Tag Archives: Contra

Review: Vampire Weekend “Contra”

I think reviewing music has made me pessimistic over the past few years. I find that even my favorite band’s next album is bound to disappoint. Take 2009 for example. I was thinking the Flaming Lips’ Embryonic was going to let me down, as their previous LP, but it rocked and completely restored my faith in them. But on the other hand, my suspicions were confirmed when Peal Jam’s Backspacer sounded like an Eddie Vedder summer mix….which was not a good thing. Now, Vampire Weekend’s sophomore record, Contra, looms before me. To be honest, I was a little less pessimistic about this record than my previous examples. It took me a while to warm up to VW’s self-titled debut, but now a few choice cuts stand out on my summer playlists.

The first thing that is fairly obvious about Contra is that it tries hard to stand apart from the light afro-beat infused sound of it’s predecessor. I mean REALLY hard. It seems like the best way to accomplish this was to bring in the synths. Most of Contra is bubbling with hard synthesized beats and riffs, which is what is going to polarize it’s audience. On one side, you have those who appreciate this new direction. The songs are more beat heavy, but they still manage to capture that brisk, light sound you look for in Vampire Weekend. Ezra Koenig’s voice still bounces up and down the scale triumphantly. And his lyrics are still filled with the double speak and clever comparisons he offered up last time. Songs like “White Sky” and “Horchata” will brighten your day.

But then there is the other side……and it happens to be the side I drifted towards. This is the side that can find the synth to be too much. Maybe it’s the production’s fault, but the beats are too loud. So the clever afro-beat instrumentation I warmed up to the first time gets drowned out. Songs like “Giving Up The Gun” and the Auto-Tuned “California English” just grate against my ears, causing me to turn the volume. Occasionally, the instruments win out (“Taxi Cab,” and the good “Diplomat’s Son”),and the album shines for me. But those moments are few and far between.

I’m not going to dissuade anyone from listening to Contra. It’s simply not a bad album. But, for me anyway, it is also not a great one. After their debut, I was hoping VW’s follow up would sound something like a Fela Kuti demo, sprinkled with a dash of Pavement. But, that’s not what the band seemed to be on board with. Instead, they’ve set out to sail on their own boat, doing a decent job of separating themselves from the rest of the fleet. I’m just not sure I want to keep my boarding pass anymore.

-Chase

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Is Hannah Montana Better Than Indie Rock?

On October 5th, Vampire Weekend (or Vamp Wknd as they will forthwith be known) leaked the first song off their upcoming album, Contra, to the internets.  An album which is apparently being released on Ralph Lauren’s upstart label Yachts What She Thread.

vampireweekend-contra

In July, which totally seems like three years ago in Internet Time, Miley Billy Ray Ray Hannah Montana Cyrus released her hit single “Party in the U.S.A.”; a song to soundtrack her fashion-forward Wal-Mart clothing line.

people-of-wal-mart-3

In “Horchata” and “Party” we have two equally divisive pop songs: one approved for rice milk drinking indie preps and one specially formulated for Dr. Thunder chugging “regular kids”.  Both are completely horrendous and that’s the end of the story. You can go back to playing your Nintendo now.

Well, not exactly.  I recently loaded both songs onto my Sony Walkman and spent an afternoon playing them ad infintium.  Both ditties have ridiculously catchy choruses that all the q-tips  in the world couldn’t scrape from my brain.  They also each have intermittently annoying verses that make me want to search out the nearest guillotine.

Here are the opening lines to Vamp Wknd’s song:

“In December drinking horchata/I’d look psychotic in a balaclava”

Here are the opening lines to Miley’s tune:

“I hopped off the plane at LAX/with a dream and a cardigan”

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take white girls singing about cardigans over white dudes singing about balaclavas any day.  I like cardigans.  It’s a sensible outfit for sensible kids hopping off planes.  And I’ve TOTALLY hopped off of planes at LAX!  I can relate to that!  Drinking horchata while wearing a balaclava might be psychotic, but I’m more concerned about how annoying it sounds to sing about doing so.

Our Literacy Trumps Your Record Sales

Our Literacy Trumps Your Record Sales

Some have claimed that Vamp Wknd are merely a pleasant musical representation of how small our world has become.  These dudes listen to NPR.  They probably own some bitchin’ high life vinyls.  I’m sure they voted for that guy from Kenya.  I’m down with all of that, and I don’t begrudge their Ivy League education.  If I had also gone to Columbia I probably wouldn’t be writing a blog about Hannah Montana right now.  I found their debut album to be pretty nice, but did I suddenly start listening to Vamp Wknd more than Graceland or Hall & Oates?  No.  Maybe if they had mustaches.

My Dad Can Beat Up Paul Simon

My Dad Can Beat Up Paul Simon

I have never watched more than 38 seconds of an episode of “Hannah Montana”, but I’m certainly aware of its existence and cultural importance.   Miley Cyrus is a huge pop culture figure and a young woman whose music I had somehow managed to avoid…even in my occasional trips to Wal-Mart.  But when someone writes a song this catchy, that makes a meta reference to working your hips to Jay-Z, eventually it is going to reach my ears.  Like yeaaahhhh.  And I have to admit that, between these two songs, “Party in the U.S.A.” somehow seemed less annoying than “Horchata” after double-digit listens.  Maybe it’s because I’m lactose intolerant and don’t really care for rice.

You can download “Horchata” here.

I don’t love or hate either of these tunes.  They both exist in the part of my brain that I call “The Muppet Zone”: a place that is repelled and attracted by cute/annoying pop culture.  Sometimes these songs are Kermit and sometimes they are Miss Piggy, but the entire time my mind is being critiqued by Waldorf and Statler.

I come away from my time spent digesting these songs asking myself if catchy indie pop is really any more valid than catchy mass-marketed tween pop.  I guess the only thing that remains certain in the world is that Billy Ray Cyrus WILL sleep with your wife.  That’s a world I can handle.

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Chris Piercy