What People Talk About When They Talk About Vampire Weekend’s Contra


Back in January 2008 our friends at Vulture wrote a clever post entitled “What to Expect From the Upcoming Vampire Weekend Backlash.” In it, they predicted that in the wake of the band’s newly-released debut album that the hype would reach a fever pitch — Vampire Weekend would license their songs for “commercials for every product in Apple’s lineup,” feature prominently on a Zach Braff coming-of-age film soundtrack, and indirectly lead to the torching of Graceland by a bunch of former MySpace fans. They also wagered a wacky guess about the band’s sophomore effort:

They release their second album, this time inspired by 1973’s less polished There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, but to no avail. Pitchfork gives it a 1.3, comparing the band to the Strokes. It leaks on the Internet several weeks early, but after widespread blogger antipathy, it, somehow, leaks back off the Internet.

The band is officially releasing their second album, Contra, today, and luckily Vulture’s tongue-in-cheek predictions were way off — it’s 8.6 material. We’ve already told you what we think about it, but what are other critics saying? To generalize, this is Vampire Weekend on steroids.

Mike Powell at Pitchfork:

“Considering the ferocious objections to Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut, ‘Horchata,’ and the rest of Contra, is brave music. It’s like they’ve spent the past two years building a bionic version of the band — not only brighter and tighter, but weirder. The group nurtures its eccentricities and the result is a record full of them: Ezra’s stretchy, dynamic voice; Rostam’s fussy but colorful arrangements, packed with lots of orchestral confetti; and a sound that spans an increasingly multicultural array of genres, from American synth-pop to reggae, ska, calypso and Afro-pop. By comparison, Vampire Weekend sounds monochromatic and restrained.”

Will Dana at Rolling Stone:

“If Vampire Weekend was Rushmore, Contra is their Royal Tenenbaums: brainy, confident and generally awesome. Where much of the first album’s charm was conceptual — Ivy League guys mashing up J.D. Salinger and King Sunny Adé — here the band has put on some muscle. The drums are bigger, the guitars are faster, and the songs are outfitted with synth beats and hip-hop, reggae and electro accents. ‘Diplomat’s Son’ sounds like a cross between classic rock steady and an M.I.A. mixtape; Ezra Koenig Auto-Tunes his voice over dancehall on ‘California English.’ The band even takes a stab at arena rock on the synthy ‘Giving Up the Gun.'”

Mike Conklin at The L Magazine:

“Over the course of the record, what you’ll hear is basically more of what you heard last time… Basically, either they never got around to reading the complaints made about their debut, or they just decided to ignore them… To anyone who signs on for a close listen, there are some subtle but important differences this time around. Musically, things are more complicated. The guitar plays a far less central role than it did previously, giving way to a larger assortment of keyboards and strings that help make their experiments with styles as disparate as baile funk, Afro-pop and calypso sound even richer. They’ve gotten better at their instruments too, and while, yes, I know, ‘dude, they fucking shred’ is not going to win me any arguments, they pull off some impressive technical stuff here.”

In the video below, Ezra Koenig takes you through Contra track-by-track. Let us know what you think of the new album in the comments.