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There’s been plenty of pre-release hype, viral and otherwise. You’ve known the tracklist and backstory for a while. And after hearing “Horchata,” “California English” (in two parts), “Cousins,” and the old-timer “White Sky,” you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking Vampire Weekend are giving you more of the same on their California-inspired second album. That’s true in some regards. They’re clearly confident in their aesthetically preppy lyrical themes (Note: A Richard Serra reference in “White Sky” also ties them to Sunn O))), though VW were first, for what its worth). It’s also true these 10 new tracks aren’t always as immediately catchy as what they offered on their self-titled debut and/or the CD-R that came before it. Once you start really taking the tracks apart, they start opening up in the hook department and it becomes clear they’ve gone deeper with the production, and emotion. They’ve also taken a couple late-album chances via songs that sound less band-like and more like bedroom recordings (think Beirut vs Realpeople, for instance).

It would have been interesting if Ezra had worked some of his knowledge/love of punk and hardcore (a la his first Fucked Up moment) into the mix. The song notes provided by the band/label as background mention “Holiday” was inspired by “third wave-ska bands like Operation Ivy” (and VW’s own “exploration of new guitar tones and rhythms”), but you won’t mistake Koenig for Jesse Michaels or Tim Armstrong even if he says, lyrically, he’s referencing a family member who gave up meat after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The ideas behind the collection are ambitious. In those same notes, Rostam Batmanglij explains “one of the goals for this record was to use vocals as a texture, as an instrument.” You get that. There are more textures in general: echoing beats, mellow keyboards, cello — and that’s all just in “Taxi Cab.” Rostam’s growth as a producer pairs with an emotional maturity in the lyrics; on songs like “Taxi” and “I Think UR A Contra,” Vampire Weekend are not trying to break your heart, but they are working with what’s in there. Ezra’s still singing about what he knows — what he knows are the scenes and schemes of the somewhat upper-crust — and now those scenes come with more of a melodramatic subtext (“You wanted good schools and friends with pools” he tells someone that’s leaving in “Contra”) and painterly detail (“In the shadow of your first attack / I was questioning and looking back / You said baby we don’t speak of that / like a real aristocrat” he recalls more sentimentally than he cares to admit in “Taxi Cab”). As far as inspiration/starting points/points of departure, they (and/or their label) mention Bollywood and Buddy Holly (“Horchata”), Lil Wayne’s syllabic density (“California English”), Joe Strummer (as inspiration for the lyrical content of “Taxi Cab”), Miami Sound Machine (the rock ’n’ reggaeton of “Run”), Kate Bush (“I Think Ur A Contra”), etc. “Diplomat’s Son” samples M.I.A.’s “Hussel” and brings the Toots and the Maytals’ “Pressure Drop” into the mix. In-the-room guests include Nat Baldwin playing upright bass on “Taxi Cab” and Mauro Refosco does marimbas, rebolo, zabumba.

About that auto-tune in “California English”? Ezra tells the haters, no, “it doesn’t sound like T-Pain … there’s plenty of amazing music from around the world using AutoTune besides American pop.” True, though sometimes the backdrops sound a bit Disney taking on Africa via “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” In that realm, VW continue finding ways to turn a number of non-American inspirations into very American pop music. Which is maybe what’s so satisfying about the weirder compositional details you find in the six-minute stringed and progged and kitchen-sinked “Diplomat’s Son” and closer “I Think UR A Contra,” a somberly romantic ballad and first VW song with acoustic guitar, we’re told.

In the end, Contra’s a satisfying listen. It’s not mind-blowing. Neither was the first album. It’s not what they do. But hey, it’s not as easy as it looks making consistently charming songs, songs that will cut across critical and popular boundaries and likely earn the band even more fans in 2010.

Contra is out 1/12 via XL. You can stream it now at MySpace. This one travels:

This remix of “Cousins” by Toy Selectah brings out some of the song’s newer textures.


