It was a cool September night. Too cliché to start a review, right? I thought so too, but alas, in the end I could not help myself. Something about the first cool nights of the fall season that I thoroughly enjoy, and yet most other people do not. That being said, a fair number of people did decide to come out and see Vampire Weekend host the Molson Amphitheater on their North American tour debut here in Toronto on Tuesday (September 7th).
It’s an interesting rise, these Columbia school grads, how they have found their niche, nestled comfortably somewhere between designer plaid shirts and post-fraternity nostalgia. These lads have found a way to rock. Their music is very distinct and their formula to get the ladies dancing is almost scientific. Yet, they achieve a style and charisma that is hard to ignore. And why would you? It’s fun, right? What’s better than fun? Deep inside I was hoping that the cute red-head on the cover of their latest LP, Contra, would magically appear. Consider it a guilty crush of mine. Guess I’ll head over to the Hamptons or something in search.
Vampire Weekend were not alone in the talent department. Opening acts the Dum Dum Girls trudged through a collection of low-fi pop ditties, and Beach House, whose astral-pop bliss was damn good, to say the least! Although not familiar with their entire catalogue, the misty songstress Victoria Legrand has a haunting yet seductiveness about her, and the rest of the outfit compliments her sound seamlessly. There is really only one way to describe it, and that is simply ethereal. Like a soundscape with words, it was a good indication of their popularity that many who attended the show were on hand to see them play as well.
Onto Vampire Weekend. Upon first hearing of the band a two years ago, I found the title of the band somewhat misleading and would one day love to quiz them on this. But for now, I am more than quite content to listen to their material and enjoy. They are a band whose sound translates well across many mediums and venues. Having now seen them in three completely different venues in Toronto, the band never disappoints. And to boot, their actual stage show is spot on with their recorded versions.
Whisking through a plethora of dance-friendly pop sing-alongs, this is one of those bands that will likely enjoy a cult following along with their pop success in years to come. The on-stage banter is engaging and their pop is infectious, perhaps simply because I’m becoming more mellow, or perhaps just because I can’t argue with enjoying something fun. Vampire Weekend are an act that set out to have a good time and to make you have a good time too! The smiling faces parading out of the Amphitheater on Tuesday night laid proof that they succeeded.
The National will release a new album on 4AD in April. Currently untitled, the band’s fifth album will take the Brooklynites on a North American tour that includes one Toronto date: Massey Hall on June 8th.
Caribou will release the follow-up to his Polaris Prize-winning Andorra album this spring. Titled Swim, Dan Snaith describes the album as “dance music that sounds like it’s made out of water, rather than made out of metallic stuff like most dance music does.” Merge Records will release Swim on April 20th, but you can hear a brand new track called “Odessa” right now.
Swedish folkie The Tallest Man On Earth (or just Kristian Matsson) has signed to Dead Oceans to release his new album. Speaking of that, The Wild Hunt will be released on April 13th and you can check out the first “King of Spain” over at Pitchfork.
Matador has released the tracklisting for the forthcoming Pavement greatest hits. Quarantine The Past will feature 23 of the bands “hits” including “Gold Soundz,” “Shoot The Singer,” “Shady Lane,” “Trigger Cut” and “Box Elder.” You can pre-order a copy here.
Finally, anyone curious as to how Vampire Weekend topped the charts last week in both the U.S. and Canada can learn more from an interview with the band’s A&R guy Kris Chen. And no, it’s not just a matter of people discovering the sweet nu-Soweto sounds of the band on MySpace. There’s actually a lot of work involved. GQ got the answers.
Vampire Weekend Contra [XL]
Can we blame people for hating on Vampire Weekend? They sing about vacationing in Cape Cod, pillage the shuffling Afro-pop sounds of Soweto (they describe themselves “Upper West Side Soweto”), boast Ivy League educations and dress as though they’re the faces of the latest Ralph Lauren campaign – or possibly a new upscale shop called Urbane Outfitters. Yes, they certainly don’t hide their soft knock life.
But who cares? Behind the indie blogger-fuelled hype machine are a bunch of wide-eyed NYC preppies that craft singular pop songs brimming with worldly dexterity. Had they been born and bred from any other scene than the cantankerous indie rock milieu, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. And so it must be said that their sophomore effort is far from a slump, and nothing short of brilliant.
