“There will be no encore,” Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig announced to a sold-out High Noon Saloon last April.
It wasn’t a surly crowd — every eyeball in the establishment glistened with adoration for the four-set — nor was it too many tips of the bottle that prevented Koenig & Co. from reliving more stories of the Ivy League.
Vampire Weekend had simply run out of songs.
It was with just the 11 songs off the group’s self-titled 2008 debut album — the majority of the group’s musical repertoire — which hurled the group onto the indie radar with little to no warning. It was success that came so quickly and unapologetically it made many wonder whether the quartet from Columbia University would have any staying power.
So it’s easy to want to tip-toe through Vampire Weekend’s newest, Contra, a follow-up album still wrought with the group’s signature “Upper West Side Soweto,” yet decidedly different from its predecessor. Gone are the bloated college-life references (“Campus” or “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)”) or jubilant cries for youthful rebellion (“Walcott”) — and there’s certainly no “Bryn.” Instead, Contra finds the group more lyrically honest and more adventurous in deviating from the African beats which drove the band’s earlier work.
Yet the characteristic Vampire Weekend sounds are all still there — “Giving Up the Gun,” the album’s most commercial track, plugs forward with a commanding 16th-note bass line, while the first single “Cousins” has enough jangling guitar to satisfy — but the band tones this down considerably on Contra. Album-opener “Horchata” is almost ethereal with its backing “oh” chorus, and the somber “Taxi Cab” and up-beat “California English” rely heavily on the contrast between computer-generated noise and classic instrumentation.
This altered approach is evidence that, while Vampire Weekend was an album from a group of college-aged men, Contra is one which represents the demographic. “White Sky,” with its “Campus”-reminiscent, computer-generated bleep introduction, approaches the notion of longing from the second-hand perspective. “You’ve waited since lunch/ It all comes at once,” Koenig purrs, following up with a series of jubilant yelps and showcasing the frontman’s oft overlooked vocal talents. It’s the most successful track on the album, striking a happy balance between both a contemplative look at the notion of desire and the joy — which comes by way of computerized slaps and Koenig’s vocalization — of discovery.
Contra proves Vampire Weekend is more than a group of entitled New York prepsters that found good fortune when one stumbled upon a harpsichord and another on a 6/8 time signature. It’s an album that finds the quartet growing out of its Oxfords and into its own. It’s a welcome encore, one certainly worth staying for.
4 stars out of 5.