Vampire Weekend ‘Contra’ – Review

23 Jan

For as long as there’s been pop music there’s been a tension between the artistic and the commercial. By it’s very nature pop aspires to be popular but that shouldn’t mean selling out or restricting your sound to what is radio friendly. Every now and then a genuine band will become successful on their own terms; it happened with New Order, Blur, Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys to name but a few. Now with a number one album under their belts Vampire Weekend can join those ranks.

Although it feels like they never went away it’s been two years since Vampire Weekend released their debut and ‘Contra’ picks up nicely where that left of. First single ‘Cousins’ led me to believe that this would be a similar record to the first, but in fact there has been a lot of progress. It still sounds undeniably like Vampire Weekend (Ezra Koenig’s unique vocal style, the clean guitar sound and the African inspired rhythms are still prominent) but a new and better Vampire Weekend.

The band combine their traditional instruments with new and unexpected ones. A drum machine features heavily as does a squeaky synth almost as retro as the cover art. Yet It all feels somehow cohesive and logical, which is probably because the songs are all of such high quality. There‘s no ‘Oxford Comma’ on here, sure, but then again the band clearly aren’t going for simple hooks this time around – complexity is the name of the game. Accessible complexity at that.

‘White Sky’, ’Holiday’ and ‘Cousins’ share the same happy vibe as a number of tracks from the debut but they also present a glimpse of the new, polished sound that defines the record. At times it can feel like these tracks have been produced to within an inch of their lives, they are so clean you could eat a meal of them, but that has always been Vampire Weekend’s way and any fan will be used to the precise style by now (even if I was slightly longing for some feedback or grit). Elsewhere the band play with samples and hip hop beats on ‘Diplomat’s son’ whilst retaining that ‘New York meets Africa meets Oxford’ charm that has become truly theirs.

Other highlights include their first ballad  ‘Taxi Cab’ and what sounds like a real hit in the making, ‘Giving Up The Gun’. The album ends with a subtlety that even the most ardent fan would have to admit is somewhat lacking on the rest of the album. ‘I Think Ur A Contra’ is awash with acoustic guitars and falsetto vocals that compliment the song perfectly.

‘Contra’ is an accomplished second album that confirms Vampire Weekend’s position as one of the best bands around. This isn’t as enjoyable as their debut and it’s a bit of a hard nut to crack, but it gets better with every listen. Not since ‘Kid A’ has there been such an experimental and ambitious album to hit number one in America – yet at its heart this is a pretty perfect pop album.

8.5/10

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: