Vampire Weekend's sophomore LP, Contra, is out this week on XL. There's a lot of buzz regarding this band, mostly centering around two concerns: their use of “big words” and their appropriation of a host of world/ethnic genres. On the first score, it’s true that the word “baklava” hasn’t appeared in an American pop song in recent memory; but if it sends a few young (and not-so-young) fans scurrying for a dictionary, what’s the harm?
And second, for those pop ‘purists’ who view ethnic-tinged musical eclecticism with suspicion, one might ask whether VW’s penchant for calypso and ska in 2010 is so much different from the Beatles covering blues tunes forty-odd years ago. Pop, at its best, is an inclusive genre.
Both verbosity and polystylism are justifiable, in my book, in the quest for a brainier, variegated indie pop – so long as it comes across as organic rather than pretentious.
On that basis, Contra is a success. Amidst the mbiras, marimbas, and MIA samples, resides a respect for each individual element and a concomitant joy in their juxtaposition: something one doesn’t find in mash-ups for mash-ups sake. What’s more, Contra has a pervasively energetic presentation and rampant tunefulness that many artists would do well to study carefully.
So, raise your MENSA ranking while dancing to Afro-pop – by way of the Upper West Side.