12 January 2010

Vampire Weekend: “Contra”

Vampire Weekend, hailing from New York, combines, amongst things, an indie rock sound with elements of African popular music. As a result, it is hard to really put a finger on a label for them, which is a good thing, though worldbeat has been thrown around. For those that have not had the pleasure of listening to the amazing rhythm and overall sound of African music, this will be a great experience. “Contra” (12 January 2010 in the USA, though available on iTunes with bonus tracks since 8 January 2010) is the band’s sophomore effort. The band is composed of Chris Baio bass guitar and backing vocals, Rostam Batmanglij keyboards, guitar, and backing vocals, Ezra Koenig on lead vocals and guitar, and Chris Tomson drums and percussion. But the band is greater than its member; together what is on offer is strong music, with an international flair, and amazing craftsmanship.

The band’s second album does not disappoint in the slightest bit. In fact, you would have to be insane to even consider this to be a sophomore slump. The melodic instruments are complimented by the soft soothing voice of Koenig and mystifying backing vocals that give the album a unique feel. The album is filled with an array of instruments that mesh together in a melodic storm. The first track of the album is “Horchata” and from the very beginning, the song is very upbeat and the lyrics are ambiguous, allowing the listener to make his/her own conclusion. Every song has its own unique rhythm and overall sound, except for Koenig’s voice. Add this to my favorite sounds on the album, which come in short bursts, that give a Caribbean feel that make you feel like you’re just another person on a beach somewhere or in a Caribbean paradise with no worries.

The album manages to smoothly transition from track to track, making time fly as you listen to the mesh of sounds that work so well. It’s amazing. Nothing in the album feels rushed and the songs are able to calm any listener and just put the mind in a state of calm bliss. As the songs are not emotionally draining, they are a thrill to listen to repeatedly. Although the overall tone changes from song to song, there is this sense of intensity that each song exudes, demanding attention. There are straightforward tracks like “Holiday” about simply wanting a holiday, but as you listen to carefully to each song and the guitar and rhythm of the drums, it feels like you are on an actual holiday. Yet, the album isn’t all about simple lyrics that are meant only to numb your mind. One of the songs I find myself listening to on repeat is “Giving Up the Gun,” which is slower then what I would consider a party song such as “California English.” “Giving Up the Gun” has a very strong presence and lyrics that will cause much thought and provocation not because of its complexity, but simply because of the actual topic the lyrics are discussing. While I believe that there is one song that will capture the attention of the listener from child to adult, this specific song was the one that hit me the hardest. With a quiet intensity the backing repeats as the singer begins to reflect on someone’s life. My favorite lines in the song are “When I was seventeen I had wrists like steel and I felt complete, now my body fades behind the brass charades and I’m obsolete.”

While I have had some experiences with some albums that try to take advantage of youthful situations, the songs in the album seem very honest and pure. For example, the song “Run” does not wallow in talking about love and internal bliss, but rather what is narrated is that he is willing to run with the person. The sound of his bliss when saying running and emphasizing “you” makes it more personal and touching. Then there’s the song “Cousins,” which is the albums lead single. This song is simply a hectic energetic ball of musical bliss. The fast paced guitar and drums topped by Koenig’s overly-excited voice gets the listener pumped without even knowing what is being said half of the time because of the overall speed of the lyrics.

I would love to discuss each song but I feel as though I should leave some surprises. And believe me, they are worth it. After your first listen, you will be arguing with yourself just what song is your favorite. The album has a great allure that makes it difficult to skip any track. It is overall a great album and sets a high standard for what is going to be released this year. The songs will not disappoint, as your emotions will be running wild, as one moment you’re dancing, and the next you’re slipping into a tranquil state of mind. Great voice, great arrangements, great experience, a great album – “Contra” is not an album you should miss!

Track Listing:
1. Horchata
2. White Sky
3. Holiday
4. California English
5. Taxi Cab
6. Run
7. Cousins
8. Giving Up the Gun
9. Dipolmat’s Son
10. I Think Ur a Contra
11. Giant – iTunes bonus track
12. California English, Part 2 – iTunes bonus track

Keep up with Vampire Weekend at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

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