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Vampire Weekend, "Contra" (XL) [1 STAR out of 4]

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While the sheer exuberance of the African rhythms so cheerfully appropriated by New York's preppy wonders Vampire Weekend eventually prompted me to warm to them a bit as a live act--the sunny sounds were hard to resist at the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2008, thanks to irrepressible drummer Chris Tomson--more than any distracting questions about authenticity (are privileged Columbia University grads less entitled to rip off Afro-pop sounds than Paul Simon was?), the superficialities of their concerns (polo shirts, yachting, butlers and the rest) continue to make their self-titled debut annoying to the point of being unlistenable.

Despite the heavy title of the quartet's second album--allegedly chosen to evoke "Sandinista" by the Clash, though the historical reference is to Nicaragua's right-wing death squads--the rhythms seem stale, predictable and at times ennervating (slowing to a crawl on "Diplomat's Son," a misguided dalliance with dub reggae); the hooks are much skimpier and less memorable, and bandleader and primary songwriter Ezra Koenig has even less insight to offer while bragging of his groovy globetrotting: His idea of insight into our polyglot culture is to brag of drinking horchata, a milky Mexican concoction made from rice, while wearing a balaclava, a Ukrainian ski mask.

Who can't relate to that? This reviewer, for one: To these ears, Vampire Weekend has made an even more airy, trifling and unfulfilling disc than its predecessor. And because it's the second time around, there are even fewer reasons to care.

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44 Comments

Haha what did you give their first album? Because if you don't think that's good music... You have some personal issues

uhhhhh, yeah, Vampire Weekend's debut was highly critically acclaimed and happens to be some of the most fun, catchy music i've ever heard. so if you're unsatisfied that this album is similar, what are you smokin dude??

Time to hang it up, old man. It's a wonderful album.

This is why Chicagoans such as myself read the Trib.

Album should have a warning sticker:

Do not listen to this while simultaneously being old.

Why would anyone name an album after the Contras?

well, you might like them better if you listen first to voxtrot

Amen, Jim!

Despite other commenters' assumptions that your dissatisfaction with this record is based in your age, I (at 25) abhor it while my father (at 53) thinks it's delightful.

I'm inclined to respect anyone's musical opinion; if you like the record, you like it, and one shouldn't be condemned for that any more than they should be for disliking it... it is pleasant, cheery music that will probably sit well in the background of 90210 or The Hills or whatever version of The OC is touting new quasi-indie music these days, but this album (especially the single) smacks of nothing but a trite, mundane, nearly hook-less attempt at being radio-friendly. It's unoriginal, uninspired, and frankly, boring.

The production is phenomenal, however.

Vampire Weekend strikes me as one of those bands that can be a raring good time live, whether you care for their "style" or not, but their motivations do not translate to the recorded medium... which helps lend to this record being a dud.

I agree whole-heartedly with this review and I'm 24-years-old.

you suck this was an awful review. this disc is just as good as the first one, an instant classic.

Derogatis arbitrarily hates on certain artists because, for reasons often unrelated to their music, they don't tickle his (almost certainly tiny) fancy. He does so without objectively examining their critical merit. See, e.g., Ryan Adams, et. al. Short story with Contra: If you enjoyed the first album, you'll find plenty to like here.

Obviously, it's all subjective. Personally, I fell in love with the first album - to me, it's instantly catchy yet nuanced enough to reward repeated listens. But more than anything it just sounds really fresh and fun.

What bothers me is Jim saying that the band's "concerns" are "polo shirts, yachting, butlers." That's like saying that Robyn Hitchcock's "concerns" are fish, vegetables, and dwarves. Talk about lazy, piss-poor journalism.

Incredible sophomore effort. I can't stop listening to it and can't wait to see them live. It's cliched at this point, but there really aren't any other bands that sound remotely close to this or integrate so many genres into their music. Sorry the reviewer doesn't agree.

Well I really dont understand this review, he says he doesnt like it because it borrows lots of sounds. Which to me, is fine, they borrow but in return give there own sound. Thats where I think its fine. He says there is no hooks, but the whole album is pretty upbeat and catchy. And then he says that it doesnt relate, but look at the lyrics they all have a place. Horchata is about boys enjoying life to the fullest. Taxi Cab is about mistakes made in life, And giving up the gun is a throwback to the clash and all they stood for. In my opioion this album is catchy, great, and has a lot of soul.

