Review ·
An incredible amount of hype has been heaped on Vampire Weekend. Signed to XL on the strength of only an EP and a seven-inch, the quartet of recent Columbia University graduates has been garnering attention for a sound that at first draws immediate comparisons, at least musically, to the effortless African rhythms of Paul Simon’s Graceland. As a template, they certainly could’ve picked worse. But in judging the band on its own merits, Vampire Weekend’s debut comes across as a confident, precise, and, for better and worse, mature collection.

Despite the advance warning on the blogs, there are actually only two songs that undeniably warrant the Paul Simon namedrop. The syncopated Congolese rhythm and clean-picked guitar melody propelling “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” has no parallel in the insular world of American indie-rock, but would fit in perfectly after “I Know What I Know” on Graceland. That the high-fret bass runs and keyboard lines seem copied from “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” is insignificant. This and “Bryn” are concise encapsulations of what Vampire Weekend does best -- take the simplest facet of a melodic line and, with drummer Chris Tomson’s rhythmic command, make it the song’s pristine focus. The members merge Africa and New England and then quickly move on.

But “Cap Cod Kwassa Kwassa” is not the album’s best track; it’s merely an introduction to the band’s aesthetic. “Campus” and “Oxford Comma” better represent not who Vampire Weekend is but who Vampire Weekend could be in the future. They also happen to be perfect jump-off points to discuss what keeps this album from being as successful as it could be.

With references to Dharamsala, passports, Chap Stick, butlers, neckties, the United Nations, diction, English dramas, and, finally, inexplicably, Lil Jon, “Oxford Comma” is perhaps the most confusing keyboard-driven pop gem that is ostensibly about oft-misused punctuation. The problem is, essentially, that it’s too ironic for its own good. The music swells in all the expected places, but there is no feeling behind it. And the song feels cut off; where brevity typically suits the band, “Oxford Comma” suffers from it and feels lacking.

And on another standout, “Campus,” the band comes across as, despite the four-on-the-floor pulse and lilting, impressive melody, too carefully crafted and intellectually distanced. For a singer who sounds remarkably like Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys, Koenig’s repeated lyrical theme in “Campus” -- “I pull my shirt on/ walk out the door/ drag my feet along the floor” -- is a pallid attempt at description compared even with a throwaway Turner lyric like, “Though they might wear classic Reeboks/ Or knackered Converse/ Or tracky bottoms tucked in socks” (from “A Certain Romance”).

The song’s flourishes of both classical orchestration and African polyrhythms mixed with lyrics like “In the afternoon you’re out on the stolen grass/ And I’m sleeping on the balcony after class” only further the elitist vantage point of the band. You can dance to them, and you can sing along with them, but you can’t identify with them. Much is made of Vampire Weekend’s intellectual pedigree, but if they want to progress on more than the innovation of their music and a preppy, privileged aesthetic, the lyrics need to step up on an emotional, empathetic level.

The album’s true highlight, then, is the second-to-last track, “Walcott.” At 3:42, it clocks in as the third-longest song, yet it passes by in a blur of pounded, descending piano chords and tastefully minimal and staccato orchestration. There is no African lineage. Rather, what makes it so powerful is what tracks like “Mansard Roof,” “M79,” and the otherwise stellar “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” lack: vulnerability. Koenig remains calm a little removed in his depiction of the wealthy dissatisfaction of a privileged Eastern seaboard lifestyle, yet in the final chorus something finally opens up. As he reaches to his higher register for “Walcott/ Don’t you know that it’s insane/ Don’t you want to get out of Cape Cod/ Out of Cape Cod tonight?” we hear the band finally unleashing some of the pent-up passion masked by the intellectual distance of the previous tracks. They are, after all, kids, and on “Walcott,” their youth and unchecked emotion are, if only for a brief moment, wonderful virtues.

***
Band: http://www.vampireweekend.com
Label: http://www.xlrecordings.com
Audio: http://www.myspace.com/vampireweekend

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This record just isn't doing it for me. I have spun it four times through now and there just isn't anything drawing me back.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/breidy/Koko B. Ware.jpg breidy

this record is super bland.

John B

I think people are giving it sort of a bad rap. I mean, it's not really trying to be anything but a breezy pop record, and on that front it succeeds.

Jeff K

just a victim of overhype

/site_media/uploads/images/users/basho/pirate mug.jpg basho

This record is really solid. I'm not sure where the blandness comes from; they're pretty spicy in terms of how Ezra's great voice, the spot-on keyboard placement, consistently solid rhythmic "ideas," and charismatic melodies interract. Sure, there are some misses, but it's hard to resist that mix of classical inclinations and sparsely boppin,' buoyant love-making. I mean melody-making.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/ehalpern/n22701428_30374667_7242.jpg ehalpern

They're playing near me in a month or so, opening for the Walkmen (who I love) - I'll check out the live show first before I judge the cd. Seems fair to me.

xn

im feelin' it. Its not trying to change any musical landscape. To be honest their sound reminds me of other bands, but with that said, im still feelin it.

Tom R

I can already feel it... The backlash on this one is gonna be more hardcore than the Strokes getting covered by Bloc Party. I haven't even heard the album yet, and I'm starting to get sick of reading their name. I can already read the bad reviews of their next album... in my mind!!

/site_media/uploads/images/users/prefix/no-user-pic.gif noise redux

Yep, you're right noisereductions. I have heard it. I go for cutting edge and this is an awfully dull blade. Might as well listen to the Carpenters. Even they didn't have marketing this good.

Jack d

there was too much hype, but ultimately i think it's a fun, good record.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/daba/me-bermudajpg.jpg Daba

Great album; you whiny hipsters haven't got a clue.

randy

Because I'm a hater.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/chris/pony.jpg chris

took awhile to grow on me...but i'm all in now.. This album will be a perfect listen for those chilled out moments of hot, sticky summer months...

cj

Best and most fair review I've read. Great, catchy songs, but at times you wish they'd put more on the line when making them (less intellectual distance, more emotional heart and soul...)

devillighter

I think you can't criticise this band for a lack of lyrical genius. The focus is on the music, the rhythm and grooves. This is where the genius of vampire weekend lies, this is what you get out of listening to them. Something that is incredibly dancable! If you want good lyrics, that's what Bob Dylan is for. Vampire Weekend is for dancing.

Andy Pandy

Really fun stuff, but overrated. I really don't think it has legs.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/prefix/no-user-pic.gif powers

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