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Contra is worthwhile, but takes time

January 12, 2010

Vampire Weekend
January 12, 2010

Rating: 8.2/10

Vampire Weekend isn’t ground-breaking. Let’s just get that out of the way now. Their music is everything they think their music should be; it is an authentic representation of who these Ivy League-educated New Yorkers are.

These are smart men with widespread interests, and they express that in their music. Multi-instrumentalist and producer Rotsam Batmanlij noted diverse influences for this album ranging from Bollywood to Buddy Holly.

Each song seems to offer a different geographical background, but manages to not feel foreign at any point. The band has taken their vast interests and created an idiosyncratic version of indie rock that they can call their own, though they may not be the only ones making such music.

The worldly sound they created on Vampire Weekend makes some of the songs on Contra identifiable, yet still enjoyable.  For example, “Cousins” rocks just like “A-Punk,” and “Taxi Cab,” though more of a ballad, has the same lilting drift as “M79.”

The similarities between these songs don’t take away from their pleasantness. In fact, with its insane bass line and all-out-rock speed, “Cousins” may be my favorite song on the album.

The depth that marks this album makes some of the songs a bit difficult at first. For instance, the staccato, auto-tuned “California English” packs a lot into two and a half minutes and can sound awkward upon first listen. The song is ultimately rewarding, but its complicated nature can detract from the quality of the album as a whole.

On the contrary, the cool Caribbean vibe of “Run” and exuberant ska cheeriness of “Holiday” make them instantly enjoyable. The diversity of genres combined with samples from M.I.A. and Toots and the Maytals make “Diplomat’s Son” a six-minute trip through a wonderful musical landscape.

Though each song seems to come from a different background, there is one overarching influence that lends an aesthetic quality to each song. The sunny, breezy openness to each song perfectly recalls the “California sound” throughout the album.

That is not to say that this is a Beach Boys album, but it is certainly lighter than their first album, and a bit more cheery.

The whole album wraps up with “I Think UR A Contra,” tying the album title to the music. The concept is parallel with The Clash’s three-part epic “Sandinista.”

Their portrayal of the Nicaraguan right-wing radicals is interesting, but at times is lost in the music. It’s hard for me to call it a universal theme because it doesn’t run the length of the album.

Contra initially left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, because it was just different enough that I didn’t know how to feel about it as a whole. Subsequent listens turned my aversion around and I began to really enjoy this album.

In “Giving Up The Gun,” where the vocal harmonies and pulsating rhythms had sounded boy-bandesque, I began to hear a different aspect of their music, and really gained a new appreciation for the song.

Although I came around on the album it is not without its flaws. Perhaps a victim of slick production, the band does at times sound too polished. But to their credit, they never sound hackneyed and Contra is certainly a worthwhile album.

Originally posted in The Daily Vidette.

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