Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend(XL) Buy it from Insound
In writing about Vampire Weekend, I’d try to avoid the subject of hype for the sake of avoiding clichés and repetition, but with a band that blows up as quickly and as directly in response to blogosphere hype as this one, avoiding the issue seems almost like missing the point. Furthermore, in the case of Vampire Weekend, the concept of internet popularity, to my ears at least, ties directly into the actual music itself.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get one other thing out of the way – I enjoy this album. It’s the sort of album that seems almost impossible to dislike – it’s clean, effortless, and taps into a rich and relatively diverse tradition of instantly pleasurable pop elements. Its mix of afropop, chamber pop, and the most instantly appealing strains of mainstream indie rock is just unusual enough to be quite refreshing. And how could anyone manage to hate an album that includes the line, “First the window, then it’s to the wall / Little John, he always tells the truth”?
These are the sorts of thing that set up a band for blog love. They’ve got a musical style original enough to stand out from among the enormous swath of new bands, yet with enough recognizable proven pop elements to ensure that nothing goes down wrong, and this is both the album’s greatest strength and its flaw. I enjoy pretty much every moment of the album, and yet I sometimes wish they’d play up the afropop elements a bit more, or more fully indulge their chamber tendencies. When they do, as on M79, which sets faux-Vivaldi strings and harpsichord alongside sprightly pop, the results are wonderful. The song oscillates between dense, bouncy string melodies and open sections of effervescent vocals, playing its elements off each other in various ways, until the letting them collapse together in a lovely build just before the conclusion. Like the rest of the album, it avoids sounding studied or overly calculated, instead coming off as assured and joyful.
Lyrically, the album follows a formula very similar to its musical one, crafting lyrics that go down easy with an idiosyncrasy or two, and remaining almost completely superficial. Vocalist Ezra Koenig sticks for the most part to cooing breezy observation lines, occasionally letting a somewhat unexpected element slip in (such as the sublimely earnest Lil John reference mentioned above). It’s undeniably slight stuff, and from time to time a note of decidedly off-putting prep school kid entitlement sneaks its way in, but Koenig also conjures up situations with a significant degree of clarity and efficiency, as on the simultaneously giddy and awkward opening to Campus, a song about exactly what its title suggests.
Ultimately, I suppose it doesn’t matter in any particularly significant way that other songs sound less distinctive, since they achieve level of “I can see no reason to turn this off.” The slight paucity of genuinely surprising moments actually facilitates this – the album moves cleanly forward without ever jarring the mind. Vampire Weekend is indie rock with its edges sanded off, polished to a clean, sparkling sheen. Whether that’s a bad or good thing is a personal decision I’m not in a position to make for anyone else. For me, it’s a little frustrating – I’d rather the most recent hype band aim for a something more than breezy listening, I’d rather they pushed their style more, I wish they’d sing about something other than collegiate trifles. Do we really need fluffy prep school pop? I don't know, but it does sounds pretty good. Though I don’t think I’m going to form any kind of deep connection to this album, I also don’t think I’m going to stop listening to it any time soon. For what it is, it’s quite effective.11 February, 2008 - 06:00 — Jeff Rovinelli