Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend

XL Recordings, 2008

REVIEW BY: Jedediah Pressgrove


I remember thinking Vampire Weekend was an idiotic band name. After listening to their 34-minute self-titled debut, I realized not many other titles could fit what they are: a young, funny band of college graduates who pretend like they don’t care. (“Vampire Weekend” specifically refers to an amateur film directed by lead singer/guitarist Ezra Koenig.)

But the four members -- along with an additional six musicians lending violins and hand drums among other goodies -- are also damn fine at playing their instruments, which was the old line about The Police. And even though many critics focus on Vampire Weekend’s allegiance to Afro-Pop, post-punk is another important ingredient of the band’s sound.

Still, if you listen to “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes” from Paul Simon’s Graceland, you will hear similar things on much of this album -- clean guitar riffs, bumpy bass, and that percussion. On the other hand, Vampire Weekend’s sound is not as overproduced as Simon’s -- there’s a lot more space. Among other places, Vampire Weekend was recorded in a barn and bassist Chris Baio’s mom’s house. Koenig is an appropriately vibrant leader, but Rostam Batmanglij gives the band its own Jay Bennett (former multi-instrumentalist of Wilco).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Mansard Roof,” the lead track, is a joyful way to start an album with its driving beat and ringing guitar. Two quick minutes later, you might get even more enthusiastic about “Oxford Comma” (which I’ll come back to) before hitting “A-Punk,” which sounds eerily like the Ramones a couple of times, and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” a very Afro-Pop track.

The fifth song, “M79,” is a combination of Afro-Pop, classical, and post-punk. The first two make up the general sound of the track, while the latter is most evident when Koenig mimics early Police as he sings “So go I know you would not stay” and blankets you with the recollection that, yes, Sting didn’t always sing like an adult contemporary fiend.

And the album continues to be fun. “Campus” is a simple and funny college tale that either involves a failed relationship or an affair with a professor. Whichever way, it’s all about avoiding the person on campus: “How am I supposed to pretend / I never want to see you again.”

The most serious -- and most post-punk -- moment is definitely “I Stand Corrected,” which juxtaposes energy and emptiness. It’s almost another take on the simple theme The Beatles explored with “We Can Work It Out” and results in an effective break from the band’s usual.

If “Bryn” is the track they should have thrown out, the aforementioned “Oxford Comma” is the reason why you can forgive such a flaw. Its opening lyrics are the hook: “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?” Once you find out what an Oxford comma is (the comma that comes before “and” in a series), those who aren’t grammar specialists may concur, “Yeah, who does?” Even though the remaining lyrics don’t make as much sense, they’re still fun.

And that is what makes Vampire Weekend a great band. You don’t have to understand what Koenig is saying or even be familiar with Afro-Pop. They deliver every song in a neat package of solid instrumentation, catchy vocals, and refreshing bliss. They already have the mark of a great pop group, and I would call their debut one of the best pop albums of the current decade.

Rating: A-

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© 2008 Jedediah Pressgrove and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of XL Recordings, and is used for informational purposes only.