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THIS GENERATION'S TALKING HEADS?,
This review is from: Vampire Weekend (Audio CD)
Upon my first encounter to Vampire Weekend (on Jools Holland, sometime in 2008) I dismissed them. Why? It was probably due to the choice swearing on Oxford Comma; which I perceived to flippantly belittle English grammar. Also, concededly, I disliked (or maybe I just didn't quite `get') the African rhythms that the band employed. Or maybe it was Ezra Koenig's delivery that grated. Either way, I was made to rue my detrimental views towards them several years later, especially after my discovery and subsequent infatuation with another preppy, whimsical group with a taste for exotic rhythms (that band being Talking Heads, of course).
A family friend, quite bizarrely, had the album on in her car driving back from the village shop (not at all representative of my weight and overall laziness, I should stress, but I digress) Hearing the album from `Campus' onwards somehow made it more accessible. The track itself, with its shuffling bassline and more immediate chorus somewhat whetted my appetite. The cascading guitars of `Bryn' and the synth washes amidst the off-kilter rhythms of `Blake's Got a New Face' also instigated my intrigue. Then, of course, the car journey abruptly ended and I listened no more.
Eventually, I did give the album a listen in full; and I was astounded by the band's fully-formed cohesion and musical vision. It is simply a set of concise, cerebral, punchy and musically accomplished songs (and not a complete rip-off of Paul Simon's Graceland, as a fair few lazy reviewers are apt to point out). The band combines obscure lyricism with chamber-pop, reggae and African musical influences. This formula on paper sounds artificial; being arty and clever for the sake of mixing genres and, well, being difficult. Yet the band's genuine affinity for these genres, as well as the effortless way they assemble them into their own definitive sound, only makes their debut more convincing.
Opener `Mansard Roof' is possibly the song most indicative of the album's sense of fun and absurdity. The random, but well-placed organ stabs at the beginning make for an unconventional opening. The outlandish lyrics add a sense of mystery and playfulness, with images of French architecture and (seemingly) the Falklands War sitting uncomfortably together.
On second thoughts, Oxford Comma is a brilliant pop song. Aside from the affecting, and relatively direct, lyric in the chorus: ("Through the pain, I always tell the truth") the song's effectual backbeat is matched by the magnificent crescendo towards the end.
`A-punk' is even more catchy. Its spidery riff and `Oh!' chants may have doomed the song to many a drunken indie dance-floor for at least the next decade, but all this is counter-balanced by some deft flutes courtesy of a mellotron in the bridge. Its brevity, at a refreshing 2.18, encapsulates the band's sheer effectiveness.
`Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa' sans the arbitrary Peter Gabriel references, is pure nonsensical fun. `M79' is perhaps the only reggae-infused baroque pop song in existence, and certainly the only one to be glorious.
There is, however, a detectable lull in the second half, with `I Stand Corrected' and `Walcott' perhaps overstaying their welcome a little too long. But this makes perfect sense, gearing up towards the finale: `The Kids Don't Stand a Chance'. If there is any song on this album that epitomises Vampire Weekend's promise, it is this. Initially, it appears not to be as exciting as the shorter songs on the album, but the song can be categorised as a slow-burner. The sparse bassline and the snare drum kicks are the soundtrack to more dissociation lyrics in the verses. But soon this develops into a majestic, elegant closer; an aural picture matching the grandeur of the chandelier depicted on the sleeve. Sweetly picked guitar merges with a swooning orchestral arrangement, where cracking drums are offset by ornate flourishes of harpsichord. It seems illogical that something so exhilarating could be so delicate, but this is testament to the giftedness of this four-piece. As they say themselves: "The precedent's already set now".