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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