Horchata is Spanish, not Mexican. If you're going to sneer at a band and imply their cosmopolitan perspective is either a pose or merely shallow, shouldn't you at least be in a position to judge? Congrats on the speedy review, but doesn't seem a well-informed opinion.

I second matt and Ben's opinions. I mean, Jesus Christ, get to know what you're writing about a little more. Vampire Weekend aren't some preppy gang of WASPs singing about their high-class lifestyles. On the contrary, many of their songs reject and/or mock the often pretentious habits of perceived "socialites" (i.e. "Who gives a f**k about an Oxford comma?", etc.).

If you didn't like the actual music, that's fine. However, especially as a professional reviewer, to so blatantly dismiss the lyrics, the attitude, and the direction of an artist in favor of your own personal taste without having anything to back it up is just poor form. So congrats on your bulls**t journalism.

If you want to go back and do an informed review, try reading this first, for a start: http://altmusic.about.com/od/interviews/a/vampireweekend.htm

I much preferred Pavement Ist Rad & The Lots Of People Posting All Starr Band (Feat. Trai'd) - Sing Vampire Weekend's Contra

haha who posted this tripe? vampire weekends first album was top notch; you're old and out-of-touch.

Agreed, nothing on this comes close to the highs of PIR&TLOPPASB(Ft.T) - SVWC. That thing wrote the meme-rock rulebook...everybody else is playing catch-up.

Are you kidding! How can you not like their first album for a start it was incredible. Contra is different but still an amazing album!

The debut was pretty good, but Jim's right, Contra lacks the hooks. And horchata might be Spanish but it's sold almost exclusively in Mexican joints, at least in Chicago.

That Pavement Is Rad record is unlistenable crap.

"Sings Vampire Weekend's Contra" was one definitely of 2009's "buried treasures."

Also, it's really funny how much the Vampire Weekend fans here sound just like the offended Chris Brown fans from a few weeks ago. Except instead of Dero being "biased" now he's just uninformed.

I too feel underwhelmed after listening to the demos Pavement Ist Rad & The Lots Of People Posting All Starr Band (Feat. Trai'd) - Sing Vampire Weekend's Contra. Production sucked the life out of this work.

This seems more like a critique of Ezra Koenig than the actual album, save for maybe a couple of sentences. Grow up.

@Colleen - Here in Barcelona horchata is generally drunk by the Spanish.

some of the kneejerk rush to hate on these guys is still depressing. def not calling anyone out individually, just a general statement.

personal take is that they are still one of the best handful of artists around, and this LP is a grower in a way. But it's very good-- about as good a record as I could have hoped for from them personally. I love that they embraced their quirks and eccentricities and pushed them to the fore, I love how comfortable they are being themselves despite a shit storm of hate rained on that. I def respect them for that. They are their own band, with their own identity and that's all too rare these days. (And if the African + new wave thing was ever accurate (it was for maybe two songs) it's gone now.) They also have an immaculate way with song construction, esp in an age in which almost nobody even bothers to try this. (if you're concerned about the "loudness wars" in any way, this band is a balm for that).

In the end they are using elements of the contemporary (and even leftfield sounds) in aid of pop songs, not unlike mia or the knife frankly. And that, to me personally, is way more rewarding and long lasting than the sort of soulless bleaching of sound or relentless showing off that some of their peers do. (who dress and act *exactly* as preppy as VW by the way.)

Don't expect any minds to be changed, enjoy your hatred!

Your critique needs more $5 words, Jim. A lot more. Sheesh. Nevertheless, I enjoy the album, even if it's not as good as the self-titled debut.

In Barcelona everything is generally consumed by the Spanish.

are you serious? you're an old fat c---y nerd! how is it possible that you review music for a reputable news source?

Please don't talk about Jim like that Bryn, it's very offensive. And I think, as the coiner of the term microhouse, I deserve a little more respect too Colleen.

