Richie Ainger reviews the Vamps second album, which slightly meanders down a new pathway, yet maintains that good old frat-indie afro beat we all love.

Anyhow it doesn’t much impress Richie, which is a shame as it’s starting to grow on me.

Contra – Vampire Weekend

XL Records 2010
CD (Version Tested) also bonus tracks version available / Download includes bonus tracks.
Track Listing:
1. Horchata   (3:26)
2. White Sky   (2:58)
3. Holiday   (2:18)
4. California English   (2:30)
5. Taxi Cab   (3:55)
6. Run   (3:52)
7. Cousins   (2:25)
8. Giving Up The Gun   (4:46)
9. Diplomat’s Son   (6:01)
10. I Think Ur A Contra   (4:29)


Chris Baio – Bass, Backing Vocals
Rostam Batmanglij – Keyboards, Guitar, Backing Vocals
Erza Koenig – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Chris Tomson – Drums, Percussion

Vampire Weekend, producers of what maybe termed the marmite album of 2008, could be accused of being the purveyors of unoriginal African inspired pop a la Paul Simon’s Graceland – couldn’t they? Or are they in fact champions of a sound that has been left wilting at the wayside by the mainstream?
On the back of the self titled debut, I sided towards the latter for 4 or 5 listens, until I realized that there was a distinct lack of strength and depth to many of the songs. It was a shame as there was certainly the potential. But that potential was buried under the preppy college life that Ezra Koenig sings about: it is very hard to think of this band as anything other than preppy or privileged. The melodies were in abundance, the catchy ‘Mansard Roof’ and ‘A-Punk’ to the more understated ‘I Stand Corrected’ and ‘Campus’. But the content of the songs grated.

2010’s effort Contra starts of where the debut album finished, borrowing heavily from Paul Simon and Afro-pop in the form of the heavy use of glockenspiel and the drum rhythms.
Tracks ‘Horchata’, ‘White Sky’ and ‘Taxi Cab, are delicate, both in terms of the vocals and the instrumentation: the band seems to have taken any of the criticism leveled at them in their stride and grown musically, especially as the faux reggae beats no longer manage to clutter the songs.
Instead, the tracks benefit from the slow build-ups, allowing them to develop into memorable melodies with lilting synths and splashes of drum machine.
‘Cousins’ and ‘Holiday’ hark back to the more up-tempo moments on the debut. The not so subtle lyrics (“to go away on a summer’s day never seemed so clear – Holiday”) and the urgent tempo of both songs really would be out of place before.

Alas there are some mediocre songs in the mix too. How can a group of simple ideals ruin a song like ‘California English’ without realizing it?  Auto-tune is a one stop shop to destroying anything remotely decent (see ‘Woods’ by Bon Iver off  The Blood Bank EP for example). It does more harm to the song than good. But I digress a little, sorry. ‘Diplomat’s Son’ is another example of where Vampire Weekend slips back into there weary wry efforts on the first album. It sounds like it has come straight out of the 1980s, Nintendo bleeps and all.
If the band had shown the restraint of ‘Horchata’, ‘White Shy’ and ‘Taxi Cab’, which are three of the finer moments of the LP, the album could have been much greater than it is. Instead, there are little things within songs (i.e. Auto-tune) that drag it down. When the band drifts from their more impressive moments, back to the tired cod-reggae, they let themselves down. Also, for all its failings, the debut LP was at least a dose of pure balls out pop and did have a feel good factor about it. It was full of high soaring choruses and swooping melodies but Contra on the other hand leaves me feeling flat. It seems almost as though the band are just going through the motions. Songs like ’Run’ and ‘I Think Ur A Contra’ seem devoid of any sense of emotion. By all means we have here a pleasant enough album but instead of one that could have been worth the effort, it is instead an album that tried but failed to be anything other then solid without being good.

Richie Ainger

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