Vampire Weekend: Contra

I spent a whole lot of time last weekend defending Vampire Weekend’s debut album to my friends, so I was really hoping that their new album would be something special. I just finished listening to their second album, Contra, with mixed-to-disappointed feelings.
I had heard that this album was California influenced, and I really liked their stylish mixture of African rock ideas and American punk pop. I was interested to hear new musical ideas incorporated into their sound. Instead, it sounds to me like they’ve retrenched that musical diversity into more Graceland imitation. I started laughing when “White Sky” began to play because it sounded like a Paul Simon outtake.
I think there are some real energy problems with this album. Part of the reason Vampire Weekend was such a good album is that all of the tracks had tremendous internal, propulsive energy that sounded –to me– punk-ish. That’s why the sound felt new. Contra dials down that energy a bunch. “Cousins” was released as the first single; likely because it’s one of the few songs with the energy of the last album (unfortunately it’s a weak song). This has consequences. It changes the style of the band. What sounded like reinterpretation of African polyrhythm now sounds like flaccid imitation. It also changes my perception of the lyrics: while they may be not significantly different than those on VW, they sound significantly more twee. On the first album, you felt that the precious lyrics were delivered as much with a snarl as a smile.
It’s not all bad. The only songs that make me want to skip them are “Horchata” and “Cousins.” “Taxi Cab” is a beautiful, downtempo, reflective song that would have been a standout if it was the only one of its kind on the album.
I’m not willing to go so far as to believe that Vampire Weekend was a happy accident, but I would like to see them branch out into different material, or explore more complexities if they’ve decided to stick with the same idiom.

2 responses to “Vampire Weekend: Contra”

  1. I find it interesting that you include Horchata as one of the songs you want to skip as, to me, Horchata is the most similar song to the their debut album, which you say you liked.
    Additionally, I do not understand the semantics of what defines a single but wasn’t Horchata the first song to be released from the album?
    I continue to dislike California English, Cousins and Holiday and continue to like Run and Diplomat’s Son, however, the rest of the album has grown on me significantly. I most likely attribute this liking to simple familiarity due to repetitive play in my car, but perhaps it is also due to my only now hearing the inherent quality of the other songs.

  2. Horchata was leaked first off the album, while Cousins was the first official single released, and the first music video (according to Wikipedia).
    I don’t know why Horchata annoys me, but that’s beside the point. I was hoping for something new from them. Perhaps ironically, I think that the first album was such a complete work that I want them to move on to something different. They showed themselves as extremely talented at taking a non-American idiom (African rock*) and mixing it with the current music atmosphere. I was hoping to hear them explore other idioms, not just namecheck California things in their saccharine lyrics.
    *For all that that phrase means nothing.

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