Contra makes me realize that I am a hipster.
One of the most tried and true moves in the hipster playbook is backlash. It's an important one, because it (a) establishes credibility about a band (i.e.: “Vampire Weekend? Yeah, I saw them back in 2007 with like 10 people at some college party up in Hartford. Their album hadn't even come out yet, it was so authentic.”) and (b) allows for the “I-liked-them-before-they-were-cool” elitist backslide. Backlash is the musical equivalent of the one-night stand: like a band once until they get cool, then jump off the bandwagon to seem cooler than the rest of the plebes who are just catching on.
I've felt myself slipping into preemptive backlash mode twice. The first time was before the release of Forgetting Sarah Marshall (long, stupid story) and the second time occurred in the weeks leading up to Contra's release.
Considering how many of my other favorite blog bands had burned me in the past on sophomore releases (Cold War Kids, Tapes 'N Tapes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah), I felt I had a right to be skeptical towards four preppy dudes who made tight pop songs that sounded like Paul Simon.
Just like with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I am pleasantly surprised to report that Contra is an album that is every bit as good as Vampire Weekend. Even if I am a hipster douche, I can still recognize one of 2010's better records.
The biggest change between this album and Vampire Weekend is the production. Keyboardist/guitarist Rotsam Batmangllij is all over this record, covering songs like “White Sky” and “Giving Up the Gun” with layers of programed drums, keyboard bloops and synth bleeps. Seems like his work with side project Discovery had a pretty big impact on the band's current sound.
While it can be a little disarming to hear so many digital elements that it borders on overproduction, these songs work because, at their core, they are just well-written, catchy, breezy pop songs. If you liked the first Vampire Weekend record, there is no reason not to like Contra, which boasts some immediate hits and some slow burners. For example, “Cousins,” the well-traveled second single for the record, is a frantic, goofy, kickass pop song in the same vein of “A-Punk” and one of the album's most immediate tracks. Then there are songs like “Taxi Cab” and “Giving Up the Gun,” tracks that take a few listens to stick but make them all the more satisfying once they take.
Really, besides the hype and the newfangled production, the album is a spiritual continuation of Vampire Weekend's sound. Both albums have songs to hook a listener. Both songs yield new benefits with repeat listens. Both albums make for kickass party music. Both albums feature the best indie pop being made. Sure, this album sounds a little less like a full-band effort because of all the keyboards and synths, but that doesn't take away from the strengths of the songs.
Putting things down makes people feel cool, and feeling cool is always a big temptation for people who obsess over music. I urge anyone interested in Vampire Weekend to overcome the urge to backlash and give Contra a fair shake. The rewards outweigh the cool feeling one gets from being a dick.