VAMPIRE WEEKEND – Vampire Weekend (2008)

Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend have had one hell of a year so far, and it’s only February. Their first album debuted at number 17 on The Billboard 200 and they recently performed on The Late Show with David Letterman. Add to that the fact that every magazine and blog in existence is showering the band with praise, and you’ve now got a clear frontrunner for the highly prestigious “Indie Phenom of the Year” award. Like Deerhunter and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah before them, Vampire Weekend seemed imbued with a special destiny to accrue accolades without even really doing anything.

So. How good is the music on this album? Well, not nearly as good as everyone makes it out to be.

For starters, the album is decidedly frontloaded. The three best songs on the disc are…yep, you guessed it, the first three: Mansard Roof, Oxford Comma and A-Punk. These songs best showcase the band’s blend of worldbeat and indie pop. Oxford Comma is the clearly the most successful of the three; it’s light Caribbean verses contrast brilliantly against the pop chorus, which rockets forward on wave of bliss, before crashing into the shore of the next verse.

This isn’t to discount the the other two songs (which, unsurprisingly, were singles number one and two from the album, respectively). Mansard Roof (which was actually released as a single back in October of 2007) is great song to kick the album off and introduce us to the band’s style. It’s got an infectious beat, guided ever so slightly by drifting keyboards and strings. And at a little over two minutes, it’s the perfect length. A-Punk makes great use of a synthesized flute throughout, and it’s interesting to hear a bass actually rise above a guitar, pitch-wise, during the verses.

The first three songs are a joy to listen to. But it’s all downhill from there. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, the fourth track, has only one flaw, but it’s major: it’s annoyingly repetitious. Now, repetition in pop music is to be expected, but the offending phrase here only two bars long, and it loops for essentially the entire three and a half minutes. When it finally does stop, it does so only to make way for a dull and needless vocalization interlude. And guess what? When the interlude ends, the phrase returns. Wonderful.

What’s really bothersome about Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, though, is that it’s essentially like a pseudo-pop cover of a worldbeat song, and not a genuine fusion of the two genres, like Oxford Comma was. This is frustrating to experience, because when you know the band are capable of doing something better, it’s hard to enjoy what they’re giving you in its place.

Although the album isn’t even 35 minutes long, it could stand to be even shorter. To paraphrase Roger Ebert, there’s a wonderful two minute song in the three minute Boston. The same is (semi) true for the aforementioned Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, as well as One and Walcott. Again, this is frustrating because we know the band don’t have an aversion to making simple, declarative songs. So why insist on dragging out a song once it’s overstayed it’s welcome?

While the backend of this album is far from great, it isn’t a total failure, either. Campus and Walcott are enjoyable, not in the least because they’re basically straight up pop songs. But neither song is perfect. As I mentioned earlier, Walcott is overly long, and the end is plagued by several unnecessary climaxes. And Campus spends too much time delaying its chorus, and doesn’t repeat it enough when it arrives. By the time The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance rolls around, it’s all starting to sound the same. The problem with most of these latter songs is that they’re too breezy, too thin in their construction to leave any sort of lasting impression on me.

Frankly, I don’t see what the fuss around this album is about. It tries to do too much, and doesn’t really succeed at all the areas its covering at the same time. As a pop album, it doesn’t work because the formula wears the listener down, instead of lifting them up. As worldbeat, the album is too familiar and unadventurous. And in the sheer exuberance department, Vampire Weekend have nothing on bands like I’m From Barcelona. It’s possible that this album will grow on me. I’ve rescinded my opinion on unusual music like this before (the most notable example from last year is Dan Deacon). But for now, I stand by my 6 out of 10.

HD RATING: 6/10

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One Response to “VAMPIRE WEEKEND – Vampire Weekend (2008)”

  1. […] debut was carefree to the point of being terminal; you can read my preserved thoughts on that album here (written when it was still fresh within the marrow of my being), so I won’t go into detail […]

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