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Boomkat Product Review:
Having released one of the last decade's smartest, most literate debut albums (by a mainstream American indie rock band, at least) Vampire Weekend return with a no less sophisticated sophomore, presenting a broader tapestry of influences and an even more rarefied ear for genre-colliding instrumentation. Still very much in love with the idioms of African pop, 'Horchata' gets the album underway with thumb piano melodies and unconventional beat-making whilst Ezra Koenig's lead vocal is greeted by cradling string arrangements. Equally ambitious in its stylistic scope is the more upbeat 'White Sky', whose introduction seems to have inherited some of the blippy electronics Rostam Batmanglij deployed on the Discovery album, but the band's oft-cited incorporation of Graceland-era Paul Simon remains tangible as part of their trademark sound. Arriving next, the dried-out, tightened up sound of 'Holiday' underlines the sort of sound that characterised a former glory like 'A-Punk', channelling a borderline tropical sound that suddenly transfigures itself into The Strokes during the chorus. 'California English' is perhaps even keener to assert its radio-friendly credentials, layering Autotuned lead vocals over deeply submerged Panda Bear-style harmonies while strings slink between another batch of Africanised rhythmic patterns. All this might sound a little too much like a contrivance or a confection were it not for the disarming intelligence the band frequently exhibit. Koenig's a wily and poetic lyricist, and musically, there's always another surprise around the corner. 'Taxi Cab', for instance, comes as something of a surprise with its eloquent, baroque-style arrangements kicking in halfway through, offering something of a contrast to the M.I.A. sampling quasi-dancehall of 'Diplomat's Son'. On Contra, Vampire Weekend come across as a band who could quite comfortably make albums of this high standard for their entire career, continually channelling clever lyrics whilst casually throwing all the right culture-crossing musical ideas around the mix. You might suspect however, that in so doing the band surround themselves with a kind of self-conscious critical bulletproofing which prohibits some of the immediacy that characterised their debut album. Still, there's much to admire and enjoy here, even if it might take an extra couple of listens to fully appreciate.