The thrilling debut album from this intense New York City trio makes their city feel alive once again
Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
'The New Year deserves a new you. Now’s the perfect time to do a Gok Wan on your wardrobe'...
Instead, this season you should mostly be wearing striped Ralph Lauren shirts, deck shoes, chino shorts, pastel sweaters (in a knot around the neck, naturally) and accessorising the whole look with a Moroccan-style keffiyeh or a red, gold and green hand-woven waistcoat. At least those are the signals we’re getting from Vampire Weekend: inventors of the ‘afro prep’ style and the best band to come out of New York since The Strokes persuaded us to don those preposterously tight trousers in the first place.
Vampire Weekend inhabit a very different New York to The Strokes’ Lower East Side scuzz dens. They’ve got one foot on the cloistered campus of Columbia University, where they formed, and the other in Brooklyn’s artier outer reaches, from whence also came TV On The Radio, Yeasayer and Dirty Projectors. When NME visited them on home turf last summer they were playing their devastatingly charming afro-tinged indie-pop to a load of picnicking families munching vegan hot dogs in a municipal park. Not very rock’n’roll. But, compared to our usual diet of Camden grot and slutty rave hedonism, listening to Vampire Weekend’s music was like being caressed by a warm, tropical breeze. They’ve taken the wholesome, literate indie-pop of The Shins, cross-bred it with the camp post-punk of Franz Ferdinand and spiced it all up with exotic flourishes of soukous guitar, doing for African pop what Beirut did for Balkan folk.
There is simply nothing else out there that sounds quite like ‘Oxford Comma’. The prim choirboy harmonies – amplified by school-hall echo but without a hint of macho distortion – conceal an irresistible geek-pop tune played out over a delectable starched-collar groove. And have you ever before heard a lyric that elegantly rebukes grammar snobs and gives you a lesson in Tibetan geography before ultimately deferring to the wisdom of crunk rapper Lil Jon?
‘Mansard Roof’ may be even weirder: a song about neo-classical buildings (with a brief diversion into British maritime history) set to music that sounds like Gilbert & Sullivan bingeing on cheap speed. Vampire Weekend certainly like to make your brain whirr as your legs wobble, as you might expect from four such handsomely educated fellows, but they can also ambush you with unpretentious high-tempo hoedowns, such as the taut township groove of ‘A-Punk’, or the bustling, anthemic ‘Walcott’, which is Arcade Fire in an unusually chirpy mood.
Vampire Weekend are funky, too (in that naïve, gawky way perfected by their natural New York ancestors Talking Heads), while their relentless lo-fi cheeriness recalls Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers. Their strength is that, musically as well as sartorially, they’re unafraid to plunder and repurpose styles previously considered naffer than Bluetooth headsets. ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’ namechecks Peter Gabriel and the way it expertly incorporates African pop guitar riffs is a clear nod to Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ – an album that, until now, was listened to solely by eco-conscious Muswell Hill Mums organising dinner parties in aid of Nepalese yak farmers. There are uptight cod-ska rhythms that scream The Police, while the band even successfully ride out the fact that the intro to ‘M79’ sounds like the theme tune to a Sunday night rural detective series. A mischievous pop sensibility ensures all these little experiments come off as refreshing quirks rather than heinous transgressions.
Naysayers will inevitably take issue with Vampire Weekend’s privileged upbringing, but they’re actually no posher than most of the hoorays who patrol the London indie scene, and they’re a damn sight more inventive about how they channel their educational advantage into writing smart and original pop music. It’s true that most of Vampire Weekend’s songs seem to take place in a whitewashed Ivy League world where Blake and Walcott are acceptable Christian names, but singer Ezra Koenig is more Holden Caulfield than Frasier Crane, spearing the bores and the phonies in a language that’s too worldly and witty to resist.
Indulge in ‘Vampire Weekend’’s vivid, foppish fantasy, which can still tell you plenty about the human condition, even if its lacrosse whites are rather suspiciously well-laundered.
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