CD review: Vampire Weekend's 'Contra'
If you haven't heard of Vampire Weekend, Brooklyn's very own indie, "afropoppers," there's still time. In fact, now is the perfect time. With "Contra," Vampire Weekend's second release on XL recordings, you will get a taste of the sound they perfected in their self-titled first release, blended with new bleeps, bloops and even some autotune.
The record opens with "Horchata" a vocally driven track where already you can hear both the similarities and striking differences from their first release. Singer Ezra Koenig develops a crafty vocal melody, while various marimba sounds and the bands unconventional use of rhythm supports him. This use of natural instruments in junction with electro instruments is a constant throughout the song and the record. This juxtaposition of sounds somehow comes together to form as one.
As the record progresses, it beautifully obtains its own identity. This is strongly supported with "California English." Vampire Weekend, once praised for their simplistic, natural sounding indie creations, has now turned to autotune.
In "California English" Koenig's vocals are fast, slapped back and, as previously mentioned, autotuned. However, this is not a T-Pain or Kanye West autotune. The way Vampire Weekend uses this tool is with subtlety and modesty - not hindering it, but rather adding to the overall feel of the song.
From the halfway point of the record, we start to hear the electronic influence become more and more prevalent in the songs. This is more than likely the craftwork of keyboardist/instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, whose side project, Discovery, features an array of arpeggiated keyboards and sequences along with hip-hop/R&B rhythms. A toned-down version of Batmanglij's Discovery style can be heard in "Contra" tracks, "Giving Up the Gun" and "Diplomats Son." Along with lyrical imagery of young aristocratic life, and the backing of a string quartet, these clearly become Vampire Weekend songs and two of the strongest tracks on the record.
The final track, "I Think UR A Contra," does an excellent job to wind you down from the crowded, and at first listen difficult songs that came before it. An air-like synth pad brings you through other various instrumentation as Koenig again offers a signature vocal performance. The song acts as a conclusion to the sound the band developed, and fittingly ends with the sounds of shakers and hand drums.
"Contra" is a brave record. Vampire Weekend could have easily created a carbon copy of their first release, but they didn't. They challenged their musicianship and creativity and what came out was a fantastic collection of songs that came together as one work. This record proves that they are no fluke and not just a part of the pop cultural "vampire craze." Instead, they are a group of young musicians who intend on pushing themselves and music as they see it.