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Contra (Bonus Track Version)

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iTunes Review

Refining the cheerfully collegiate chamber-pop of their debut, Contra finds Vampire Weekend shooting in hi-definition, throwing synthesizers, drum machines and dollhouse levels of production detail into their previously modest sound while drawing on a world of styles Vampire Weekend only hinted at—like a jump from old sepia photographs to an animated .gif. In the mix are shades of Chicano punk (“Cousins”), suburban ska (“Holiday”), English power-pop (“Giving Up the Gun”), and Caribbean soca (“Diplomat’s Son”), all of which backlight stories as strange and smart as they are bittersweet.

Customer Reviews

VW Hones on Island Effect

As Vampire Weekend fans know, their songs are a happy time. For instance, their eponymous album was characterized by its unique island effect. So is Contra, with the distinction that VW’s songs have never been so rich. Veteran VW listeners will find a beautiful gem. New VW listeners will be hard-pressed to ignore the powerful effect that is Vampire Weekend. Continue reading.

HORCHATA is reminiscent of the drink: Mexican and spacey. The chorus echoes out into your dancing feet: “Here comes a feeling...” Don’t miss the treat of listening to it while drinking it (too late for December). Great opener and first single. 10

WHITE SKY disorients some with the crooning and shouting, but after multiple plays one can see the antithesis of the piece. White Sky balances over a precipice with the unabashed beat and clever guitar-work. Don’t fall over the edge. 9.9

HOLIDAY is a commentary on the fleeting holidays, the sweet happiness of celebration, followed by the sour tang of having to go back to reality. As far as musical bliss, it is not the most pleasant. The bridge is nice. 7.9

CALIFORNIA ENGLISH is a refreshingly new effect. Most bands trip on auto-tune, but VW is showing off. Many point to Rostam’s side project, Discovery, as a strong influence. This version really is a precursor to California English Pt. 2. 9.9

TAXI CAB is a lullaby. The piano paints a thin, black border. The use of strings, as usual, is impeccable and the strained background instrument gives it an edge faintly evocative of The Joker’s theme. Ezra’s low vocal range is fascinating. 9.2

RUN glorifies Rostam’s keyboard by making a “mermaid” effect. The verses are robust, but kick into the chorus with “run” where Rostam jams. Love/hate the tension with the effect. In this reviewer’s humble opinion, this is the best song ever made. 10

COUSINS hits the listener with the catchiest song ever made by VW. It is comparable to A-Punk from their eponymous album. As the first real single it displays the most energy, though there is not much effect. The music video is also exciting. 9.6

GIVING UP THE GUN is their pinning to arena rock. The introduction of girl backups is most refreshing. the effect here is a little more subtle, signaling the subtlety of the rest of the album. 9.5

DIPLOMAT’S SON’s lengthy evolution brings out each salient side of reggae: texturizing either the steel drum, the slow piano, the baroque strings, or the heavy beat in turn. It employs vocal harmonies and background chatter not seen in reggae before. 10

I THINK UR A CONTRA is the slowest VW song. The first minutes are electronic, followed with baroque, and then settling with percussion. Like Diplomat’s Son, it is a journey. Minimalist instrumentation that would make Sigur Ros envious. 9.8

No matter whether you think the title is a reference to the video game, to Nicaraguan radicals, or a joke of VW’s concerning The Clash, Contra can only be explained as thus: Vampire Weekend has refined (and redefined) a beautiful sound found in the reincarnations of their island effect. As someone who has been waiting for this one since the beginning, I am pleased with the outcome. Cheers for Ezra on song-writing! And Rostam on producing! Despite arriving early in 2010, I will not be surprised to see this one win a Grammy. Contra scores a composite of 95.8%, with all possible criticism.

They've done it again!

I was afraid this was going to be 11 tracks of Vampire Weekend trying too hard to sound like Vampire Weekend, but I was thrilled to find that they've still got it. If anything I think this album sounds more like them than the last album, and I anticipate what they will do next at this point in their career.

