Rock

Published on April 21st, 2014 | by Andy Sedlak

‘Vampire Weekend’ – Vampire Weekend [2008]

‘Vampire Weekend’ – Vampire Weekend [2008] Andy Sedlak

Summary: These lads memorized Paul Simon’s Greatest Hits and released a debut of half-finished odds and ends. They had plenty of style, but needed soul to match it.

2

Clunker


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Length:  34:13 |  Release: Jan. 29, 2008

Producer: Rostam Batmanglij  |  Label: XL, DGC

Top 40 U.S. Singles: 0  |  Peak Position on Billboard Album Chart: 17

VW - Band Pic

Chris Tomson, Ezra Koenig, Chris Baio and Rostam Batmanglij make up Vampire Weekend.

First impressions are funny. No matter how many miles you log with someone, a bit of that initial impression is always there.

Vampire Weekend, to me, sounded like a jittery flock of Paul Simon imitators upon first listen. I immediately pictured them being at home in a sterile little bar where most of the audience spends the night on their phones. They’ll look up to clap… occasionally. Then they’ll buy a T-shirt at the end of the night as they polish off that last IPA.

Yes, Vampire Weekend seemed like a band for beer snobs.

And I was pretty sure they were English.

Turns out they’re not British lads and their appeal extends beyond beer enthusiasts. The group formed at Columbia University and cultivated a mutual love for world music, particularly African rhythms. The self-titled debut was released in 2008 and I was introduced to it by friends at my college radio station. I was one of many who came across the band in this fashion. Buzz generated by word of mouth, and now we’re able to look back and see the album did exactly what a debut is intended to do – it launched a successful career.

The boys chat with KROQ at a 2013 show.

Vampire Weekend’s second album, 2010’s Contra, would out-perform the debut. Their third, 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City, would be named the best release of the year by Rolling Stone magazine. The debut you’re reading about here has been mentioned in articles by both Rolling Stone and Pitchfork ranking the best albums of the 2000s. Rolling Stone has even included it on its evolving list of the greatest albums of all time.

So it’s worth another look, don’t you think?

The record was produced and spit-shined by band member Rostam Batmanglij. It opens with the somewhat cinematic “Mansard Roof,” also the record’s first single. The sugary “Oxford Comma” comes next, which sounds awkward at first but sinks in its claws if you play it back a time or two. As with its likeability, its meaning will also sink in. Apply the metaphor. It’s about not giving a rip.

Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma? 
I’ve seen those English dramas too 
They’re cruel 
So if there’s any other way 
To spell the word 
It’s fine with me, with me 

VW - Rostam

Band member Rostam Batmanglij produced the 2008 debut record.

But I just don’t see what the journalists see. And I don’t hear what they hear. Vampire Weekend certainly sounds good on paper: a young, irreverent group championing African rhythms and an idiosyncratic delivery.

Meaning and accessibility don’t come easily on Vampire Weekend’s debut. After “Oxford Comma,” an irritating jam (“A-Punk”) is followed by “Cape Cod Kwessa Kwessa.” The latter name checks Peter Gabriel. Mojo magazine asked the rock icon why he thought he was mentioned in the song. Although he said he liked it, Gabriel replied, “I’ve got no idea why they stuck me in there other than it was sort of African-ish and I’ve done some African-ish things.”

I feel you, Pete. I’m laboring for explanations myself.

“A-Punk” and “Oxford Comma” live in 2009.

“M79,” adds more lyrical question marks.

No excuse to be so callous
Dress yourself in bleeding madras
Charm your way across the Khyber Pass

Stay awake to break the habit
Sing in praise of Jackson Crowter
Watch your step along the arch of glass

Those read like bad, bad, bad Bob Dylan lyrics.

After some digging, I read the song was named after a Manhattan bus. And that “Jackson Crowter” reference at the end? The Washington Post asked the band who exactly that is. The answer? A dude Batmanglij rode the bus with in high school.

And that’s when it might occur to listeners that they’re hearing a record of inside references that they’ll never understand… unless they ask one of the band members themselves. As charming as that might seem in the studio, a puzzled audience is a puzzled audience.

Saturday Night Live

Vampire Weekend have played SNL’s stage three times since 2008, obviously Lorne Michaels is a fan.

We briefly move back out into the open with “Campus,” which is a pleasant number. It reminds us of some of our less-than-sure college days.

How am I supposed to pretend
I never want to see you again?

In most cases, Vampire Weekend’s main writer was lead singer Ezra Koenig. He’s the son of a psychotherapist with an Ivy League education. And the record he played a strong role in crafting is not totally uninteresting. I can get behind the interplay between the percussion and the bursty guitar licks. I admire that “polished” doesn’t always have to mean “restrained,” and I enjoy the band when they let their musicianship take over on songs like “Oxford Comma.”

From the well-constructed final track, “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance:”

You criticize the practice
By murdering their plants
Ignoring all the history
Denying them romance

The pin-striped men of morning
Are coming for to dance
Forty-million dollars
The kids don’t stand a chance

It’s a great tune. And we’re finally treated to music that extended beyond the borders of campus.

And then the record ended.

The video for the band’s first single “Mansard Roof”.

Vampire Weekend’s aristocratic approach limited their impact on me in 2008. It worked for Kanye West, but not for them. Lyrically, band members play insider baseball. And after about 15 minutes—roughly halfway through this 35-minute record—their use of African rhythms feels more like a gimmick than a demonstration of musical sophistication or knowledge. Smartass eggheads are showing off again? Wake me up when somebody says something worth remembering.

From “One (Blake’s Got a New Face):”

Nastiness will cause your doom
Turn and walk back to your room

Relatable, durable songs need to be in place to support whatever bands use as an attention-grabber. Although Vampire Weekend showed some promise in 2008, their debut ultimately sounded half-finished. My college professors brought the love, but my circle thought they first sounded like bed-headed undergrads with a Paul Simon obsession.

It was only the debut. But you know what they say about first impressions.

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About the Author

Andy Sedlak is a former television reporter who lives in Dayton, OH. He grew up in a household that pumped Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel every weekend. He instantly became a new man when he discovered Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” in junior high.



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