Vampire Weekend | Contra
Most Likely To: reinforce the zealotry of the fans while fueling the righteous indignation of the haters.
It takes Vampire Weekend’s vocalist Ezra Koenig no more than four seconds to remind listeners of his penchant for lyrical admixture, as he sings “In December, drinking horchata / I’d look psychotic in a balaclava” on “Horchata,” the first track from the band’s second full-length, Contra. Koenig is more likely to be caught drinking a Budweiser while wearing a ski mask than he is to give up his love of two-dollar word play. So head’s up, if you rankled when he spilled kefir on your keffiyah, don’t expect the second time to charm you.
On Contra the New York City-based foursome creates a record that not only embraces globalization, but also seems to have swallowed the musical world whole before regurgitating carefully chosen selections for their own purposes. Oh, the times, they are a changin’. When Paul Simon made Graceland he was making a “world music” record – the album was a genre piece that grew out of an un-labeled cassette tape kicking around Simon’s car that required him to play with actual African musicians.
But when Vampire Weekend’s ungodly talented keyboardist/guitarist Rostam Batmanglij whips out similar licks on “Cousins” he’s just cherry picking from a seemingly endless toolbox that includes Classical European strings (“Taxi Cab”), as well as ska (“Holiday”). And why shouldn’t he? Information now flies around the globe with such speed and grace that what was once exotic now becomes almost pedestrian. But rather than be amazed, Vampire Weekend shrugs off their musical cross-pollination saying, “We’re all cousins, right?”
Even the album’s title, Contra, brings to mind the US-backed Nicaraguan rebel forces of the late 1970s, but it seems to be more about a person who is actually just a contrarian for wanting “good schools and friends with pools.” But that’s what Vampire Weekend does – they take elements that were once relegated to some far away dusty corner of the world, and plop them into a pop song, just like Whole Foods selling New Zealand kiwi to consumers on demand, regardless of season.
Despite having mixed all these disparate styles together on Contra, Vampire Weekend’s music remains astonishingly local. The album’s geographic center is indisputably “the middle of Manhattan” (“White Sky”). These boys are as comfortable writing about the Khyber Pass as a New York City subway tunnel, which may be why their music either resonates with native New Yorkers or gets under their skin something fierce.
In the future, there will be no more blonde or red-haired babies, we will all have skin the color of toast, and maybe all bands will sound like Vampire Weekend. In the future maybe Vampire Weekend will buy the world a coke. Cheers!
Listen to “Horchata” from Vampire Weekend: