5. Vampire Weekend — Vampire Weekend
Am I allowed to like this album? I felt like the coolest cat in town last January when I grabbed a last-minute Craigslist ticket for their show at the Bowery Ballroom, but these days the mere mention of Vampire Weekend can return looks of disgust (Can you not feel the indignation of Eric and Evan's comments below!). They've appeared on — GASP — MTV and have their own commercials on Comedy Central, which I guess is a dealbreaker for hipsters who like their rock idols pure (and poor).
A friend of mine describes them thusly: "They sound like the sons of wealthy Republicans." Even The New York Times — following a lukewarm review of their live act — offered this parting barb: "Backed aggressively by a string quartet that had lightly accented a few other songs during the show, Vampire Weekend evoked another band whose members met in college and are still struggling with how to wear their success, even after selling several million more albums than this one: Coldplay."
Huh? How about this: Vampire Weekend is a group of five young guys who make good pop, wear nice clothes and are probably smarter than you. If I wasn't a sucker for slick indie rock backed by shimmimering African rhythms, I'd hate them too.
The main problem I have with the attention that Vampire Weekend has garnered is not their Columbia education, not the drooling of the blogosphere or the MSM, and not even their overly aloof/ironic aesthetic. It's that they just aren't really that good yet. I certainly don't think they are a bad band, and in fact think they show a bit of potential. But that bit of potential, for me, isn't enough to put their record in the top five best debuts of the year, let alone top five albums overall. It's pretty good pop that shows a decent amount of technical skill in songwriting but doesn't really have the energy and soul to put it over the top. The fact that I was bored to death during their live show (after an excellent set by the Harlem Shakes) didn't earn them any points either. I've written at length elsewhere about my problems with VW and while I wish them well I definitely don't think they've yet done anything particularly notable.
This release more or less totally failed to engage me. Aesthetically, a few riffs and rhythms borrowed from afro-pop (is that what we're calling this?) seem much too self-conscious, failing to jive well with anything else that's going on. Lyrically, the general intelligence of the songwriters (did you hear, they went to Columbia? They know what an Oxford comma is!) only underscores the fact that these guys just don't have much to say. Also, the vocal parts particularly could've used a few more takes in the studio. There are a few nice moments here, but on the whole, this one came out of the oven half-baked.