Now Hear This (Vampire Weekend – debut column, 2008. Be nice to me)

Now hear this!
Music you may have missed
By Jonathan ‘Killstring’ Herzberger
The Cauldron Contributing Writer

“There’s no good music anymore.”

We’ve all heard this. Some of us are saying it. It’s a legitimate question: adrift in a world of factory-fresh teen starlets, soulless vanilla rockers, and cookie-cutter wannabe tough guy rappers, what’s a discerning listener to do? I’ll tell you what you’re going to do. You’re going to read Now hear this! – and you’re going to be exposed to an entire world of music that may have slipped right under your radar.

Today’s Act: Vampire Weekend.

Now, when first presented with these guys, I expected a very specific sort of mopey, eyeliner-drenched gloom rock, or at the very least, some angry, angst-filled industrial beats. Imagine my surprise, instead being greeted by some of the most unironically chipper music ever recorded.

Vampire Weekend formed at Columbia University (the name is taken from a student film produced by frontman Ezra Koenig his freshman year,) and derives its sound from equal parts British Pop, Congolese soukous music, and as near as I can tell, the Merriam-Webster Thesaurus. Unsurprisingly, the Ivy League campus was receptive to their unique Euro-African literate Indie pop, and they’ve been on a landslide of success ever since, with SPIN magazine naming them the best new band of 2008, and even the almighty Rolling Stone ranks their song “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” #67 on their Top 100 songs of 2007.

Their major label release, titled (yeah, you guessed it) Vampire Weekend is a light-hearted romp through pop convention. Songs like ‘Mansford Roof’ (which was the first single released, in addition to starting the record off) blend vintage organs, strings, and the atypical drumbeats that exemplify the band’s quirky approach. Koenig’s trademark falsetto is never forced, never strained – and that goes for pretty much everything else on the record. ‘A-Punk’ delivers a more straightforward approach, with its bright, clean guitars, and persistent rhythms. The guitars on this record really bear mentioning – in an age where even contemporary pop and country artists have big, distorted electric guitars, Koenig and co-conspirator Rostam Batmanglij keep it clean on the 6-string front – there’s nary an aggressive snarl in sight, and the album’s lone guitar solo is more an exercise in melodic exploration than gratuitous face-melting axework. Batmanglij’s Harpsichord takes center stage for ‘M79’, before giving way to driving violins, bouncing bass, and one of the catchiest melodies in recent memory. The driving, piano-pounding ‘Walcott’ is a tongue-in-cheek tale, loosely tied to the titular hero of the ill-fated Vampire Weekend film. The album’s concludes with arguably its strongest track, the Clash-esque ‘The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance’, a (insert reference here)

So, why should you go out of your way to listen to some absurd amalgamation of Ivy League English nerds, and traditional African music? Quite simply, there is no single better cure for a low test-score, a rough breakup, or any other strain of crappy day. Vampire Weekend is sunshine in a freaking glass.

Now hear that.

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