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Album Review

Vampire Weekend branches out

January 11, 2010

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An unabashed pleasure and then just as quickly bashed for its hipster cachet, Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut touched down like a Texas tornado in 2008. Suggesting an unlikely hybrid of giddy Afropop and the band’s Ivy League pedigree (Cape Cod summers, Oxford commas, that video filmed on a yacht), the album had an irrepressible charm, batting its big brown eyes like a puppy in a pound. Like me! Take me home! Arf!

“Contra’’ is a different breed - and a superior one, too. Where “Vampire Weekend’’ was exalted (and derided) for its carefree exuberance and cross-cultural mash-ups, the New York band’s sophomore release gives us more to think about besides comparisons to Paul Simon’s “Graceland.’’

In retrospect, Vampire Weekend’s debut almost sounds single-minded compared to the broader palette the quartet dips into on “Contra.’’ The songs are meatier and dimensional, emboldened by whirling electronics, taut guitar solos, harder drums, disparate textures and moods, and a lyrical self-awareness that perhaps life isn’t just one big basement dance party.

Yes, the Afropop influences persist (notably on “Horchata,’’ a reference to a Mexican drink), and Vampire Weekend is still in pursuit of a good time (“Holiday’’) and even contemporary production flourishes (that’s really Auto-Tune on “California English’’). Snatches of digitized horns punctuate the propulsive “Run,’’ and frontman Ezra Koenig sounds downright sullen on the ambient closer, “I Think UR a Contra’’: “Never pick sides/ Never choose between two/ But I just wanted you,’’ he sings, presumably to a long-gone lover.

Happy or sad, and hype be damned, if this is any sign of Vampire Weekend’s evolution, we’ll gladly take this puppy home. (Out tomorrow) JAMES REED

Indie Rock
Vampire Weekend Contra
XL Recordings
ESSENTIAL “Run’’