Vampire Weekend – Contra

vampire-weekend-contra

Rating: ★★ · · ·

Everyone began salivating when news of a new Vampire Weekend hit the streets, but as the leaks of the singles came, people began to feel a bit uneasy as we neared the release of Contra.  Sadly, the feelings of unease have not been quelled, as this record, despite wanting to be great, is nothing more than a mediocre rendition of the last.

Opening with “Horchata” seems logical, as you take one of the catchier numbers (and yes, it IS one of the catchiest) from the album, and put it up front.  It makes complete sense, but it sets up the rest of the album for a bit of a lackluster performance.  You get a lot of the same tinkering in this song too with non-traditional percussive elements–a sign that this album isn’t progressing too far.

So you find yourself sort of immersed emotionally in this album, and you hit upon “Holiday.” It replicates some of the energy that we discovered with “A-Punk,” yet not enough that one could really call it a standout track, like you could with the aformentioned “A-Punk.”  Ezra’s voice at this point does seem really solid–in case you’re looking for positives.

Then you breeze through the rest of the album, fast-forwarding til you hit the slow-mover that is “Taxi Cab.”  It’s really difficult to move beyond the banality that is this song; it’s the most bland piece of music I’ve come across in the last few months.  It sounds like they wanted to create a touch of Enlightenment piano work atop their summery pop.  But, a few repeat listens of this song will open your eyes to the strongest moments on the album, this song leading into that moment.

And you finally arrive at the one-two punch that is “Run” and “Cousins.”  Okay, so the beat on “Run” sounds too familiar to early Vampire Weekend efforts, but Ezra’s voice sounds much more influential at this point, coming off as one of his stronger vocal performances on the record. The brother song, “Cousins” is probably most reminiscent of the high-octane fun that you found in “A-Punk.”  It’s hard to get beyond the yelping, but if you can put that aside, you’ll find Contra‘s strongest moments yet.  It’s catchy, and yet not too stylistically repetitive.

But, as the album winds out, everything is lost.  You’ll find some beats that will surely propel the band to SPIN glory, but you won’t really find too many other moments in the remaining songs that you’ll want to put on over and over again.  “Diplomat’s Son” finds Ezra trying his best to sing a nice little Hawaiian ballad a la Iz, but it’s not enough to sustain listeners.  Seriously bro, stop singing, and get to rocking. That all leads to the band’s misstep on the record.

Listening to Contra repeated times is sure to wear listeners down.  The redundancy in the sonic appeal gradually fades as you go from song to song, and what once seemed interesting, just isn’t.  Listeners, despite their best intentions, will surely come to the realization that whilst they wanted the best for Vampire Weekend, their needs just weren’t fulfilled.  You’ll be left wondering why you spent your money on a record that you can easily forget the moment its over.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/01-Horchata-1.mp3]

Download: Vampire Weekend – Horchata [MP3]

17 comments

  • Who wrote this review?

  • I listened to the album three times on NPR’s stream — I agree that it’s not exceptionally memorable, but I found it more enjoyable with subsequent listens. I actually think Horchata is one of the weaker tracks, but that’s just me. Good review.

  • Yea, I think the diversity in the sound from the first album (though it wasn’t diverse in the overall realm of music, but it was in the indiesphere) just isn’t apparent on this album. I struggled to find substance in the last few songs, and I read other people’s reviews to try and see if I was looking at it wrong. Still, the album has had very little effect on me emotionally, and I don’t know how often, if ever, I will listen to it. That being said, there are a few bright moments, just few and far between for me.

  • Yeah, the last few tracks really do lose whatever momentum the album had.

  • what are you saying?!

    “I think Ur a Contra” and “Giving up the gun” are probably the best tracks, but The rest are sort of throw away..

  • No lying Danielle, but I might have to admit that the whole thing sort of seems throwaway. It was moderately enjoyable for a few listens, but it’s faded, and the end of the record left me (just one man’s opinion) with much to be desired.

  • Plus you will lose all of your hipster cred if you buy this album.

  • It’s less about hipster cred and more about being bored with their music. I don’t think I’ll listen to this again, regardless of Pitchfork (hipster approved) giving them an 8.6.

