As someone with a big collection of media in her house, I’m always pleased on the infrequent occasion when something matches. I don’t have a matching Harry Potter set because half are hardbacks and half paperbacks; my eight hundred (give or take) Agatha Christie books don’t match because they’re all second-hand and from different decades; I don’t have a matching set of the Buffy television series because I have the last season on DVD and the first six on that mythical format known as “VHS”. And bands are never known for having a theme with their releases; sometimes it’s a plastic case, sometimes a digipak, sometimes it comes in a gigantic house-shaped box (damn you, Peter Gabriel’s Steam single, for being completely inconvenient to shelve anywhere. Honestly, Pete, you’re lucky I like Genesis, though when I think about it, my favourite track is “Land of Confusion” and thus post-you.)
So it came as a great pleasure to find that Vampire Weekend’s newest album, Contra, has a Polaroid-type cover that matches their last, self-titled album perfectly. Vampire Weekend are going to find themselves in a Very Prominent Position on our shelves because of it. Oh, yeah, also because we love them. The first album was played repeatedly in our house, especially the tracks “Mansard Roof”, “A-Punk”, and “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)”, which I loathed but Chris adored. It’s indie pop, upbeat and full of fun times. While their new album follows a similar vein, where Vampire Weekend was indie-pop-rock, Contra is indie-pop-electronica.
“Horchata” opens the album; a beautiful track that smacks a little of Animal Collective in the lovely built-up-then-filled-out musical tornadoes that I love to hear. It’s a great song, I’m hardly one to complain when one good band journeys down the same road as another, and they arrive in different places, and much better ones than this analogy. It’s a good choice to open the album with, and is followed by more strong tracks. “White Sky” has a slightly dated synth line but the sung “oooooo”s are always welcome in my car’s cd player. “Holiday” is enjoyable, and not one of the most tropical of their tracks, which is surprising at least to me, as I always see the word “holiday” and think “palm trees!” even though I have yet to travel to Miami or Hawaii for my holidays. “California English” has a chorus that comes across as an early nineties Nintendo game soundtrack, possibly for a tropical-themed game; it’s basically 8-bit Caribbean tunes with vocalist Ezra Koenig singing in what appears to be fast forward over the track. It’s skewy, and doesn’t always match the mundane verse, but altogether a fun track. “Run” contains Ezra’s voice-breaker vocals that start the track as if it’s a version of “California English”, but it brightens into its own track. This track’s synths reminds me a little of the aforementioned Peter Gabriel, who the band do cite in two of the tracks on their previous album. Honestly though, I only discussed him earlier because he really does have the most awkward cd case in my collection. Not that it’s a sore point, of course, and not that I’m narrowing my eyes in its direction as I type. “Cousins” was the first single released from the album, a fast-paced track that feels a little like you’re listening to a track from the last album on 45 when it’s supposed to be on 33 1/3. Still, it’s a strong beginning for the album and was what motivated us to buy Contra, because we loved Vampire Weekend and wanted more. But is it more of the same? If it is, do I care in the least? No: I’d listen to their b-sides and everything because, for me, they’re a very solid and appealing band and their sprightly songs really do pep me up when I’m feeling down. Songs like “Taxi Cab” and “Giving Up the Gun” are moodier pieces, and while good, don’t quite have the frenetic cheerfulness that uplifts other tracks. “Taxi Cab” is replete with a tinkling keyboard line and more serious undertones, but quite lovely all the same.
“Giving Up The Gun” smacks a little of the eighties, which I survived most of once and am upset to see are having a revival when if I’m only twenty-seven and can recall it means that it is too new to be retro yet, surely, and still is in the land of abject humiliation. Regardless, the track doesn’t really appeal to me much, and when followed with flatter songs “Diplomat’s Sun” and semi-titular/wholly grammatically upsetting “I Think Ur a Contra”, leaves the album ending on a note that makes me say, “What a great album! I’ll listen to that again tomorrow,” which is a pretty thumbs-up thing to say, but is no, “What a great album! I’m going to put that on my iPod and listen to it obsessively for the next eight hours on my enormous and fantastic headphones whilst having a spiritual experience” which is the highest rating an album can get, and no, I’m not telling you what album elicited that response, and it was probably more like four hours anyway.