The Vampire Weekend Debate

Cover to Contra.jpeg
The Glen Ridge native band, Vampire Weekend, is climbing the Billboard 200 chart with their second album, “Contra.”
Although “Contra” is selling more than 120,000 copies, WNYC.com is putting VW to the test with a Soundcheck Smack down.
Listen to the other soundchecks, and tell us if you think Vampire Weekend is all they’re hyped up to be or if they get lost in the mix.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Despite wanted to really HATE THEM,I’m sold.
    They stream the entire CD on their website for free and a student told me that I really should give it a try……
    I’ve listened to the entire thing at least 10 times.
    It is great!!!
    I’ll be buying it.
    And as one reviewer said, some say they try to sound like Graceland-era Paul Simon…. So what’s wrong with that?
    Beats me.
    Anyone want to join me for some Horchata?

  2. You do know, prof, that horchata is just either some kind of almond syrup or almond-based product, right?
    Not to be waspish, prof, but I ofttimes think you simply post to, well post.
    There’s an article on the band in the current issue of “Rolling Stone,” by the way.

  3. First off, Vampire Weekend is only a Glen Ridge native band the same way that the Boston Pops are a native Poughkeepsie band because their conductor, Keith Lockhart, was born and grew up there. Sure, Ezra Koenig, VW’s charming lead singer grew up in Glen Ridge and performed at perennial Baristaville music event the Serendipity Cafe, but the rest of the band members come from different places in the country, which is part of the reason why they won’t ever do a tribute song to “Just Sandwiches”, or whatever else there is in Glen Ridge that’s notable.
    Second off, I guess, here are my opinions:
    I’m an avid Vampire Weekend listener, and I think the framing of this whole Smackdown debate is ridiculous. I’ve listened to both albums many times and I have not once sensed a “joke” to be in on, nor sensed that there was anybody on the other end “winking” at me. I feel like the obsession with whether or not music is intentionally ironic or sincere detracts from any sort of real “debate” that could be had about them. What are they even debating? I’ve been a fan of DeRogatis for a long time, as it’s clear that he is really dedicated to music its self as an art form. but his side of this argument reeks of class struggle and Nixonian anger towards those who are perceived to be the “intellectual elite”. The woman who they decided should represent the other side, some dime a dozen NYC pop culture can’t get past the idea that they “get” her prep lifestyle, and that “preppies need music too”. This is probably one of the most idiotic debates ever, save for a few good musical suggestions from DeRogatis.
    This should really be all about the music. “Contra” is a totally fitting entry into the VW canon. Keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij, after releasing an experimental R&B album by his side-project “Discovery”, has clearly evolved as a composer since the first album, and his compositions are very evocative of California. DeRogatis is right on one count, VW drummer Chris Tomson has a real knack for percussion, and commentary that likens his drumming to guitar playing definitely has merit. Ezra Koenig’s vocals have also evolved, and he’s apparently taken complaints about his vocals to heart. Chris Baio, despite having what many believe to be the most irrelevant position in the band as the bassist shines on tracks like “Cousins” and “White Sky”.
    As far as the album as a whole goes, Contra is by no means “empty” , as DeRogatis would have you believe. “California English” has the most innovative use of Auto-Tune software since rappers started beating it into the ground, and tracks like “I Think Ur A Contra” evoke Beach Boys standards “Heroes and Villains” and “Good Vibrations”, compositionally based on brief musical movements with a sound as if it had been left out for a week in the California sun after being recorded. The band clearly had the intention of channeling the Sunshine State on this record, and it shows through remarkably well, for an album with such an agenda, perhaps even as well as Sufjan Stevens’ revered “State Series” entries “Illinois” and “Michigan”. (Stevens hates Vampire Weekend, incidentally.)
    Anyway, I’m 18 years old and I don’t say things like “Youth Culture” or have an obvious preoccupation with people who wear “Docker’s Slacks and Izod all the time”, like those people that WNYC chose to have “debate” Vampire Weekend’s merit, but I have this to say to them: Look, guys, just because somebody name-checks a brand or talks about concepts you consider to be intellectually elitist doesn’t mean that you should let those things dominate your opinion on the band. Louis Vuitton got his start making rugged trunks for people who needed them, but I don’t feel like his brand is “winking” at me every time they release a handbag for a different purpose, the same way that when Vampire Weekend talks about a young girl wearing a Benneton sweater I don’t start giggling to myself. You can buy a pair of Docker’s for 30 bucks at sears, and I guarantee that the average Docker’s wearer isn’t channeling the “Vampire Weekend” look. Nobody can accuse either of these people of taking Vampire Weekend “too seriously”, if anything the problem is that they seem to be looking at the music as a huge joke. This whole “Smackdown” is ridiculous, and I’m sure you’ll be able to formulate a better opinion on the album if you just buy it yourself, but then again if you read Baristanet you probably won’t be able to get over the “preppiness” either.
    -Thomas Sabino-Benowitz

  4. Also, Cathar, Horchata is a drink, as a matter of fact, and you’re definitely being more waspish than WASPish, as usual.

