MUSIC REVIEW: Contra

Sound is undeniably gentle

Contra. Vampire Weekend. July 2010. XL Recordings. Indie rock.

 

Kevin Meagher

 

Despite Vampire Weekend’s preppy aristocratic style, they have succeeded once again in creating a painfully charming second album. The album Contra fully embraces the indie-pop sound and sentiment that they introduced with their debut self titled album.

 

That sound is undeniably gentle and similar to classic rock bands like The Kinks, Simon and Garfunkle, and Donovan.

 

However, what distinguishes Contra from their first album and defines Vampire Weekend’s growing relevance is their ability to translate that classic genre into modern indie rock.

 

The track “Diplomats Son” is a perfect example. It samples the song “Hussel” by M.I.A. while also channeling lead singer Ezra Koenig’s best Paul Simon impression. The result is a mellow rock tune from the 60’s, but with enough of today’s knowledge and tools to be recognized as indie rock.

 

This meshing of rock history with modern techniques is a common theme of the album and a pinpoint of the bands evolving persona.

 

The title of the album itself is suggested to be in reference to the Clash’s 1980 Sandinista! album. For non history majors, the Sandinistas were a group of revolutionaries who seized power in Nicaragua in 1979 and ruled the country until 1990.

 

The Contras were a rebel death squad that opposed the Sandinistas and were supported by the C.I.A. and U.S. military. Hence, the title Contra is most likely a shout out to another one of Vampire Weekend’s influences, The Clash.

 

Although the music of the album has a certain calmness and simultaneous joy about it, the vocals are often times absurdly high pitched, over-exaggerated, hyper-energetic and just plain weird.

 

The song “Run” resembles contemporaries like Animal Collective or the Dirty Projectors with unusual whaling vocals and tribal beats, but where as those bands are defined by weirdness, Vampire Weekend keeps the strange a side note.

 

Vampire Weekend is a pop group before anything else. A pop group soaked in Ivy League intelligence with a seemingly genuine love and respect for the music. This makes their success easy to comprehend.

 

While the band’s courage to experiment and smarty lyrics are likely just enough to interest a more eclectic audience, the accessible pop hooks of Contra are difficult for anyone to refuse.

 

The album’s first single “Cousins” is a perfect example. The chorus of the song reads “Me and my cousins and you and your cousins/It’s a line that’s always running/Me and my cousins and you and your cousins/I can feel it coming”.

 

 Koenig delivers the lyric like a slap-happy-goof-ball even while there is probably some greater contemplation going on, maybe even a keen observation of the human condition? That might be too far, but the point is, he clearly thought about the lyrics whether or not the nutty melody reflects that.

 

If all the tools, talent, and education didn’t interest fans and create enough hype over Contra, the band’s marketing of the album certainly did. In the weeks prior to the release of the album, a number of popular music blogs displayed a head shot of a pretty blonde girl in a yellow polo shirt.

 

Clicking on this picture lead to a site called ithinkuracontra.com which displayed a larger image of that head shot. That picture turned out to be the cover artwork of Contra and within a few weeks of the mysterious girl’s appearance, the image of a clock counting down took her place on the website.

 

The clock was counting down to the release of the album’s first song “Horchata”. Shortly after, the whole album was available for listening on the website. In Milwaukee, WMSE and the Muzzle of Bees music blog celebrated with a listening party at Burnhearts Bar in Bayview earlier this month.

 

Vampire Weekend will be playing in Milwaukee for the second time on August 23rd at the Riverside Theater.  For those who succumb to Vampire Weekend’s charm the show is a must.

 

For the haters, well, they’re efforts may soon become futile as it appears Vampire Weekend just secured its place as an indie rock powerhouse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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