Soren Solkaer Starbird
Contra broadens Vampire Weekend's emotional scope. Besides ennui and bafflement, there's palpable heartbreak, too.
Contra broadens Vampire Weekend's emotional scope. Besides ennui and bafflement, there's palpable heartbreak, too. Soren Solkaer Starbird
Vampire Weekend's emergence coincided with a bunch of trends: rock bands influenced by world music, rock bands that dress like preppies and pop-culture phenomena connected in some way to vampires. The group suffered some backlash in the wake of its instant popularity, but that struck me as sour grapes. These guys deserved their popularity. Their fusions were smart and self-aware, and they wrote great songs. For their latest, Contra, they just wrote some more.
I was encouraged that Vampire Weekend didn't mess with its style too much. It's still blending catchy Caucasian-American pop-rock with Bollywood disco or African chimurenga like a Banana Republic mix tape, and on occasion, it still sounds like Graceland-era Paul Simon — which, as far as I'm concerned, is a perfectly excellent thing to sound like on occasion. But it's also added some cool electronic colors to the mix, as in "California English," in which its members use the familiar voice-processing software AutoTune in a fairly unfamiliar way: with chamber-music accompaniment.
Singer Ezra Koenig likes wordplay and brand-name details, and he portrays American upper-crusters like an indie-rock F. Scott Fitzgerald: There's the guy dreaming up plans for his girlfriend's trust fund, and another who gets stoned and falls into bed with a friend who happens to be the son of a diplomat ("Diplomat's Son").
Sometimes, there's a blankness to the voices in Vampire Weekend songs that's more Bret Easton Ellis than F. Scott Fitzgerald. But Contra broadens the band's emotional scope; besides ennui and bafflement, there's palpable heartbreak, too. The sounds are generally so happy, though, that most people won't notice the lyrical bummers. It seems like useful music for this new decade: It's not ignoring the bad stuff, so much as it wants to dance while it figures things out.