Following up Vampire Weekend seemed like a difficult task. Nearly 500,000 copies sold meant it was more than Pitchfork’s readership listening. But despite lacking the immediacy of their debut, Contra (yes, apparently named after the NES game that gave us “up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, B, A, start”) reveals itself as easy, breezy and yes, even beautiful almost instantly. “Horchata” basks in the sun, as frontman Ezra Koenig sips on the titular organic beverage and waxes about multiculturalism, while Rostam Batmanglij generates some pulsating electronic vibes that mingle with tropical percussion and strings. Yep, they go for broke right off the top, but it only gets better.
As producer, Batmanglij appears to be a real difference maker on Contra. His side-project Discovery was an outlet for him to indulge in his electronic musings, and it’s really rubbed off on Vampire Weekend. “White Sky,” for instance, brings in undulating synths to match Koenig’s vocal elevations, “Run” evokes The Very Best’s Malawian shuffle, and “Diplomat’s Son” brings some of that Baile funk as if Diplo was behind the boards, which he actually is, kinda – the band sample M.I.A.’s “Hussel,” the producer of which was Dip.
Vampire Weekend’s growth doesn’t end with Batmanglij’s effect, however. There is plenty of accordance between the two albums, but Contra seems like the drop-off point for those Graceland associations. “Giving Up The Gun” may keep that flowing studio warmth Paul Simon virtually invented, but VW progress from being influenced into a signature sound, ensuring a Hallmark-type moment in any teen drama has its go-to track.
And it’s not all just tunes fit for a cruise liner. “California English” tackles grammar and language in a feistier manner than “Oxford Comma,” with Koenig losing his breath spitting through the lyrics. Single “Cousins,” meanwhile, gets downright dirty, accelerating “A-Punk” to a rockabilly velocity with a dire urgency to finish under the two and a half minute mark – which they do.
They may leave the indie kids that discovered them behind with this album but that’s entirely up to the listener. Contra is the sort of sophisticated, career-shaping record destined to elevate the band to new heights, should they choose it. That they’ve targeted such an icy Canadian January to release this second record is all the more reason to root for them.
- Cam Lindsay
Finally! A band has chosen to name their album after my favourite NES game Contra. Vampire Weekend is that band. Says frontman Ezra Koenig, “Look, I was born in 1984, so I’m not going to name an album Contra and not think about that video game.” All that’s left to say is Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start.
Just weeks after releasing a new Atlas Sound album, Bradford Cox proves he’s still prolific by giving away a new single. You can grab “Doctor” and its B-side “The Screens” for free over at his blog.
Jay-Z has signed the Ting Tings to his Roc Nation label. Yeah, we’re surprised too! We assume it’s all part of Jay’s plan to make indie rock popular. Oh wait, it already is…
Ladytron are turning ten and you know what that means? Greatest hits. Actually, it’s a “best of” since they didn’t exactly light up the Billboard charts. Multi-instrumentalist Rueben Wu says “Since we’ve done four albums, I think it would be time to put something like that together.”
And Julian Casablancas says he never really wanted to make a solo album, but felt he needed to because of those other Strokes. He tells the Orange County Register, “ I feel like I was kind of forced a little, to be quite honest. The band wanted to go do their own thing, and that’s cool — I respect that they need to go do that. But I didn’t want to sit around.”
Not only is The Mighty Boosh coming to the big screens, but Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt have fessed up that they’re also working on an album!
A new documentary on the triumphant and turbulent history of Creation Records will premiere in February, 2010. Titled Upside Down, the doc will feature interviews with everyone involved in the label, including co-founder Alan McGee, Oasis’ Noel Gallagher, and Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie, among others.
Poor Morrissey. The Moz was just about to begin a concert at the Oasis Leisure Centre in Swindon, England when he collapsed on stage and was rushed to the hospital. He was released from a hospital yesterday and is said to be resuming his tour eventually.
Pulp may reunite for Glastonbury 2010. So says Jarvis Cocker, who recently admitted “Glastonbury means an awful lot to me, I would love to play there again. We’ve talked about it, there we go, there’ll be a band reunion.” Now that’s a reunion worth seeing.
And if you’ve ever wanted to learn how to play Vampire Weekend’s “A-Punk” or The National’s “Fake Empire,” CBC’s Q has video of the bands giving a tutorial how.