half of me is the gasoline and the other half’s the surf

Somehow while reviewing Vampire Weekend’s debut album, I managed to avoid explicitly comparing them to Paul Simon – a feat which I didn’t remember accomplishing until re-reading the post two minutes ago and one that must have been done through sheer force of will because they are inexorably linked in my mind. In any case, Contra still cozies up to Simon’s influence, but pulls in so much more.

Contra‘s first half delivers a continuation of the island swing and tribal rhythms explored on Vampire Weekend. Broadening the sound is a base built on synthesized and electronic elements. Like VW, punk informs the band’s sound without actually the final product sounding like punk at all. Though the first half is highly enjoyable, the second half is really where things take off and show growth.

“Cousins” is tight and upbeat, and “I Think UR A Contra” provides a contrast with airy, flitting guitars, wafting piano, jazzy undertones, and orchestral swells. “Diplomat’s Son” drags at first, seeming like it will be far too long and repetitive at 6:01, but halfway through it dramatically breaks down. The song returns to its original theme fairly quickly, but with some added embellishments. Though somewhat interesting, after a couple listens I still can’t decide if it’s going to grow on me or if I’ll grow bored now that I know what’s coming.

Two of the songs on Contra have already lodged themselves in my brain – “Run” and “Giving Up the Gun”. “Run” is a delightfully sap-free love song, complete with an instrumental chorus of joyous abandon.  “Giving Up the Gun” has the potential to be a club hit with some pumped up bass, and thus a complete departure from anything Vampire Weekend has thrown our way before. Even singer Ezra Koenig’s voice has taken on a different quality. Too-cool kids may dismiss the track as too poppy or mainstream, but there’s no doubt they’ll be blasting it in their bedrooms as they get ready to go out for the evening.

Contra drops January 12, 2010.
Stream the entire album at www.vampireweekend.com.