CD review: Vampire Weekend, Contra

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From the engaging and oddly Wilco-reminiscent opener "Horchata" through the wistful stains of "I Think UR A Contra," all the pieces that seemed so jumbled and superficial on Vampire Weekend find their right places and depths on Contra, a rich and eclectic album that's as easy to listen to as it is sonically interesting. The scope is wider here, letting the tunes that need it spread beyond the confines of pop structure and status to become, in many cases, bite-sized mini-epics. The electro bent keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij displayed so awkwardly with side project Discovery is incorporated more thoroughly and seamlessly into VW's organic effervescence. While the Paul Simon cops still abound, most notably in "White Sky" and the over-AutoTuned "California English," they no longer dominate the soundscape. No one element does, really, beyond a sense of playfulness that has replaced the band's former self-referential professors-on-holiday vibe and makes even singer Ezra Koenig's most pretentious/meaningless lines more palatable. And while Contra is musically miles more compelling that its predecessor, it's that change in aural personality, more than anything, that makes this CD such a satisfying listen.


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Vampire Weekend's eponymous first full-length was a self-consciously clever mishmash of Afro-pop beats and melodies, American songcraft and naive, collegiate pseudo-intellectual dabbling that somehow avoided the novelty status it deserved, instead, achieving fleeting indie-scene godhead/SNL performance-worthy status. It sounded a little like globetrotting quasi-literates updating the early K Records catalog, and a lot like a smug attempt to do little more than make a pop album incorporating Paul Simon as an influence just because nobody else was doing it.

Contra sounds a lot like that, too. Only better; much, much better.

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