Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

I have a very clear memory of dismissing Vampire Weekend early on as “minstrelsy.” I am not sure I was wrong, and I am not sure how comfortable I am liking this album as much as I do now. I definitely get the sense that these eggheads are appropriating Afro-pop sounds without much reverence, and while titling a song “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” may be a self-deprecating joke, it still leaves a sour taste. References to Lil Jon, Dharamsala, and keffiyeh also suggest giddy tourism more than respect. Simply being the prep who understands the origins of madras shorts is not sufficient to morally elevate one over the others who think they come from Bloomindales. This debut is not Graceland or Rei Momo, and that is the problem I have with it. But god forgive me, it is fucking amazing and I really enjoy it despite myself.

What I Think of This Album

Rostam Batmanglij is this band’s not-so-secret weapon, no matter how much vocalist/guitarist and main lyricist Ezra Koenig appears to be the leader, and yes, this ethnic dynamic also bothers me. Just to be clear, Batmanglij not only plays about 50 instruments on this album, he also adds harmony vocals, arranged the strings, produced the album, was a co-engineer and co-mixer, had a hand in the songwriting (music and lyrics), and helped design the art. Okay. I am done. The rest of this will be positive.

The songs here are sunny, fresh, fun, and absolutely irresistible, displaying a mix of innocence and winking self-parody. Some songs are as light and frothy as merengues, while others are stunningly complex creations, and the band can move from cutesy to gorgeous from one song to the next, and often from one moment to the other. “M79,” for example, is a stately stunner, replete with strings that Brahms would envy (and a clavichord or some goddamn thing, too), bouncy bass, tumbling off-beat drums, and ghostly backing vocals. On the other hand, “Oxford Comma” is little more than a rigid rhythm track, a basic organ, and a silly guitar solo (in fairness, preceded by a more impressive passage). Meanwhile, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” employs dizzying polyrhythms, a delightful Afro-pop guitar figure, and a charming keyboard part (I also love the bass slide).

The chugging “A-Punk” relies on its intricate fake flute part, more Afro-pop guitar, a nicely framed bass riff, and admittedly compelling lyrics from Koenig. “Campus” is a Batmanglij composition, mostly, with a more traditional indie pop lyrical approach, moving from an ascending bass anchored verse to a stop-start pre-chorus to a rushed chorus of romantic misery. I absolutely adore the Cape Cod-centric cautionary tale of “Walcott,” which tries to sell the risible idea that “Hyannisport [sic] is a ghetto.” I admit that I always thought it was “fuck the women from Wellesley,” but it’s really “Wellfleet.” In any event, in addition to the hilarious lyrics, the strings are glorious, the piano part is amazing, and the trebly guitar is impossible to not love. The revelatory “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” is almost as intricately constructed as “M79,” offering moments of lush yet understated beauty. “I Stand Corrected” is awe-inspiring as well, offering a rare, dark tom-heavy pounding, sinister bass, and more impressive strings. Even the worst song on here – “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)” – isn’t actually bad.

The Best Thing About This Album

Rostam. Batmanglij.

Release Date

January, 2008

The Cover Art

The internet indicates that the band’s name/album title is handsomely centered over the chandelier in a Wes Anderson-looking font. I do not have this on my copy, which suggests I am missing a cardboard slipcover. Whatever. This cover rocks.

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