Contra, the second release from Vampire Weekend, shows no signs of an adolescent growth spurt. This is essentially the debut album redone, with slightly less returns. The polite poly-rhythms are still very much in abundance. Lightly lilted singing skates along the surface of the bouncing melodies. The volume never gets too loud (not even Cousins, the most revved up song in the lot, really lets loose) and emotions barely rise to the surface. Contra doesn’t seem so much like music for the backpack kids, as music for their parents. This is music NPR would be pleased to play and your grandmother would tolerate pleasantly. But when you produce such and effervescent and joyous debut (successful and with much blog love) what band (other than Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah) would be so Contra as to blow up the formula?
Formula you ask? Yes, I say. Power Pop, indie style. That’s Vampire Weekend. Verse, chorus, verse with the occasional bridge. Oh, they can dress it up in a bunch of secondhand sounds and repeated rhythms, South Africa via bowie, byrne and simon (the musical holy trinity of cultural pilfering) substituting the world for 3 guitar chords, but when you get down to it, it’s power pop.
And in that vein, there’s plenty to enjoy on this disc. If I was guessing, I’d bet someone could easily put 6 to 7 songs from this disc on their Ipod. Horchata is finally growing on me, after leaving me cold through the first listens. White Sky and Holiday are standard fare for the band, but their propulsive beats and catchy melodies more than make up for the “been there, done that” feel. The auto-tuning gone berserk wink of California English is worth a smile or two. Taxi Cab is very nice stylistic change halfway through the album, witha nice melody, a little more feeling in the lyrics and burbling synth and piano lines driving the song along.
The second half lags a bit. I love Cousins and wish the album took off from that point, but Run doesn’t really. Giving Up the Gun has an interesting beginning and chorus, but could use a little tightening up (one two many bridges to cross and I’m not really looking for extended musical interludes from VW). I could do without Diplomat’s Son. It goes on for too long and doesn’t even get started by the time it ends, but I’ll give them a nod just for stretching it out a bit. For me though, the highlight of the album is the closer, I Think UR a Contra. It’s a gem of a melody, slowed down, stripped down and ornamented with off kilter instrumentation. Personal and emotional, it smartly stakes out the spaces within the transitory political and social posturing of privilege against the hopes and desires of a relationship. Play and replay. And become very curious about the next album, after the fame and fortune and backlash have subsided.