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Album Review: Vampire Weekend ‘Contra’

Time to alienate people.

Vampire Weekend’s second album, ‘Contra’, isn’t due to be released until next week, but thanks to Myspace a top-secret source, I’ve already been able to have a good listen to the album in its entirety.

I liked their first album, but certainly didn’t see it as anything that special: it was a record full of undeniably catchy and fun songs, but nothing much more. The first song released from Contra, Horchata, annoyed me a bit to be honest. The second song released, and first single, Cousins, offered much more promise, with a more dense sound and a frantic pace.

These two songs are in fact good indicators of what the rest of the album contains. ‘Contra’ is a mixture of classic Vampire Weekend catchy pop tunes, such as Horchata and White Sky, one of my favourite songs off the album, as well as songs where they try to do that little bit more, such as Cousins and California English, which features an impossibly distorted and panicked sound and even a strings section.

Despite these signs of something a bit more than hooks, however, ‘Contra’ is essentially an album very much in the trend of Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut album. This is catchy music, but there’s not much depth to it. It’s very Vampire Weekend, which for many people I’m sure will come as a relief. I guess sometimes we can forget that it’s not easy to write catchy pop songs that don’t just sound like recycled material.

This is ironic however, because for everything Vampire Weekend’s sound is, it is not effortless. Lyrics like: “Interest in girls as I discovered myself/If your odd-life was greater you’ll be toasting my health/If an interest in culture should be lining the walls/When your birth right is interest you could just accrue it all” (Cousins) just seem to scream “LOOK AT US, WE ARE COOL AND INDIE AND SMART, WE EVEN USE ‘ACCRUE’ IN A SONG!”.

Indeed, what separates Vampire Weekend from many indie pop acts that I love, such as Harlem Shakes, is that they write their songs with no sense of humour, and no ability whatsoever to be able to laugh at themselves. Theirs is deathly serious lighthearted pop music. It is the equivalent of a school student taking the table tennis tournament seriously while everyone else is just there to muck around and have some fun. They may be dam good at it, but they are still kind of lame.

This being said however, I don’t hate the album. It’s certainly not dull. Run is a cool song and is not quite as forced as some of the others, as is I Think Ur A Contra, however there is of course the fact that the band should be shot for using ‘Ur’ in a song title. There are glimpses of something more than catchy pop songs on ‘Contra’, but maybe true Vampire Weekend fans don’t really want that anyway.

The album is above average, don’t get me wrong, but above average doesn’t do enough to stop me thinking that they are over-rated, when they have been billed as the ‘next big thing’ in indie for so very long.

If you already like Vampire Weekend, then you will like ‘Contra’. If you are indifferent towards the band, you will be indifferent towards the record. And if you hate them… well, you get the idea. It’s not an album designed to change anyone’s opinion of the band, and it’s not a record aimed at music critics. And for that in itself, perhaps we should be grateful.

We should always be able to appreciate catchy pop music, but we should also always be able to recognise it for what it is, and nothing more.

Album Rated: 6.5/10

Listen To: Run, Cousins, White SkyCalifornia English

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