VAMPIRE WEEKEND – Contra (2010)

Vampire Weekend’s eponymous 2008 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 about it here. Looking back upon that album now, though, I don’t feel that it’s necessarily a bad record. It’s just a curiously tragic one: a breezy, 34 minute waft of world-pop that’s 20 minutes too long – an EP trapped in an LP’s body. Listening to Vampire Weekend beginning to end is kind of like eating too much chocolate in one sitting: good, yes (if you like chocolate, that is), but it’s likely to make some people sick.

I was more than a little curious to see what direction the band’s sophomore album, Contra would take, especially after the band made available for preview two vastly different songs a few months before the release. The first of these, Horchata, was more along the lines what the band spent most of their time doing on Vampire Weekend, albeit much livelier. The second song, Cousins, is easily the best song the band’s ever written. It’s A-Punk on steroids, a frenzied, 2.5 minute whirlwind of joy, with spasm-laden guitar lines, Avey Tare-inspired yelping, and drumming that’s almost to derail…almost. I was hoping most of the songs on Contra would be like Cousins (as the band’s more upbeat material is their most interesting, and of which Cousins is currently the apex), but most of them aren’t. In fact, none of them are. Cousins is, sadly, an anomaly. Maybe that’s why the band stuffed it towards the back of the album.

That’s not what they did with Horchata, though – it’s Contra’s opening song. Truthfully, it’s not a bad way to start the album – afro-pop for the indie dance floor is this album’s MO, and Horchata is illustrative of this more than most of the songs on the album. But not all of them. One song that tops it is Giving Up The Gun; this, after Cousins, is the best song on the album. Vampire Weekend sound like a totally different band here; imagine if Passion Pit intercepted this song while it was en route to the mastering people, and they then remixed it without anyone knowing. That’s kind of what it sounds like – there’s a focused euphoria here that’s never been present in any of their material before. Unfortunately, the album does have a few throwaway songs. White Sky sounds like what Animal Collective would be like if they composed elevator muzak, and the album’s closing track I Think Ur A Contra is hazy, bland attempt to send the album off on an atmospheric note, but the band don’t pull it off, and what we’re left with is 4 minutes of musical limbo to sit through while the album winds down.

Despite these flaws, Contra manages to dodge the musical ennui that plagued their debut. Nothing gets so repetitive here that you can easily zone out and forget what you’re listening to. So that’s something. Overall, Contra’s a good album; it’s got a sound and energy all its own, and unlike the band’s debut, this time, they hold your attention with it. So pay no attention to that vacant-eyed lady on the cover. She’s not listening to Contra, that’s for sure.

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