Monday, January 18, 2010

Review of "Contra"

Vampire Weekend

Let’s first talk about the influence on the album. From reggae, to afropop, to even M.I.A.! The album is full of influences from the world of music. Now on to the title, Contra, definitely a sly nod The Clash’s epic Sandinista!, an ambitious triple-album bonanza that covered the bases from reggae to even good ol’ rock ‘n roll. The irony with Contra in retrospect to Sandinista are the references in the music and title. Sandinistas were the communists rebel group in Nicaragua in the 80s. The Contras were their right wing enemies. Whereas Sandinista! was full of political messages sprawled over three records, Contra is 36 minutes and full of safe, uninteresting music.

It’s unfair of me to compare Vampire Weekend to the Clash. Both bands obviously came from different backgrounds, different eras and had/have different aspirations for their music. If anything, Contra is a benign follow-up to their excellent self-title debut from a few years back. Full of life and rich boy cleverness, Vampire Weekend was a wonderful work, despite the overtly hip style of the band. Contra makes them into a rather hateful band, fulfilling that stereotype of them being the WASPY rich boys that they’ve essentially hidden for the most part.

Now not all is lost on Contra. There are some decent songs on the record. The opener “Horchata” is a delightful, tropical pop song, as Ezra Koenig sings about relaxing and sipping on the aforementioned alcoholic beverage, as a bouncy synth line shows us during the song. “Run” is a great too, punctuated by a catchy trumpet line. And of course, “Cousins” is a bright spot on the album, probably the most excitement brought into the album is from this song, full of crunchy riffing and something about something about their cousins or something. There some cool moments in parts on the album, such as the previously mentioned “Cousins” or the M.I.A. sampling “Diplomat’s Son”.

But all in all, the album is relatively bland and uninteresting, not necessarily bad. The songs are good here, good on paper and whatnot, but on this album they come out flat. Imagine if “Oxford Comma” could only get more whiter, that’s essentially what Contra is all about. “California English” is kind of annoying, as is “White Sky”, as it’s the kind of catchy that will invade your head, but not in the good way - note that I said “invade” and not “allowed in”. Not only that, the album runs flat. It doesn’t have a that climatic moment like “Walcott” or “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” on the last album, nor does it vary that much. So the album is essentially the musical equivalent spending the evening sipping on Horchata and doing nothing. Talk about rich boy stereotypes.

But Contra doesn’t mean the band has entered a creative slump, no. Contra is more like a portrait of a band stepping off the gas pedal after hitting youthful highs on their previous work. While the songs can be good in some other form, the band seems to have entered the world of Jimmy Buffest-esque ignorant bliss, and that’s a painfully uncool place to be.

2 1/2 out of 4 stars.

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