Sonic Anthropolgists Pen Upper-Crust Thesis

    Vampire Weekend

    Contra

    XL RECORDINGS

    The last thing Vampire Weekend’s sophomore album Contra could be criticized for is a lack of ambition. The Ivy League foursome busted out its encyclopedia of instruments and genres and created 10 crossbred, expertly culled songs.

    These twacked-out hybrids range from dancehall to “fourth-wave” ska, African tribal drumming to Auto-Tune, indie-pop to deep-house synth. With so much overlap, the whirlwind of jumbled tastes could prove catastrophic — yet somehow the boys of VW manage to create a completely peerless, rhythmic masterpiece.

    After their preppy, bright-eyed debut, which included predictable college cuts like “Campus” and “Oxford Comma,” one wouldn’t expect the new album to reference right-wing Nicaraguan rebels, ’80s Nintendo games, a frothy Mexican rice drink or the text font Futura. But oh, it does.

    Whether sampling M.I.A.’s “Hussel” on “Diplomat’s Son” or taking tips from T-Pain on “California English,” these unabashed dorks don’t conform to iron-starched polos and cardigans no more — instead, they get cultured. “Run” is a flavorful, fast-paced dance number that explodes in African bass drumming, Miami Sound Machine trumpeting and moments of electronic New Wave, even reaching Disney “Circle of Life” sonics at one point.

    “Cousins” begins with classic ’50s guitars, continues with a thrashy punk baseline and — somewhere in the middle — includes a snippet of “Wipeout” surf rock.

    VW’s instrumental spectrum may range from marimbas to thumb pianos, harpsichords to synthesizers and Mariachi trumpets to jittery guitars — but the heartbeat of Contra is its percussion. Every track has an essence of rapid-fire snare, a deep thudding bass, tribal claps, congas and shakers or a dancehall dub — keeping this LP faster and fancier.

    Rostam Batmanglij’s production skills are leagues ahead of the first release, with riffs that jump and bump where “Oxford Comma” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” sailed by unadorned. And the electronic tinge on every cut lends a sense of new weirdness that the boys must have always been working towards. It portends a rich career ahead with overt pretension, a scholar’s eye inspiring the work and genuinely peculiar results. One imagines singer Ezra Koenig donning a monocle in his study as he pores over academic papers in one hand, underground mixtapes in the other. It’s a haughty and privileged image, but intelligence and chops go a long way.

    Uncovering meaning from the dense, obscure lyrics after one listen is challenging, if not impossible. Even after Googling the correct words (and searching “balaclava” on Wikipedia), grasping what the hell VW are getting at is no easy task. But Contra is worth the time and patience — in a generation of one-click-away information, everyone can access a page of answers. So what happens when four Columbia grads get greedy and want to do it all? Gorgeous sophomore sprawl.

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