Vampire Weekend’s sophomore effort, Contra, is out January 12th on XL Records. But, like most things, its around on the nets before it’s scheduled release date.
The great thing about leaks, is that they have the ability to hype an album even more before its physical release. Any devoted fan of any band will also tell you that if that album is good enough, they will snag a copy when it becomes available. So enough blabbering, here is my review of Vampire Weekend – Contra.
It’s important to note before we start here that I wasn’t a real big fan of their first album. It’s certainly grown on me, but I found it riddled with predictable and vapid lyrics that honestly just weren’t all that great. If there is one thing Vampire Weekend has done up until this point, its write a great hook. Contra is no exception, and instead is a huge step in the right direction. In short, Contra sounds like the album Vampire Weekend has had the potential to/wanted to make. Any fan of their self-titled debut should feel just as strongly about this new batch of songs.
Contra begins with what I’d call a bit of trickery. Two of the first three tracks could easily be confused for tracks on their self-titled debut. Horchata, White Sky and Holiday all sound like things Vampire Weekend would do.Horchata is a great warm up to the album itself and sets the tone. White Sky, the second track is a sunshinny song with a sing-along chorus that no one will actually be able to sing along to. It’s a great song that you’ll at least be whistling for hours afterward. The third track, Holiday is a bit different. Ezra Koenig is laughing whereever he is as he thinks about people listening to this song. The guitar line is incredibly chessy and the drums roll along as if something from a cheesy John Hughes film. It comes across as a sort of pop-punk experiment that wouldn’t work it it were any longer than 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The song, while not my favorite does get more interesting and unorthodox as the song progresses and more importantly it fits the tone of the album.
The fourth song, California English is where I started to really get into Contra. The vocals are quick, cut up, maybe even auto-tuned a bit. Koenig croons over rhythmic snare hits and a harmonizing backing track. The song is quick paced and features lyrical gems like, “fake Philly cheese-stake but you use real toothpaste.” Needless to say the song is pretty awesome, and in a different vein then their other stuff.
The five track fits in perfectly, Taxi is, a quiet taxi cab ride through the city after a odd sort of track. Taxi features many of the Vampire Weekend staples: strings, keyboard riffs and an overall more straight forward song structure. The thing that stands out is the lyrics, “In the shadow of your first attack, I was question and looking back” They are all together more sincere and stronger on this album.
The second half of the album is even stronger. Track 6, Run, vamps the energy back up and the output is something similar to Phoenix. Cousins, the lead single is an amazing song featuring crazy lyrics over an extremely unorthodox array of snare drum hits, bass grooves and scale jogging guitar. Pitchfork described it as “a blitzing song” and there is really no better way to describe it.
Track 8, Giving Up The Gun, begins like an Animal Collective track but quickly disintegrates into probably the most pop song Vampire Weekend has produced. It comes right after the unorthodox Cousins, and is all the better for it. The contrast created by these two songs is really cool. Giving Up The Gun is just a fun song to listen to.
Diplomat’s Son is the longest track on the album but you’ll glide through it as though it were the shortest. The song is just plain enjoyable to listen to. Erza’s vocals sound top notch, and the seeming simplicity of it hides the overall complexity of the song. This song is the song that sums up the album most aptly. It’s fun, catchy, simple, complex, cold, warm, sample filled and..bouncy? Seriously. It kind of is.
The album winds down with, I Think Ur A Contra. A quiet track that ends the album nicely. The song meanders in an out of itself, creating a large wall of sound reminiscent of Wilco’s, Poor Places. It’s a strong track and a great ending to Contra.
Contra sounds like a more focused album. But it sounds chaotic. It sounds like an album you could listen to all summer, or all winter. It is certainly a bit more experimental and interesting than its predecessor, but it has some of the most straightforward songs they’ve done. Contra’s strength is derived solely from its ability to exist within the Contra that it has itself created. Even through it is an album of contradictions through this experimentation it never sounds lost, meandering or masturbatory. It sounds like Vampire Weekend. I’d strongly recommend picking up a copy of this LP when it drops.