(Via Pinglewood)

You’ll also spot the new details live:

01/12 – Los Angeles, CA – Henry Fonda Theater
01/17 – New York, NY @ United Palace Theater
01/18 – New York, NY @ Webster Hall
01/19 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
02/05 – Bexhill, UK @ De La Warr
02/07 – Cambridge, UK @ Corn Exchange
02/08 – Manchester, UK @ Manchester Apollo
02/09 – Leeds, UK @ O2 Academy
02/10 – Birmingham, UK @ O2 Academy
02/12 – Newcastle, UK @ O2 Academy
02/13 – Glasgow, UK @ Barrowlands
02/14 – Edinburgh, UK @ Picture House
02/16 – London, UK @ O2 Academy
02/17 – London, UK @ O2 Academy
02/19 – Berlin, DE @ Astra
02/20 – Cologne, DE @ Gloria
02/21 – Hamburg, DE @ Uebel
02/22 – Brussels, BE @ AB
02/24 – Amsterdam, NL @ Paradiso
02/25 – Paris, FR @ Olympia
02/26 – Tolouse, FR @ Le Bikini
02/27 – Barcelona, ES @ Penelope
02/28 – Madrid, ES @ Teatro Circo Price
03/14 – Edmonton, AB @ Edmonton Event Centre
03/15 – Calgary, AB @ MacEwan Hall
03/16 – Missoula, MT @ Wilma Theatre
03/18 – Salt Lake City, UT @ In The Venue
03/19 – Denvero, CO @ Ogden Theatre
03/20 – Aspen, CO @ Spring Jam Core Party
03/22 – Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
03/23 – Milwaukee, WI @ Riverside Theatre
03/25 – Chicago, IL @ Riviera Theatre
03/27 – Knoxville, TN @ Tennessee Theatre
03/29 – Columbus, OH @ Lifestyle Communities Pavilion
03/30 – Toronto, ON @ Sound Academy
04/01 – Boston, MA @ Orpheum Theatre
04/02 – Philadelphia, PA @ Electric Factory
04/03 – Washington, DC @ Dar Constitution Hall
04/05 – Nashville, TN @ Ryman Auditorium
04/06 – Asheville, NC @ Orange Peel
04/08 – Atlanta, GA @ The Tabernacle
04/09 – New Orleans, LA @ House of Blues
04/10 – Austin, TX @ Stubb’s
04/11 – Dallas, TX @ House of Blues
04/13 – Tempe, AZ @ Marquee Theatre
04/14 – Pomona, CA @ Fox Theater
04/19 – Oakland, CA @ Oakland Theater

Comments (56)
  1. Listened to the whole album last night. I can’t wait to grab the record on Jan 12th. Along with Owen’s! Good times are coming!

  2. meh…pass

  3. Andrew  |   Posted on Jan 4th, 2010 0

    Found it to be a tad underwhelming. “Charming” is definitely a good word though.

  4. i agree it isnt mind blowing but im enjoying it as much as the first album.

  5. Eoghan  |   Posted on Jan 4th, 2010 0

    I am surprised at how much I like this band still. As said above, it is nothing groundbreaking. But it is charming and catchy. I kept going back to the debut and I cannot wait to listen to this

  6. Ryan  |   Posted on Jan 4th, 2010 0

    I don’t mind the unabashed use of auto-tune in “California English” nearly as much compared to the random stabs of processed vocals that creep up in other tracks.

  7. ZoĆ«  |   Posted on Jan 4th, 2010 0

    I heard the whole album on Myspace and I love it! Can’t wait to buy it and till they come to Boston!

  8. VW produces good singles but can’t deliver with an entire album. They put out some good jams but I’m just not a contra.

  9. bryceliz  |   Posted on Jan 4th, 2010 0

    favorite song=run

  10. mj  |   Posted on Jan 4th, 2010 0

    most of this album is great. but why not call them on the travesty that is “Giving Up the Gun”? they need to leave that kinda shit to the ben gibbards of the world.

