(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

CD review - Vampire Weekend, Contra (2010)

Paul Simon's Graceland has been reincarnated as a hyperactive tot. Like Simon (or Bow Wow Wow), Vampire Weekend has taken Afro-pop elements and filtered them through their own indie pop taste and experience. The beats are often hectic and rushed, but the music is bright and chiming over a darker foundation. The Paul Simon vibe is strongest on White Sky and Diplomat's Son, but it's pervasive across Contra. Ezra Koenig's falsetto voice and ironic phrasing give the band a distinctive tone.

On Horchata, the first song, Koenig performs simple rhythmic chant of the lyrics. The Afro pop arpeggios and the kalimba tone, bring in the African feel, while the sequenced keys, deep bass and drums hit the indie pop sound. It all comes together, just like the repetitive lyrics capture a special moment. The strings that come in near the end add a musical depth. It's catchy start to the CD.

Later, Cousins, the first official single, pairs up a frantic beat with a speedy Dick Dale style guitar lead. With the rapid fire vocals and oddly syncopated percussion fills, it's as much spasm as it is a song. The chorus contrasts, briefly catching its breath with a few repeated breaks.

Contra closes out on a dreamy note, with I Think Ur a Contra. Like several sections of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot), loose parts fade in against a variable synth wash. Odd background snippets collide almost randomly, adding to the spaced mood. The lyrics don't fully make sense:
You wanted good schools
Friends with pools
You're not a contra
You wanted rock and roll
Complete control
Well, I don't know

Never pick sides
Never choose between two
But I just wanted you, I just wanted you
I think you're a contra
Vampire Weekend has a quirky, but interesting musical vision. While the African influence is there, it's not a cultural appropriation. Sip a triple espresso and tap your feet.

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