Music Review: Vampire Weekend's "Contra"

1/12/2010 Posted by Admin

By our guest blogger, Gita Gupte

What do you get when you give a bunch of ivy-league prepster nerds a set of instruments and allow them to go buck wild? An indie rock band that skyrocketed to fame before its first album ever was released, that's what. Vampire Weekend is the collective work of Ezra Koenig (lead vocals, guitar), Rostam Batmanglij (keyboard, guitar, backup vocals), Chris Tomson (drums, percussion), and Chris Baio (bass guitar, backup vocals). Deriving their name from an amateur film of the same title, Vampire Weekend met while studying in New York City's Columbia University, but only began recording after graduation. The sounds of their first album blended together African and Indian beats with '80s synth pop and told stories of summers on New England shores, girls with Louis Vuitton handbags, and New York City taxi cabs. The album had a cult following and spread quicker than wildfire with the help of bloggers and music enthusiasts. Now, with their sophomore album just days from release, Vampire Weekend has treated us to the album's full contents at

"Contra," the new album, shares the familiar eclectic beats of its predecessor album, "Vampire Weekend"--but it is an indie rock gem in its own right. The first track from the cd, "Horchata," was released late last year. The first time I listened to it, I did so for 15 minutes straight on repeat. It was the perfect melodic backing track for a walk through the briskly cold December air of New York. Its Kalimba thumb piano-produced beat promises happiness and warmth by way of hot chocolate.
In "White Sky," the band takes the familiar African-influenced architecture of many of their songs (or, as they would put it, their very own brand of "Upper West Side Soweto") and applies a good dose of "oooooohhhhhs" and "ahhhs" to make for a tune that is best listened to while snuggling under a blanket at a late night beach bon fire.

You may well want to go on a holiday after listening to track three, which sports the same title. It is a quirky, up-tempo track that states, "To go away on a summer's day, never seemed so clear." Next comes, "California English," which will leave you asking, "What did he just say?" The lyrics, sang out with the quickness, prove uninterpretable, which I believe is the idea. It is a nice foray into reggaeton.

"Taxi Cab" slows the album down a notch. It voices melancholy with lyrics such as, "You stand this close to me, like the future was supposed to be," taking us into the world of love lost, yet often mused about.

Yes, those are trumpets you hear in "Run." The track goes back to classic "Vampire Weekend" with its staccato beats and '80s-influenced synth sounds. I especially love the lyric, "We mostly work to live, until we live to work."  It's a nice reminder to keep your life in perspective.

"Cousins" is the official first single off the album. It's a punky track that is heavy on the drums, yet remains eclectic at heart. "Giving up the Gun" is classic indie pop and that's just fine with me. The track incorporates a series of well-blended instruments coupled with soft, soothing vocals and connects with us in the same way a Death Cab for Cutie song would.

"Diplomat's Son" is reggae meets Bollywood. The song is catchy and danceable and sure to be a hit. "I Think Ur A Contra" is the softest song on the album. It trades in African-influenced pop for violins bringing a thoughtful end to the album for you to ruminate on.

For an album born of a band hailing from New York City, Vampire Weekend's "Contra" is a set of summer songs that transports those of us stuck in the dark gloom of snowy winter to the far off warmth of California or Mexico. I could easily believe this album to be a San Diego band's masterpiece, if it weren't for the New England lyrics. This set of 10 carefree songs takes us to the 101 in a convertible with the wind in our hair and the sun on our faces. Whether you allow this album to transport you back to the spirited summers of your teen years, or whether you are a teen who will be sure to remember these songs for years to come, "Contra" provides a hearty mix of nostalgia, freshness, and hope.

"Here's a feeling you'd thought you'd forgotten." Well, thanks boys for bringing that feeling back to us.

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