Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (XL)
Bringing afro-pop to the Upper West Side of Manhattan is not the most predictable way to become the most hyped band in the blogosphere, but it worked for Vampire Weekend. Their debut album is born into an indie scene which has had the leak for a few months, but they’re still refreshingly original, borrowing from touchstones that are almost completely overlooked by everyone else except Paul Simon. That’s not to say it would be difficult to guess that they’re from New York just by listening to them. There is a definite sound, exemplified by The Walkmen and earlier Strokes, from which Vampire Weekend emerge and diverge. Walcott, for example, could come straight off Bows and Arrows, and no amount of quasi-African diction can cover that up. That is no crime, however. The unrestrained pop melodies on the likes of Mansard Roof, Oxford Comma, and The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance make the album a joyful listen. Made to be listened to in the back garden in glorious sunshine.
Lovvers – Think (Wichita)
Cacophony is a delicate art. To pull off seven songs in less than twelve minutes without a single audible lyric (barring the song titles – and you know they’re there so you don’t have to look) is a difficult task. Nottingham’s Lovvers attempt it, taking the trashy punk route, and just about manage. Their palate of sounds seems to include 60s garage as much as the immediately obvious snot-nosed hardcore, and this buys them some breathing room. Lovvers luckily manage to just skirt being straight punk. There are pop melodies here, sequestered beneath what seems to be a conscious decision not to compromise their ramshackle live sound for the sake of easy listening. ‘No Romantics’ strikes a balance and is probably the highlight. It must be said that for all their commitment to brevity, Lovvers do lack the immediacy of some others (e.g. Jay Reatard) doing something similar. But they do seem like the kind of thing that could be thought-provoking if it were a little more audible. That might ruin the mystique, however.
Roots Manuva – Slime and Reason (Big Dada)
Having watched Dizzee Rascal and Estelle zoom past him to worldwide audiences and financial reward with half the lyrical talent, it would be easy to forgive Rodney Smith some bitterness. However, Slime and Reason’s opening line, “A lot of people don’t know about Smith”, seems more like a simple statement of fact than a complaint. This album doesn’t acknowledge anything in its surroundings. Rather, it is the newest chapter in an isolated musical portrait of the artist.
The music channels the place-in-time feeling of Jamaica’s Studio One recordings from the 1960s and 1970s. However, the dancehall carnival feeling is skin deep only. Smith is one of the difficult school of rappers that fight with their demons on acetate for the world to hear. Consistently throughout, but especially on closer “The Struggle”, we find him enumerating the difficulties of balancing artistic advancement and the need to provide for others.
There are few rappers in the world who can real internal turmoil and lyrical skill in a successful way. Nas is one. Roots Manuva is another. There is enough universal wisdom in Slime and Reason to make it one of the most vital hip hop albums I’ve ever heard.