By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
RW: The "one persona-package" is a very real circumstance of an oversaturated market, which is more proof that Vampire Weekend's miraculous journey from cyber-buzz band to Saturday Night Live musical guest over a few short months is the result of excellent songwriting and a uniquely universal sound.
It's peculiar and hilarious that indie press will embrace boring noise-drone bands or harp-plucking nymphs, but a group of Ivy League chaps have taken everybody out of their deceivingly specific comfort zone. The rules and stigmas of this are as premeditated as the shirt collars poking through the band members' sweaters — even though as the band's defendant, I cannot stand behind keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij's ridiculous scarves. One must wonder if the emphasis placed on Vampire Weekend's preppy visuals are a conscious decision of the band or of the aforementioned one-sheet writers whose job it is to fit thousands of bands into dozens of niches.
JT: So what about the music, then? Vampire Weekend has jumbled together some interesting sonic ingredients, and they come up with a few strong melodies on their debut album. (I'd like to see what Belle & Sebastian or the Essex Green could do with a tune like "M79.") But nowhere on the record do I get any sense of why they bother, why this matters to them. Somebody somewhere said that people listen to music to hear strong emotions being expressed. The closest this album comes to emotion is a kind of vague, gauzy, detached wistfulness. In the right hands, that might be enough. Or with the right songs. Not here.
RW: Deep emotional content is just one of a myriad of reasons people have put a needle on a record or plugged earbuds into an MP3 player. Vampire Weekend may not have Dylan's density or be able to wrench a gut like Elliott Smith did, but when the three steel-drum simulated chords of "Mansard Roof" open the door to the band's self-titled album and Ezra Koenig debuts his breezy tenor, the listener is offered a valid, if calculated, sense of escape. This isn't to say that the track is intended to force one into a Hudson River yacht fantasy, but the song's open air is symbolic of all of the places we'd rather be, a "detached wistfulness" from our lives, and its propulsive drumbeat gives the urgency to get there quickly. At the height of my fascination with "Mansard," it conjured images of Seattle's magical rolling hills and conveyer-belt sushi restaurants. It was my eleventh-most-played song on iTunes, and not once was I inspired to enroll at Harvard. Or even take my online community college classes seriously.
Critics and cynics and purists may never get over the band's image, but kudos for putting its most unlikable foot forward; nobody wants to like these spoiled brats, and those who do just can't help it. Vampire Weekend writes simple tunes for complicated times, and no amount of rich-kid snobbery or blogosphere backlash can strip the undeniable merit from these songs.