When I first listened to Contra, I didn’t like it at all, a few minutes into the 3rd track, alarm bells rang somewhere in my head, and the spiritual voice from within was screaming: “WHERE THE HELL IS THE AFRICAN MUSIC! I WANT MORE OF THOSE AFRICAN INFLUENCES!”.
I have now realized that it is a rather lame concern. Awfully lame actually.
Anyway, since then, i’ve had the time to listen to the album a little bit more, and thats how it all came together. Because i was so in love with the first album, i was willing to give it more time and forced myself to listen to it repeatedly, so much so that the amusing chorus of “White Sky” came to me naturally during a horrible encounter with a heater that wasn’t working while showering in the dead of the night. And very soon, i would find myself walking to the rhythm of “Giving Up the Gun” and stapling my documents to the beat of the MIA sample in “Diplomat’s Son“.
I was very happy to notice that the band has gone through a very delicate and carefully calibrated evolution in this album. If the first album was about coming of age, then Contra is most certainly about remembering the good old times. Things do sound so much better in retrospect and straight off the bat, you get a warm, fuzzy feeling from one of the lyrics of the first song. “Horchata“:
“Here comes a feeling you thought you’d forgotten
Chairs to sit and sidewalks to walk on”
It’s a tremendous joy to hear Ezra Koenig’s interesting vocals which changes constantly from a slow, slurry cadence to animalistic yelps to what sounds like a machine gun shooting out bombastic words with staccato-ed madness. It’s also endearing how the other characters in the band were fleshed out through surprising contributions, i.e.: Chris Tomson’s terrifying semiquavers in “Cousins” to Rostam Batmanglij’s post “Discovery” surehandedness dripping all over “Giving up the Gun“. These guys want to grab your attention, but only for all the right reasons.
The album’s pinnacle of achievement arrives in the form of “Run“, a glorious fantasy of eloping with a loved one, complete with illuminating synthesizers and an empowering hope for a better tomorrow. It’s a very grand display of vitality, like a burning blush on a cold winter’s day and a golden testament to the abilities of the 4 vivacious youths behind the music.
After some repeated listens, I have since concluded that Vampire Weekend is not about African music, preppy clothes nor the phony Ivy League college aesthetic. They’re first and foremost about being young, and having the time to fret over things.
Why do these guys sing about being phony like Holden Caulfield fanatics, with such a bombastic set of vocabulary no less? I would think it’s because they’re unbelievably young and have too much time to think and reminisce about things. The album projects this great mentality that great things do happen when you’ve got enough time on your hands and are willing to sit down, relax and really think about stuff. Which is just as well, because this is exactly how Contra is meant to be enjoyed.
Like you have all the time in the world.
Listen to Contra here.