By Jason Grishkoff | January 13th, 2010
Vampire Weekend’s sophomore release is more a showcase of their versatility than a confirmation that they can make innovative, fun and beachy acoustic tunes – that was more than proven on the debut back in 2008. What January 11 of this year does mark (other than a media frenzy) is a solid release which definitively shows VW to be more than a one-trick pony.
Ezra Koenig’s voice in my opinion was strong enough, but (to the horror of all the ‘natural talent’ activators out there, already put off by the heavy increase in electronics on Contra) that didn’t stop some serious Discovery style voice manipulation taking place at times. The sound pallette also has vastly widened, and more instruments (both electronic and organic) make appearances. Further, with another showcase of crisp clear production from producer and multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, Contra retains the full works of carefree indie pop epitomised by the ‘quit your day job’ attitude the band not only aimed for this time round, but also lived out.With their full attention turned to the album and its production, the attention to detail really shows; you might have heard a silence or an instrumental rest on Vampire Weekend, but now, gone are those days.
Lyrically dense, there are at least two instruments playing (bar track endings) throughout the LP. Additionally, the band introduce something relatively unheard of before in any Vampire Weekend discussion: overdrive. It makes appearances here and there (with most force on last year’s 7″ single Cousins), but its punkish overtones are matched by the ambient interludes which litter the rest of Contra. The album closer, ‘I Think Ur a Contra’, is a great example, and also one of the best tracks so far this year. I find this album to be so much more energetic than VW – parts of it even drift into ska of the purest form. However this tendency to overload and at times overcomplicate the new tracks with such ecletic influence works for and against, providing an exciting and distinctive development from the sound of 2008, but sometimes at the expense of the simple acoustica and basic melody VW made their name with.
To me, it feels almost like Contra is the extremified and high-brow remake of the simple but well-humoured Vampire Weekend. For predominantly this reason, upon my first three or so plays through this album, i was left feeling slightly sold short – and what i’ve concluded from my emerging affection for Contra is that this album is a true ‘grower’, and if you’re going to put it on a scale of one to Vampire Weekend its not going to score quite so highly. Embrace it on its own level, because its own level is what it has created – and in spite of the Paul Simon rip-off jibes which Ezra Koenig and band increasingly seem to have to deal with – you will find Contra an original, highly entertaining and easy going work of music, one which I would be deeply and honestly proud of (as well as very rich) had I been its creator.