Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (XL)
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.
•Vampire Weekend – “Oxford Comma”
Video: Vampire Weekend – “A-Punk”
9 thoughts on “Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend”
So what was Leftsetz complaining about with these guys? You understand that both the Wilder and Asia reference are troubling. Thank goodness for the sample links.
I think he’s just being grouchy. I.e., they don’t deserve the amount of hype they’re getting. And maybe they don’t. But then again, are they getting any hype whatsoever in traditional media?
I’m not suggesting this is the greatest album in the world. But it is good, and it’s worth listening to. And if you’ve got any fond memories set amid Georgian architecture, or if you like to talk about obscure rules of punctuation, then you should give it a shot.
I was shocked to see this review written by you, Jake, for the very reason you mentioned about you and hyped bands (plus, I thought Totale held the reviews on lockdown).
This is a good record. I haven’t really digested the lyrics, and I didn’t go to an Ivy League school (far from it), but the while the lyrics may or may not be pretentious, the songs aren’t overly musical. They’re bouncy and fun. Which is all I want from music sometimes.
Yeah, Tom, this one snuck through the firewall somehow!
Bouncy and fun, for sure, with the occasional orchestral arrangement that might be sophisticated but doesn’t come across as all in your face and look-at-ME precocious. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Sufjan…).
I liked it better the first time when they were talented and called Talking Heads. Also, I was hoping “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” was a prophetic ditty about themselves. Alas…
See Kiko, I’m not hearing the Talking Heads in this band. At all. Especially not in the vocals.
I can’t stand any young singer who has been noticeably influenced by David Byrne’s vocal stylings. It’s worse, to me, than the Ian Curtis wannabes.
quick plug! http://www.oxfordcommariddim.com
The parallel I draw with Byrne and co. is the pretentious-preppy-bookish-nerds stumbling-upon-a-nice-little-gimmick-and-running-with-it angle. Nothing wrong with that. If you’re Talking Heads, that is. These guys don’t come even close.
What’s worse is this kinda dreck in album reviews:
“Frontman Ezra Koenig appears on stage and in photo shoots like an L.L. Bean model ca. 1985, it’s all docksiders and duckboots, crisp polo shirts and crisper Levis 501s, lovingly and traditionally cuffed. His full head of thick, dark hair should appear in a Pantene commercial, and his skin is as clear as a ten-year-old’s. He’s like an indie rock porcelain doll, and certainly none of it is an accident. Their New England Prep-school aesthetic is carefully executed, from their show flyers to their album art, instantly appealing to everyone who complains about the humdrum, regular-Joe look of most indie rock bands. Rolling out of bed and walking onstage looking just like your friend with the bad temp job is, after all, as 1996 as it gets — a sentiment that’s illustrated brilliantly at the end of ‘One (Blake’s Got a New Face)’ when Koenig sings, ‘All your collegiate grief has left you dowdy in sweatshirts; absolute horror.'”
I guess fawning over Meg White became passe, so they gotta put on the knee pads for someone else, huh?
Oh, how lame.
Well, I give a fuck about an oxford comma. Yes, yes, and yes.