Contra (Bonus Track Version)
“After your first album, you still have such a one-dimensional impression because people have only heard one record,” Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig said on his Beats 1 show Time Crisis in early 2018. “At that time, people thought of us in a very specific way: like, collegiate, whatever. I remember thinking, ‘Right now, VW exists in this kind of indie sphere. On the next album, we should expand our universe.’ It would be tight if people who like Sublime got into Vampire Weekend. Before we even started working on it, I laid out my pitch to the rest of the guys: ‘This is our SoCal album.’”
Though many of its songs were still set in New York, 2010’s Contra found Vampire Weekend drawing influence from a world (and world of styles) their star-making 2008 debut had only hinted at, including Sublime’s distinctly Californian blend of punk (first single “Cousins”) and ska (“Holiday”). “I hadn’t spent enough time in California,” Koenig said. “So I was still so fascinated by the whole state.” Its title (a Rorschach-like reference to the 1987 video game of the same name) was meant to evoke conflict—blue collar/white collar, progressive/conservative, highbrow/lowbrow, East Coast/West Coast—while Koenig’s lyrics reach for resolution: “’Cause if that Tom’s don’t work/If it just makes you worse,” he sings on the delirious, Auto-Tuned highlight “California English.” “Would you lose all of your faith in the good Earth?” And where its predecessor’s sonics were decidedly modest, Contra gave Vampire Weekend’s melodic smarts and multi-instrumentalist/producer Rostam’s Batmanglij’s ear for detail fully modern environs, his string arrangements blooming amid grids of synths, samplers, and vine-like squiggles of clipped guitar. While it would go to the top of the Billboard 200 its first week of release—another feat for an indie band—its ideas on identity would prove relevant for the rest of the decade.