Sophomore albums can make or break a band’s reputation—and sometimes they can even make or break the band. Too often, an artist overreaches and tries to push into radically different territory with disastrous results. Or a band can hash out the same material, sounding like a stagnant self-parody of their first album. Luckily, Vampire Weekend’s Contra manages to avoid these all-too-common trappings.
For those of you not familiar with Vampire Weekend, the band achieved mainstream success with their self-titled debut (released in January of ’08), making the T.V. rounds on shows like Late Night with David Letterman and Saturday Night Live. Known for their idiosyncratic blend of poly-rhythms infectious melodies, the band recently released their second album, Contra, in January.
The album’s lead track, the deceptively simple-sounding “Horchata,” manages to ease you into what seems to be Vampire Weekend’s overarching aesthetic (so far): a mish-mash of African rhythms, string sections, and an otherwise somewhat minimal arrangement. After “Horchata,” the record covers a lot of terrain, with the manic energy of lead single “Cousins,” to the heavily affected vocals of “California English,” to the comfort of a downright sweet melody in “Taxi Cab.” This album manages the difficult task of being both instantly-approachable and rewarding after repeated listens. And in the end, I’m not really sure what more I can ask of a band.
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