Monday, February 18, 2008

Review: Vampire Weekend

This article originally appeared on North By Northwestern

Most of the time, bands don’t get too much mainstream press before they actually release an EP or album of material, but New York outfit Vampire Weekend isn’t your everyday band. The quartet of recent Columbia grads broke all over the net with an EP last year and got so much buzz before the release of their debut that Rolling Stone put one of their songs on their Top 50 of 2007. Heavily talked-about bands from NYC like The Strokes and Interpol have endured this kind of premature media attention with varied results, but now that a record has finally been released, count Vampire Weekend among those that have survived the hype and put out a seemingly effortless and wonderful record.

The band is led by singer/guitarist Ezra Koenig, who paints various northeastern scenes with his lyrics throughout the album. The band is clearly influenced by Afro-pop, with African-tinged beats and elements on almost every song. Bands have included this element before, most notably Dispatch, but Vampire Weekend uses the Afro-pop style in a completely different way.

Vampire Weekend eschews traditional indie-rock, opting instead for a very pop-oriented sound. Their songs are, at first glance, very stripped-down. Koenig’s guitar doesn’t hang around in lasting chords, but pulses in staccato sounds over a snaking bass line and thumping drums. Songs like “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and “Mansard Roof” exhibit the African influence very clearly, but always subtly, in an element snuck into the back of the production. Album standout “A-Punk” boils down the best parts of the band’s style into a single, two-minute piece, and its accompanying video is evidence enough to show that low-tech styles have re-invigorated the art of the music video. The song and video are a simple kind of pretty, washing over the audience with an assured calm of its high quality.

While most of their songs appear to be very simple, there is always one buried element that makes the songs stick out. A string arrangement here, electronic sounds there, a little garnish on every song that elevates the track into a realm of originality. Vampire Weekend hasn’t crafted a masterpiece of a debut, but they have given themselves a great blueprint to work from. The album would be very easy to put on and listen straight through, not realizing it has finished, then wanting to immediately put it back on and listen through again. It’s too early in the year to think about what will stand in December, but Vampire Weekend’s first record is a very good starting point for the band, and hopefully is a sign of great things to come.

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