On their 2008 debut, Vampire Weekend whipped up a new pop formula by fusing Paul Simon’s Graceland with the touchstones of preppy ennui ”“ Cape Cod summers, collegiate grief, crushes on girls with trust funds. The music had a bracing smartness, as overdetermined and detailed as a Wes Anderson movie, almost perfect for what it was, but you wondered how they’d handle the real world.
Just fine, it turns out. If Vampire Weekend was Rushmore, Contra is their Royal Tenenbaums: brainy, confident and generally awesome. Where much of the first album’s charm was conceptual ”“ Ivy League guys mashing up JD Salinger and King Sunny AdÃ© ”“ here the band has put on some muscle. The drums are bigger, the guitars are faster, and the songs are outfitted with synth beats and hip-hop, reggae and electro accents. ”˜Diplomat’s Son’ sounds like a cross between classic rock steady and an M.I.A. mixtape; Ezra Koenig Auto-Tunes his voice over dancehall on ”˜California English.’ The band even takes a stab at arena rock on the synthy ”˜Giving Up the Gun.’
Koenig still comes across as a kid who brings his laundry home to Mom, but now he’s kicking around midtown Manhattan (”˜White Sky’) and realising that dating a rich girl isn’t an excuse to be a dick (”˜Taxi Cab’). The album ends with the brutal, orchestral quiet of ”˜I Think UR a Contra’: “You wanted good schools and friends with pools,” he tells an ex in a wounded boyish falsetto. “Well, I just wanted you.” It’s powerful and disconcerting ”“ and shows there’s a lot more to Vampire Weekend than cleverness and bright colours. There’s soul, too.
Key Tracks: ”˜White Sky,’ ”˜Cousins’