Vampire Weekend delivers on debut LP

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February 8, 2008

5:26 PM

“First the window, then it’s to the wall / Lil’ Jon, he always tells the truth.”

p. Ezra Koenig, lead singer of New York indie band, Vampire Weekend, sings this witty line from “Oxford Comma” with boat shoes-clad nonchalance. After meeting at Columbia, the band released a demo online, only to see it explode on blogs and music review websites, garnering high praise for the group’s brand of what it calls “Upper West Side Soweto.”

p. As a member of UCAB music committee, I saw the band’s Fridays @ 5 asking price skyrocket in only a week’s time, pushing them from indie darlings to cover mates with Foo Fighters in Spin.
The band signed with XL Recordings and released its self-titled debut last week. The African Soweto rhythms shine through on “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” a delightful track that pairs nonsensical lyrics — Koenig rhymes “Luis Vuitton” with “Bennetton” and “Reggaeton” — with bongos and noodling guitars. Consider it Paul Simon wearing madras shorts and argyle.
“Mansard Roof” draws comparisons to the Shins and Kinks. Drummer Chris Tomson creates a galloping yet unassuming beat, one that isn’t perfect, but has enough charm to get by. Koenig describes the “hot garbage and concrete” of New York more like a flowery, aromatic field than urban ugliness.

p. This record never strays too far from the college campus, quick to mention “cruel professors,” “ion displacement” and “shit-show” parties. However, the group’s sound is not limited by the often juvenile and claustrophobic confines of college life. The band comes across like a precocious, tea-drinking clan of nerds. With the rampant use of harpsichord and keyboard-derived strings, any track would fit easily into the soundtrack of a Wes Anderson film.

p. The only misstep is “Bryn,” a throw-away track with half-cooked rhythms and cheesy lines like “right past the fireflies that sleep in my heart” and “eyes like a seagull.” It seems tossed off and worthy of B-side status rather than filling time on an already short record.

p. That being said, this record is worth buying just for “A-Punk.” This joyous track blends Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard” with the Ramones’ “Judy Is a Punk” to form something altogether new, yet entirely recognizable. Koenig’s jangly guitars give way to Chris Baio’s simple yet snaky bassline. Tomson’s drums drive and jive with excellent use of hi-hat.
The real star, however, is Rostam Batmanglij’s gorgeous creation of keyboard-formed woodwind sounds that seem to wash over the guitars in a dream like sequence. You’ll find yourself shouting “eh eh eh eh” and revisiting the silly yet honest chorus of “Look outside at the raincoats coming, say oh.” This song is the perfect soundtrack for making that two-minute walk between Tucker and Ewell, whether the day proves to be sunny or full of showers. And damn it, I want to know who Johanna is, and why she deserves such a beautifully irreverent song.

p. “M79,” “Campus” and “Walcott” continue the trend of gems, as Strokes-like guitars weave together syncopated drumbeats amid lyrics about Darjeeling tea and getting out of Cape Cod for the night.

p. The band has an obsession with clothing, too. Not a song goes in which “Egyptian cotton” or “shiny cufflinks” aren’t mentioned. Despite this insistence on appearance, though, Koenig is quick to curb the pretension with cheeky lyrics like, “Oh your collegiate grief has left you dowdy in sweatshirts — absolute horror!”
While not achieving anything as profound as its labels former poster boys, Radiohead, Vampire Weekend’s debut still deserves a spot in the college student’s collection for its ramshackle assembly of pop, Ivy League Afro-rhythms and honest-to-goodness indie joy.

p. Here’s to hoping we’ll see them grace our campus someday. We’ll have our buttoned-up Oxford shirts ready.

p. __4 out of 5 stars__

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