You’re listening to a jumpy little rhythm whilst walking across Old Campus smoking a cigarette. The light is not quite evening, not quite afternoon, you can forget things. You’re not in an indie movie, but you might as well be; you’re listening to Vampire Weekend’s debut album “Vampire Weekend.”
The setting of Yale ties in well with the Columbia University quartet’s lyrics; “Then I see you / you’re walking cross the campus / Cruel professor” seems particularly apt for this time of year.
Luckily, there is something in the sound that lifts up from the grayness of ordinary life. The instruments are played with a sunny, springy joy in the “Upper West Side Soweto” style the band has coined, and though talking about the humdrum normality of things, the album creates the sort of magical realism so popular in contemporary film.
Of course, the band uses a great deal of retro aesthetic in splicing Congolese rhythms with Williamsburg chic, but it is used in a lighthearted manner. The way frontman Ezra Koenig sings the words “I … stand … corrected,” you’d think it was Del Shannon on a slightly less-than-normally-hyper day, before the beat opens out and the song soars. Indeed, it is one of the best on the album, soothing, yet still has something of that tired, early-morning feel. It is certainly the most fluid song they’ve released; the keyboard, drumming and bass guitar are, in the words of the song, “in perfect harmony.”
“Walcott” also has a fantastic sound. Notwithstanding the fact that most of the band has never been to Cape Cod (only Koenig admitted to visiting once or twice) — where the song’s title character has his adventure — the band manages to fuse Afro tympani beats into a warped Christmas jingle, calling to mind a windbeaten fishing village on the East Coast. Besides, who couldn’t love a song that advises its protagonist to “Fuck the women / From Wellfleet / Fuck the bears out / In Provincetown?”
The first song, “Mansard Roof” really sets the jingly, optimistic tone. “The ground beneath my feet / The hot garbage and concrete / And now the tops of buildings, I can see them too” really holds you an inch above the ground for a moment and, although there are some annoying random references to the Falklands War, the song doesn’t suffer.
Despite some of the fascinating lyrics and fun jingles, the album does seem to lag slightly. See: “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.” It isn’t essentially a bad song, and the lyrics do have some childish innocence about them — though they lack both substance and coherence. It’s just a bit slow and jerky. It feels as if a couple of different factors are moving about too much; between the bongo drumming and the faux reggaeton singing, a kind of dissonance is created which is not capitalized on enough to make it altogether pleasing. In addition to this, words are annoyingly inserted at random, such as “Louis Vuitton,” which seems to be included simply to rhyme with “On a sandy lawn,” establishing the ABAC rhyme scheme that the four line verses retain throughout the song. Surely Columbia’s graduates can come up with something better.
The singing is also slightly too artificial in places. “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)” is just whiny and repetitive. The track sadly detracts from a fun album, but then again, there’s always the track skip button.
However, most of Vampire Weekend’s sunny dawn-y sound is refreshing and doesn’t go stale quickly. There’s something of the newness and optimism of Electric Light Orchestra in their quirky rhythms and lyrics. For a moment, you can relax in a sunny little space and listen to Vampire Weekend.