New Music Tuesday

12 Jan

Vampire Weekend
Contra
XL Recordings
January 12, 2010
Rating : 9.5/10

Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. That’s Vampire Weekend’s highly-anticipated sophomore album, Contra, in a nut-shell. That is, if you define “rock ‘n’ roll” as sociological commentary on society’s upper-crust, scaled against a backdrop of pop-driven African-infused beats. Sure, thematically it’s not a complete departure from their debut, but why should it be? They’re just getting started; and by the looks of their sharp rise into prominence, it’s working.

After plucking through all 37 minutes of Contra’s 10 tracks, the greatest evolution in fact comes from guitarist/keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij’s production techniques. Essentially, he’s produced this album in the way that Speidi produces photo-ops; strongly, meticulously, and innovatively.

 But just like Speidi, Vampire Weekend is still going to give the haters reasons to hate; it’s a momentum thing. For example, the first track, “Horchata,” is not only dedicated to a Spanish dairy drink as the title suggests, but also muses about “pinching crabs that pinch at your sandals”; two factors that border on absurd and redundant. Then there’s “California English,” a good 2.5 minutes of auto-tune on crack (but in the best way), reminiscent of lead singer Ezra Koening’s rap project from college, L’Homme Run. And let’s not get started about the line “fake Philly cheese steak, but you use real toothpaste.”

 But just as the haters have more to hate, Contra, not unlike an actual Philly cheese steak, gives the lovers more to love. For instance, “White Sky” on the surface is a peppy tune with lyrics deeming art is for everyone. However, the chorus of what can only be interpreted as Koening’s yelping sex-noises as Batmanglij melodically pants in backing intervals trumps that message. Perhaps, according to these boys, sex is for everyone as well.

“Diplomat’s Son” is in keeping with that sentiment, as it describes a decades-old gay rendez-vous with the title character. But “Diplomat’s Son” has a lot of unexpected material in its full six minutes. Permission was granted to seamlessly sample M.I.A.’s track, “Hussel,” (oh, the perks of being a credible label-mate), Batmanglij has a vocal solo, and Koening sings about smoking a joint, but not before coyly crooning, “To offer it to you would be cruel, when all I wanna do is use, use you.”

But what use are you when you don’t even know what a “contra” is? Is it a reference to the Nicaraguan guerilla group, the contra-revolucionario? An ode to the contrabassoon? That’s where the concluding song, “I Think UR a Contra” weighs in. The average indie-Joe might tend to underestimate an acoustic, simple, and outright sappy ballad such as this one. However, this is Vampire Weekend’s attempt at changing the English language, just as Beyoncé changed it for the better with “Bootylicious.” At its core, “contra” is the Latin preposition for “against,” and now our favourite Columbia grads have morphed it into a noun, and an insult at that. But just when you think Koening is getting all lousy and bitter by repeatedly calling an ex-love a liar and a “contra,” he lets you in on a little secret: it’s the sting of rejection that’s made him lash out. Near the end of the song, he cautions, “Never pick sides. Never choose between two. But I just wanted you. I just wanted you.” 

It’s enough to make a girl forget that this song and album is dedicated to a complete contra.

Contra is in stores on Tuesday, January 12. Purchase it from your local indie-music store and receive the free bonus disc Vampire Weekend Meets Toy Selectah, containing two additional tracks and a remix. Find participating stores here

Posted by Melissa Kim

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2 Responses to “New Music Tuesday”

  1. E. Roth January 12, 2010 at 5:59 PM #

    Forget the album (Actually, don’t. It’s awesome.)! This review is the real deal. The references to Speidi and “Bootylicious” were like Pop Rocks for the ears – shocking yet totally delicious.

  2. sonia January 12, 2010 at 8:38 PM #

    It hasn’t grown on me yet, but I want to keep trying!

    s.

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