Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 10:30 a.m.
There are a few basic reasons why fans will gravitate toward Vampire Weekend's slightly evolved sophomore release, Contra (out today in the U.S. on XL Recordings). Besides retaining their white-knuckle grip on Afro-pop imitations and sugar-coated existentialism, they're still as bouncy and fun as ever.
Often criticisized by those who view their prep school sweetness and GRE vocabularies with disdain, Contra happily (and smartly) takes their established sound up a notch. The songs are tied in knots of intricate construction, though the big picture of what they create is a lot more powerful than the tracks found on Vampire Weekend's self-titled debut.
From the mysterious front cover art--this girl doesn't exactly look like a left-wing militant from Nicaragua--to the opening lines of clypso-inspired operer, "Horchata," the New York four-piece led by fragile-voiced front man Ezra Koenig delight in their display of cross-cultural references. The frazzled, Auto-Tune-tinged track "California English" that pours on the silver spoon-inspired imagery and then closes with a mash up of film references:
"Someone took a trip before you came to ski in the Alps / Your father moved across the country just to sunburn his scalp / Contra Costa, Contra Mundam, contradict what I say / Livin' like the French connection but we'll die in L.A."
Though most of the album trades in the thumps, plunks and pops that help construct VW's delicate pop mosaic, track's like "Holiday" and "Cousins" offer a more organic, toe-tapping experience bolstered by stabs of distortion-free guitar tones and driving beats. It's inevitable that the chorus of "Cousins" will become an anthem for the band come festival season: "Me and my cousins and you and your cousins, it's a line that's always runnin'. Me any my cousins and you and your cousins, I can feel it comin'."
The album ends with two of it's best tracks, a dance-y sliver of 8-bit rock steady titled "Diplomat's Son," featuring a recognizable sample of M.I.A.'s "Hussel" ladled over some snappy island snare. Though the last track, "I Think Ur a Contra," features swelling orchestral arrangements and weathered vocals, making it the most genuine and straightforward track in a sea of complicated genre bending. It's a much needed sigh of romantic relief that you can feel right down to the lovesick last lines: "Never pick sides / Never choose between two / But I just wanted you / I just wanted you."