Plumbiferous Media

Contra - Vampire Weekend

Jan 14th 2010
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Contra - Vampire WeekendVampire Weekend
Score: 83

Vam­pire Week­end, break­out band of 2008 fol­low­ing its immense­ly suc­cess­ful self-titled debut, is back once again with Con­tra. Both more com­plex and diverse than Vam­pire Week­end, which already incor­po­rat­ed a sur­pris­ing­ly large range of influ­ences, Con­tra is cer­tain­ly some­thing new and exit­ing, though it boasts much of the same flaws as Vam­pire Weekend’s first album. And while the band has lost some of the raw ener­gy that flowed through Vam­pire Week­end, it’s filled that hole to the brim with a glo­ri­ous­ly con­flict­ing wealth of fresh ideas.

Vam­pire Weekend’s mem­bers’ hands cer­tain­ly haven’t grown lethar­gic in the near two years since their last debut, as tracks like “Cousins” will quick­ly prove. Indeed, tracks often rely on some quick­ly repeat­ed note like on “Giv­ing Up the Gun,” or an oth­er­wise rapid line as a sort of hook. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the band still hasn’t quite mas­tered the slow­er tracks. “I Think UR a Con­tra,” as an exam­ple, just ends up drag­ging on for far too long, and “Taxi Cab” (which, while not slow per se, is quite relaxed) falls almost imme­di­ate­ly into drag­ging, repet­i­tive plat­i­tude.

On the more sub­dued tracks of Con­tra, Ezra Koenig’s vocals are rec­og­niz­able from the debut’s “Cam­pus” and “Mansard Roof.” When Con­tra takes on the ener­gy that cours­es through much of the album, how­ev­er, so does Koenig’s voice. Along with this, unfor­tu­nate­ly, comes a siz­able appli­ca­tion of Auto-Tune, that mod­est­ly-irri­tat­ing musi­cal inno­va­tion cur­rent­ly endem­ic to pop­u­lar music. Thank­ful­ly, Vam­pire Week­end has used it as well as it can be used (it’s more of an effect than a cor­rec­tive mea­sure), which is gen­er­al­ly for­giv­able, espe­cial­ly giv­en how well it is incor­po­rat­ed into the frag­ment­ed sound of “Cal­i­for­nia Eng­lish”. But Auto-Tune aside, Koenig’s voice is as clear and eager as ever, per­fect­ly suit­ed as much to the rem­i­nis­cences of “Taxi Cab” as to the excite­ment of “Cousins.”

Con­tra has every bit of the wordy, vague­ly elit­ist joy that made Vam­pire Weekend’s debut album fun. Ezra Koenig begins with the ani­mat­ed “Hor­cha­ta,” where he sings “You’d remem­ber drink­ing hor­cha­ta / You’d still enjoy it with your foot on Masa­da” and “I’d look psy­chot­ic in a bal­a­cla­va.” From one point of view, it’s com­plete­ly non­sen­si­cal and inane - but it can equal­ly be con­sid­ered cre­ative and play­ful. Koenig’s exu­ber­ant word­play does a great (and occa­sion­al­ly hilar­i­ous) job at draw­ing the col­or­ful sto­ries of Con­tra, whether he’s singing a wry trib­ute to Cal­i­for­nia in “Cal­i­for­nia Eng­lish” or the rem­i­nis­cent “Giv­ing Up the Gun.” Occa­sion­al­ly strange but always enter­tain­ing, the anec­dotes that run through Con­tra make it a great deal of the suc­cess that it is.

If Vam­pire Week­end was diverse, Con­tra is incred­i­bly diverse. Vam­pire Week­end has tak­en their indie-col­lege-afro-latin-pop-rock sound and added Bol­ly­wood-esque frag­ments, elec­tron­i­ca, world music, and the kitchen sink. Leave it to Vam­pire Week­end to take all that and still not pro­duce an absolute mess of an album. Instead, each track care­ful­ly manip­u­lates only as many gen­res as it can han­dle, and all the tracks are then tied togeth­er with Koenig’s voice act­ing as a sort of uni­fy­ing theme. The end result is an album that is near­ly always engag­ing, quite weird, and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, immense­ly acces­si­ble.

It’s hard to shake the feel­ing that Con­tra is both a few steps for­ward and a few steps for­ward from Vam­pire Weekend’s debut near­ly two years ago. It’s more vibrant over­all, but there are parts that sim­ply don’t ben­e­fit from Vam­pire Weekend’s increased eccen­tric­i­ty. Vocal­ly, it’s Koenig at his best, but Auto-Tune prob­a­bly wasn’t all that nec­es­sary. Nev­er­the­less, Con­tra is, at its core, fun, and that’s what saves it from its occa­sion­al inad­e­qua­cies. As odd as it may occa­sion­al­ly seem, it’s hard to not to enjoy Con­tra for the sim­ple (and at the same time unavoid­ably com­plex) plea­sure it offers.

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