Coming into their first full-length, Vampire Weekend are in the precarious position of having a reputation that precedes them. Before their self-titled debut can be properly digested and enjoyed, let’s get a few buzzwords and phrases out of the way:
“Upper West Side Soweto” (how they describe their sound)
Paul Simon’s Graceland (a frequently mentioned musical comparison)
Cape Cod (there are two songs about it)
blog hype (yep, they’ve got it)
collegiate (they went to Columbia University, they sing about college a lot)
There. Doesn’t that feel better? Here’s a new word to describe Vampire Weekend that hasn’t been overused: unexpected.
“Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” was the first song released into the electronic expanse of the Internet. In an unexpected occurrence, the first single is indeed the best song on the album. Not by a lot — “Oxford Comma,” “M79” and “Walcott” nip at its heels — but it represents the band so thoughtfully. It’s the tale of a summer seduction, a young man trying to coerce a young woman into doing the unspeakable while her mother relaxes outside. Everything about the song is a little awkward — the situation, his vocals, even the use of the word “fuck.” It’s set to a backdrop of quick guitar notes, bongos and shakers.
Vampire Weekend, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” (download)
Come to think of it, they use “fuck” in another awkward, unexpected way in “Oxford Comma.” Also in “Oxford Comma,” they make an unexpected rap reference when they declare, “first the window / then it’s to the wall / Lil’ Jon / he always tells truth.”
They touch upon several unexpected genres throughout the album. “A-Punk” is unexpectedly punk, sounding like a poppier Clash or Ramones song. The use of the strings in “M79” gives it an unexpectedly classical tone, sounding like an indie pop “Masterpiece Theater” theme before unexpectedly switching gears back to their signature sound, then continuing to go back and forth throughout the song.
Vampire Weekend, “M79” (download)
The attitude of the band towards the music also feels a little unexpected, as though they were sitting around in a dorm room one day and got the idea to throw this down over a long weekend. It’s the one problem in an otherwise ideal debut: there’s not a lot of dedication or passion to be found in these effervescent pop songs. It could be that they wanted it that way, in an effort to capture the vapidity and vanity of college relationships (or even pop music), in which case, they’ve wildly succeeded. Still, lack of emotion notwithstanding — you could call this the antithesis to emo — this is an unexpectedly fantastic gem of a pop album.