Tag Archives: Vampire Weekend

The Year. 20-16

20. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach [UK]

How many classic albums have a different featured guest on every track? Not a whole lot, but then Music Is Changing, right? And Gorillaz are Not Your Favourite Band. So, with Snoop Dogg, Mark E. Smith, the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music, Lou Reed, Bobby Womack and Mos Def in tow, they have a go at a concept album about indefinitely accumulating rubbish and postmodern artifice being a good thing. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and when you’re Damon Albarn, your friends and peers aren’t necessarily the freshest thing out. But sometimes it does. Though lesser names, relatively speaking, UK MCs Bashy, Kano and the aforementioned orchestra combine to make the best track, White Flag, a tag team rap over SNES beats and Arabic classical music. De La Soul and Gruff Rhys do a decent update of old school hip hop on Superfast Jellyfish, imbued with all the slight plastic discomfort of the whole. Strange stuff for the pop it is, and better for it.
Gorillaz’ incredibly busy-looking website and a BBC session with an XX cover via State.

Gorillaz feat. Bashy, Kano, National Orchestra for Arabic Music – White Flag

19. These New Puritans – Hidden [UK]

As well as witch house, this year had some genuinely, elementally frightening music, made up of war drums, stately woodwinds, deadpan singing and a heap of noise. Hidden plays like a reaction to the tendency to reverb and overdrive last year and this year. Jack Burnett famously once mentioned a pre-Renaissance Florentine poet as an influence during the height of the band’s first sonic iteration, dance-punk. It’s that kind of wanton awkwardness that makes Hidden so interesting. It’s tribal but it’s quantised, it’s orchestral but it’s undersung too. It can be great in a dozen different ways. Orion’s core is church choral music, and it plays like the breeze in a cavernous cathedral with some errant private school kids mumbling and hitting drums in it. We Want War is more like MIA if she knew how to sound like she probably wants to sound, with the distinct feeling that if you were about to lead a horde of lads with spears and shields into a battle, it’d be the song you choose to play loud.
Famed music journalist Paul Morley talks to TNP at the Guardian, and a music video.

These New Puritans – We Want War

18. Liars – Sisterworld [US]

Heady music is great, music you can count beats to or decoct intricate production. But what is also great is when songs and soft and then get very heavy. That’s how Sisterworld starts. It’s visceral, and all those other worlds you use to describe shit when it makes you accidentally punch the wall of your bedroom as you mosh obliviously to it by yourself. But on Scissor and elsewhere, that seminal moment where Thom Yorke decided he was a Liars fan and brought them on tour is becoming a thing. It’s not that they all of a sudden sound like Radiohead, but their experimental urges have rounded out into something coherent and only repellent, when it wants to be repellent, because of the music, not the atmospheric mulch of Drum’s Not Dead. Plus they never forgot how to move you.
Angus having Earl as one of his albums of the year and an interview, both from Pitchfork.

Liars – Scissor


17. Four Tet – There Is Love In You
[UK]

Electronic music’s interesting, cos y’know, it’s a new art form and a set of aesthetic criteria haven’t emerged yet. Or something like that. Kieran Hebden’s everywhere though, remixing, DJing, having chess nights with Dan Snaith, Steve Reid and Burial in my imagination, so he must be countenanced on some terms, and it’s not on him to find them. Four Tet operates on perpetual motion, but its own particular kind. A Four Tet beat is instantly recognisable. There’s something in the drag on the drum hits, or the way busy interacting rhythms can still end up sounding sparse and minimal. Something in the way a guy who used to be in a post-rock band who was tagged as “folktronica” for a decade can end up within the fence of what’s now post-J Dilla instrumental hip hop in America. And sure, he blisses out. I wonder what it looks like naked.
Four Tet’s Soundcloud, full of mixes and remixes, and an interview from the AV Club.

Four Tet – Sing

16. Vampire Weekend – Contra [US]

Having won a ring in their rookie season as far as this blog is concerned, Vampire Weekend released their second album from a position of privilege but also one of pressure. From a totally subjective standpoint, how do you follow up something “clamped to my ears for 12 months”? Well, if the s/t was the sound of white (or sorry, Jewish, Persian, Italian and Ukrainian) boys backpacking through sound, then Contra is just more of that in a different direction. Diplomat’s Son does an African rhythm on programmed bloops with chamber string backing, White Sky stands as a decent shot at the ultimately doomed post-AnCo genre and I Think Ur A Contra, by virtue of its butterfly-wing production and away-better-than-X-Factor vocal performance from Ezra Koenig, turns a bleary-eyed piano ballad into something that sounds like it might crumble to dust if you trod too heavy near it. But at the bottom of all of this is what Vampire Weekend do. Melody.
Explaining how White Sky was written to the Guardian and a BBC radio session version of Cousins that’s good.

