Vampire Weekend 9 ( 2008 ) Mansard Roof / Oxford Comma / A-Punk / Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa / M79 / Campus / Bryn / One (Blake's Got A New Face) / I Stand Corrected / Walcott / Kids Don't Stand A Chance
The entire world has contributed to the Vampire Weekend sound. We journey through Africa via England, then across Europe, before popping into the home of Stephen Malkmus for a pot of tea. Suffice to say, I can't think of another band that sounds quite like Vampire Weekend, particularly not an American band from punkish guitar haven, New York. Vampire Weekend are educated guys though and education can destroy your punk-rock roots from the word go. When you have a singer that occasionally, and rather disturbingly, sounds like Sting, what can you do? You hire a string section, go Paul Simon and name check Soweto and Peter Gabriel and do the soukous African sound rather delightfully. You write about grammar and campuses yet manage not to sound like Weezer. Phew. My first thoughts upon listening to the album was Are these guys the American 'British Sea Power? It's a valid comparison but then the Pavement influences come in through the slightly lo-fi sound. To confuse matters, the lyrics are obtuse and intellectual and the guitars range from glorious African sounds to classical themes, supported by string sections as and where appropriate. Quite an intoxicating mix!
The eleven songs present fly past in a nifty thirty-one minutes. This alone is a refreshing aspect of the album. 'Blake's Got A New Face' is a good place to start if you want something 'typical' to represent the sound of the album. Guitar and percussion threaten to be 50s rock n roll. Keyboard sounds threaten to be 80s new wave. The singer goes through his Sting impression, the backing vocals are pure traditional African world music, a touch of Violent Femmes for seasoning, stick in the oven for just ten minutes and out it pops, done. 'Walcott' is an exciting mix of that upside down tortoise shell African drum, plus real drums, plus a two hundred mile an hour pop/rock rush. The closing 'The Kids Don't Stand A Chance' is a lovely little story-telling type tune. Classical strings weave in and out the instrumental sections quite beautifully. I'm getting excited listening to this stuff, how long have we had to wait for a band being able to write actual hummable melodies yet also present a new sound? Vampire Weekend isnít deep and heavy, yet has these intelligent touches, such as the lyrics and the strings. Ah, the music for 'The Kids Don't Stand A Chance' makes me grin, the simple main melody then all the little melodies sparkling around it. Heavenly.
Further highlights? Just the opening tune is enough to indicate something different is going on. A rock band performing with some driving percussion aka Joe Meek, weird sounds abound and Randy Newman / Van Dyke Parks seemingly get involved in the lyrics and vocals. 'M79' is this weird medieval thing, only with funky bass lines and very silly, happy melodies. 'Oxford Comma' is almost normal, yet those glorious African guitar sounds shine through. Finally, 'Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa' really demonstrates those Paul Simon 'Graceland' influences well, right down to the vocal intonations. 'Vampire Weekend' have created such a fun album! True, there are not exactly oodles of song-writing craft here, yet repeat playability is very high indeed all the same. Two words, buy it.
GAZZA E Scotland
I couldn't agree more so far this has been the best album of 2008, although it is only february i am confident this album will make it to my 10 top favorite albums of 2008 by the end of the year
Contra 9 ( 2010 ) Horchata / White Sky / Holiday / California English / Taxi Cab / Run / Cousins / Giving Up the Gun / Diplomatís Son / I Think Ur a Contra
"In December, drinking horchata
I'd look psychotic in a balaclava"
There are to my mind one of three ways you can go with your 2nd LP. You can carry on and evolve what you did the first time around, although with three/four years on average to develop a debut and one/two years to write and develop a sequel, such a plan is often fraught with risk. You could change tack and do something entirely (or at least mostly) different. The issue here is risking alienating both your existing fanbase, and critics, who let's not forget can be fans too. There's also the fact what you ended up sounding like in the first place could just be your 'natural place' - your style, YOUR sound. You could just make an exact replica of your debut, only not as good. Most rock bands seem to choose the latter route these days, not even trying to tweak things slightly AKA The Strokes method above. Carry on and evolve? You've lost the freshness by now though haven't you? You've got to make an album better than your debut in almost every way to maintain that initial momentum new bands routinely lose two/three years into often faltering careers. Vampire Weekend have done something quite difficult then with 'Contra', they've made an album that surprises, that's better played and produced than their self-titled debut if a little more difficult to initially get into. Well, a smart move then to release lead track 'Horchata' as a free download. Even smarter when said song is absolutely superb. 'Horchata' demonstrates an intelligence lyrically and musically, yet remains playful enough to delight eight year old girls as well as jaded thirty-somethings knowingly nodding at some clever aspect or other.
