Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., Feb. 5, 2010
Vampire WeekendContra (XL)
Vampire Weekend's eponymous 2008 debut proved a rare pop triumph, succeeding in its creation of an entire aesthetic – Ivy League Afro-pop. The New York quartet works its way out of that corner on its meticulous sculpted sophomore LP, Contra, branching out with tangents into kinetic ska-punk ("Holiday," "Cousins") and hyper dancehall music (the magnificent "Giving Up the Gun" and Auto-Tuned "California English"). Produced once more by keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij, the album succeeds largely through the melding of his electronic-pop side project Discovery with his more classically minded string arrangements, as evinced by the delicate "Taxi Cab" and festive, horn-accented "Run." While there are still remnants of Paul Simon's Graceland, found mainly in singer/guitarist Ezra Koenig's effortlessness with melody and vocal phrasing (the lilting "White Sky"), there's much more at work here. "Diplomat's Son" appropriates M.I.A., and the colorful calypso "Horchata" marries throbbing beats with oil-rig percussion, kalimba, and eloquently sweeping string arrangements, recalling Koenig's cameo on the Very Best's Warm Heart of Africa. Closer "I Think UR a Contra," a confessional ballad cast over a haunting backdrop of lucid guitars and other ethereal ornamentation, displays a moment of rare vulnerability, ultimately proving that Vampire Weekend is capable of cutting through pretense and trivial pursuits.