  5. Similar to a remark Jimmy Breslin once made about book reviewer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, I too try not to take terribly seriously anybody who “parts his name in the middle,”, Sabino-Benowitz.
    Plus, you sound awfully pedantic for someone who claims to be but 18 years of age. At that point in your life, you might more profitably be interested in rocking than theorizing. (Anyway, “Crawdaddy” magazine, where your sort of prose once found a home, is long, long gone.)
    And Horchata is indeed a syrup (as well as many other things), the sno-cone vendors in Paterson and Passaic of my youth always carried it as one of their staples for Hispanics. But then, at 18, you really haven’t gotten around much yet, have you, lad? (Perhaps you might even try listening one day, since you referenced “r’b,” to, say, the Drifters from back when Clyde McPhatter sang lead, or LaVerne Baker. Or even the Beach Boys from back when they did Chuck Berry and Frankie Lymon and Schoolboys covers.)

  6. cathar said, “Not to be waspish, prof, but I ofttimes think you simply post to, well post.”
    As opposed to what?
    Posting to play my part in a vital community exchange?
    Hardly, I post to post.
    Guilty. As charged.
    You?

  7. tsabinowitz,
    You sound like a reasonable kid.
    But don’t engage in taking the losing argument of “I liked them before they were BIG.”
    In my day, I saw this with REM.
    Some folks I know stopped listening to them once they hit it big (and signed with Warner Bros.).
    Likewise, most kids who enjoy a band when the band is just starting get all worked up and defensive when other join in the fun.
    No reason.
    Just enjoy the music.
    Hell, I’m sure since cathar researched it, he’d be willing to buy you some Horchata in Paterson.

  8. I didn’t research horchata-steeped “piraguas,” prof, I LIVED the experience back in the day. (Although I personally always preferred the ones drenched in “golden cola” or “white raspberry” syrup.)
    And prof, do you really think there are many genuinely “vital community exchanges” on this site? I kind of doubt it these last few years of “community journalism.” I just think we both just post because, well, we are. (Almost all posters qualify thusly, I suspect, save for the absolutely indispensable mathilda, all of whose posts are textbook exercises in necessary environmentalist cogency.)

  9. “Cousins” is the worst rock song I’ve heard in probably a decade. Since that is the song the band (or at least their record label) has decided should represent them, I see no need to waste my time on any of their other songs.
    In my mind, Matt Pinfield lost whatever shred of credibility he still had by licking these guys’ feet when they were on his radio show.

  10. But prof there are no minorities in the band. Doesn’t this fly in the face of your minority only movie/tv/music policy?

  11. RoC dear pal,
    I LOVE that this is SO under your skin.
    But you should re-read the post as I mentioned a number of times that I do not apply this to music.

  12. Thomas–whoever you are, you’re clearly passionate about music and have pressed some pretty formidable brain cells into service in your enjoyment of it. So my advice is not to worry about any responses to your post, which are likely to be snark-filled (because most everything here is snark-filled). Just stay involved in what you obviously love.
    Bloomfielder, I haven’t listened to VW enough to have a significant position about them one way or another, but I agree that Spoon is great.
    Hardcore isn’t generally something that grabs me hard, but I just bought a cd by a band called Cloak/Dagger that blew my socks off. Worth checking out.

  13. It must be a gas to be a successful and critically acclaimed rock/pop musical artist. What a blur life would become. Punctuated by moments in spotlights with throngs of undulating fans screaming at you as you turn the volume knob on your guitar up a few notches and hit that first chord…
    From a song I wrote about 10 years ago, “Rock Star”
    I’d like to be a rock star
    I want to get up on that stage
    I want to be the next sensation
    Be seen with women half my age..
    Close my eyes I can almost feel it
    In my mind I’m already there
    Hear the crowd, it’s getting restless
    Excitement crackles through the air.

  14. Soundcheck is a fun and informative show. I listen to their podcasts almost every day. The Smack downs are contrived, like the AFI’s top movie lists, but are a good start off to a conversation about music.
    Never heard Vampire Weekend before the show and based on the samples they played I can only quote Alfred E. Newman: blech!

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