Who would have thought it? Nobody, that's who. The last time African music enjoyed any meaningful dalliance with the Western mainstream it was under Paul Simon's patronage with his peerless 1986 album Graceland
. That's if you don't count Damon Albarn's extra curricular indulgences (which you don't). The last place we expected it to turn up again was from four New York kids who otherwise might have been found fiddling with their fringes in dorm rooms waiting for the Albert Hammond Jr. tour to hit town. Even by the obscure standards US indie has set itself over the last few years (see TV on the Radio and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah) Vampire Weekend offer up a witch's brew of audacity. That alone would be sufficient to garner infamy and a rep for experimentation, but they also hang from this rebellion of form a stream of alt-tunefulness so efficient and unabashed it would make The Strokes' first album blush. Thus, the piping reggae organ and sun-kissed swagger of "Oxford Comma" is given a heartbeat by tight lo-fi garage drums and "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" lilts along with cheerful tribal rhythms and crisp African guitar, bound by ascending psychedelic vocals. And that's not to mention the mad strings that make listening to "M79" like watching Ski Sunday on hallucinogens. Their advanced rhythmical awareness even makes more standard indie rampages "I Stand Corrected" and "Walcott" less standard. Which is about the length of it; Vampire Weekend, making the standard much less standard. --James Berry
Vampire Weekend are the latest band to unexpectedly defy genre and geographic expectations. Since the turn of the millennium, New York groups have reworked proto-punk sounds popularised by The Velvet Underground (The Strokes, Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, Holy Hail), or rubbery punk-funk (The Rapture, !!!, Radio 4, LCD Soundsystem). But on this remarkable debut the latest NYC hopefuls clearly draw from a far deeper well of influences.
The most overt feature of the VW sound is the refreshing adoption of Afrobeat percussion. This alone differentiates the quartet from their peers, but when added to a multitude of nautical references and other, often ambiguous, lyrics about delightfully esoteric subjects, the results are constantly rewarding.
What other act would write about punctuation (Oxford Comma), loft conversions (Mansard Roof), the link between rich US college fashions and Victorian British Imperialism (Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa and possibly others)? Only a band with the balls to make a 2008 version of Paul Simon's Graceland, crossed with moments of art-disco cool that namechecks Peter Gabriel, Louis Vuitton, at least two types of English tea and Manhattan bus routes. And that's not counting M79 and The Kids Don't Stand A Chance, whose harpsichords and string sections would be more at home in the court of Louis XIV than a 'rock' album.
Some listeners may be utterly baffled by a record including lines like Walcott's "The lobster's claw is sharp as knives/ evil feasts on human lives" and Mansard Roof's "The Argentines collapse in defeat/ the admiralty surveys the remnants of the fleet". Some may also feel that the material sails too far into jaunty waters on occasion. But minor quibbles aside, clearly this quartet isn't interested in tired posturing or being cool for the sake of it. What bursts from the speakers is compellingly warm and joyful. Vampire Weekend have crafted an educated, endlessly imaginative and different piece of work that's arguably the first truly great album of the year. And you won't even need to wear a crucifix or garlic clove to hear it. --Lou Thomas
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