In case you haven’t heard. Vampire Weekend’s new album Contra was released this week. It’s been two years since the release of their self-titled debut, and in the meantime they’ve taken their plaid shirts, Ray-Bans, and preppy smirks on a seemingly endless whirlwind around the globe. All the while leaving people with a polar love it or hate it attitude in their wake. However, it’s a safe bet to say that even some of the detractors have secretly tapped their feet to “A-Punk”, and just wouldn’t admit it, only because they privately despise other men who wear cardigans. Now Vampire Weekend is back with a new album that some fans seem to love, and some aren’t so sure about. One thing is certain, they aren’t going to win over their critics with this one, and it doesn’t appear as if they cared.
Pitchfork gave Contra a 8.66575 (rounded up, of course), Dean from San Diego said “CONTRA < VAMPIRE WEEKEND LP” and that upon a first listen “it wasn’t what he was hoping for”, and Rolling Stone gave it…wait who cares, these days when it comes to rock music they’re pretty much as irrelevant as the Grammy’s. So what do we think? Well, Contra is really good and contains most of the same endearing qualities from their debut; with some added elements that show a band working towards a natural progression. Still remaining is their unique brand of eclectic and up-tempo indie rock that caused everyone to pay attention the first time around. There are still the quirky lyrics which reference rich girls, obscure Mexican beverages, and Manhattan, but this time less about private school blues and New England. A friend once remarked that she has no idea what they’re singing about half the time, but still loves the music. The earnestness of all these odd lyrics are part of their allure and make listening fun. However, the lyrics on a few songs stray from the quirkiness and come more straightforward, and the results are rewarding. The ultra catchy “Giving Up The Gun” compares the life of an aging rocker to a grizzly war veteran. On the sincere “I Think UR A Contra” the inner-workings of a failed relationship are detailed in sweet sounding vocals over simple piano chords, subtle electronic glitches, and the occasional guitar or string instrument.
Where Contra differs from their debut album is what makes it appealing. A few elements were enhanced and added to that Vampire Weekend aesthetic. Returning from his electro and synth heavy R&B side project Discovery LP, Producer/Keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij seems to have come into his own on Contra. “Run” and “White Sky” contain a heavier, more prevalent synthesizer than would be present on past songs, and wind up being two of the strongest songs on the album. Singer Ezra Koenig harmoniously wails portions of the lyrics in both tracks, and they still have that steady up-tempo sound. “Diplomats Son” is over an M.I.A. sample and electro-beat that works well because it’s not overdone. Even the much-maligned Auto-Tune technique is somewhat tastefully used (if that’s at all possible these days) on the witty “California English”.
Are there songs on Contra that will give it an extended shelf life like the “Oxford Comma” and “A-Punk” singles did on the first album? “Cousins” and “Holiday” seem like the obvious choices to follow the “Horchata” single. However, with this band you never know which songs will truly resonate with listeners. People thought “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” sounded awkward, but that slowly took off and became a huge favorite among fans. So only time will tell with the songs on this album. One listen definitely isn’t enough to come to a decision on Contra. Give it at least two. If you still hate it, fine, walk away. Still undecided, give it a third listen. Really, it grows on you. No matter what you could possibly say about this band, you can’t say anyone else really sounds alike. Which leaves one to worry that the copycats could soon be coming to your local pop-radio station. Let’s just hope Vampire Weekend aren’t involved in a Postal Service vs. Owl City conflict anytime soon.
– Ian Lewis