2010: Vampire Weekend, CONTRA

Fun fact: of the past 36 entries (37 if you count the bonus), 23 were about bands from the UK or Australia. Most of the music I’ve really liked has been imported.

Another fun fact: of the 5 remaining entries, 4 are from the US and 1 is from Canada.

I have no idea what, if anything, this indicates. But it’s interesting.


So: Vampire Weekend. As I mentioned a couple of entries ago, I love these guys. Listening to them makes me really, really happy. I’m not sure how they’re so different from all the other music I listen to, but somehow they are. I mean, I do listen to a lot of supposedly depressing stuff. The Cure, Depeche Mode, the Smiths, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees…it’s all pretty inarguably dour stuff. Even their “fun” songs carry some freight of melancholy. Even some of the more cheerful-sounding bands I like are sort of stealthily sad; one of OMD’s most upbeat songs, “Enola Gay,” is about the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. So maybe it’s that Vampire Weekend, at least on that first album, don’t seem to have too much that’s weighing on their minds. Some people, I think, wrote them off as “prep rock” initially, a tag they probably found and still find as annoying as the Paul Simon comparisons, but there’s something to that. On that first album, they’re singing about the girls sitting on the quad, about professors they unwittingly hooked up with, Cape Cod and Provincetown. There’s some kind of disaster happening in “Walcott” but it doesn’t take much research to discover that it’s fictional, part of a horror movie soundtrack.

I mentioned before that that first album instantly addicted me, that I didn’t really want to listen to anything else for a good long time, that I went out and bought Graceland so I could approximate the mood and not just listen to Vampire Weekend on repeat forever. I imagine it was like those people antidepressants work for, where all of a sudden this cloud lifts and you feel normal and you can’t believe you’d been living without this kind of joy for ages. The lyrics were clever, intelligent, satirical, probably less chipper than the music made them sound if you read them carefully, but this was icing on the cake. What really mattered was the music, and it was an island paradise.


Contra keeps it going, and if I listen to it slightly more these days, it’s not that it’s better so much as that it’s newer, and maybe just a bit more layered and varied. I’m not super into “Horchata,” the opening track, which starts off sounding like someone made a Vampire Weekend Random Lyric Generator, but it opens out as it goes and ends with an almost cinematic climax. I’m a little nonplussed by “Cousins,” too, which sounds like a leftover from Vampire Weekend — not in itself a bad thing, but less exciting than all the new stuff around it. To wit: the irrepressible (and very commercial-friendly, apparently) “Holiday,” the skip-rhythm “White Sky,” the tongue-twisting “California English.” The extraordinary “Run,” one of my two favorite tracks, with its (synth?) horns just enough below pitch to sound like that one OMD song. Each one brings something new to the table without destroying the overall flavor.

But then! What?! They’re not happy at all! They lied to us through song!

Well, not really. There was “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” on the last record, so we knew this might be coming. We had some advance warning of the mournfulness of “Taxi Cab,” the upbeat wistfulness of “Giving Up the Gun,” the sleepiness of “I Think Ur a Contra.” But even so, “Diplomat’s Son” creeps right up on you and knocks you unconscious and dumps you in the bay. By turns moving, sexy, chilling, and nostalgic, it’s my other favorite track and it’s just perfect.

Modern Vampires of the City is rocking that third album syndrome something fierce, by which I mean it’s not growing on me as quickly as the first two records, but all the critics and hipsters who didn’t jump on board because the first two albums were too popular are now deciding it’s OK to like the band and are declaring this their best yet. Maybe it’s just a little more ambitious than the first two records, meaning it’s harder to get an immediate handle on and so it seems to be deeper. It could be also that I’m less interested in lyrics about religion than other people are. Regardless, I do think “Step” and “Unbelievers” are quite good, “Ya Hey” is gorgeous (even with the gimmicky chipmunk vocals), and “Diane Young” is the most invigorating song since — well, the last album, but still. It’s good shit. I have no complaints.

P.S. I should have mentioned Rostam’s side project, the Discovery LP, in 2009’s entry. I will now. It’s fucking great.

61MrhHc7-iL._SL1300_ Beach House, Teen Dream
When I went to see Vampire Weekend live (and they were terrific), Beach House opened for them, playing the dreamiest, oddest pop surrounded by glowing triangles. It was like some kind of benign magic ritual. The whole album is great, but I especially love “Zebra,” “Walk In the Park,” and “Used to Be.”

71rfI-d4H3L._SL1425_ Janelle Monáe, The Archandroid
This might very well be the best album cover ever. It’s entirely possible (though surely not) that I bought it without hearing a note, on the assumption that it would be as awesome as it looked. Surprise! It is! “Dance or Die,” “Faster,” “Cold War,” “Tightrope,” “Make the Bus,” and “Wondaland” are my favorites, but this album keeps on giving.

Massive_Attack_Heligoland Massive Attack, Heligoland
I get the impression this album was not enthusiastically received, but I love it. I’m realizing now that I left Massive Attack off my list of bands that should do a Bond theme, but they’ve done the next best thing by providing the theme to Luther (“Paradise Circus”). I also like “Pray for Rain,” “Girl I Love You,” and “Atlas Air.”


  • Goldfrapp, Head First
  • Of Montreal, False Priest
  • Robyn, Body Talk
  • OMD, History of Modern

Image sources:

  • http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2013/05/01/vampireweekend_contra_custom-bcd9b77f41479d12bdb47adb980316fe596c755e.jpg
  • http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61MrhHc7-iL._SL1300_.jpg
  • http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/71rfI-d4H3L._SL1425_.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/d0/Massive_Attack_Heligoland.jpg