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Vampire Weekend: Contra

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January 11, 2010  |  8:30am
Vampire Weekend: <em>Contra</em>

Brainy indie upstarts prove masterful debut was no fluke

Vampire Weekend’s debut cartwheeled gleefully from one infectious musical idea to the next, seducing listeners with a syrupy-sweet cocktail of Afro-pop, squeaky-clean ’60s surf rock and harpsichord passages that nodded at Mark Mothersbaugh’s playful compositions on Wes Anderson soundtracks. It was hard to listen to that first batch of tunes without sensing vast stores of glittering pop left to mine in the endlessly forking creative arteries beneath the band’s goofy, cardigan-wrapped exterior.

On their second LP, the youngsters don’t disappoint. Contra opener “Horchata” displays a caliber of pop songcraft and melodic intuition that gives The Shins’ James Mercer a run for his harmony, and the feathery lightness of lead singer Ezra Koenig’s voice allows him to indulge fluttering melodies that would sink under the weight of more overbearing pipes.

“White Sky” dances along with skittering keyboard arpeggios and a refrain of sweeping falsetto “oohs” that beg for spontaneous crowd karaoke. Contra’s most indelible cut, the sublimely arranged and lyrically evocative “Taxi Cab,” adopts an emotional vulnerability and depth that Vampire Weekend’s darker musical cousins The Strokes always seemed too fashionable to plumb.

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