Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Vampire Weekend

Every so often, a band comes along with so much hype, that their actual music is lost in the shuffle. Hype inspires backlash before one single note is even heard. So when a band like The Strokes, The Arctic Monkeys or Arcade Fire is crowned a legendary act before they even release a debut album, I try my hardest to wait until I hear a song before I state my opinion.

Vampire Weekend appears to be the next band victimized by the hype machine. Hailing from New York City, and bringing with them a unique sound, they've been labeled everything from the next Strokes to the saviors of ska music.

Easy there, fella.

After listening to their self-titled debut the entire way through for the first time, I couldn't help but feel let down. First off, the entire album clocks in at about 30 minutes, so there isn't much time to hold onto a certain song or image before the song ends and the next one starts. I initially thought that VW seemed more like a ska-influenced Weezer, with lead-signer Ezra Koenig intent to become the next Rivers Cuomo, penning two and a half minute ditties designed to get toes tapping. The band's tongue in cheek videos don't hurt either.

But after repeat listens, I was able to get beyond the hype and the brevity of the songs to appreciate what is there, and it is dominated by some damn fine instrumentation. The guitar work on this album is worth the price of admission alone. The opener, "Mansard Roof", begins with some puffs of an organ before erupting into a stringy volcano of deliciousness during the refrain.

"Oxford Comma" keeps the organ puffs but manages to be more drum-driven, which helps accentuate the lyrics which show off Koenig's witty wordplay. Then comes "A-Punk", a highway speed chase of a song, with more of the warp-speed guitar work heard on "MansardRoof". It's probably the albums most accessible song, and the music video is a perfect fit.

The second half of the album drags a bit as the band struggles to stretch their ska-influenced sound over an entire album, but there some standouts such as "Campus" and "Walcott".

Vampire Weekend is probably going to become a popular band, and that might instantly turn off some fans who "liked them first" and/or rebel against anything "commercial". But VW is a fun band. They're not going to force you to examine the world today like Arcade Fire or reinvent modern rock like the Strokes, but they will make you smile, and sometimes that's all you need.

ALBUM SCORE: *** (out of ****)

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