When they released their first emponymously titled album a couple of years ago, Vampire Weekend created quite a buzz. Alongside MGMT they became the kings of the emerging Brooklyn scene, gathering legions of fans with their Ivy League smarts and slighty kooky, twee songs. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing the likes of “A-Punk” coming from somewhere. So with their second album Vampire Weekend said they were going to progress more, and be a little more adult. Have tey actually done that?
The teaser track for “Contra”, and the album’s opener, “Horchata” is, quite frankly, the best song that never made it on to the soundtrack of the Lion King. It’s actually about reminsicing and Mexican hangover cures, but I defy anyone to say that when they hear that choral section that they don’t secretly start singing “Hakuna Matata” in their head. Still, the fact that you can do that with a keyboard and beef up a song so much is pretty amazing – if the Lion King wasn’t there we’d only have Ezra Koenig’s noodlings.
Which of course, isn’t a bad thing. The main focus of all Vampire Weekend’s songs is the lyrics of Koenig, whether he’s name-dropping Peter Gabriel on “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” or making strangely humourous observations. “Horchata” has one of these wild rhymes inserted as the first, urgent line: “In December drinking Horchata/I looked psychotic in a balaclava“. Nice. Funny, weird, but still. Nice. So whether it’s these strange rhymes, his look at the wealthy people of New York on the airy “White Sky”, or even the super-fast-paced ramblings of “California English” (his love-letter to the state), Koenig’s lyrics are always the highlight of any Vampire Weekend song.
Musically, perhaps the band haven’t advanced as much as they would have liked. Most of the front end of the album is weighted with the same twee, slightly reggae-twinged melodies that their debut was – “Holiday” is a perfect example of this. It’s not really until you get to “Cousins”, this album’s “A-Punk”, that things start to get a little more advanced. Not only do they start to speed up the pace but they also add new sounds to their arsenal. “Giving Up The Gun” is probably the best song on the album, tinged with melancholy and with that kind of stop-start quality that makes you prick up your ears. Oh, and for those of you who can’t stand Ezra’s squeaky vocals, they’re significantly toned down here.
“Diplomat’s Son” is interesting in the sense that you would never have thought this band would be into sampling. Koenig’s love of Jay-Z is well known, and here they show that they’re not out of touch with the world by sampling M.I.A. to great effect. For anyone who tinks this is a weird combination, it actually isn’t. The sample is quite subtle, so the song is still dsitinctly Vampire Weekend, but with a little bit of kick. Oh, and it’s the longest song they’ve ever written, clocking in at over 6 minutes.
If you want a new Vampire Weekend then maybe you should only invest in the second half of the album, but if you’re already a fan of the band then this is well worth a buy. Personally, I think “Contra” tries a bit too hard to please two sets of fans, making this an album of halves – but since both halves are just as good as one another, but in totally different ways, I like it.