Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (XL, 2008)
This review originally appeared as part of The Stylus Decade, January 2010.
Ubiquitous to the point of nausea for most of 2008 – hell, even Mickey Rourke’s daughter in The Wrestler had the poster on her wall as a token of presumed “edginess” – it seems almost indecent to disturb the refractory period that big hitters like this require. And as an early convert – primed by blog leaks of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kawassa” and “Oxford Comma,” then blown away by the very first full-length play – it feels almost embarrassing for me to revisit the source of such giddy joy.
But “blown away” I most certainly was. Halfway through “M79”, and I was already composing superlative-stuffed emails – just like that golden afternoon when “Hey Ya!” and “Milkshake” surfaced on gabba.net, leaving me too hyped up to get any work done for the rest of the day.
Instant hits can yield diminishing returns, of course. I delayed the decline by deploying the album as a social soundtrack. It was hook-rich enough to work subliminally as easy, buzz-fuelling background clatter. (“This is nice, who is it?” “I’ll get a pen, shall I?”). But “Blake’s Got a New Face” first crossed the line that separates an agreeable earworm from a bothersome pest. The CD was duly shelved, then retrieved a few weeks later, ahead of an unsatisfactory gig. The venue lacked intimacy. The band didn’t scale up. Freshness and finesse were smothered in the soupy mix. And where were the strings, dammit?
For while much has been made of the album’s occasional African excursions (whose detractors seemed curiously unable to identify which genre was being so ignorantly mis-appropriated – soukous, high-life, township jive?), it was the crisp, crunchy, mock-Baroque string arrangements that first reeled me in: florid but concise, dainty without being prissy, and arguably the most effective pop/classical marriage since ELO. Perhaps that’s why the string-drenched “M79” first drove me to evangelical, missive-firing frenzy – and perhaps that’s why it remains my favourite track, nearly two years on.
Elsewhere, I’m still chuckling at the lyrical juxtapositions (lamas, butlers, Lil’ Jon! Vuitton, reggaeton, Benetton!) and revelling in the cloistered New England preppiness of it all (I’m English, I get to mythologize these things), and, I admit it, drifting off a bit during the second half (when you’ve thrilled to “A-Punk” and “Campus,” “Bryn” to “Corrected” is a comparatively dull run).
A played-out, dissected, consensus choice, or an era-defining future classic? It might still be too early to judge, but I already know which way I’m leaning.