Vampire Weekend – Contra

It’s merely a week until this album’s release, and already I can hear the backlash flowing in. With expectations somewhere in Alpha Centuri, this album couldn’t be anymore hyped. In a position like this, you can do one of two things: either build upon your established genre cred you earned on your first album or go onto experiment and break the mold. So what route do Vampire Weekend take?

To say the second would sell the change a bit too easily; instead of an evolution of the Guitar pop mold forged upon their debut, they instead invest much more into the oddball combination of Afropop and Dreampop present on tracks such as “M79”. This is not a very big problem, despite all of the blinking eyes. After all, bands such as Radiohead seem to redefine themselves on every release. However, unlike them, Vampire Weekend don’t fare too well on the whole transformation; whether it’s the absence of their more traditional guitar-based pop songs or their lack of any general sense of immediacy, the songs on Contra more often than not fall flat.

Disappointing as it may be, this is by no means a bad album; it’s a decent rendition of Animal Collective by way of M83. However, decent is all it is. It’s rarely if ever inventive, and when new ideas do spring up, such as vocal outbursts and falsettos, they often fall on their face. Behind the more obvious moments of Afrobeat worship, there are some genuinely impressive pop songs, such as “White Sky”, however for every one of these, we have a “Horcheta”, which is “M79”-redux, but without the melodic goodness. The album, apart from lacking any real ruffage as far as songs go, also suffers from being particularly scatterbrain, with many songs failing to evolve or explore in any satisfying way, yet still generally overstaying their welcome.

All of this takes away from what could have been a terrific album, but with problems such as these, it’s hard to salvage the effort, despite some of the better moments. “Holiday” is a typical Vampire Weekend song, featuring the same familiar keyboard of “Oxford Comma” and other debut hits, however it sounds more like a Vampire Weekend B-side rather than a truly worthwhile song. “California English” is one big misstep, with an attempt at vocal manipulation, but at best it comes across as unnecessary and at worst annoying. “Taxi Cab” offers a slow, ambient ballad that actually works quite well and fades into “Run”, which also is surprisingly lively.

“Cousins”, by far the best song on the album, is also the oddest in terms of placement. It sounds like an obvious single in terms of where it is on the album at track number 8, and after songs like “Run” and “White Sky” sounds downright out of place. This doesn’t stop it from being possibly the best song they’ve released, but it’s place on this album is ponderous to say the least. The last three songs on the album are largely forgettable, especially after the livewire that is “Cousins”, with nothing particularly interesting happening on any of them.

That’s the story of the entire album; niggling, but noticeable flaws that tear what could have been an interesting departure into a disappointingly average album with small moments of greatness peppered in. Classics like “White Sky” and “Cousins” are surrounded by odd decisions and superfluous experimentations, and when these experimentations work, they don’t develop into much of anything other than an interesting little aside. Call it a typical sophomore slump that is simply exacerbated by the expectations, but even without the large hype surrounding it, the album simply lacks two things that are the hallmarks of truly great albums: inspiration and drive. The album has neither, and suffers for it, becoming simply average for a band that is heading in the wrong direction fast.

Score: C-

by Trevor “Change only works when it’s done well” Johnson

1 Comment

  1. New Joanna Newsom Album Confirmed « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] excited people. Be very excited. Hopefully it won’t be a disappointment like Contra was… Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Ys (2006) – Joanna […]

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