One of my favourite albums is Paul Simon's solo debut, Paul Simon. I've yet to digest most of his subsequent solo work, though it is all assuredly on the To-Do List (It's a playlist I have on iTunes). What I have listened to is Graceland, and I've also listened to Negotiations and Love Songs, a best of. Between those two, I can hear precisely where Vampire Weekend are coming from on Contra, their sophomore album out a few weeks ago.
I'll start this by saying that I haven't listened to their first album yet. It, too, is on the To-Do List. But that may have worked out to their advantage here. Whilst I've read many reviews for this album, the major point of contention seems to be in regards to how it stacks up against their first album. It's either an appropriate artistic evolution, or it's less catchy. These are, I'll point out, often the same coin, viewed from different sides. One man's mature is another man's boring.
Being (mostly) devoid of a sense of their evolution, I find this to be a very pleasant, well, pastiche, really. It's all a bit Simon, but that's not a bad thing. We could use more of his influence in modern music. His song structures were winding and nubile, and, so long as you were paying attention, when he was at his best you could never call him boring. He also had a way with gentle, meandering melodies, which populate this album in all corners. What's crucial is that the boys don't sound like they had to work at it; Simon's melodies are the sort which will only work if you don't force them.
There's nothing here that's as much a shot in the arm as "A-Punk," sure, but "Cousins" is probably more invigorating. It doesn't stay with you for as long, but it's more muscle and sinew, two of my favourite words to apply to this kind of music. The rest of the album is more gentle, but its sound is a unique (if clearly derivative) one, and that's what most of us are looking for. The thing about derivative sounds is while we constantly claim to seek new things, we don't really want anything completely new. We want that recognition and familiarity of the old with a new spin. And that's exactly what you'll get here.
Provided you like Paul Simon. Which, fortunately enough, I do.
*A post-script to this review; As I've listened more, the lyrics have worn at me. Horribly. And I've also found the melodies slightly less involving each time through. I've downgraded this from a B+ to a B.