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What I’m listening to this week: Vampire Weekend

July 3, 2009

Vampire Weekend – 2008

I always have mixed feelings when I listen to Vampire Weekend, and listening to it this week was no exception.  The album is a very intentional blend of indie and Afro pop music which the band refers to as “Upper West Side Soweto”, a way of describing yourself that borders on pretension, while they clearly owe quite a bit of credit to Paul Simon.  And, when I said in my review of Amadou and Mariam that their music is the type other bands crib from…well, Vampire Weekend is pretty much a perfect example of that.  Those facts combined with the many literary and upper-crust pop culture references found in the lyrics make it easy to see why some people would be turned off by Vampire Weekend.  The mixed feelings part of all of this? The band manages to make this album about pure escapism, so it’s also just as easy to listen to it and find yourself whistling along absentmindedly and it’s impossible to dislike an album that makes you do that.

The first two tracks are definitely amongst the best on the album.  Mega-popular hipster song “Mansard Roof” has a catchy and unique drum signature and playful strings prominent throughout.  “Oxford Comma” pairs obligatory play-for-street-cred “F” words and references to Lil’ Jon with grammatical terms that only someone who goes to an Ivy League private school would work into a song…and even so, the variegated rhythms and instrumentation and cute vocal hiccups are enough to balance that out obnoxiousness.  Along with those two, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” is easily the most appealing track on the album.  The band name drops Louis Vuitton, Peter Gabriel, and the United Colors of Benneton, but the Afro guitar line and drumming, plus the high energy chorus make “Cape Cod” really enjoyable.

“A-Punk”, as implied by the title, dabbles lightly in skanking and tries the band’s hand at boisterous “ay ay ays”.  “M79” starts out with a cool classically inspired harpsichord intro (is it just me or does it sound a lot like Van Morrison’s “Everyone”?) with lively strings to match, and “Walcott” continues down the same path of these songs with it’s driving, road-worthy beat and lyrics.  “I Stand Corrected” and “The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance” are similar in that the chorus is the main appeal.  Both songs are fun, but they’re lesser in quality compared to “Cape Cod”, “Mansard Roof”, and “Oxford Comma”.

“Campus” is a song that is love-hate for me.  It’s entirely preppy college-boy, nearly to a fault, but also contains an admittedly good hook.  “One (Blake’s Got A New Face)” is my least favorite track.  It’s the point for me where all the things I don’t necessarily like about the band come together…the reference to English breakfast and Darjeeling tea, Ezra Koenig’s voice becomes exceedingly boyish, the fact that it’s completely nonsensical and ends with these lyrics: “Oh your collegiate grief has left you dowdy in sweatshirts/Absolute horror!”.  Obscure metaphorical guesses as to what that is supposed to mean contradict the band’s straightforward approach everywhere else on the album and in short, it’s a little too silly, especially taken in context with all the other references on Vampire Weekend.

All of that being said, I would still recommend this album.  As is perfectly clear, I have mixed feelings about it, but I absolutely appreciate what the band tried to achieve (and in fact, did achieve in many places).  It’s a great summer album, so there’s no time like the present to get acquainted with Vampire Weekend.

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