Improvements on an already great sound (w/ Track-by-Track Review)

In a word: Contra is a risk. Vampire Weekend gained huge (and unexpected) popularity with their self-titled debut in 2008. But with their followup album, the band takes everything we loved from the first (the instantly memorable lyrics, Afro-pop tribal rhythms, catchy, sophisticated melodies) and expands upon them with a sure-footedness that's admirable for a relatively new group who encountered mainstream success. It could've been so easy for Ezra Koenig and co. to remake their debut and still make lots of money and generate praise. But they took a chance and reworked their sound, and it works. Incredibly well. Just to rattle off a short list of some things you WON'T find on their first album: auto-tune, computerized beats, bubbly synths, handclaps, M.I.A. samples (!!!), holiday bells, xylophone hooks, horn lines, 8-bit breakdowns, etc. etc. Okay, well maybe that wasn't a SHORT list. As you can see, a lot has been introduced. But of course there's still the things that make these songs sound distinctly like the Vampire Weekend we know and love: string accompaniment, Ezra's amazingly versatile voice, witty wordplay and creative rhyme schemes ("horchata" with "balaclava" and "aranciata"). All in all, if you liked the first album, and are open to changes, you will love Contra. While it may be a risk for the band, I feel it will be a success. 2010 may have just begun, but I know it's on my best-of list already.

Track-by-Track Review

01. Horchata - (8/10) - A great introduction to the album; Ezra's voice here is really incredible. Love the sing-along "ohhhh"s and the mallet accompaniment.
02. White Sky - (9/10) - A quite catchy tune, if a tad repetitive. The synths are right on and the falsetto chorus puts a smile on your face.
03. Holiday - (8-10) - A brief return to VW's debut sound, with a happy, bouncy feel, and a fast-paced, melodic chorus.
04. California English - (6/10) The auto-tune, while creatively used, is not really necessary and brings down this otherwise solid VW song.
05. Taxi Cab - (9/10) - Beautiful and slow. The strings here really make the song, along with the languid, dramatic pace.
06. Run - (10/10) - Just amazing. The chorus will stick in your head forever, and the bridge may be one of the catchiest bits I've heard in a very, VERY long time.
07. Cousins - (9/10) - Fast. Very fast. This song has been described as a "blitz", and I have to agree. Great lyrics and the constant snare drum keeps the tune moving. The bass is pure genius.
08. Giving Up The Gun - (8/10) - The most straightforward VW song to date, with a fast and loud techno beat, and mainstream rock chord progression (of course it's still Vampire Weekend we're talking about here).
09. Diplomat's Son - (10/10) - The M.I.A. sample is a very nice touch. The tune itself is classic VW, plus synths. And the 8-bit bridge is downright infectious.
10. I Think Ur A Contra - (10/10) - [I could write a paragraph on this track alone. I'll try to keep it as brief as possible] The faded chords in the beginning of this tune have a confidence previously unheard of from VW. It almost sounds like a feel-good classic rock tune, ala Baba O'Riley, with it's triuphant feel. The majority of the song is the soft crooning of Ezra, speaking of love and the divisions that love creates ("I had a feeling once that you and I could tell each other everything for two months"). Then it collapses into a march of hand-percussion, ramshackle guitar, and Ezra's conclusion ("Never pick sides, never choose between two, but I just wanted you, I just wanted you"). And then the song abruptly ends. Absolutely beautiful.
OVERALL - 9.5/10 (5 stars, not an average)


Formed: 2006 in New York, NY

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Mixing preppy, well-read indie rock with joyful, Afro-pop-inspired melodies and rhythms, Vampire Weekend grew from one of the first bands to be championed by music bloggers into a Grammy Award-winning act that helped define the sound of the 2010s. Hailing from New York City, Ezra Koenig, Chris Baio, Rostam Batmanglij, and Chris Tomson formed the band early in 2006, when they were finishing up their studies at Columbia University. Taking their name from a short film Koenig made during his freshman...
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