Thursday, March 6, 2008

Vampire Weekend - Self Titled (2008)

Artist: Vampire Weekend

Album: Self Titled

Released: January '08

Label: XL Recordings

Style: Yacht Rock, African Influenced


  1. Mansard Roof
  2. Oxford Comma
  3. A-Punk
  4. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
  5. M79
  6. Campus
  7. Bryn
  8. One (Blake's Got A New Face)
  9. I Stand Corrected
  10. Walcott
  11. The Kids Don't Stand A Chance

I love this album so much; it's one of my favorites this year. I think mostly because it's so fun. The music is light hearted and neatly arranged, it covers many different styles on each song while keeping it's own unique sound throughout, and the writing is flawless. I'm a big fan of good writing; this album certainly sets the bar. Vampire Weekend are really setting the bar for pop music this year.

The video for the opening track, Mansard Roof, speaks volumes about the band themselves. Set on a yacht, we find the band sailing from New Jersey to Manhatten (I seriously have no idea where they're going, don't trust my judgement on this), eating neatly arranged snacks, and doing other yachtly activities, like playing Mansard Roof at the helm. The video looks like it was shot in the 80s, even down to the khakis, collared shirts, and video quality. This is exactly what I would picture them doing in their leisure time away from campus.

And while we're covering videos, the video for track 3, A-Punk, is also pretty rad. It reminds me a lot of OK Go's A Million Ways video, for no other reason than it's a dance that they probably had to practice over and over to get perfect for the video. I think Vampire Weekend's video builds on that concept a lot. In their video the setting changes a few times, the band changes clothes at different points, and everything seems like it's sped up really fast, even though they're all playing in time with the music. And they all look like they've been shrunk too, it's hard to explain. There's a lot going on, which is cool. You don't have to focus on any one part of it, and it changes enough to keep the viewer interested. I can't tell if they're trying to sound like the Sex Pistols or Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah though..

So yeah, they have cool videos. Lets talk about the album for a second. Quoted from their website: "The name of this band is Vampire Weekend. We are specialists in the following styles: "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa", "Campus", and "Oxford Comma Riddim."" The wiki says that they are influenced by african popular music and western classical music. I hear the western classical music a lot more, though the african influences are very apparent on some tracks. Perhaps they all listen to a lot of african popular music, world music is always trendy, but a lot of this doesn't sound like anything african I've ever heard. It sounds like a band of college kids made a witty album and used some drum samples from songs nobody knows about in Africa (like geniuses Daft Punk with their borrowed funk samples) then thought of some interesting names of styles to call it, which they also named the songs exemplifying each style apparently.

The song Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa sounds a lot like a track off Paul Simon's Graceland album, which has a lot of African influences too. I think his African influences may have been a little more genuine, or at least more unified and apparent throughout his entire album, because the next track on Vampire Weekend's album starts off rife with violins and the western classical influences mentioned. Also, Louis Vuitton gets their product placement in this song, but the band makes up for it by rhyming it with Reggaeton. In my book, since I loathe product placement so much and love reggaeton equally, they cancel each other. In short, I don't hear the african stuff on all the tracks, though it's very obvious on some. I hear more consistently the "Campus" style, especially in lyrical content.

The band apparently met while attending Columbia University, which explains why the entire album seems to be about life at an ivy league. It reminds me of Chuck Coleman's album People, Places, and Flings. There's a lot of talk about subtle differences between English Breakfast and Darjeeling, "diction dripping with disdain", and sleeping on the balcony after class. As was the case with Chuck Coleman, this does nothing to detract from the album. The songwriting is entirely clever, and it gives so much perspective on the band themselves; it would be a shame if they hadn't written it as such. You can check out all the lyrics here, and yes they are worth reading on their own.

This is a year-end-list maker for sure, and a band you can expect to hear a lot of hype around this year. You should definitely hear this once or twice, if for no other reason than to hear what the styles they've created to describe their music actually sound like.

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