Upper West Side Soweto?
The black/white cultural debate is as old as rock n' roll itself, but anyone painting Vampire Weekend as modern-day musical colonialists is looking at this picture with blinkers on. The African genres they draw on —palm-wine, highlife, soukos— are themselves products of cultural cross-bleeding; the typical high, bright, dry guitar sound the end result of electric guitars arriving on African shores.
Tastes Like Darjeeling
Of course, the influence of African music is but one element of Vampire Weekend's endearing sound. Presided over by producer/keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij, it's a clean, bright-sounding musical palette; marrying swirling strings, chiming guitars, harpsichord-preset keyboards, and odd, offbeat rhythms. The more orchestral songs on their self-titled set —like the florid "M79," where cascading string-parts flutter on jaunty zephyrs— sound like they're auditioning for an imaginary Wes Anderson movie.
Vampire Weekend are armed with the same artistic pretensions as the acclaimed New York filmmaker, coming from a privileged world of hallowed halls and sprawling campuses, literary heritage and droll irony. Frontman Ezra Koenig's lyrics are conveyed with a belletrist's wit, and often show him predisposed with syntactic game-playing. "Oxford Comma," a song actually inspired by grammatical devotees, rhymes its titular punctuation with "English Drama" and "Dharamsala," and "Campus" finds him spitting out "Spilled Kefir/On your Keffiyah."
The Global Village Voice
"Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa," perhaps Vampire Weekend's signature tune, may be a song about sex, but that doesn't stop it from taking lyrical digs at the hokey "world music" generation of the '80s. As its recurring refrain, Koenig sings, "it feels so unnatural/Peter Gabriel, too," and he also sardonically asks "Can you stay up to see the dawn/in the colours of Benetton?"
Those who condemn Vampire Weekend as dilettantes dabbling in sounds from far-flung continents are, the song suggests, missing the point. In 2008's Internet era, the globe's musical spectrum has never been closer; the cultural boundaries of the past erased with a simple click. Vampire Weekend are a product of that time and place: their charming debut album managing to sound worldly even as it's very much safely ensconced within its own rarefied realm.
Record Label: XL
Release Date: 29 January 2008