Album: Vampire Weekend, Contra (XL recordings)
A feast of Soweto shimmer and tropicalia translucence
Sunday 10 January 2010
The question of sincerity has always loomed medium-large over Vampire Weekend. Their shtick – preppy Manhattanites drawing inspiration from African music – always carried with it the uneasy feeling that we were all the victim of some massive jolly in-joke.
At its weakest (read: most novelty-ish) moments, their debut album sounded like the Strokes if they'd grown up listening to Graceland rather than Marquee Moon. At its strongest, however, it had an ersatz Soweto shimmer which was second hand, not third.
Some of that duality has carried over on to Contra (named, by the way, for a 1980s videogame rather than the US-backed Nicaraguan militia, although the nod to the Clash's Sandinista is surely deliberate). "White Sky", for one, could be a straight out-take from Paul Simon's album, unmoderated by any indie filter. The story, second time around, is that they've incorporated Latin American influences, thereby shifting, if one wishes to be facetiously cruel, from Um Bongo advert to Lilt advert.
The tropicalia kicks off immediately. "Horchata", the opening track and the teaser released online late last year, is named after a rice-based Mexican hangover-recovery drink and is a piece of agreeably benign calypso. "Holiday", meanwhile, is clearly informed by vintage ska.
Contra peaks, however, when they fuse the organic with the synthetic on the high-speed autotune madness of "California English". The beatless, impressionistic "I Think UR a Contra" (a Clash lyric, incidentally) is an intriguing glimpse of what Vampire Weekend can achieve when they drop the hyperactivity, zoom out and fade to soft focus. "Diplomat's Son" may or may not be another reference to Joe Strummer, or a self-aware acknowledgement of their own social class.
Indeed, Vampire Weekend are honest enough to set their lyrics in a milieu of aristocrats, private schools and snowboarding slopes. (On the other hand, they also mention "playing guitar in seedy clubs where the skinheads used to fight". That's what "social mobility" means nowadays.)
On balance, Contra is exuberant enough to make you forget most of your qualms about sincerity, and simply enjoy it.
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Frank Lampard's face drops when Holly Willoughby introduces him as a 'Man City legend'
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 The Visit: Trailer for M Night Shyamalan's latest horror film is terrifying
- 5 9/11: Iranian General accuses US of organising September 11 terror attacks
Fast & Furious 7 overtakes Frozen to become 5th highest grossing movie of all time
Poldark, series 1 finale, review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
The Visit: Trailer for M Night Shyamalan's latest horror film is terrifying
Apprentice series 11: Claude Littner to replace Nick Hewer as Lord Sugar's aide
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 3, review: Sansa and manhood-lopping torturer Ramsay Bolton - really?
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia
HSBC review into moving headquarters from UK 'underway'