Arts & Entertainment, The Muse

Contra-band: Vampire Weekend’s latest effort

Just a year ago indie pop stars Vampire Weekend gave us their groundbreaking, self-titled debut album. The band fused chamber pop, 80s new wave, reggaeton and a dash of African beat to create an eclectic sound like no other. With their sophomore attempt, LP Rostam-produced Contra, Vampire Weekend has done it again, yet this time with bigger drums, faster guitars, sophisticated lyrics and altogether soul gripping beats.

After another viral marketing buildup similar to the one that preceded its debut album, Vampire Weekend has stirred up an enviable buzz over Contra. In recent weeks, a mystery blonde with Ralph Lauren-esque beauty known as Kirsten has appeared on several music blogs with no hints as to her identity, confusing all music followers alike. Finally, an ad linked to the band’s website appeared, promoting the much anticipated new album.

Vampire Weekend has even been kind enough to spoil their hungry fans by streaming Contra for free on their MySpace site. The album draws listeners in with ‘Horchata,’ a catchy lead track bursting with harmonium drone, electro beats and deep lyrical reverb for a texturally rich opener. Other highlights include ‘California English,’ where auto-tune lyrics float over dancehall beats, ‘Diplomat’s Son,’ backed by a percussive vocal sample from M.I.A. (think reggaeton meets Bollywood) and ‘Cousins,’ one of the albums heaviest songs, punctuated with fierce, punky instrumentation.

The band members known for harping on summers in Cape Cod, schoolgirl crushes, and collegiate distress has proven that they can maintain their unique sound while reaching new depths both as emotionally profound songwriters and as melodically distinct musicians. Vampire Weekend’s sophomore release embellishes its preppy nature with a playfulness that entertains the listener, while not overshadowing economically minimalistic lyrics.

The album wraps up with ‘I Think Ur A Contra,’ the band’s first song with acoustic guitar, which results in a more solemn and darker product than much of the band’s previous recordings. Singer Ezra Koeni sings in a wounded falsetto, ‘You wanted good schools and friends with pools’hellip;I just wanted you. ‘ This powerful finale is an unexpectedly moving closer to the album, showing that Vampire Weekend digs much deeper than electric beats and African influences.

Contra shows a more complex, worldly and unpretentious side of the band. They’ll make you do a jig on your way to class and have your iPod stuck on replay (in a different way from how Sean Kingston did). With a positive evolution like this, loyalists can expect Vampire Weekend’s elusive sound to persevere with new explorations and intuition along the way.

Check out Contra for yourself, released January 12, 2010 via XL recordings.

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