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This review is from: Contra (Audio CD)
Blending poignant, self-aware lyrics with a wonderful backdrop of lush melodies, poppy beats and synth beats, Vampire Weekend's `Contra' is one of the most impressive and enjoyable records of recent years. Opening with the bright, bouncing beat and Beach Boys-esque backing vocals of `Horchata', a paeon to Spain's sweet drink, the album begins as it means to go on. It's an album split between the extrovert and the introvert, and the latter are combined in a dizzying wander through the exciting, imposing streets of New York, in `White Sky', where the experience "all comes at once", in a song permeated by the whoops and calls of the backing vocals. There's barely a mis-step on the album, and the following tracks `Holiday', a vibrant, day-glo evocation of the wait for a "summer's day", and the catchy, globalisation-focused `California English' lead the album well, into it's middle section. After these four tracks, the album seems to go a little more low-key, and somewhat more downbeat; with the beautiful tale of failed love that is `Taxi Cab', and the album's weakest track (though still worth a listen); the jerky escape-fantasy of `Run'. The album also experiments a little more towards the close; with the almost ping-pong beats of `Diplomat's Son', and the softer closer `I Think Ur A Contra', which fades to give Ezra Koenig a chance to showcase his vocals, which are almost as impressive as the music itself. `Contra' is indeed, one of the freshest and most listenable albums around; and has a bit of everything, from Carribean-sounding beats, to laments of love, and jerky-off beat, pop-punkish beats (seen best in `Cousins').
Whilst the album has come in for some criticism; some of it more valid than others, I feel that as a record I love strongly, it needs defending in some aspects. Firstly, the idea espoused by a number of older listeners that it's too much a rehash of Paul Simon's `Graceland' is a harsh criticism. As a big Paul Simon fan myself, I had concerns over these criticisms before purchasing `Contra', but the issue is one which has been largely exaggerated. There's no doubting Simon is a strong influence on the band's sound, but nowhere are the major themes of politics from `Graceland' rehashed here, the African beats of `Graceland' are largely notable by their absence in `Contra', and the two albums may have been compared lyrically; but there's no more than a passing similarity to love songs like `Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes', in the romance of `Diplomat's Son'. Secondly, the lyrics of `Contra' have come in for some criticism. Whilst Ezra Koenig is admittedly a little precocious at times, the lyrics are generally more erudite than those who criticise them as `pretentious' and such like, would have you believe. On the whole, I found this a hugely enjoyable and fresh-sounding listen, and one more expansive, and which held up to repeat plays better than Vampire Weekend's more limited, but still enjoyable first album.