Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend (XL, 2008)
The Internet levels the playing field for polite indie pop groups competing for blog blowjobs. But while groups no longer need to hail from a musical, cultural, or critical hub to gain gushing notice, it still helps immensely. Location, location, location: Vampire Weekend know this matters. The New York City quartet has its roots in Columbia University, and has benefitted not only from having a clutch of catchy, Afro-pop-inspired indie tunes to wow with, but their availability to the NYC critical establishment, a group that includes people who are paid for it but also the average mad-blogging showgoer, scene-maker, or engaged music fan. Buzz gets built the old-fashioned way: you earn it.
It’s been nearly nine months since all of this began for Vampire, since the Internet started passing around files of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” “Mansard Roof,” and “Oxford Comma” (“I’ve seen those English dramas, too-HOOO”), so it’s not surprising that their self-titled XL debut sort of feels like an afterthought. It’s not the band’s fault — blame it on culture. Still, parts of this album sound like what they are when all that buttery buzz is sliced off — the pleasant first-album forays of a bunch of college kids. “How am I supposed to pretend I never want to see you again?” goes “Campus,” a bittersweet ode to the ex-girlfriend you’ll inevitably run into on the commons. It’s no different than the peppy, corduroyed pop songs Guster was writing at Tufts in the early 1990s. That said, Vampire Weekend’s ability to twist the polyrhythms and chirping guitar lines of African pop into jangly mid-tempo indie jams is pretty impressive. “Kwassa Kwassa” is a dream despite its cheeky cultural tourism, and “Mansard Roof” and “Comma” keep the focus on enlivening melody instead of their slightly affected lyrical affectations. The Shins-istic “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)” with its tinkling vintage keys is a highlight, as is the more upbeat “A-Punk” with its wonderful wonderful film noir breakdown. After all the Internet blather is over, Vampire Weekend has made a springtime album, the kind that helps remove pretty coeds’ Benetton sweaters. Let’s hope it gets here soon. — Johnny Loftus
[tags]Vampire Weekend, Afro-pop, Mansard Roof, Oxford Comma, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, Guster, Ezra Koenig[/tags]