About two years ago, four bright-eyed young Ivy Leaguers broke from indie rock’s studiedly scruffy ranks with an exuberant fusion of sunny Afro-pop rhythms and prep-school panache they dubbed ”Upper West Side Soweto.” Within several months, a top 20 full-length debut, high-profile TV gigs (SNL, Letterman), and breathless critical acclaim followed. Vampire Weekend were as close to instant alt-stars as the fragmented music industry is capable of conjuring up these days.
With the band now a known quantity, sophomore album Contra inevitably lacks the slaphappy dazzle of breakout singles like ”A Punk” and ”Oxford Comma.” Still, the album, recorded in Brooklyn and Mexico City, stays largely faithful to the sound they’ve built, with the international-groovy experiments of Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel still clear signposts — Simon’s almost glaringly so. On summery first single ”Horchata,” singer Ezra Koenig gets drunk on multiculturalism, (loosely) rhyming the Mexican rice beverage of the title with ”balaclava” and ”Masada.” If the lyrics sometimes seem to showboat their 10-carat educations (look, Ma, three continents!), the music remains happily inclusive: somewhere between limbo contest on the lido deck and cocktail hour in Cape Cod.
Many of Contra’s tracks adhere to the band’s ”Graceland B sides in boat shoes” template, though the racing gallop of ”Cousins” finds the group veering into a manic sort of rockabilly-ska territory, and the airy, electro-tinged ”Taxi Cab” is surprisingly tender. Either way, the album’s January release couldn’t be better timed: For the winter-weary listener, their jubilant take on passport rock offers sweet, if temporary, relief.