Monday, January 11, 2010
Vampire Weekend: Contra
Hey you. Yeah you. I can see you rolling eyes from here. I don't like Vampire Weekend either, but hear me out. Contra is the story of two Ezra Koenigs. There's the hyperliterate, borderline pretentious Ezra, the one who writes songs like Cousins, singing nonsensical verses with a shrill, scat-like delivery. This Ezra is insufferable and I want to choke him with his Polo sweater. Then there's the tender Ezra, with an uncanny ear for melody and able to write lyrics specific enough to visualize but vague enough to be accessible. Contra is a battle between these two Ezras (sometimes within the same song: see Horchata, White Sky), with the latter being victorious. Thank God.
Short of Cousins and a few moments on Horchata and Holiday, Ezra reigns in his kookiness here, and the album is all the better for it. He cedes ground to Rostam Batmanglij's warm arrangements, giving the songs room to breathe and develop, while still retaining the snappy drums and taut guitar riffs when necessary. If you had told me that Vampire Weekend would write a song longer than 6 minutes I would have laughed in your face, but sure enough, the fantastic Diplomat's Son is 6:01. The influences of Vampire Weekend are varied, but the starkest influence here comes in the form of the Batmanglij's dripping synths and twinkly keyboard parts. After hearing Rostam's fantastic side-project Discovery (#18 on my Top 25), I'm pleased to see a healthy dose of it here and it fits beautifully.
Forgive me for saying so, but the parallels between Contra and Radiohead's In Rainbows are many. From the terrible throwaway scat tracks (Cousins vs. Faust Arp) to the eerie, remorseful, chill-inducing closer (I Think UR A Contra vs. Videotape), both albums share a warmth that the bands had rarely displayed prior. With Contra Vampire Weekend has realized what Radiohead did with OK Computer. Ezra even acknowledges as much on 'I Think Ur A Contra' warning us to 'Never pick sides/Never choose between two'. Yes Ezra, you can have a soft side and still rock. Just ask Prince.