Sunday, January 17, 2010

Your Tokugawa smile and your garbage style

Vampire Weekend's second album, Contra, came out this week, and I have been looking forward to it. Of course I loved the first album, and I have so far enjoyed the first two singles from Contra. Vampire Weekend earns a lot of comparisons to Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel for their use of African and Caribbean musical elements, and I suppose that comparison is fair. But I have been annoyed lately by some naysayers who stupidly claim that Vampire Weekend is unoriginal because other artists have used world music before. It's true, Vampire Weekend is the first group ever to borrow sounds from somewhere else. Shut up. They do it in a original way, combining these world beats with Clash-like punk sounds, electronic drum machines, and a prep school silliness. Their music is Tarantino pastiche, a Kill Bill of musical layers.

Some Contra highlights:

"Horchata" -- This track has been out for a little while, and I immediately loved the peppy melody, plinky beat, and silly rhymes. I also think the pounding percussion after the chorus is fantastic. And then the strings just add another intriguing layer to this complex song.

"White Sky" -- The opening of this song really draws me in, and the first time I heard it, I kept restarting the first 15 seconds because I loved the sound of it. Once again, I like how the layers sort of build, with a synthy bass to a drum machine kick. The bass drum and Ezra Koenig start together as Koenig sings a little ditty about New York city.

"Holiday" -- These lyrics are amazing:
A vegetarian since the invasion,
She’d never seen the word BOMBS
She’d never seen the word BOMBS blown up
To 96 point Futura

"California English" -- This is how an auto-tuner should be used--take note, Lil Wayne. Plus the song has the added joy of some lyrics about Tom's of Maine toothpaste. On the bonus-track version of this album, "California English, Pt 2" adds a kind of Animal Collective touch to the sound to excellent effect.

"Taxi Cab" -- Great. The inter-verse piano, then the inter-verse harpsichord, plus the chamber strings -- this song is a down-tempo drum machine Edith Wharton piece. Fantastic.

"Cousins" -- I love the punk rock swagger of this speedy little song, and after seeing the band play this on TV the other day, I have a newfound respect for the drummer. And once again, Koenig's strange lyrics really shine to me.

"Giving Up the Gun" -- This song sounds like Vampire Weekend's most electronic song, with its dancey drum machines, and I think that the intensity of the drum machines combines well with Koenig's soft voice.
I heard you play guitar
Down at a seedy bar
Where skinheads used to fight
Your Tokugawa smile
And your garbage style
Used to save the night
This song is a standout.

"Diplomat's Son" -- Again, the boys use layers and textures to hide complexity, and "Diplomat's Son" is a perfect example, especially with the M.I.A. sample. I also really like Koenig's vocal acrobatics here--it reminds me a bit of Morrissey (not the voice, but the acrobatics).

"I Think UR a Contra" -- Beautiful. The rare slow Vampire Weekend song, and it works quite well. "You wanted good schools / And friends with pools / You're not a Contra." I especially like the little rhythm pick-up at about the 3:30 mark.

Contra is an excellent follow-up, and I anticipate heavy rotation on my iPod.


At 11:56 PM, Blogger sherlock posited...

I've also really enjoyed the new album so far, my favorite track being "Cousins".

Have you listened to the electronic collaboration of Vampire Weekend's keyboardist and Ra Ra Riot's singer, Discovery? The album is playful and danceable with a fantastic Jackson 5 cover.


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