Vampire Weekend: Beyond The Blogs

Vampire Weekend went deep into its rhyming dictionary on its second album, Contra — especially in the single "Horchata," which rhymes the titular Latin American rice-milk drink with Aranciata, Masada, Tokugawa and balaclava. Not exactly common themes in pop music.

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  • "Cousins"
  • Album: Contra
  • Artist: Vampire Weekend
  • Label: XL Recordings
  • Released: 2009
 
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  • Album: Contra
  • Artist: Vampire Weekend
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Ezra Koenig; credit: Kim Rottmayer of picturethesound.com

hide captionEzra Koenig from Vampire Weekend.

Kim Rottmayer of picturethesound.com

This lyrical dexterity is part of what's made Vampire Weekend one of the most respected — and reviled — bands in America.

All four members attended Columbia University, and their sound is heavily influenced by African pop music. One of the most hotly debated bands of the Internet age, Vampire Weekend has taken a lot of flak for being a bunch of Ivy League white guys who appropriate African music for personal gain.

Still, their latest record just entered the Billboard albums chart at No. 1.

Ezra Koenig, lead singer of Vampire Weekend, tells NPR's Guy Raz that much of the criticism has less to do with the band itself than with the nature of the Internet.

"It was always so clear to me that they were attacking this made-up version of us," he says. "Any band, even the Talking Heads or The Beatles, if they came out today, they would also have to cope with some violently negative reaction on the Internet."

Koenig says the discussion on blogs and other Internet forums can be angry and divisive.

"It has very little to do with the individual band," he says. "It has to do with the anonymous nature of the Internet. I've gotten better at not reading it."

Natural Comparisons

As with any band that has made a rapid ascent to fame, Vampire Weekend has drawn many comparisons to other artists, most notably Paul Simon. Koenig says he's flattered by the comparisons, but frustrated at how they oversimplify the discussion.

"When the first record came out, we were just inundated with comparisons to Paul Simon. It started to feel reductive to only talk about African music through the lens of [Simon's 1986 album] Graceland," he says.

There were other records in the collections of Koenig's parents that influenced the band's sound, including the works of King Sunny Ade and Fela Kuti. When the band started, its members wanted to incorporate a new style that would shake up what they saw as a stale New York rock scene.

"I love The Strokes," Koenig says. "The bands that I didn't like are the second and third Xeroxed generations of The Strokes. ... We were trying to think of different ways to approach being a rock band."

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