Published Jan 11, 2010It's easy to rip on Vampire Weekend; their privileged upbringing, cultural appropriation of African music and penchant for deck shoes make them a favourite target in music blog comment sections. But it's difficult to deny that the tunes on their self-titled debut were some of the catchiest indie rock of the past decade. Second time out, VW ditch the easy, breezy feel of their debut for a more full-bodied sound. Meaty and muscular, Contra offers more to love (or hate), finding a comfortable groove that lies somewhere between Sandinista!-era Clash and Merriweather Post Pavilion. Much of that vibe can be credited to multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, who once again produces. Although they never veer far from the core sound of their debut, the added instrumentation helps set apart the album's lesser tracks, a problem that dragged down the first record. Singer Ezra Koenig continues to distinguish himself from his peers as an incredibly original lyricist. Who else could rhyme "horchata" and "bellaclava" and make it sound effortless? Even when he questionably pulls out the AutoTune on "California English," he's able to keep it from distracting from the song. Nothing here packs the visceral punch of "Walcott," but Contra proves that Vampire Weekend are much more than Paul Simon wannabes, firmly establishing them as a group able to think big while remaining true to themselves.
How did you handle the expectations surrounding Contra's writing and recording?
Singer-guitarist Ezra Koenig: We were lucky. We had been gathering up songs, ideas, lyrics, riffs whatever since before we finished the first album. We're so into recording that we were itching to get back to it. We kind of hit the ground running in January. It still took us a very long time to get the album sounding the way we wanted it to, but we didn't have to worry about the pressure because we already knew what we wanted to do.
You've said that you feel this record sounds more like Vampire Weekend than your debut. How so?
Drummer Chris Thomson: When you put out a debut record, the only thing you have to compare it to is everything else. You can be very reductive and come up with your mathematical equations of this plus this equals whatever. But with this record it sounds different in many ways, but it also sounds similar in many ways. It being a second record, you can listen to it as a progression or a companion piece.
Contra sounds like a much more rhythmic record than your last album.
Thomson: A couple people have said that. I think the emphasis on rhythm is not necessarily more focused but technically, the way we recorded the drums and produced the rhythmic sounds are more distinct. Maybe they sound like more of the focus. (XL)