New York is a beautiful city. It’s a sprawling metropolitan holding the hopes and dreams of eight million different people. Every body has a story in New York City, for better or worse. Not only is it the origin of both of my parents and immediate family, but my birthplace as well. Even though I’m a child of the D.C. metro area, I was always be a son of New York and its culture. It is a culture that has always stressed creativity and innovation and is among the world’s leaders in artistic advancement. New York has many traits, but one of my favorites is the city’s appreciation for the arts. Whether you’re catching the The Jazz Masters Quintet play at the Lincoln Center, viewing the new Diego Velázquez exhibits at the Met, or going to witness Prefuse 73 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, New York, at any given time, is choc full of the world’s leading art of any medium. Not only does New York showcase some of the world’s finest art, it also produces some of the world’s finest artists. The list of great musicians from the streets of New York is endless, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Nas, The Ramones, Dizzy Gillepsie, Afrika Bambaataa, Sarah Vaughn, Eddie Palmieri, B.I.G., De La Soul; the list is truly incessant.

New York has never ended its tradition of birthing great artists, especially in the realms of rock. New bands such as TV on the Radio, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Virgins, and Vampire Weekend all represent the vanguard for NYC based rock. Of all these truly outstanding NYC indie rock bands, Vampire Weekend continues to be one of my genuine favorites. I love all of NYC’s new indie rock mainstays, but it was something about Vampire Weekend’s youthful, energetic, bouncy sound that I just got hooked on. I think “A-Punk” has to be like my fourth most played song ever (on my iPod). The band’s Polo Ralph Lauren aesthetic is adorable, not annoying, and their songs are cleverly arranged and written. In the same vein as one of my other favorite bands, Bombay Bicycle Club (whose debut album you can find here), Vampire Weekend doesn’t try to be anything they’re not and they definitely don’t force their sound upon you. It’s no nonsense indie rock from a familiar perspective but Vampire Weekend seems to make their aesthetic refreshing.

The Columbia University classmates released their self-titled debut album two years ago, driving the Internet crazy with their ambitious self-produced product. They landed themselves on countless “Best of” lists and even got a couple of their songs in some major motion pictures. Their debut album solidified them as leaders in the current indie rock landscape mainly because their debut was elegant but youthful. It was an album you can just get lost in and subconsciously smile while you listened through. It was filled with undying energy. There is no song on the album where you feel like they’ve could have tried harder. The effort is noticeable in the sense that you can appreciate it, not in the sense that they’re trying extra hard to sound good. You can tell it comes naturally.

Two years after their magnificent debut, the band is back again with Contra. The lead single from the album, “Cousins” is in constant rotation on MTV U and I must say it had to grow on me. My days waiting for Contra were marred with the thought that the whole album would have to grow on me. I feared that Vampire Weekend lost their ability to let their music come naturally. Good for me, and you, they haven’t and Contra is an outstanding album.

The album starts of with “Horchata”. Before I go any further, Horchata is “the name for several kinds of traditional beverages, made of ground almonds, sesame seeds, rice, barley, or tigernuts (chufas)”. From reading the description, I can say that I’m not clamoring to go try it but I’m sure it’s delicious. Anyway, the song is extremely catchy. The sound never stops. The sound from the strings and what sounds like a xylophone are marvelous accents to a great song. Following “Horchata” is “White Sky” which has some lovely over-arching vocals on it. I still can’t figure out what the hell they’re on about yet though. That Columbia education is no joke. Next up we have “Holiday” which reminds a lot of “Please Destroy Me” by Get Set Go. “Holiday” is sort of a riffy, solid, steady song. “California English” has VW’s African influences written all over it. Just like the African music VW sought to imitate, “California English” bounces and churns at the same time. Ezra Koenig, the lead vocals man and I’m assuming lead songwriter, is a very intelligent man. Just chomp on this for a second:

Someone took a trip before you came to ski in the Alps

Your father moved across the country

Just to sunburn his scalp

Contra Costa, Contra Mundum, contradict what I say

Living like the French Connection, but we’ll die in LA

Blasted from a disconnected light switch

Through the condo that they’ll never finish

Bounced across a Saudi satellite dish

And through your brain to California English

No one sits inside a freezing flat and stays there ’til May

Leafing through a stack of A-Zs to surf the UK

Waiting with the wind against your face

And gel in your hair

Shivering in little undershirts, but don’t seem to care

Brilliant song writing it is indeed. The piano work on “Taxi Cab” is just as mystifying as Koenig’s excellent lyrics. “Run” has more of a “world” sound to it as well, which sounds a bit ambiguous but trust me on this one. The horns on this song are just stellar. They dance around Koenig’s lyrics like raindrops and the percussion keeps you genuinely interested in the song from start to finish. “Cousins” seems to be all over the place when you first hear it, but like I mentioned before, the more you listen to it, the more you appreciate its vigor. “Giving Up The Gun” is probably the most pop-ish sounding song on the album, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s actually a pretty cool song with the pauses and middle-eastern flare. “Diplomat’s Son” is my favorite song on the album, and I will admit it’s because of the M.I.A. sample. The piano makes an appearance here again, but the true shinning quality of this song is that the tropical style rhythms seem to guide you through this short musical journey. How, you may ask? They lend a meditative quality to the song, similar to dub. The final song, “I Think Ur a Contra”, is a fitting end to such a superb album. It’s the last page in the book, and Koenig makes you read it carefully. It’s like the eerie end to your favorite drama movie where you don’t know exactly how it ends. You have to draw your own conclusions.

And that is the one reason why I think this album is so great. It forces you to draw your own conclusions. You don’t listen to this album, you think through it. Many people would say that this album is good, not great. They would remark that VW is too pretentious and they’re coming off as assholes that try to hold their inside knowledge of their music over your head. To that I say, there inlays the beauty of the album. Contra is Vampire Weekend according to Vampire Weekend.

Even though every album I’ve reviewed on the site so far has gotten excellent scores, it’s not because I’m biased towards these artists given my past history with them. It’s just because they’re so damn good. I give Contra five Polo logos out of five.

(Apparently, the TIs that run the circus music biz aren’t rich enough happy with my antics. Get it how you google get it.)