Taking vampire weekend too seriously is a mistake. If you're hoping to hear deep psychological insights through song, you (as a pop music reviewer) should know where and where not to look. Because the band doesn't sing about concerns that you can relate to doesn't mean their arrangements and talent to perform those arrangements should be discounted. Regardless, its something different (in today's music) and I for one enjoy it. Leather jacket and Les Paul or polo shirt and Sheraton, it's still just an image, look past it.


I'm sorry this album doesn't work on your phonograph. Have an open mind for once.

God forbid Jim doesn't love your favorite band, and he's instantly out of touch, biased,unifomed, blah blah blah. You vamp-heads got addicted to the groove without hearing the message man! I admit I couldn't accept these guys out of the gate, having been turned off by a couple of interviews where they basically admitted to being rich preppy rockers who wanted to have a good time. Great, its catchy (production costs must be no worries), but for my money give me the Arcade Fire, who create a distinct, rhythm based sound that comes off as way more authentic considering their lyrics and the way butler handles himself with the press (or general lack of). It's like trying to tell a Coldplay or John Mayer fan why the music is bad when most of it is indeed very catchy. Jim's age is a definite bonus in this matter people, and in fact makes him more informed, don't ya think?

This album may not be as good as its predecessor, but it's still pretty damn good. For me, the trivial subject matter of Vampire Weekend's songs adds to their charm.

In any case, the album isn't out yet, so those of you lining up to passionately defend it either haven't heard it at all or just dug your own grave. The RIAA will be collecting your IP addresses shortly.

Nah, it's actually streaming on their website.

@Mr. Sherburne, didn't mean to offend, work's just been rough and I took it out on the wrong person. I should be getting snippy with Ezra Koening! Do you include the Pavement Is Rad recording in your DJ sets (I admit the Billy Corgan bit was funny).

Guess Lars DFC doesn't know that the album - in full - is streaming on the band's myspace page, as well as their website.

This is a review of the band's reviews rather than their music. In that sense DeRogatis has it right. Otherwise it's best to listen to the record a couple times before writing about it.


I don't trust the opinion of commenters who can't spell or use proper punctuation. Overwhelmingly, the defenders of Vampire Weekend show far worse grasp of English than those who dislike them. I am therefore going to trust the latter group's opinion and avoid Vampire Weekend.

On a side note:

Jim, you confuse me. Why do you write so many reviews for artists you obviously don't care about, and so few reviews for the artists you are passionate about? If The Sun-Times mandates that you review mainstream pop, why not use this blog to dig a little deeper? Or start another blog that's totally independent of The Sun-Times, where you can voice your opinion more freely.

Honestly, the world doesn't need more reviews of Vampire Weekend and Alicia Keys.

(PS: the 'captcha' anti-spam program on your comments have been fouling up)

I've listened to it a couple of times (streaming through the band's website thank you very much). I like it. I don't really care what the songs are about. I don't really care what any songs are about, I just like to hear words and phrases that catch my interest and a barrage of hooks; like Chuck Kloesterman, I'm constantly disappointed by reality. VW works for me, but it doesn't work for everyone. Keep up the great reviews Jim, how boring would life be if everyone liked everything.

I really like this album. It's every bit as good as the first one which is one of the best albums of the past decade. In my opinion. Thanks, Jim, for giving me a spot to mention my opinion.

Its breezy and not much more than a collection of Rusted Root demos. Inoffensive to the point of being offensive( I actually enjoyed their first album) its a wispy/Waspy snapshot of someone elses life. Compared to this Sting sounds like Nick Cave and Dave Matthews a modern day Woody Guthrie.( I think VW may be headed in this AOR direction once the smoke clears and cooler heads prevail) No knock on people who like this album but Dero has it right.

@Colleen LOL! Best dig at this ignoramus's clueless and blinkered provincialism! Probably too subtle, though. Maybe:

"Here in Chicago, we don't know anything about Spain, but we do have Mexicans. In fact, I had horchata at a Mexican place, which makes horchata as Mexican as the mojito my friend drank!"

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on January 5, 2010 2:36 PM.

Alicia Keys, "The Element of Freedom" (J Records) [1 STAR our of 4] was the previous entry in this blog.

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