Saturday, February 6, 2010

Contra - Vampire Weekend

Overall: 33/40

Sound: 8
Creativity: 9
Lyrics: 8
Approachability: 8
"Indie rock" bands are a dime a dozen, some good, some bad and some.... just awful. It is rare for an Indie Rock band to escape the ipods (or record players) of hipsters and cross into the mainstream, but Vampire Weekend accomplished this feat with their 2010 album Contra. Released in the US on January 12th of 2010, Vampire Weekend has seen enormous success with their new album. Contra debuted on Billboard at #1, making it the 12th independently released album to do so (also knocking off Ke$ha's Animal from the top spot, which needed to be done). The album has topped itunes best album list, been recognized as one of the "best new music" albums by Pitchfork, and sold over 124,000 copies. Something special has been going on in this sophomore, ten track album by Vampire Weekend.
The lead song Horchata had me rushing to the dictionary (read as wikipedia) four words in. "In December drinking horcahata, I'd look psychotic in a balaclava" . (Horchata is a milky beverage that doesn't look particularly appealing, and a balaclava is like a ski mask. A ski mask used to rob banks) The song starts off with a synth and marimba (a marimba is like a mellowed out xylophone). The marimba is a testament to the drummer Chris Tomson's percussion prowess. Contra is really driven along by Tomson's dominant drumming and percussion sections. On Horchata he lends his talents to both the lead melody on the marimba and the steady bass drum that really chugs the song along. Ezra Koeing comes in shortly after the marimba intro and throughout the song is supported by a truly remarkable chorus. The song embraces Vampire Weekend's infatuation with afro-beats (a mixture of different styles of music, percussion and natural vocal harmonies). Vampire Weekend uses these natural harmonies and drum beats in conjunction with a string section and synth to crescendo throughout the song creating a powerful and captivating sound.
White Sky the next song on the album is a merry romp, that is a very different but fitting song to follow Horchata. Koeing's chorus is a series of high pitched melodic "whoops" that I love (my roommate has probably gone mad because I just start randomly whooping when this song comes on through my headphones). Not until the third song Holiday does the guitarist, Rostam Batmanglij, get much front time. Placing the guitar on the backburner is a pleasant deviation from the norm, but is not the central concept behind Contra.
California English is a quick crash course in Allegro and staccato music. There are parts of this song in which Koeing is completely incoherent, you can try to sing along but I implore you to catch your breath when he says "California English". The lyrics in this song are rapid-fire but manage to convey a message, open up your mind and stop being a douche.
Cousins, the first single from the album, is another machine gun paced song. If you couldn't tell from last week's video, Koeing, Rostam Batmanglij (guitarist/synthesizer/Batman?) and Chris Baio (bassist) pick up this song and run off with it. Contra takes advantage of Tomson's percussion ability in many places, but this song is dominated by the Koeing, Batman, and Baio trio. Batman makes this song a personal vendetta against distortion, screaming to the world "i can play clean and fast without a fucking pedal". The trills and breakneck riffs are the bread and butter of this track. Baio uses a variety of bass lines throughout the song, going from rapid plucking, to polka, to a quick hammer on riff and then everything in between. Koeing slows down the vocals in comparison to California English but hard as I try I really cant discern a message from the lyrics. Take a Look:

Dad was a risk taker.
His was a shoe maker.
You greatest hits 2006,
Little listmaker.
Caught in the melody,
You wait in the car.
You were born with ten fingers and you're gonna use them all.
Interest in colors
I discover myself
If your art life is gritty you'll be toasting my health
If an interest in culture should be lining the walls
When your birth right is interest you could just accrue it all

No Idea. If you have an idea, the comment box is there for you Sacajawea.

This album is....different. It borrows from ska, indie rock, afro beat, and then finds some other things to throw into that hodgepodge of musical style. Just reading off the eclectic list of stylistic influences this album looks like something to be wary of, but despite the odds Vampire Weekend, the little indie band that could, have transcended niche hipster ipods at Columbia University and have become a nationwide phenomena. If you're looking for a different sound but don't want to get into some of the weirder indie stuff (I'm looking at you Animal Collective) this is a great album to pick up.

Favorite Track: California English

The Quick and Dirty: 33/40 Eccentric sounds, eclectic musical styles and energetic beats have placed Vampire Weekend at the forefront of indie rock. Here's hoping they don't sell out as a result of their recent success.

Next Review: Rebirth - Lil Wayne

Keep Rocking.


  1. Sacajawea, eh?

    I cant really decipher the message... but I think his dad was a risk taker... who made shoes... and lists. maybe.

  2. I haven't gotten this whole album yet but I have heard a few of the tracks and I agree with you that it's all about the percussion. I love it!

    Vampire Weekend's lyrics are bananas. "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" on their self-titled is decidedly silly.

    PS HI KEV! I found your blog.

  3. Hey Mia, I'm glad you found it!

    I think it's a good album to invest in. Some of these albums I listen to intensely and then never want to hear again (I still can't listen to Guero) but I listen to Contra on the regular.