Contra (Bonus Track Version)
When the bright young men of Vampire Weekend started putting out music in the late 2000s, it was amazing how swift the backlash was, especially in the more gatekeep-y corners of indie music. The band members were slammed for being smart and not hiding it. For borrowing liberally from African and Caribbean music, despite scanning as preppy white kids (never mind that their de facto musical director, the multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, was Iranian American, and that white indie-rock bands would’ve done well to cultivate a musical curiosity beyond white indie-rock). And for being the kind of charming, winning, angst-free, and morally upright good sports that punks and underground culture-dwellers tend to hate, or at least sneer at from under the bleachers. Some guys have all the luck—the rest of us just hate ’em for it. As casually brilliant as 2008’s Vampire Weekend was, Contra was better and more evolved in every way: the lyrics were denser, and the sound more cleverly culturally referential—check out the baroque, Wes Anderson dancehall of “Diplomat’s Son,” or the Mexican surf-punk of “Cousins.” And while the ethical and spiritual quandaries felt deeper—as evidenced by the class guilt of “Taxi Cab” and the conscientious capitalism of “California English”—the vibes on Contra were brighter and more immediate. Obsessive listeners could hunker down with references to fonts (“She’d never seen the word ‘bombs’ blown up to 96-point Futura”) and eco-friendly hygiene products (“’Cause if that Tom’s don’t work/If it just makes you worse/Would you lose all of your faith in the good earth?”) while everyone else could just, like, have fun with it. Vampire Weekend could sound as melancholic and poetically ambiguous as Paul Simon (“I Think Ur a Contra”) and as anthemic—and slyly class-conscious—as Bruce Springsteen (“Giving Up the Gun”). Contra took the brains and pickiness and sheer idiosyncrasies we associate with alternative and nerd culture, and fed it back to us as pop.