Reviews Music Vampire Weekend — Contra

Vampire Weekend — Contra

Vampire Weekend - Contra
Vampire WeekendContra
XL Recordings USA; 2010
10 Tracks; CD


Review by: David Fisher

Every once in a while an album comes along which knocks my socks off... Contra, by Vampire Weekend, is not that album... but it comes close.

Contra is the second release (and first from XL Recordings, following Vampire Weekend's critically acclaimed, self-produced, self-titled 2008 release) from the four cardigan sweater wearing lads from New York City. The four met as students at New York City's Columbia University where they found their common love of Tablas and congas, chiming keyboards and harmoniums. The group takes their name from a short film made by them in university.

Contra definitely has its merits. It is clever and melodic and, at times, haunting. Rostam Batmanglij (producer, keyboards) does sometimes seem unwilling to settle into a groove as his pacing and musical themes can bounce around. Ezra Koenig (vocals) warbles his way through most of the songs in a Chris Martin-cum-Paul Simon falsetto...a kindly voice but its tinny-timbre can be a tad shrill.

The title track, "I Think Ur A Contra," is a lovely, brooding and patient lament which is calming and unhurried. The myriad of percussion rattling throughout most of the album reminds one of "The Rhythmatist" by Stewart Copeland (post-Police) and the frequent African feel is pleasant and soulful. The band can enter into hit-or-miss territory with some offerings, however. The song, "California English," falls into the 'miss' category. Koenig's auto-tuned vocals and stammered delivery accentuate the grade-school rhymes. ("Bake fake Philly cheesecake but use real toothpaste" ... hmmm.)

At other times, though, Vampire Weekend successfully couples celebratory African beats with lucid lyrics, invoking sunny days without a care, as in the bouncy song, "White Sky." The band demonstrates their competency in their ska-skiffle influenced, "Holiday," which has Vampire Weekend offering a mature and wizened sound. (think: fuzzed-out mandolin conjuring a modern-day bouzouki "Third Man Theme")

Vampire Weekend have been embraced by the UK listening public and Contra also debuted at #1 on the Billboard small feat, indeed. The meteoric rise of their first album had them following in the footsteps of Arcade Fire and The Flaming Lips as summer festival darlings last year in England. This year proves no different as their rabid fans await their return to the soggy soil of 'Jolly Olde' for more of their musical mirth.

Forty years ago 10cc meshed a cappella falsetto voices with clever, politically charged lyrics. Twenty years ago Paul Simon married African beats with social consciousness on Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints. Today, Vampire Weekend shows some of that same panache with their sound and observations.

Vampire Weekend must be careful not to bask. With Contra they have found a happy ground, musically, but that soil must be tilled carefully and their seeds planted responsibly. The sun and the wind can be fickle companions and we all know what the sun can do to a vampire.

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