Maybe it’s a character flaw, but I try to avoid stuff that’s been hyped to death. I’ll admit that my aversion is at least partially due to not wanting to appear to be bandwagon jumper, but there’s also a fair amount of healthy skepticism. In general, people who express their opinions on the internet have the attention span of an insect and are easily swayed by hyperbole of their peers and the desire to avoid being the last person on the web to hear the Next Big Thing.
But guess what, kids: good music is still good a couple years later. I avoided Art Brut until I finally downloaded Bang Bang Rock and Roll a few months ago. And now I see what everybody was talking about a couple years ago. It’s a good album.
Sometimes it’s nice to get in on an act in the beginning. You can see them in smaller venue, which is always nice. Plus, it’s fun to be able to tell your friends about new stuff they’ve got to hear. And hey, you might get hit by a bus tomorrow and do you really want to die without hearing Vampire Weekend’s debut album?
No, I don’t think you do. Especially if you’re at all nostalgic about your college days.
Don’t be put off by the oft-repeated comparisons to Paul Simon’s Graceland and the band’s own description of their style as “Upper West Side Soweto.” There are elements of that, for sure, but the overall vibe is more generally reminiscent of the wide-eyed enthusiasm that college brings out in curious young people. Within a few years, they’ll likely become jaded by accusations of “cultural tourism.”
The lyrics are even more collegiate than the music, unafraid to appear highfalutin or pretentious. References abound to English dramas, international travel, Louis Vuitton, Bennetton, “bleeding madras,” pure Egyptian cotton, etc. Don’t think for a minute that this isn’t a conscious decision. Vampire Weekend has discovered a rich vein of source material in Ivy League college life, and they’re mining it to greater effect than anything since the Pixies “I’ve Been Tired” (“She’s a real left winger ’cause she been down south and held peasants in her arms…”). But unlike Black Francis, Vampire Weekend is taking the point of view of the girl who could tell you a story that could make you cry. Ahhhh.
Maybe it’s a little too self-conscious. Certainly, describing their sound as “African preppy” has attracted all the attention one could expect from such a claim. They fully intended to raise eyebrows. To me, the “preppy” part is more daring in today’s climate than the “African” part. But then who doesn’t vividly recall experiences like this: “Then I see you / You’re walking cross the campus… / How am I supposed to pretend I never want to see you again?”
It’s easy to be cynical. They may have a gimmick, but like the White Stripes, the gimmick wouldn’t matter if they didn’t have the songs to back it up. And their songs are good.
The verses of “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” might sound too much like Asia’s “Heat of the Moment” for anybody’s comfort, and album highlight “Oxford Comma” shares something with Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride,” but so what? It’s better than copping Joy Division like all the other goddamned bands lately…
Vampire Weekend figured out a clever trick to get people to give their music a chance. Thankfully, the music warrants taking that chance.
Video: Vampire Weekend – “A-Punk”