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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Vampire Weekend: "Vampire Weekend"

In today's vastly uninteresting music world, it has become increasingly difficult to find an artist that is truly unique. Too many artists out there sound exactly like some other artist who excels , or has excelled in the same genre. Vampire Weekend is not one of those bands. Though there are several instances where one could say "Ooh that sounds like --insert artist--," it's always a very small detail that never overrides their own unique style of music. To be honest, I've never heard a band that sounds quite like Vampire Weekend. That alone should be enough reason for you, the skeptical reader, to give them an open ear. If, however, you find yourself needing further convincing, keep reading.

The album's first track "Mansard Roof" is one of my personal favorites. Ezra Koenig's smooth vocals really make this song what it is. His infecting melody rides weightlessly over some contrastingly harsher instrumentation (fast, simple drumming, manic, though simple electric guitars, and a prominent organ-synth). There are also some small flute appearances and a delicately played violin that adds some nice depth. It all sounds very Caribbean to me, though the genre that the band is often associated with, "afro-pop," is also a very appropriate assessment. "Oxford Comma" takes similar instrumentation but has a more traditional indie rock sound, particularly in the chorus. Koenig sounds convincingly like Britt Daniels of Spoon when he questions, "Why would you lie 'bout something dumb like that? Why would you lie 'bout anything at all," which isn't a bad thing.

"A-Punk" is perhaps the most appropriate title on Vampire Weekend, as it shamelessly wears its punk influence on its (imaginary) sleeve. When the band shouts, "Ay ay ay ay" over a sprinting bass line and frantic drumming, I had to remind myself that I wasn't listening to The Ramones. Really (not really...but almost). "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" sets aside the punk sound for what is my favorite song on the album, and the one that helped launch the band's career. Here is where the afro-pop label is most appropriate (the term "kwassa kwassa" actually refers to an African dance rhythm). Djimbes and congas take over most of the percussion work here, though shakers and a cymbal are also used periodically. Koenig swoons "As a young girl, Louis Vuitton with your mother on a sandy lawn. As a sophomore with reggaeton and the linens you're sitting on," over a repetitive, yet completely endearing guitar riff. In the wordless bridge, some sweet falsetto harmonies are utilized brilliantly to create a truly African vibe. Very cool sounding.

"Boston" continues where "A-Punk" left off, though this time reminding me for The Mighty Mighty Bosstones for some reason. Don't fear, it's only for the first few seconds. In fact, it eventually winds up being one of the album's more memorable and catchy tracks. "Campus" has a very 60s pop sound to it at times, though it's also somewhat reminiscent of The Strokes. While that may not sound like it could ever possibly fit, it does. It is yet another favorite of mine. "One" returns to the afro-pop sound again, this time with the awesome one-line hook of "Blake's got a new face" sung in a style that I can imagine an African boys choir would be more familiar with. Everything is very tight and perfectly performed, and is one of the album's more unique tunes.

"Bryn" is Vampire Weekend's most disappointing song (maybe its only one). If Coldplay were a lo-fi indie pop band, they would probably sound like this. It' s not bad by any means, just not entirely memorable and you may find yourself skipping it in favor of the next track, "Walcott." In it, Koenig asks, "Don't you want to get out of Cape Cod, out of Cape Cod tonight?" over perfectly composed Cello and Violin lines, while also managing to mix in some syncopating keyboards and the band's now-standard manic guitars. The song's conclusion is particularly surprising as the band "rocks out" for the first time, and while it's definitely not near as pleasant as when they're taking it easy, it is a nice change. The album's closer, "The Kids Don't Stand a Chance" has a very reggae feel to it, and I can imagine one of the Marley's proudly singing it before a sea of people. It is a touching and poignant ending to a remarkable debut album!

The argument could be made that Vampire Weekend does a bit too much dabbling in traditional African music, especially for a bunch of "white boys" from New York. But as a huge fan of what I'm hearing, I can't help but applaud the band for their decision to not only inject the style of music into their own, but to delicately weave it into every second. If anything Vampire Weekend has paid tribute to a style that is too-often overlooked in pop music today by making it their own and blending it with their other numerous influences. The band's self-titled debut is far more than a gimmicky musical diversion, it is a unique, captivating work of art (Pop music as art? Go figure!). I highly recommend it to fans of indie rock, as well as anyone who may stumble upon this review. Like it or hate it, you won't be forgetting it any time soon.

Key Tracks:
1. "Mansard Roof"
2. "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa"
3. "One (Blake's Got A New Face)"
4. "Campus"
5. "The Kids Don't Stand a Chance"

8 out of 10 Stars

NOTE: Apparently, the version of this album that I downloaded was not the real thing. The real thing, which I purchased this afternoon, does not have the track, "Boston" on it. It does have two tracks not mentioned in this review, however. They are called "M79" and "I Stand Corrected." Both are pretty cool tracks, kind of mellow, but very well-composed and performed. Usually I catch these sorts of things. This time I did not. That being said, the rating still stands. This is a great album! (Download "Boston")


kmoe said...

I'll definitely have to check this cd out.

they did a pretty good job covering exit music (for a film) on a radiohead tribute.

I had been meaning to look into them since, hopefully I will get around to it now.

Daniel Nordness said...

While, I agree that Vampire Weekend's sound is fairly original, they sound a lot like the Mighty Might Bosstones meets the Clash.