Cape Cod Awesome Awesome
By now any vestigial feelings of elite membership in the “Have You Heard About This New Band Called Vampire Weekend?”-Club have all but faded. The self-importance of being privy to simply knowing who this band with a curious name was–vanished. Over the span of just a few short months Vampire Weekend seems to be everywhere, from magazine covers to late night talk shows to the restless fingertips of music bloggers. And though early in ’08, their self-titled debut is already a premature favorite for album of the year. What’s next, commercials? Wouldn’t be surprising considering their potential for mass appeal with squeaking clean pop ditties, boyish, prep-school good looks, backgrounds we all love to hate, a penchant for imbuing musical unorthodoxy, and a wordlist straight out of, well, an Ivy League English class. Amazing? Perhaps, but probably not. Worth the hype? Absolutely.Since a copy of their Blue CD-R surfaced last year, it seems as though Vampire Weekend and the term, “African music” have been inextricably linked. This may explain the buzz that surrounded the band early on and comparisons to Paul Simon’s Graceland. But Vampire Weekend, as a whole, is more Bosstones than Kanda Bongo Man. Yes, there is a subtle soukous influence in their music–most notably, of course, the uber-catchy, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”–and their use of varying percussion is a nice break from straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll drumming, but to call Vampire Weekend simply Afro-pop would be a gross misnomer. Armed with a tuneful arsenal of genres and influences, the band create a distinct sound all their own. A healthy mix of Pop, New-Wave, Ska, and, dare I say, Pop-Punk shape Vampire Weekend into a refreshingly fun (not to mention sweet) 34 minute experience.
Vampire Weekend’s ability to mix genres and effectively use different instruments including string arrangements, woodwinds, and keyboards give each track on the album a certain unique flair. “Mansard Roof,” the album’s opener, makes a pronounced statement with keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij’s sudden, three-beat intro followed by an a cappella Ezra Koenig sweetly singing, “I see a mansard roof through the trees.” Five more beats follow as Koenig continues, unaccompanied once again, “I see a salty message written in the eaves”–a set of bowed strings crescendoing in at “message.” A quicker, galloping pace sets in and leads to the song’s conclusion complete with the reckless use of triumphant cymbals clashing like tectonic plates. “A-Punk” shows off Vampire Weekend’s more energetic side with a dance-punk number that makes sure to include enough fist-pumping “Oh-oh-oh’s” and “Hey-hey-hey-hey’s” to please your average high school skateboarder. “Campus” possesses a certain vulnerability and straightforwardness reminiscent of The Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser, a sharp contrast to “One’s” drum rolls and sudden shrieks of “Blake’s got a new face!” And what better way to end an album than with the Police-esque, “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance”–a song complete with a labored drum beat and echoed vocals that would surely make Sting proud.
Vampire Weekend’s sound isn’t the only thing creating the band’s buzz, however. With wry and witty lyrics, the band intrigues with abstract metaphors and pretentious word choice. Already, naysayers are criticizing Vampire Weekend as privileged, Columbia-educated hipster kids selling style rather than substance. True or not, the boys in VW seem to pay no mind. If anything, this perception–with a fashion sense straight out of a Nautica ad–has probably helped the band. Does Vampire Weekend write above the heads of some listeners? Maybe. Do they utilize cultural references that may seem odd coming from individuals with Ivy League pedigree? You bet. Either way, VW know exactly what they are doing and there is a certain novelty to their act (after all, what’s cooler than four white kids in loafers and khaki shorts referencing grammar usage, Indian geographic regions, Lil Jon, and reggaeton all in the same song?).
It is yet to be seen whether or not Vampire Weekend will meet the bar they’ve set on subsequent releases. While they are no doubt the “it” band at the moment, recreating the success of this first album will indeed present a challenge. One of the main reasons why this band works on so many levels is simply the freshness of their sound, music that seems so far apart from what is currently on the table. Who knows, perhaps they’ll add some Salsa or Polka on their next release.