You're the only band in the world to have moulded the fruity shimmering of sun-baked African pop with the leather-jacketed cool of 21st century New York rock 'n' roll, delivered it with the diligence of first-class honours students with tidy haircuts, and become a universally-lauded if unlikely international sensation as a result. You're not about to change your spots now, are you. It should come as no surprise therefore that with Contra
, Vampire Weekend have delivered another full length album packed full with the same near-flawless, feather-weight indie with occasional knock-out tendencies as their eponymous first. What may be surprising though is how different a route they travelled to get to that same point this time around. Guitars are banished, or at least faded back in the mix to play textural bit parts and little more. Minimal electronic undercurrents earn a leading role, plugging a live cable into their principal artery and receiving little in the way of resistance from the main body. So the near-yodelling square dance of "White Sky", tip-toe harpsichord dub calypso of "Taxi Cab", Wacky Races jerky surf of "Cousins" and the Strokes-esque 4/4 infectiousness of "Giving Up The Gun" are all given a modern and thoroughly refreshing jab in the rear. And yet they all still sound, to some extent, like they could have been recorded for Paul Simon's seminal Gracelands
. A compositional triumph that may side-step the immediacy of their debut, but turns out all the richer for it. --James Berry
Second studio album by the critically-acclaimed American indie rock band. The album debuted at #1 in the Uk Albums Chart and includes the singles 'Cousins', 'Giving Up the Gun', 'Holiday' and 'White Sky'.
With their penchant for obscure grammatical references and African pop, Vampire Weekend always offered a little more than your standard indie-rock fare. Their hugely popular 2008 self-titled debut was chock-full of catchy guitar ditties, but while they clearly enjoyed romping through the frothy stuff this super-savvy NYC four were ultimately aiming for something, well, grander. And with cleverly constructed follow-up Contra, they are well on the way to achieving it.
Now, this beguiling ten-track work is short at just over 30 minutes long, but immediate it is not. Tasters Horchata and Cousins are probably the most hum-able of the lot. Where the album really comes into its own, however, is in the delicate arrangements and luscious production. It’s not so much the melodies that stick in your head, but certain percussive interludes, Ezra Koenig’s vocal gymnastics (tightly woven into the instrumentation) and the skilfully placed sumptuous string trill refrains.
It’s hard to digest at first, but with repeated listens Contra becomes increasingly enjoyable and, in places, quite magical. Musical tricks pop up throughout: the playful climax of White Sky, the romantic Taxi Cab with its Chopin-esque piano, and Giving Up the Gun’s astonishing mix of buzzing guitars, glockenspiel taps, electronics and choral harmonies.
Perhaps the highlights of Contra, however, are closers Diplomat’s Son and I Think Ur a Contra. Both are quiet and slow-paced, but driven by the kind of enviable creativity that now elevates Vampire Weekend well above their peers. There is everything from M.I.A. to classical, folk and reggae influences in there, but the band make the resulting sound completely their own.
Prior to release, frontman Koenig told the music press that Contra is about “retro gaming and Nicaraguan politics,” and it may well be – his poetic lyrics can be hard to decipher. What we do know, however, is that this latest offering ushers in an entirely new age for Vampire Weekend: one of wisdom, grace, subtlety and for the first time a really strong sense of identity. A thoroughly grown-up record, then. --Camilla Pia
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