Pitchfork: 8.6 Rolling Stone: 4/5 Metacritic: 80 Spin: 4/5
Released: January 2010
Giving Up The Gun
I Think Ur A Contra
Vampire Weekend is back with their sophomore release, Contra. By now I think everybody has heard of these “afro-pop”-playing Columbia University grads, for better or for worse. Understandably, there are many that are either sick of hearing about Vampire Weekend, or are just not buying into them. As for Contra, it’s pretty simple. If you liked their debut, you’ll like this. If you think Vampire Weekend are spoiled and talentless, and don’t deserve the praise they’ve been given, well then, I’m not sure why you’re even reading this.
I was a fan of Vampire Weekend’s debut, although I, like others, grew rather weary of it after awhile. But I had to hand it to them, even if they were borrowing from other genres and artists, this didn’t exactly sound like anything else out today, and it was pretty good. Although I would’ve bet that their next record would be a huge letdown compared to the first, after several listens I’ve gotta say that Contra is equal to, if not better than the self-titled debut. The only problem is, now that we’ve heard Vampire Weekend, we’re not getting the feeling of hearing something different or brand new, and I think this will eventually hurt them.
Contra opens with “Horchata”, and the lines “In December drinking Horchata/ I’d look psychotic in a Balaclava/ Winter’s cold is too much to handle”. My first thoughts were, “Oh this song sounds perfect for the city winter I’m currently in the middle of”, and “What the hell is Horchata, or a Balaclava”. Thankfully wikipedia helped me decipher Ezra Koenig’s complicated lyrics, but I was not surprised by them, as these type of terms have become typical of Vampire Weekend. “Horchata” builds to a climax of strings and tribal-like drumming, reminiscent of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown”. The Kanye/Vampire Weekend comparisons don’t stop there, but this may be a good thing.
Auto-tune. I fucking hate auto-tune. As if I didn’t hate most of popular hip hop already, rappers decide to sing over auto-tune, and even ruin what could be decent R&B singers’ voices with this “technology”. Well, Vampire Weekend decide it would be a good idea to make an entire song with auto-tune, “California English”, and you know what, it’s actually not that bad. I wouldn’t call it one of the best songs on the album, but it isn’t the worst either.
“Cousins” picks up where “A-Punk” left off as the upbeat surf-rock song of Contra. This would be a sure-fire highlight if it wasn’t for the annoyingly idiotic chorus, “Me and my cousins and you and your cousins/ It’s a line thats always running/ Me and my cousins and you and your cousins/ I can feel it coming”. “Cousins” is preceded by “Run”, one of my favorite tracks. Heavy on the synths, which turns out to be maybe the only theme of Contra that differs greatly from the self-titled, “Run” builds up to a strong chorus, and what may even be called a synth jam, which I would compare to some of Beirut’s recent work as Realpeople.
Contra finishes strong with “Giving Up the Gun”, “Diplomat’s Son”, and “I Think Ur a Contra”. The first of the three-song-run, “Giving Up the Gun”, actually sounds unlike Vampire Weekend’s previous work, and works perfectly in this slot. The self-titled’s closer, “The Kid’s Don’t Stand a Chance” ended up being one of the best from that album. “Diplomat’s Son” and “I think Ur a Contra” don’t quite match it, but they come close, and were definitely solid choices to close Contra.
Vampire Weekend seems to attract much critical acclaim, while also accumulating a large amount of hate. I would put myself in the middle. They may not deserve the heaps of praise they’ve gotten from the Pitchforks and Rollingstones of the world, but they certainly don’t deserve all of the shit they’ve taken either. If you are one of those haters, at least look past their physical appearance and scholarly history and give the music a chance on its own.