Sunday, January 27, 2008

Record Review: Vampire Weekend: s/t

The New York band's debut full-length finally hits stores...and it's very good. The band's self-described "Upper West Side Soweto" style isn't the next great step for mankind, but is distinct and colorful nonetheless, and given the onslaught of incredible lively, infectious pop songs, the originality matters little anyway.

Rating: 4/5

Do you know what the Strokes, the Vines, the Hives, and the White Stripes have in common? Very little, actually, whether sonically, geographically, or otherwise. Of course, the music press labeled them all “garage rock revival” and the casual modern rock listener followed suit, tossing the bluesy duo from Detroit (who, ya know, had two albums under their belt already) and the Velvet-y post-punks from New York into the same pile. Okay, so they had a bit more than “very little” in common, but the hype machine smothered the distinct differences between them.

Of course, then mp3 blogs exploded, everyone learned to “rapidshare” and “megaupload,” and social networks starting launching artists (Arctic Monkeys, Lily Allen) into stardom (well, at least onto the front cover of NME). This is story of how a group of 20-something Columbia students with no official albums becomes one of the most blogged-about bands around, trumpeted by the hype machine as the greatest thing since sliced bread.

So, does the latest It band live up to the buzz? Yes and no (kind of anticlimactic, apologies). They’re not God’s gift to mankind or anything, but man oh man, can they write pop songs or what. Their debut album packs one exuberantly catchy gem after another, showcasing an immediately likeable band with a good deal of talent, a sharp, realized sound, and, ultimately, no real downside.

The thing is, nothing here hints at a tremendous upside, either. We’d be na├»ve to suggest that somehow Vampire Weekend has pioneered the next frontier of indie rock, however fresh and distinct their style may be. For those listeners whose iPods play Radiohead on a non-stop loop (which, at times, includes me), Vampire Weekend’s incorporation of African-influenced styles into their music may seem like a revelation, but like Columbus didn’t discover America, VW aren’t inventing the wheel here, simply rolling it another direction.

Despite the Afro-centric element of the band’s sound, Vampire Weekend are, pure and simple, an indie rock band at heart. Think Hot Hot Heat if they grown up on soukous music instead of XTC, or Spoon if they spent time dancing the kwassa kwassa instead of getting slanted and enchanted (that second one was kinda bad :) ). Of course, this isn’t a bad thing by any means. Any way you slice it, this thing kicks ass. Massive pre-release buzz automatically leads to the “do they deserve it?” comparative analysis, but, with or without preconceived notions, it’s near impossible to resist the zesty, frolicking guitar licks, jubilant melodies, and propulsive grooves of Vampire Weekend’s addictive full-length.

Just try to get the opening guitar of “A-Punk” or “Byrn” out of your head, or try to keep yourself from singing “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?” The insatiably catchy songs here are the driving force, most of which you have likely already heard on the widely circulated Blue CD-R. In fact, the only change here is the dumping of the solid “Boston” for the, um, equally solid “M79” and “I Stand Corrected.” (No great seismic shift, either positively or negatively)

Vampire Weekend don’t try to be something they’re not, instead, fortunately, playing to their strengths, throwing in slight curve balls (the harpsichord and strings on “M79,” the synths on “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)”) but always sticking to their winning peppiness. Time will tell whether they can take their relatively basic sound to greater heights, but for now, Vampire Weekend, one of the first exceptional albums of 2008, will more than suffice.
Buy: Amazon

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I don't suppose I can get an M79 mp3 haha