'Horchata' then, it sparkles with trademark world music aspects integrated seamlessly, punches it's way through police-blockades with bells, whistles and a superb arrangement. It's stop-start yet tells a perfect story, start middle and end. It's classy and a complete contrast to one of the other songs 'leaked/released' to preview the album, the rock and/or roll of 'Cousins'. 'Cousins' is two minutes of energetic blast, a ska/punk energy via Africa and New York. Well, the Vampire Weekend of 'Contra' are quite capable of being silly enough to appeal to almost everybody - 'Holiday' may well border on being a little plastic sounding, yet the sheer bouncy fun of it all mixes the album up when it needed to be mixed up. The six minute 'Diplomat's Sun' is Paul Simon crossed with early-eighties Peter Gabriel experimentalism. The tongue twisting 'California English' is just mental, and 'Taxi Cab' is a considered slice of observation, displaying proper songwriting chops.
So, a summary? It's reached the number one position on the Billboard album charts, so probably not too clever for the masses, really. Either that or Vampire Weekend have become a really BIG cult act, aka REM in the eighties. This could be as good as they get but we thought that when they released their debut as well. I find it hard to be too emotionally involved in Vampire Weekend, that remains a block, the lyrics are third-party cleverness but for once we'd like some self-reflecting loneliness. You can tell i'm trying desperately to find flaws in this album, can't you?
Vampires In The City 8 ( 2013 ) Obvious Bicycle / Unbelievers / Step / Diane Young / Don't Lie / Hannah Hunt / Everlasting Arms / Finger Back / Worship You / Ya Hey / Hudson / Young Lion
Following up 'Contra' was never going to be especially easy and some saw that record as the culmination of everything 'Vampire Weekend' had seemingly been trying to achieve. 'Vampires In The City' therefore takes a slight change of direction, mostly in terms of production rather than writing. Well, we have electronics sprinkled in here and there, just touches but enough to differentiate this from the groups more world-music leaning material. Some of the musical changes have also been accomplished by a variety of production trickery, changing the pitch of the drums, for example. Some care has also obviously been paid to the recording process, often resulting in a warm, natural sound across the albums twelve tracks. 'Vampires In The City' essentially has enough differences that the band don't get accused of merely repeating themselves whilst at the same time, enough similiarites to link back to their earlier material. Assuming they enjoy a lengthy career, this will be seen as natural progression, although by all accounts they deliberately rejected certain things they felt they had done before, so actually, a deliberate evolution.
Third track and highlight 'Step' features loud, programmed hip-hop beats combine with a harpsichord and vocals that have air in them, that have emotion in them. The first two tracks are decent but seem mere appetizers for the main course that is 'Step'. Placing a stone-cold classic three tracks in is always a smart move, many of my favourite records do seem to feature a wonder and gem song three. 'Diane Young' contrasts quite superbly being a fuzzy, uptempo brash and brass race through vocal treatments, melody and weird surf-rock punkish guitars here and there. Superb start to the album then before we seemingly pause for reflection during the mid-segment, 'Don't Lie' and 'Hannah Hunt' being either weaker moments or just that, a pause to allow the listener to absorb the material around these songs all the more, album pacing I think us old-folks call it. 'Everlasting Arms' is basically your standard college/indie pop with production and musical choices trying to, in my view, disguise the fact. Where your effects and choice of instruments blended on 'Step', your choices (Vampire Weekend, i'm talking to you!) seem faintly superflous during 'Everlasting Arms', even the string opening and closing segments just appear to be tacked on for no apparent reason.
It's a shame really this album just runs out of steam, the likes of 'Ya Hey' and 'Hudson' being the sound of a band in transition, which I suppose with the beginnings of a new sonic direction, that's exactly where Vampire Weekend are right about now. As such, one of my favourite moments is the closing 'Young Lion', just under two minutes of Piano and lovely harmony vocals. That's a point, these guys need more harmony vocals in my view.