Advance Notice: Analyzing Vampire Weekend’s Contra

It’s hard to believe that it was only two years ago when four Columbia grads who looked prepped to sail from the Hamptons to Nantucket and back for a guitar tune-up were billed as a Band to Watch on Stereogum and Best New Music on Pitchfork. They were riding such a monstrous wave of hype, a crash and burn seemed inevitable. With the first news of their upcoming sophomore album, Contra, many believed that the Ivy League’s own box of Afropopcorn had set itself up for a fall. However, stripping away the normally guitar-heavy tracks, the band left the shores of the Upper West Side for a land with more falsetto crooning amid grooving bass lines, airy reverb, and catchy-as-hell synths.

Is this a new electronic-tinged country that no one saw Vampire Weekend drifting toward? Perhaps. But lyrically, we’re still in the same pop-culture reference-laden territory of their eponymous debut. After the jump, we take a closer look.

1. Horchata
Rhyming “horchata” with “aranciata” and “balaclava,” Ezra Koenig clearly knows how to make it through the winter wind chill. Why, with a summery orangeade and intentions to ski-mask-and-bank-rob (to pay for heating), of course. Cheers.

2. White Sky
“Around the corner/The house that modern art built/I ask for modern art.” Name-dropping the MoMA and Richard Serra in combination with a wistful chorus sounds more or less like constant touring has made Koenig homesick. Vampire Weakened?

3. Holiday
“A vegetarian since the invasion/She’d never seen the word ‘bombs’ blown up to 96 point Futura.”
Wes Anderson is known for his ubiquitous use of the font, Futura, in his overhead shots, his listing of the cast, and most importantly, his titles. Maybe Koenig’s holiday was spent watching Bottle Rocket and Rushmore? Or writing things in Futura (like the album sleeves) and pretending life was directed by Anderson? If you haven’t seen it already, here’s a clever marriage of the two.

4. California English
Imagine hearing “Fake Philly cheese steak but you use real toothpaste” in Auto-tune? More bearable, no? With only one song using this dead language, Vampire Weekend proves that man still reigns over machine. The last thirty seconds sound like Phil Collins with drumsticks as arms.

5. Taxi Cab
The opposing piano lines sprouting from Rostam Batmanglij’s fingers give this song a lighthearted Mark Mothersbaugh feel that also belongs in a Wes Anderson movie. “In the shadow of your first attack/I was questioning and looking back/You were standing on another track/Like a real aristocrat.” Social hierarchies? You should definitely expect to hear this in Wes’s next project.

6. Run
With just a melodic chorus, Run takes off from the onset (accompanied by a jungle beat) like an escape from humanity, not unlike the Postal Service’s “Brand New Colony.” Although “We mostly work to live/Until we live to work” aren’t the most revelation-filled, motivating lyrics, it’s something to think about while you suck in and put your dancing pants on because you’ll soon forget about any of your existential crises.

7. Cousins
You know this song. It’s that music video on a moving platform with confetti through a two minute, thirty-seven second long alleyway. “Me and my cousins/And you and your cousins/It’s a line that’s always running./Me and my cousins/And you and your cousins/I can feel it coming.” The brilliant simplicity lies in the subtle wedding celebration.

8. Giving Up The Gun
“Your sword’s grown old and rusty/Burnt beneath the rising sun/It’s locked up like a trophy/Forgetting all the things it’s done.” An exposition on the history of music… and the continued history of music. It’s reminiscent of conversations in Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control where they talk about the memory retained forever in used wooden instruments.

9. Diplomat’s Son
“Cause I’m gonna take it from Simon/and then I’m gonna take it behind them/If I ever had a chance it’s now then/But I never had the feeling I could offer that to you.” An intimate love song to Paul Simon or a call for adoption? The switches to a choir-like interlude are like little moments of contemplation, maybe like making sense of your true birth parents.

10. I Think Ur A Contra
“You wanted rock and roll/Complete control/Well I don’t know.” An orchestrated closer with a direct allusion to The Clash, a major influence on the four. Obviously about a girl, it could also be Koenig speaking directly to his spoiled listeners: “But even without hope/With truth on the side/When you turn away from me/It’s not right.” Brilliant.

Stream their new album (out January 12th) in its entirety on MySpace now. As the writers at Spin aptly put it, Vampire Weekend aren’t just good at being smart, they’re smart at being good. As for you naysayers and ignorant music snobs, you’re just being a walking contra.

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