20 Watts

20 Watts Reviews Vampire Weekend’s Contra by JohnCassillo
January 11, 2010, 11:25 pm
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Vampire Weekend's Contra fails to live up to the hype of early singles

PREVIEW: VISIT Vampire Weekend’s MySpace
WE GIVE IT: 14/20 Watts

The hype for Vampire Weekend‘s sophomore release, Contra, has been building for over a month now. Between the free download of “Horchata,” and the sensational video for the punk-influenced “Cousins,” it’s easier to understand why. Yet, in the lead-up, one couldn’t help but notice the stark contrasts in styles the band was presenting.  Would Contra be more like the casual California pop of “Horchata,” or the brazen, energetic style of “Cousins?” The answer, surprisingly, was neither.

Abandoning the prep school afro-beat pop that made them Internet sensations, Vampire Weekend embraces a sense of endless possibility on Contra. Songs like “White Sky” and “Run” are bright and sunny, but also come off as somewhat experimental. The album is filled with an adventurous and carefree spirit, as the band employs everything from dance beats to brass to auto-tune to spruce up its newfound sonic diversity.  However, some of this contributes to the album’s most noticeable flaw.

As much as listeners can appreciate the band’s willingness to branch out and try new things, it feels like Vampire Weekend tries far too hard on Contra. The album seems disconnected, as no two songs even seem to fit together cogently. Tracks like “Giving Up the Gun” and “Diplomat’s Son” come off as weak in comparison to their previous work. Floating and meandering about, these songs abandon the group’s early dedication to witty, fun lyrics, and instead act almost as unnecessary bits of filler.

Overall, Vampire Weekend is to be commended for trying to stretch the boundaries of their sound on just their second record. But, as mentioned, this entrepreneurial spirit just can’t outweigh the weaknesses within Contra. Save for a few choice selections, it severely lacks energy, and by the last few tracks, listeners may be hard-pressed to stay attentive to the album’s more subtle moments.

It’s a shame too. If the band had followed the lead of the album’s singles (“Horchata,” “Cousins,” “White Sky”), it could have presented the masses with an animated, dynamic collection. But, due to a bit too much experimentation and overextension, we’re left with a hit-or-miss medley that could leave some fans wanting more.

–John Cassillo

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