Vampire Weekend – Contra

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

Honestly, thinking and writing about Vampire Weekend is tedious and exhausting, and I resent that they make me do so much work just to figure out how I feel about their music. I guess it’s one thing to play rock from a place of affluence and opportunity – Galaxie 500 went to private school in Manhattan and then reconvened at Harvard; Mick Jagger went to the London School of Economics; and Joe Strummer was in fact a “Diplomat’s Son” – but it’s another to celebrate it AND then take offense at the backlash, as if there is some unfair prejudice against rich, white people. Throw in that Vampire Weekend co-opts the music of the oppressed – from mostly brown and black sources – with nary a peep of acknowledgment or even recognition beyond the infuriating winks in the lyrics that only reinforce the shamelessness of the appropriation, and I find myself in the unenviable position of liking the music and hating the band.

What I Think of This Album

If Contra is supposed to represent the idea of opposition and conflict, then Vampire Weekend took it a step too far in creating an album where the first half is not good but the second part is very impressive. The band largely swaps out the orchestration of the first album for electronic beats and processed sounds, perhaps the influence of Rostam Batmanglij’s intervening time in side project Discovery.

Songs like “Horchata” – which includes rhymes like “balaclava” and “Masada,” but not, surprisingly, “empanada” – and the electro-ska of “Holiday” are fine but nothing more. The production is fussier this time around, and the innocence and fun of the debut are lacking; the results leave me cold. Things start to turn around with “Cousins,” which trips over its 10,000 sounds but in an exciting, thrilling way. “Giving Up the Gun” boasts the best melody of the platter, with dance beats and a xylophone-like part, as well as surprising bits of sonic touches sprinkled throughout. The bright and deep pleasures of “”Giving Up the Gun” notwithstanding, the best track is the relatively epic “Diplomat’s Son,” which hearkens back to the sounds of Vampire Weekend and even has a Smiths-ish melody at one point (“To offer it to you would be cruel / When all I want to do is use, use you”).

Beyond that, though, the accomplishment here is Batmanglij manages to arrange a variety of sounds and give them all ample space; unlike on the early songs, “Diplomat’s Son” has room to breathe and come to life, making the background sample of M.I.A. sound like an organic part of the piece. Admittedly, the Coleco Vision version of Toots and the Maytals’ “Pressure Drop” seems randomly inserted, but I can forgive that. Final song “I Think Ur a Contra” slows things down and at least hints at, if not fully embraces, sincerity and warmth.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Diplomat’s Son” is quite the achievement.

Release Date

January, 2010

The Cover Art

This is exactly the cover I would expect from Vampire Weekend, and I can’t help but think that they choose it as some petulant reaction to criticism about their origins (perceived or real) of privilege and wealth. The font is perfect, though.

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