Monday, January 11, 2010

Contra Review

mp3 - Vampire Weekend - "Horchata"
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Does Tickle Me Elmo ever drunk dial a Zhu-Zhu and tearfully harangue him in a slurred speech tearing him down; screeching out some mascara-dribbled Joan Crawford-eque tirade of how everyone’s just going to love you and then leave you and move onto the next hot young floozie? I’m sure it’s happened…right?

This is close to what I imagine when observing the already-exasperated phenomenon of "blog-buzz-bands." The "blog buzz" background’s often the preface to any blurb, screed or review hacked out for New York’s crisp, clean, champagne-bubbly pop and cutesy Afro-beat folksters Vampire Weekend; how listeners were prescribed to get on the bandwagon early for this hip, clean-shaven crew that promised to reappraise Graceland-era Paul Simon, make yacht-rock edgier and wow-you-n-woo-you with their honey-dipped harmonies and invigorating choppety rhythms.

Well, yeah, that pretty much happened (before their debut even came); but then it did come out and all the rumors seemed true and we all fell in love with their Oxford collars (and "Oxford Commas"). Their style of pop, maybe a wee bit wimpy (if not nerdy) and maybe a wee bit derivative (if not ostentatious) was the epitome of "infectious." Like crystal meth-Starbursts – we all kept unwrapping it – but, just as quickly, we all got stomach aches and crashed from our sugar highs. To their credit, or vindication, they are still the apex of what was considered "buzz bands" in terms of disarming talent, (however fleeting it still might end up), still, though, Vampire Weekend, with their debut batch of orchestral calypso-flavored rumba folk, entranced us with their sorcerer-like pleasing pop.

But there is something to be said for staying power – and that’s something that just can’t be conjured by would be tastemakers, be they for bands, or Wal-Mart for Zhu Zhus. Hence, I’m leery when, initially I feel, again, sanctimonious gaga love for these cascading string plucks, measured cello hums, head-swimming coos ("White Sky"), these charming xylophones that chop and pound into marching drums and elegant humming ohhhs falling like the winter snow vilified in its escapist chorus ("Horchata"), or the almost Talking Heads-ian style of those strangled, jittery guitar riffs under the oh-my-god-I’m-freaking-out-tightness of the drums ("Cousins"). But they can’t pull off the high strung style of "Cousins," and "Horchata" can overstay it’s welcome (not unlike "Cape Kod Kwassa Kwassa"), and attempted poignant pieces ("UR a Contra") fall flat. The victory here is when they bring in the synths in (sorry Ted Nugent), like the revelatory reggae-pulsed space-buzz/piano prance of "Diplomat’s Son," or massaging gush and fuzz furled march of "Run."

The nigh-Animal Collective-tasting electro-poppety-pop of "California English" recalls keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij’s foray with recent synth-project "Discovery." Though we may burn this out just as fast, Contra’s one redeeming quality is it’s intricate layers ("White Sky,") dressy but discrete arrangements ("Taxi Cab") and ponderous lyrical content (the lackluster "Holiday"’s anecdotal Iraq War reference.) "Here comes the feeling you thought you’d forgotten," Ezra Koenig aptly sings in "Horchata," the question: how fast will we forget it again?

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