  • must say that i disagree with the assessment and comments here. sure, the album is in the same style as the previous offering, but i think there are several subtle steps forward in terms of complexity and layering of the arrangements and instrumentation.

    besides, there are plenty of bands that stick with their style in subsequent albums (fleet foxes comes to mind), and we love them for it. i also think that there is more variation between the tracks than you’ve giving them credit for. take california english, for instance, which uses percussion in a way that is almost melodic and incorporates autotune in a very understated and artistic fashion.

    personally, i can’t stop listening to “run.” the last chord of that horn riff just gets me. and if cousins doesn’t get you tapping your foot, you’re trying to keep your foot from tapping. those drums are nuts. just sayin.

    a bunch of ivy league kids don’t have a great story to sell. but i think that they’ve produced very solid music and lyrics that are self-aware, authentic, and even earnest. it’s not a five-star album. but it’s more than two.

    that being said, respect your opinion and think your review generally is solid. listen to contra a few more times. i think it might grow on you.

  • I’m just happy someone finally called them out on their mediocrity. There’s been far too much Vampire Weekend ass-kissing lately. Thanks, Nathan!

  • Two stars is bullshit. Just because little girls and their moms are starting to listen to Vampire Weekend and post, “OMG VAMPIRE WEEKEND’S NEW CD IS SO AWSUM! I LOVE HORrRrRCHATa!!” as their Facebook statuses, doesn’t mean that you’re cool for disagreeing.

    This album is enjoyable, more so than any of the viral pop albums that spread their catchy anemia to retail stores regularly. Contra may not be deep enough to swim in for long, but it’s still a unique, good time.

  • What’s funny is that I reviewed this album before they had the #1 record, and to be honest, I wasn’t super thrilled with their first record. I think they are a band that passing music fans enjoy; you know, the casual listener. Real fans will see right through this as one of the most boring albums of the year. Kids don’t need to listen to this stuff; I would hate for my future children to get into indie rock by way of Vampire Weekend.

  • okay. it’s fine for you to think that this album is not good. it’s fine for there to be differences of opinion. but to attack those that like this album for being non-“real” music fans is just plain preposterous. that’s fundamentally not awesome; don’t be like that. there are plenty of respected critics that gave this album high marks.

    and come on man, let’s be honest about the fact that you knew that the indie hype machine was already hyperventilating over this album when you wrote your review. i’m not saying that you crushed this album just to be contrarian, but it sure seems like you’re a little defensive about it. just sayin.

  • I see your point here Willy McGee (or Travis), but I’m necessarily attacking people. I’m merely insinuating that there is a large portion of people who have the inclination to purchase albums based upon hype alone. Example one, my 8th Grade students who traditionally listen to Taylor Swift have Vampire Weekend shirts now. It’s just how it goes.

    I’m cool with seeming defensive though, as I stand by the fact that this album is simply worthless. I agree that everyone has a right to enjoy it, but it is beyond me that this band is receiving the praise that they are getting. Ther is nothing exciting about this album, and it really comes off as a rendition of the first one, which wasn’t that great in the first place. For me, there has to be something to grab hold of me as a listener and pull me into the music, and VW has never really done that.

    I appreciate your comment, however, and I’m glad you took the time to write one that seemed well thought out, though I will say that while I play my part in the indie hype machine, I’d like to think I do my part to bring it back down to Earth for those who are casual listening fans without using verbose language and obscure references in their reviews. Just saying.

  • I’ll jump in here and say this:
    Agreeing with Nathan, this record sounds a whole helluva lot like the last one. I mean, besides the small addition of auto-tune, not much is different. At all.

    That being said, how many of you still go back and listen to that first Vampire Weekend record? I don’t. I’ll admit that I enjoyed that record a lot when it first came out but it had no staying power with me whatsoever. None. I probably haven’t listened to that record in a year.

    So I’ll propose that in 6 months time you check back in with this record and see if you really still like it as much as you do now. I probably like it a bit more than Nathan here, but this thing will be played out next month. I’m already tired of it.

    I equate this band most closely to The Killers. Put out 2 decent records and then blow up…. and then a year or two down the road, no one cares about you.

  • nathan, respect your opinion, and we’ll just have to agree to disagree. and sorry for calling you defensive; that was a little low.

    rayray, agree that it sounds a lot like the last one, but i’ll stand by my comment that it’s a step forward. re: staying power, i still slam the first album from time to time, and i hope you’re wrong about contra. i’m definitely not tired of it yet (listening to it prompted me to come back here). as for six months, we’ll just have to see, i guess.

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