Vampire Weekend's Contra is a perfect sophomore effort

I like to laugh at the weirdo middle school girls swept up in the “Team Jacob” vs. “Team Whoever” thing from Twilight. Stupid petty book rivalries! But then I look to the reception of Vampire Weekend’s 2008 self-titled album and the two contentious camps that developed there: “Team Vampire Weekend Is Awesome” and “Team Vampire Weekend And Their Polos Should Die In A Fire.” (For the record I’m on the team against the fire). People were inexplicably furious one way or another. So I was biting my nails in anticipation of the “ivy league” “afro-pop” “cute” band’s sophomore release, Contra. How did they fare? Will they let down masses of followers? Will they convert hoards of haters? The answer is no. They did neither. And it is great.

And that’s what’s fun about Contra. It’s such a perfect sophomore album. It doesn’t really exceed their debut album, doesn’t exactly wow. But it is also very very far from a letdown, it’s not bad by any means. Frontman Ezra Koenig reportedly was really trying to tighten the group’s sound as well as doing some experimenting. If these ideas seem contradictory, it’s because they are. And yet, Koenig and the boys in pastels make an album that has its shining stars (“Horchata,” “Cousins,” “White Sky”) but is also full of quality pop songs that seem to dip a toe or two into unfamiliar waters. It’s just dangerous enough to tempt critics and keep the old fans happy.

Contra starts off in full force with the catchy, adorable winter tune “Horchata” and doesn’t mess around, jumping right into “White Sky,” a live favorite that translates well in the studio. From there they wander off a bit, playing with song structure and instrumentation on tracks like “Taxi Cab” and “California English.” Diverting into the fast-paced single “Cousins,” they sidestep a moment, just long enough, before working their way into the album’s weirdest (and some of the best) material. “Diplomat’s Son” might be one of the most interesting songs they’ve ever done and “I Think Ur A Contra” is awesome.

So what does this all mean? How good is Contra, really? To all those on the anti-VW camp, I’m sorry. Their sophomore effort was a success. Although it might not be a career-defining masterpiece, it’s a great transitional piece that works from the band’s incredibly pop beginnings into a hopefully more experimental and amazing future. It’s also a great career move. They’ve isolated few with Contra but hopefully will win over just as many. I say a job well done, boys. I’ll keep wearing my “Team Vampire Weekend” pin proudly.

Vampire Weekend – “Horchata” [MP3]

Vampire Weekend – “White Sky” (stream on HypeM)

Vampire Weekend – “Diplomat’s Son” [removed]

Purchase Contra

4 comments to Vampire Weekend’s Contra is a perfect sophomore effort

  • liz

    very well written, jamie. couldn’t agree more. love the new album – yeah, maybe a little less than the debut – but it’s solid and it’ll make the fans happy. as for converting other people, meh. but they seem to be doing just fine with the # of fans they already have!

  • Vampires Suck

    paul simon ‘rubbed’ one out and Vampire Weekend was born. this is a case that validates the pro-choice stance: in the case of rape, and preppy vampires being spawned everyone should agree that abortion is the right choice, the ONLY choice.

    But hey, what do I know -Pitchspork says Vampire Weakend has reinvented music.

    Jamie Reply:

    The difference is that Paul Simon is old and terrible. Seriously, yuck.

  • Derick

    I really like this music a lot. I love thier cover of “Crazy Love, Vol. II” which they mistakenly called “White Sky”. Oh damn it, someone already got a Paul Simon dig in. But seriously, I like the music thanks for putting it up.