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Groove to these worldly Vampires
Fri, Feb 12, 2010
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BY SUJIN THOMAS

VAMPIRE Weekend's Contra might not suit everyone's tastes, but it has managed to sway the minds of enough detractors to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard music charts late last month.

It is a commendable feat for a New York band whose brand of music banks hard on Afro- pop influences not heard in the mainstream since the halcyon days of Paul Simon's 1986 Graceland album.

The quartet met while they were students at Columbia University and named themselves Vampire Weekend after a short film some of them had worked on.

In 2008, they released their self-titled debut which caught the attention of critics for attempting a genre which, in recent decades, has remained unchartered and uncopied.

In a nutshell, they sounded utterly fresh with their jab at world music melodies juxtaposed against modern pop rhythms on tracks like Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.

Contra is a honed version of its predecessor, with sharper lyrics and a greater diversity in sounds, even if West-Indian undertones lie dominant.

BIG SOUND: Vampire Weekend?s are (from left) Rostam Batmanglij, Chris Baio, Chris Tomson and Ezra Koenig.

The track Horchata - which refers to a Mexican rice drink - is a singalong number with references to looking psychotic in a balaclava and pincher crabs that, er, pinch at sandals.

It ends triumphantly with pounding drums - partly contributed by Thom Yorke's marimba player, Mauro Refosco - which sound as though the chords were sampled from The Lion King.

Singer-songwriter Ezra Koenig shows off his vocal range, slipping in and out of falsettos on White Sky, an ode to Manhattan and its quirks.

California English is a twitchy, unique beast with its upbeat African inclinations.

But Koenig utilises Auto-Tune, giving even more heft to his already high-pitched vocals.

It encompasses classic with modernity and, dare we say, moves into the realm of timelessness.

Mainstream stalwarts will find immediate comfort with Run, a Bob Marley-esque foundation layered with strobes of electro-synth beeps.

Later on, the spirit of Paul McCartney is evoked on Diplomat's Son, as Koenig sings: "Dressed in white with my car keys hidden in the kitchen/I could sleep wherever I lay my head".

Two years on, many have slowly come to not just accept these Vampires but love them for the tight ship that they run.


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