Vampire Weekend had a huge task in front of them in creating a follow-up to their much beloved debut. They were enormously hyped from the time their first CD-R was released. The album was loved by every type indie hipster under the sun. And that hipster's mom. and all that hipster's friends. and probably that hipster's teacher too.
When a band is hyped that much from before their first album is released, it's often hard for them to do anything but try to recreate that album over and over again. Luckily (and very surprisingly) that's not the case for Vampire Weekend.
Contra is not nearly as immediate as the self-titled debut was, but it still has it's fair share of hooks. For the most part, the band has mellowed a bit more. They retain the cheesy prep school lyrics, but hey, write what you know. The afro-pop influence is still present, but not nearly as prevalent.
The first half of the album plays like a slightly more mellowed revision of the first album. Mostly, it's quite good. I could do without the auto-tune on "California English" but it's also not so obnoxious that it completely ruins the song. After that is where the band starts playing a bit more. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Taxi Cab is probably the most mellow VW song to date. It's carried by the vocals, a distorted string line, a piano and a small background beat. It works extremely well. "Giving Up The Gun" doesn't work nearly as well. It sounds like average top 40 radio pop. A rather boring song. The song "Cousins" is a highly energetic almost pop-punk sounding take on Vampire Weekend. It also proves to be one of the best songs on the album. Ezra Koenig has declared his love for Punk Rock and Hardcore in multiple interviews, and here that love really shines through. The album finishes up the almost interesting but ultimately too long and disconnected "Diplomat's Son." A song that samples an MIA song that isn't "Paper Planes." The closer is "I Think UR a Contra". It's a very ethereal song with the only real definable rhythm to the song not coming in til about halfway through and fading out just as quickly. It's an interesting song, but it feels like it is just missing something.
Ultimately, Contra is not a bad album. It's definitely not as bad as pretty much everyone expected it to be. Instead of trying to recreate their stellar debut, credit has to be given to the band for attempting to grow while retaining elements that made them great. They may not have done a perfect job of that, but this sounds more like a transition album than that of a band resting on it's haunches and trying to relive it's glory days.