“Contra” As An Aural Weekend
Finally, Vampire Weekend has graced us new age indie hipsters with another perfect soundtrack for road trips along the Pacific Coast Highway on the way to the cloudy bay area or the white sandy beaches of Mexico. The highly anticipated second album, “Contra,” has loyal fans all but disappointed.
Since 2008, Vampire Weekend’s blend of Afro-pop and New Wave has entranced its rabid fan base to no end. Front man Ezra Koenig told listeners that they wanted to maintain their signature inimitable sound for their second album, “Contra,” and successful they were in capturing the “California sound.”
At first listen, “Contra,” whose name references an 80’s Nintendo video game, the enjoyably quirky spirit can be drowned out by initial confusion and misunderstanding of lyrics. The album starts to come together as a whole after a few listens.
The first single, “Horchata.” is definitely a stand-out favorite in the album. Reminiscing about “in December, drinking Horchata,” with a heavy exotic drumbeats, it’s clear what “Contra” has done with its new synth beats, hip-hop, warped reggae and electro accents.
Of course, it’s not Vampire Weekend without the beautiful string accompaniment, as demonstrated in “Diplomat’s Son,” which also mixes in samples of M.I.A. The song embodies Vampire Weekend’s tendency to muse on the lives of their upper-crust classmates and colleagues, the children of diplomats and politicians.
However, with so many hits there is bound to be a miss. “California English” is more gibberish than actual singing. With unintelligible vocals and inconsistent builds, the end result is less than thrilling.
Vampire Weekend still succeeds in bridging over unique genres and sounds, as portrayed in “Taxi Cab,” which may remind listeners of the track “M79” off of their first album.
Still, “Contra” is definitely a step up in energy and spirit from their previous album. It’s nearly impossible to listen to the synth-pop goodness of “Giving Up the Gun” and fun “White Sky” without having to move along to its up-tempo rhythms.
While Koenig still gives us the messy hair kid vibe, it seems that he’s upgraded to a deeper approach. He gives us some soul in the hauntingly orchestral “I Think Ur a Contra.” Powerful and moving, with layered instruments, he tells a girl who “wanted good schools and friends with pools” that “I just wanted you.” Vampire Weekend’s lyrics still embody the trust fund angst and multicultural identity crises of the Ivy League debutantes that they were surrounded by at Columbia.
Songs like “Run,” “Cousins” and the bonus track, “Giant,” will make you want to do tequila shots in some obscure bar in Mexico; the distant muted trumpets create an addictively catchy atmosphere of excitement.
Controversy struck when the vacant-eyed blonde girl in a preppy pastel polo on the album’s cover created much discussion, to the satisfaction of the band.
“To me, there’s just something infinitely fascinating about a nice portrait of somebody, especially when she’s got this ambiguous look, and people can read a lot into it,” Koenig said in an MTV News interview. “So we were immediately struck by it, and we all had our own interpretations of what her look was, but we just kind of felt like it fit the album and the theme of it. It made sense to me that the first album had an inanimate object on it, and this one has a person’s face on it.”
Embracing their quirkiness with a detailed smartness, brilliant metaphors, and vibrant colors, Vampire Weekend has delivered a strong sophomore album in continuation of their new yet already classic legacy. With enthusiasm and gusto, the band that was labeled “The Best Band of 2009” (only one month into the year) has come back with an even stronger album.
There are many reasons to love these tidy-looking Columbia graduates, one being that they present us with a paradox, or a contradiction. Their fusion of soft melodies with percussive passion creates an infectious blend, leaving us with “a feeling you thought you’d forgotten.”