  11. I’ll need to consult with my good buddy Alice Cooper on this one.

  12. I just listened and thought it was a quality album. California English and Taxi Cab were very good. Reminds me of M79 or to something of that nature. I thought Giving Up The Gun can be remixed into a nice dancefloor tune, but in this day of age, anything can be turned for the floor. They did try to go for some lengthy tunes (Diplomat’s Son) this time around. To be nice, it is a work in progress. Maybe in two years they can work out the kinks on that.

    Speaking of length. I love short albums. For example, Sonic Youth, Sister LP compared to Daydream Nation is better because Daydream is too damn long. That is my opinion though. Contra is what 35 minutes long. That is my kind of album

  13. yo dog  |   Posted on Jan 5th, 2010 0

    giving up the gun sounds great on my headphones, i wouldn’t call it one of the weaker songs? run is def the standout so far though. and ahhh mia.

  14. brian  |   Posted on Jan 5th, 2010 0

    delightful. run and diplomat’s son are the best.

  15. Go listen to Paul Simon’s Hearts &Bones, then listen to I Think UR A Contra. If they wanna keep plugging through the man’s oeuvre, that’s okay by me.

  16. there’s some really really great production on this record.

  17. It’s definitely less fun and more pretty than the s/t album, but i’m surprised at how quickly/how much it is growing on me. Initially, I was pretty disappointed, but now it’s quite nice. Relieved. But, I’m still wayyyyy more excited for spoon!

  18. Floormonitor  |   Posted on Jan 5th, 2010 0

    I do realize VW is incredibly preppy, but I still think they’re way better than any other preppy mainstream pop band out there. I saw them live and they were pretty cool. I don’t care that A-Punk is used in every intro to every Judd Apatow movie, I’m glad that a couple of college students who got together to make a small time band, actually made it far enough to have their music featured in movies.

    I was excited for this album ever since I first heard some of their new songs when I saw them live, and hope to see them live again. If only they were coming to St. Louis again like they promised….

  19. I’m still trying to figure out why people love these guys so much.

  20. I’m still trying to figure out why people love these guys so much.

  21. Much of the same. Certainly not as refreshing as the first album but still a nice listen.

  22. Just good.

  23. Matt  |   Posted on Jan 5th, 2010 0

    these songs are really good

  24. I Think I'm a Contra  |   Posted on Jan 5th, 2010 0

    You do realize that “jipped” is actually an accepted spelling of the word and it’s spelled like that to distance itself away from the racial slur? Go ahead and do a google search for the word and one of the first results is Thesaurus .com. I wasn’t even wrong in the first place. Maybe you politically correct wordsmiths should read over your dictionaries once more.

  25. Two thumbs upppppppppppppp

  26. anon  |   Posted on Jan 5th, 2010 0

    diplomat’s son is the best song off this album

  27. inabillity  |   Posted on Jan 5th, 2010 0

    How long till “Holiday” is used in a spring break scene on Gossip Girl? You can’t deny that upper class white kids who went to school in Manhattan make the best soundtrack to upper class white kids going to school in Manhattan.

    Having said that, Vampire Weekend makes great pop music with great hooks and melodies. “Holiday” is pure pop bliss (FWIW, you can totally hear the autotune when Ezra sings “I can’t forget” at 0:43). And oh yeah the social class stigma surrounding them is way overplayed.

  28. Kevin  |   Posted on Jan 5th, 2010 0

    Truthfully I kind of despise these guys, but as said before “charming” is a good way to describe this album. It’s a lot less annoying than their self titled and very well crafted – I gotta hand it to them, no point in hating them for the sake of it.

  29. 22tracks.com is featuring “Diplomat’s Son” on the Pop section of their website. That usually means that Pitchfork will do a track review. Expect “Diplomat’s Son” to be on the best new track section of Pitchfork if that means to anything to anyone.

  30. chuckeee  |   Posted on Jan 6th, 2010 0

    I’m surprised at how many folks seem to like this record. I forgot it was playing about halfway through… I was a fan of the last one by the way.

  31. PANDA  |   Posted on Jan 7th, 2010 0

    “Diplomat’s Son” is also (ostensibly) about Joe Strummer, who was in fact a Diplomat’s Son.

