Crazy Love, Vol. II
When it comes to musical acts who cashed in a bunch of indie credibility in the 2000s, few had to endure as many demands for rebates as Vampire Weekend. The Columbia University quartet spent a bunch of time and column inches defending their self-titled debut’s peppy, preppy pop and its references to (and some would say rote copying of ) Graceland-era Paul Simon. Hopefully, their new album Contra will settle once and for all any controversy surrounding their musicianship.
Let’s face facts: Simon’s globetrotting (and the Nicaraguan rebels referenced in song here) first hit international consciousness when Vampire Weekend’s members would have been anywhere from in the womb to in nursery school. Sometimes we forget that musicians are allowed to research a starting point for their compositions. If they don’t progress from there, of course they should be nailed to the wall. While Ezra Koenig’s vocal inflections and his and Rostam Batmanglij’s staccato guitars recast neo-Afropop on Vampire Weekend, other approaches come to the fore on Contra.
Batmanglij’s keyboards and Koenig’s hiccuping falsetto on “White Sky” are curious new elements, even as the song manages to continue aping Simon and his “Crazy Love, Vol. II.” “Taxi Cab” is a meditation full of muted keys and drum samples with an orchestral bridge. And from the timing of its release on through its reverberating arrangement, first single “Horchata” has much in common with Animal Collective’s “My Girls.”
Straightforward rock is back-burnered here, but outside of the mailed-in “Holiday,” it’s usually reinterpreted with significant skill. “Giving up the Gun” is a strangely entertaining attempt at a bass/glockenspiel arena anthem, while “Cousins” finds their guitars running faster than ever. The most pleasant surprise here is Chris Tomson, as the up-front production on his drums gives him a snappy prominence reminiscent of the buzzsaw rhythms of Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm.
Their debut merged world beat with the fun jaggedness of pop and punk, but Contra is an electro-groove album with occasional forays into full-on chamber pop. Credit Vampire Weekend for first latching onto concepts that worked, and credit them further for tweaking and expanding them here.