendo game and put them in a blender, the resulting slurry would be the new album from Vampire Weekend.

And I mean that in a good way.

“Contra” is the second full-length studio album by acclaimed indie rockers Vampire Weekend, whose previous release shot them forward as an up-and-coming band with great potential.

And their new release delivers. From the start there is an infectious quality to the song, though the melodies are vocally driven rather than relying on the instruments. To that end, Era Koenig’s vocals are more inventive and demonstrate more range than the previous album.

Musically, there is the same unique blend of indie rock and African pop, though on this album there seems to be a slightly stronger emphasis on the latter. Most tracks are dominated by snarky, odd-tempo rhythms that hold your attention, and often highlight Koenig’s vocals.

But the juxtaposition of African pop and indie rock also makes this a hard album to appreciate. While I appreciate the uniqueness of this style, it often can seem overbearing, and cause each track to stop somewhere just shy of catchy.

The beats hold your attention, but in that same distracted way a computer screen saver does when you’re trying to hold a conversation at the office or at school.

Ironically, the very thing that sets this band apart may also serve to prevent them from making the crossover from indie to mainstream rock. I’ve spoken with more than a few who find the band completely inaccessible.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the album, but it seems to be one that takes time to truly grow on you. The tracks are upbeat; it’s impossible to listen to their music without a smile on your face. The brevity of the album is, in this case, an advantage, as the short tracks prevent the melodies from wearing thin.

Lyrically, the album flirts with the usual themes of relationships and benign personal introspection, though any deeper meaning is often lost to lyrical obscurity.

The album is every bit as eccentric as their previous release, if not more so. No doubt that many hipster, scenester, 20-something bloggers (not me, though…never) will have a great deal to say about the album, whose ownership alone certifies a significant increase in one’s indie cred.

But as I said, it’s a hard listen. It takes effort and time to appreciate the band for what they’ve put forth. I just find myself wondering if the album will grow on people before it gets left in the pile of clothes in the freshman dorm – or, worse, to relegate their music to a car commercial a la “1901” by Phoenix.

For the time being, though, the album has been receiving many positive reviews. And deservedly so; the album is a solid, creative effort and worthy of a listen.

26 January 2010

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

Chris is a writer and speaker from the Charlottesville area. He regularly serves as a research writer for Docent Research Group in addition to doing some guest speaking.

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