  32. Ok, I believe I’m one of the few here that’s really enjoying this album.

  33. Not anything really surprising, but I did really enjoy it. I’m excited to see them when they come to pomona in April.

  34. Adam  |   Posted on Jan 8th, 2010 0

    Meh, except for Horchata.

  35. I really wanted to love this. Instead, I only like it. There are some really good tracks on here (i.e. Diplomat’s Son, Horchata) but I am overall underwhelmed.

  36. Rob S.  |   Posted on Jan 8th, 2010 0

    The second half of the album is pretty awesome. The first half is pretty boring.

  37. Tweeds  |   Posted on Jan 10th, 2010 0

    There’s some catchy stuff, but I think it’s more of a grower.

  38. I actually like this album…it makes it seem like June in January, like a summer record. I rolled my eyes when I heard the autotune, I thought it sounded T-Pain ish even before I read this post.

  39. oh please!  |   Posted on Jan 12th, 2010 0

    go listen to Paul Simon’s Graceland kids! this is trust fund garbage.

  40. aych bee  |   Posted on Jan 14th, 2010 0

    one of the band members has said it sounds more like VW than their last album. i agree with murrishimo’s comment. it really feels like a summer album, much like their last one. i expect it to get more popular as it gets warmer and it will, ‘cos Contra is definitely going to be a grower. old fans will probably feel debased by the more-electronic drums/production/etc (auto-tune being the classic example.) type nerds will appreciate Futura’s mention in Holiday, and the verse containing that is probably the most fun music i’ve heard all year! (/attempt at irony) i have an appreciation for White Sky’s odd chorus. like i said, definitely a grower album. so grab it up before it goes full-price. worst case is that you sell it to a second-hand cd store and take a 60-70% loss. (that’s more than 30% better than a 100% loss!)

  41. Uh, its spelled gypped, and in case you didn’t know, its like saying n*gger-rigged or something equally as racially suggestive. Get a new mouth.

  42. Greg  |   Posted on Jan 7th, 2010 0

    How can you say that in the first place when you didn’t even buy the album? Idiot.

  43. I Think I'm a Contra  |   Posted on Jan 4th, 2010 0

    Whatever, gypsies ripped people off back in the day and still do and that’s where the saying came from. It’s just the same as saying you got jewed out of something. I can say both by the way because 1) I’m Jewish and 2) My great grandmother was a Jewish Gypsy. You can take your political correctness elsewhere before you put yourself on that holier than thou pedestal above strangers on comment boards who you don’t know nothing about.

  44. MF McNutt  |   Posted on Jan 4th, 2010 0

    I personally prefer “romanied” over gypped as it makes me sound more culturally aware.

  45. offensive for who? Gypsies?

  46. That word definitely has no racial connotation today. Its use was perfectly appropriate.

  47. WallabyJoe  |   Posted on Jan 5th, 2010 0

    Whatever your cultural heritage, I’m not sure you’re justified commenting on the origins of a word you just had to be corrected on spelling just one post earlier.

  48. grandma syphilis   |   Posted on Jan 5th, 2010 0

    snap!

  49. I Think I'm a Contra  |   Posted on Jan 5th, 2010 0

    You do realize that “jipped” is actually an accepted spelling of the word and it’s spelled like that to distance itself away from the racial slur? Go ahead and do a google search for the word and one of the first results is Thesaurus .com. I wasn’t even wrong in the first place. Maybe you politically correct wordsmiths should read over your dictionaries once more.

  50. WallabyJoe  |   Posted on Jan 5th, 2010 0

    You do realize that makes no actual sense to anyone, ever?

    I don’t care whether you use a derogatory term, I just want you to admit when you do it, especially a relatively obscure one like “gyp.”

  51. I Think I'm a Contra  |   Posted on Jan 5th, 2010 0

    My word isn’t derogatory. The “g” word is. Maybe that’s why I didn’t use it, asshole? End of argument.

  52. oooh  |   Posted on Jan 8th, 2010 0

    Like the song

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