When Alice Cooper first heard of Vampire Weekend, he was disappointed to discover that they weren’t — as their Scooby-Doo-ish name suggested — some new goth-metal band, but rather a quartet of polite ivy-leaguers with a hard-on for afropop. “Are all American bands metrosexual now?” he complained to noisecreep.com. “What happened to the balls in rock ’n’ roll?”
If Cooper didn’t like VW before, he’s definitely going to bite a chicken over Contra. The band pushes their polarizing brand of Africanized indie-rock even further, this time with less guitar, more marimbas, and a surprising number of outright ballads (the lovely “Taxi Cab”; “I Think UR A Contra”). There’s even some — brace yourself — Auto-Tune. But by sheer luck (or, you know, maybe the fact that Vampire Weekend might be a better band than they’re given credit for), most of it works. The best tracks crackle with energy and confidence, from the dizzying 40-yard dash of “Cousins” to “White Sky,” which bites Graceland so hard Paul Simon must have teeth marks. Elsewhere, “Holiday” sounds readymade for Caribbean Christmas parties, and “Run” floats weightlessly on baroque synths. Unfortunately, singer Ezra Koenig is still prone to showing off his vocabulary, over-stretching to rhyme “horchata” with “balaclava” and “masada” (Why not “enchilada,” or “Jake LaMotta?”). But those are minor wrinkles on an otherwise smooth Oxford shirt.
It’s barely been a year since VW’s debut was hyped up and then smacked down by the obsessive music blogosphere — a much more critical and fickle audience than Alice Cooper had to deal with when he was their age (and still relevant). Cheers to Vampire Weekend for shaking off the haters and having the balls to deliver another solid album (even if they’re polo balls).
— Chuck Kerr
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