With their sunny, eponymous debut CD in January 2008, Vampire Weekend became the darlings of the indie crowd. By the end of that year, however, the band's demise seemed secure. People quickly tired of their quirky beats and African-lite influences. Happy music just doesn't have the depth and longevity as its depressing counterpart. The general opinion was that Vampire Weekend would need to transform themselves or die an embarrassing death, a la Sugar Ray.
On Contra, Vampire Weekend decided to do neither. Their fans will thrill to the opening "Horchata," a sort-of pop-calypso full of keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij's plinks and tinkles. It's silly, happy, and bouncy. "Holiday" sounds like the soundtrack for a collage scene in a Jamaican spring break movie.
But there is more to Vampire Weekend than just fun little ditties that rip off African music. Really. Their sound has expanded on Contra. They juxtapose synth-pop with ska and reggae merrily and seamlessly. "Run" begins as something that would sound at home on Paul Simon's groundbreaking Graceland, then morphs into a synth drenched Depeche Mode sound-alike. But it works on some weird level. It's likable and friendly without being insipid. Even the gentle lo-fi simplicity of "Taxi Cab" offers something on repeated listens. It is something their debut CD was not able to do.
"Cousins" appears heavily influenced by the ska sound of Sublime, while "Diplomat's Son" again exhibits the African sweetness that Paul Simon displayed on Graceland (singer Ezra Koenig also sounds a whole lot like Simon), but also samples the hip-hop of M.I.A. So many bands try to cover up their weaknesses by piling influence after influence, style after style, into one song. With Vampire Weekend, the sounds instead feel like they are created out of sheer joy and love of the music. "Giving Up the Gun," their most accessible song the disc, almost sounds boring by comparison.
Those who do not like Vampire Weekend will still be able to say that they are just a bunch of weirdos who survive by ripping off African rhythms, but for those who give it a chance, this CD should last a little longer in the player than the first one.There are a whole lot of ingredients in this stew, and it tastes a little different with each spoonful, but each taste goes down well.
Vampire Weekend plays the Tabernacle April 8.