Contra - Vampire Weekend
In 2008, a band of clean cut Columbia University students came into prominence with a highly acclaimed self-titled debut. Calling themselves Vampire Weekend, the preppy ensemble took some elegantly clean indie rock, and then spiced it up a bit with a broad palette of ska and afro pop allusions, creating what they called “upper west side Soweto.” But just like Paul Simon, the last epically “white” artist to mine African influences, controversy and backlash soon followed the initial tidal wave of praise.
Two years later, Contra finds the group expanding their influences, borrowing elements from reggaeton, hip hop and world music as needed. Band member Rostam Batmanglij retains his role as producer, bringing with him the ingredients of his electro-hop side project Discovery. Stripping away the peppy string arrangements that highlighted their debut, this time around the boys adorn their songs with a mix of bubbly keyboards, drum machines and assorted bells and whistles. But what starts as a welcome sign of progression, unfortunately ends up cluttering the record.
Vampire Weekend’s signature aesthetic, a questionably ironic embrace of Ivy League prep culture, returns in full effect on Contra. Those turned off by overly literate lyrics and semi-pretentious affectations will not be won over, but those who enjoyed the first album’s buoyant, snappy songwriting will be pleased to discover more of the same.
While less accessible than their debut, Contra’s fussier, idiosyncratic sound is a strong statement that stands firmly against the group’s naysayers. Though Vampire Weekend may lack humility, there is no denying their talent for creating a catchy, cross-cultural tune.