It’s a cliche that often holds true – a stunning debut album foretells a slight letdown for a band’s next release. Well, don’t expect a letdown from this sophomore known as Contra. All of a sudden, Vampire Weekend’s short career seems incredibly promising, because Contra is equally as engaging and addictive as their first album. Thankfully, it is also very, very different. The band have not allowed their ubiquitous debut to influence their new musical path, and those who grew tired of the band’s overexposure would do well to give this album a dedicated listen.
Their peppy, preppy pop sound is still intact but they haven’t limited themselves to re-hashing the same formula of gently African-influenced indie rock. Instead, they’ve opened up the whole of their audio toy box, creating gems like “White Sky,” which simultaneously channels Paul Simon and Hot Chip. “Taxi Cab” takes the listener on a melancholy ride through mesmerizing piano figures, elegant melodic interludes, and sparse electronica. Perhaps the most ambitious track, “Run,” embraces the ears with lush, limitless sounds, from synthesized horns to pinging Postal Service-style electropop and dominant drumming reminiscent of u2’s Larry Mullen Jr.
“Holiday” is perhaps most reminiscent of their trademark sound, a straightforward creation with inconsequential lyrics and bouncy rock rhythms. “California English” also bears the unmistakable pulse of Africa-meets-NYC listeners have come to love, but this time there’s a string section and increased electronic manipulation. The exhausting “Cousins” puts the entire band’s abilities to the test, as manic, cascading guitars dart around a frantic beat and unflappable bass work.
For most of this album’s audience, gripes will be minimal. The general uselessness of the lyrics can be irritating despite the appeal of Ezra Koenig’s mellow vocals, and “Giving Up the Gun” doesn’t fit in as well as the rest of the album. Also, the final track, “I Think Ur A Contra,” isn’t going to garner many repeat plays. Still, Contra is just about all we could hope for from Vampire Weekend. Under intense critical scrutiny and palpable fan pressure, they have delivered a mature, forward-looking, and wholly exciting release.
Rating: 8.1 out of 10