New Vampire Weekend album fails to impress

Contra
Vampire Weekend
Release date: Jan. 12, 2010
XL Recordings

Vampire Weekend emerged from the wilds of Columbia University a few years ago with music that blended an Africa-derived sense of rhythm and a distinctly white collar and Ivy League sense of presence.

Contra breaks little new ground. To say that it is no different or better than the band’s acclaimed self-titled 2008 debut wouldn’t be entirely true; all the same elements are present here.

From the first song, the listener knows what to expect and there are few surprises. The keyboards spread plunking notes through the sonic landscape as the drums beat forcefully away, never subtle and ever-present.

The heavy and varied percussion along with the chanting that seems to inhabit the background of each song make the overall sound almost tribal, more so than the previous album.

When vocalist Ezra Koenig coos “winter’s cold is too much to handle,” the impression is that a more southerly climate than New York is desired.

Throughout songs like “White Sky” and “California English”, the heavy drums and bass seem almost distorted. Thankfully, the ornate strings that take over sometimes provide something more interesting.

The album excels with the single “Cousins”, a song that approaches the standout “A-Punk” from their debut effort in terms of sheer nervous energy. This is the winning formula of frantic guitars and drums, incoherent vocals and short running time where the band really creates fun and interesting music.

What makes the album never really spectacular is that it’s not tremendously catchy; it tries hard but sometimes isn’t intriguing enough to hold one’s attention, or prompt the head-bobbing, finger-tapping response it sets out to elicit.

That being said, it’s a good album in terms of how its sound harkens to the sunnier areas of the planet.

It’s just plain happy, and despite its lack of really variety or innovation, that fact alone makes it worth listening to.

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