Contra

19 Mar

Contra

I almost started this review gushing about how awesome the internet is. That is so, so, so lame, but, still, it’s impossible to avoid the fact that the internet has changed a hell of a lot in a hell of a short time. Even if you think back to just five years ago, you’ll see just how much this is true. Facebook didn’t exist then; people still had to actually talk to their friends to keep up with them! YouTube didn’t exist, either; that new Lady Gaga video would take just a bit longer than eight hours to make a full circle around the world. It’s especially hard to ignore all of this when you’re talking about Vampire Weekend. In that strange, far-away time five years ago, nobody would have ever thought that a band like Vampire Weekend could exist. These days, though, anything is possible.

Vampire Weekend, four graduates from Columbia, formed in 2006. In 2007, they recorded a collection of demos (aptly named the “Blue CD-R”). Thanks to a wonderful thing called “blogs,” they immediately started to gain wide recognition for their peppy, afrobeat-inspired, insanely catchy songs. In November of that year, they toured with The Shins in Britain. After that, they did a cover shoot for Spin magazine. Then, in January of 2008, they released their first album. It was a huge success (you might recognize the first single from the album).

Perhaps no other band in history has had that sort of success. Afterwards, people were left to wonder: what next for Vampire Weekend? What would they make to follow up such a well-received album? Could they avoid the so-called “sophomore slump?” Every act who breaks out with a debut faces this sort of pressure; one could imagine that the pressure for Vampire Weekend was near unbearable. There always seems to be one of three endings to this story: the band, for some reason or another, stops making music; they fulfill the cliché by making a disappointment; or they pleasantly surprise everyone by making an album that actually delivers. Contra, Vampire Weekend’s second album, is quite the happy ending.

With this album, Vampire Weekend have truly expanded their sound. Not only have they made it crisper and cleaner, but they’ve given it a sharp edge, adding even peppier rhythms and skittish electronic samples, as well as just a touch of guitar distortion (gasp!). They’ve also given a needed improvement to their lyrics. Some of the lyrics from the debut were quite clever, but it was often hard to tell whether the band was being absurd or deadly, appallingly serious (one such example: “English breakfast tastes like Darjeeling/but she’s too cute to even ask”). With this album, they’ve struck a comforting balance; Praise be to God that words like “Darjeeling” are never used, and the absurdity (namely: “California English”) is hard to miss. In fact, every aspect of this album seems to be a step up compared to the debut.

But the best part: with these welcome changes, Vampire Weekend haven’t just improved their music; they’ve managed to sound just as fresh and exciting as they did two years ago on that CD-R. That could very well end up being the crowning achievement of the year.

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Next, Spring Break arrives to great rejoicing, and I will finish and review Middlesex. I promise.

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