When Vampire Weekend first hopped and skipped jauntily into the public consciousness with their re-awakening of African pop rhythms, their style of music hadn’t graced western radio stations, stereo’s and personal music players since Paul Simon’s Graceland in the mid 80’s. Vampire Weekend produced a record that was smart, fun, a little oddball and one of our favourites of the year. They successfully managed to demonstrate that it was still possible for indie guitar bands to pull a rabbit out of the hat and create something a little inventive.
Now step forward version two. For Contra is very much version two of the previous template, but with many a twist and surprising complication. Those who didn’t like the debut will not like this. Simple as that. There are still afrobeat rhythms a plenty, baskets of frisky frolicsomeness, and intellectual bags full of ideas. However, with these ideas the band has expanded their repertoire with hints of other musical forms such as reggae, classical and electronica. They even dare to slow things down to produce a slightly emotionally warped atmospheric ballad on I Think Ur A Contra.
The musical madness that Vampire Weekend bring is best displayed on the two and a half minutes of the indecipherable California English where violins, choir like backing vocals and Ezra Koenig’s almost unintelligible chopped up echo vocal is balanced precariously against the background of a tropical carnival stomp. The single Cousins is probably the most easily digested song on first listen, even if it flies along at such a rate of knots it almost falls over itself. There’s a lot of beats per minute on that one. Giving Up The Gun on the other hand seems almost passive with Koeg sounding downbeat as he sighs a chorus of “ Your swords grown old and rusty,” and restrained synth sounds and female backing vocals layer on top of the chugging bass and tribal marching drums.
Ultimately Contra is not as immediate as Vampire Weekend’s debut. There’s no instantly memorable Oxford Comma or A-Punk here so cross over potential may be lower, but it is so full of ideas that it becomes a more rewarding listen with each play. Back at the end of 2008 we questioned how the band could follow up their debut, suggesting that the groups chirpy sound may wear thin after a short burst. Quite brilliantly rather than Contra wearing thin quickly, it beefs things up. The band have managed to carry forward the sound from their debut and reinvent it at the same time. Clever.
Contra is released on the 11th January 2010.