This is the best pop record that I’ve heard in a long time. Their self-titled album was delightful, but side A of that record far overshadows side B – which is understandable, because it’s pretty obvious that it got slapped together as a result of a giant wave of momentum (the story goes that they sent a CD-R to Stereogum and it just launched them into the stratosphere – my mp3s of that record still say “Blue CD-R” in the “album” field on iTunes).
Anyway, it’s nice to hear what this band can do with the opportunity to be deliberate in a studio. They had a lot of big expectations placed upon them, and they rose to the challenge. To be frank, I’m jealous of this record. Many of the records that I like don’t make me jealous, because even though they’re great they aren’t things that I could imagine myself making (Animal Collective, Hecuba, etc). But this record is soooooo on my wavelength: it’s music that I would have liked to have made myself… and it’s better than anything that I’ve ever done.
A lot of people have reviewed Contra and said a lot of very intelligent things about it, so I don’t really feel the need to get too in-depth about why I like it so much. That said, I’d like to rebut something that I read from Bret McCabe, this dude who writes for the Baltimore City Paper. McCabe’s big critique isn’t the boring one that I’ve heard from at least 10,000 people already (“Ezra K. wears boat shoes!”). Rather, he slags on VW because their lyrics are “inoffensive” and “don’t ruffle any feathers.”
Anyway, I bet that Mr. McCabe still wears Minor Threat shirts. He probably thinks that Rage Against the Machine is totally rad, and I bet that he picks John Lennon over Paul McCartney when he’s listing his favorite Beatles. That’s fine. I’d just hate to go on a long car ride with him – it would probably be pretty boring to me. Yes, intelligently confrontational music can be quite good. It can shake people up, make them think, give them the sense that their frustrations are shared, and in some cases give people reasons to rally and even create change (you know, like that Will.i.am song about Obama, haha) – but must music be confrontational in order to be good? Aren’t there other reasons to make and listen to music? Catharsis, for example, is very compelling. And so is entertainment!
Life itself is confrontational and feather-ruffling, at least where I live. Let me take a second to explain how bad things should have been for me today as I walked back to work from my lunch break. The weather in Los Angeles right now is absolutely horrible – it is raining harder than I can remember it ever raining here, and I work right in the middle of the city (dirt, traffic, hugely flooded intersections). My job right now is absolutely horrible – due to construction, my office is temporarily in a fluorescent-lit basement, and my current workload consists of writing comprehension questions for an English-language textbook. Oh, and my lunch today was also absolutely horrible – as a vegetarian, I have very few viable options for food in Koreatown, and in the nasty rain I couldn’t walk very far anyway… so I went to Taco Bell and got a Cheesy Gordita Crunch with beans instead of beef. It was not particularly good.
But things were not horrible as I walked back to work!!!! Last week, Vampire Weekend gave me a bright and sunny record to make me happy. I was listening to it on my Ipod as I walked, and it was enough to overwhelm any negative feelings that I might have had. The skipping calypso beats and trickling synthesizers put a spring in my step, even as I stepped in an unavoidably large puddle and soaked my feet completely to the bone.
So thank you, Vampire Weekend, for making the deplorable bearable – enjoyable, even! And thank you also for debuting at number one on the Billboard Charts this week. Certainly, there are other “indie” acts that have done well on the charts recently. There are others who have done incredibly well for themselves whilst showing that the charts are irrelevant to them. But have a look at all of the insipid shit that is filling the Hot 200 these days – seriously, Alvin and the Chipmunks 2 – the Soundtrack? It really seems, sometimes, that the mainstream pop world has absolutely no relationship to the world of sane music consumers. As someone who once, as a teenager, dreamed of finding himself in the same position in which Vampire Weekend now finds themselves (that dream has since been mitigated by reality – I doubt that it’s a dream that the VW boys had, either, but they got pretty lucky), this news is heartening. Sane people with taste do apparently still buy records. Hooray.
Filed under: Human Interest, alvin and the chipmunks, billboard charts, bret mccabe, cheesy gordita crunch, contra, koreatown, minor threat, rage against the machine, sinead o'conner, vampire weekend