Friday, 15 January 2010

Album Review - Contra, Vampire Weekend

Now published over at Running In Heels

It was always going to be interesting to see where Vampire Weekend would go with the clichéd ‘difficult second album’. Although it could be argued that they couldn’t go far wrong, so competent are the group of Ivy League musicians.

Fans and music freaks alike would probably have forgiven them if they produced an album similar to their self-titled debut which two years ago shook up the indie band world with its new slant on an old theme.

This sound is as fresh now as it was then. So imagine my delight when giving the new album Contra a listen and I realise lead singer Ezra Koenig and co. have included all that was great about their sound before and more.

The signature afro-pop rhythms are there in force, emphasising the influence of Paul Simon’s 1986 album Graceland on the band, and making songs such as ‘Diplomat’s Sun’ more than dance floor ready.

The band has also not forgotten how to thrash out the guitar-driven indie anthems which were also a staple on the first album. Songs such as ‘Cousins’ and ‘White Sky’ are so upbeat and joyful that they will surely become firm sing-along favourites on the summer festival circuit.

But Vampire Weekend has mixed it up - present in the album is a definite move towards a more electronic sound. The synths have always been there but in Contra they are bought to the fore, sharing the limelight with the expertly written guitar riffs rather than just backing them up.

This move has allowed keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij, described by his colleagues as a musical prodigy, to compose brilliant and complex melodies over the top of the rest of the band – pushing their sound once again into a league of their own in the indie world.

Ezra Koenig also appears to have realised the full potential of his vocal ability – clearly audible in ‘I think UR a Contra’ where his voice floats effortlessly up and down, backed by strings, a nod to their love of classical compositions – this together lifts the song up to being something quite beautiful.

All-in-all Contra is a triumphant album – showcasing the band’s many influences and talents. They have managed to recapture everything that was so brilliant and unique about their first effort but push this even further to make yet another album which really stands out.

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