Vampire Weekend up to their old tricks, but still play around on Contra

Since their eponymous debut, Vampire Weekend has garnered a great fan following, filled spots at a number of festivals, released a side project (Rostam Batmanglij and Wes Miles’s, of Ra Ra Riot, electronic project Discovery), and spent the last few months building up anticipation for their sophomore release, Contra. Releasing cover art and track lists, and having a giant timer countdown to the release of the song “Horchata” on their website, these are only some of the clever tricks they pulled on the fans who were anxiously awaiting the new albums January release date. Well now we finally get to hear the music behind the strange stare of the 1970’s stock photo woman who graces the cover of Contra.
At first listen, it may seem that Vampire Weekend is doing more of the same. There is still the afro-pop inspired feel that made their debut so interesting, the tremolo guitar riffs, moments full of harpsichord and orchestral arrangement (note: “Taxi Cab”), and lyrics that stem from the band’s preppy east-coast background. But Contra shows a definite change in many aspects of the group’s sound. To begin with, there is a much more of an electronic feel to this album; myriad synthesizers and electronic drumbeats are plentiful throughout its ten tracks, and a sample of M.I.A. is used in “Diplomat’s Son.” Lead singer Ezra Koenig is even caught using auto-tune on “California English.” Rostam Batmanglij stated that the album’s goal was to “use vocals as a texture, as an instrument.” This is definitely displayed through the non-lyrical high-pitched vocals that make up much of the chorus of “White Sky”. And as much as the album has a similar feel to Vampire Weekend, there is still something that feels different between these songs and their first release. Songs like “Taxi Cab” and “I Think Ur A Contra”, show a much more understated production method and instrumentation that make for songs that show off the band’s ever-evolving style.
The bottom line, however, is that this is still a pop album from one of the best pop bands around. Pop songs are what Vampire Weekend knows best, and the group has found a way to evolve their sound into something new, without losing what made their first album such a success. Even with all of the new additions on Contra, these songs are still just catchy, upbeat, pop songs that will keep fans listening for a long time to come.
In the mean time, check out the single “Cousins” being performed on David Letterman (1/5/10) here.

Key Tracks: “White Sky”, “Taxi Cab”, “Giving Up The Gun”
WPGU Music Staff Rating: W-P-G

W = Poor
W-P = OK
W-P-G = Good
W-P-G-U = Great!

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