Vampire Weekend Contra Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Complex yet rewarding follow-up from the New York foursome.

Camilla Pia 2010

With their penchant for obscure grammatical references and African pop, Vampire Weekend always offered a little more than your standard indie-rock fare. Their hugely popular 2008 self-titled debut was chock-full of catchy guitar ditties, but while they clearly enjoyed romping through the frothy stuff this super-savvy NYC four were ultimately aiming for something, well, grander.  And with cleverly constructed follow-up Contra, they are well on the way to achieving it.

Now, this beguiling ten-track work is short at just over 30 minutes long, but immediate it is not. Tasters Horchata and Cousins are probably the most hum-able of the lot. Where the album really comes into its own, however, is in the delicate arrangements and luscious production. It’s not so much the melodies that stick in your head, but certain percussive interludes, Ezra Koenig’s vocal gymnastics (tightly woven into the instrumentation) and the skilfully placed sumptuous string trill refrains.

It’s hard to digest at first, but with repeated listens Contra becomes increasingly enjoyable and, in places, quite magical. Musical tricks pop up throughout: the playful climax of White Sky, the romantic Taxi Cab with its Chopin-esque piano, and Giving Up the Gun’s astonishing mix of buzzing guitars, glockenspiel taps, electronics and choral harmonies.

Perhaps the highlights of Contra, however, are closers Diplomat’s Son and I Think Ur a Contra. Both are quiet and slow-paced, but driven by the kind of enviable creativity that now elevates Vampire Weekend well above their peers. There is everything from M.I.A. to classical, folk and reggae influences in there, but the band make the resulting sound completely their own.

Prior to release, frontman Koenig told the music press that Contra is about “retro gaming and Nicaraguan politics,” and it may well be – his poetic lyrics can be hard to decipher. What we do know, however, is that this latest offering ushers in an entirely new age for Vampire Weekend: one of wisdom, grace, subtlety and for the first time a really strong sense of identity. A thoroughly grown-up record, then.

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