Before anyone can say the words "blog" or "indie buzz," I must say this: These dudes, above all, share the same love for Paul Simon's Graceland that I do. In the same way that Graceland was a perfect marriage of African music and relevant pop music for the decade, Vampire Weekend's self-titled debut is the perfect marriage of hipster-friendly New York indie rock with African music. And the product is something I cannot describe as anything but delightful.
Opener "Mansard Roof" and its sister single "A-Punk" are just upbeat enough with orchestral instrumentation permeating the semi lo-fi production values and positive vibes chiming out form the indie rock chords. But it's on "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" that the rhythms, percussion, and guitar melodies start to sound familiar to that one special album of my youth. But while the group openly embraces their African influences, they also press forward with the chamber music-inspired "M79," letting their strings evoke the fine wood paneling of university hallways, striped yellow J.Crew ties, and summers at Cape Cod.
The mish-mash of styles leads the band to describe their music as "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa," "Upper West Side Soweto,"
"Campus" and "Oxford Comma Riddim," invoking many of the names of the songs that appear on this album to describe their supposed genre. But again, I must stress that the music is nothing more than delightful.
The songs are well-written, giving equal weight to all the instruments played and leaving enough room for the singer to let his voice sail unwavering through the well-pitched melodies. And as the album soldiers through the single-ready "Campus," "Bryn" brings more of the African influences through again. And much like Paul Simon's 1986 opus, the production values are just as relevant to the music and time period as the music itself. Simon took a chance and embraced modern digital recordings, playing with drum machines, samples, and synthesizers to find the sound he had been looking for. Vampire Weekend instead vie for a minimalistic approach to each instrument. The end product sounds like it could be an unmiked performance playing in the room with you, a sobering and grounding quality that is endearing for a group that's essentially trying to sway your previously formed opinions on world music.
"Walcott" rings a bit like the post-rock of New York neighbors the Walkmen, but the highlight of the album is the mid-tempo lullaby, "The Kids Don't Stand a Chance." Dabbling with some reggae-inspired upstrokes on the keys and arpeggios on the harpsichord before swelling into some well-seasoned and disciplined cello playing, the track feels ready to be soundtracked to your favorite awkward love scene in that new rom-com indie movie all your friends are raving about.
In short, fuck the buzz. This isn't the next Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah. Just listen to the songs, and let them develop into your own daydream of New England and African shores.