Vampire Weekend – Cousins

The Year. 1. Occident, out on the weekend.

1. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
XLTake a simple, relatively formulaic guitar, bass and drums construction. Adds subtle keys and collegiate vocals. Tacks on an occasional baroque string flourish. And end up with what? Well, with the keys transformational steps in the process mired in the cloudy confusion that obscures the reasons for all great pop music, you end up with the best album of 2008. Nothing to it.

It couldn’t have been any other way. No other album dominated my headphones like this one did, or wrapped up my consciousness in its deceptively simple folds. I first encountered Vampire Weekend late by blogger standards (having missed out on the blue CD-R and attendant hype), but early enough by normal person standards. Some time after Christmas last year, I saw the video for A-Punk and thought it was by-numbers NME bollocks. Then, after returning to college, I was handed a promo copy of the album, a white disc in a clear plastic sleeve. Thanks XL for splashing out there.

I was expecting it to be bad, to be honest. I convinced myself it was for a little while. But it’s impossible to resist it. It’s insidious. Once I’d heard it twice it would not leave the jukebox in my head. Waking up in the morning I would hear the harpsichords of ‘M79’, disembodied, and be unable to remember where I knew them from. Walking down the street, I’d tap the syncopations of the drum pattern in ‘Mansard Roof’ once it kicks in, subconsciously.

But the key song was one that doesn’t sound a whole lot like the quintessence of the album – it doesn’t have African rhythms, fruit-flavoured keys or particularly referential lyrics. Walcott. Sounds like the Walkmen if they’d had a wash. Perfect pop song, perfect length, perfect builds and breakdowns.

Then I saw it. It’s like that all over. I listened again and again, so that it was whole verses, with the lyrics lodged in my memory, that would appear when I was reading newspapers or playing games or walking through college corridors. It became a daily thing for me, one of the few bandnames that survived the initial wearing-off of novelty on my mp3 players.

If they were slipping out of my consciousness towards the end of the year, the gig brought them right back again, and the fact of interviewing them forced me to look at them in different ways, to question different angles, to probe and see what happens. Doing a degree in English literature at the same time as writing for an indie music magazine probably leads to unnecessarily prosaic and theoretical approaches to things. But whatever.

I asked them about it, they told me what they thought, and I really enjoyed hearing it. It changed what I heard again. It became more African just because people elsewhere were talking about it being African. But the interview challenged that too:

“I think the idea that you can only appreciate African music by associating it somehow with poverty is just as ridiculous as saying you can only listen to African music if you’re some rich safari hunter. It really is nothing to do with it. I hope that people who listen to African music, just because they like the sound of it, would also take it upon themselves to be a moral, ethical person. But, you know, those are two separate things. I find that the people who get angry about an American band being interested in African music aren’t offering any alternative. They tend to be the people who exoticise African music, and ghettoise it, as something that can only be appreciated in this particular way.”

And as if to pull things back out of the theory and back to the real world, they play a new song that sounds like Strawberry Jam and a cover of a Fleetwood Mac song at the gig. As if to say “we are a pop band, stop over-thinking it”.

As I listen to it tonight, it’s no less exciting than it has been in the year I’ve heard it. It might be, yet again, an overly subjective choice for best album, but I know other people think it too. And there’s no reason to deny that I’ve listened to it most and enjoyed it more than anything else, more cerebral or more wrought, put out in 2008. I had it clamped to my ears for 12 months. When it wasn’t, it was bouncing around my head. It even made me go to see a band from the Congo with my afro-enthusiast friend. That’s something.

I see a salty message written in the eaves

Most of the time, I’m the kid. It’s been like that for a long time, I don’t know why. I was one of the oldest in my class all the way through school, but I ended up being the kid anyway. On my road, I made friends with people a year older than me, and I was always the kid. At school, when I was in Transition Year, I made friends with a couple of people in Sixth year and I was the kid in those relationships too. With Analogue and the people surrounding Analogue, I am a couple of years behind, so I can seem like the kid sometimes too, especially when I show up to interviews. The other night when I was playing a gig in Anseo, a woman was heard to say “he can’t be older than fifteen” as I got behind the microphone. I’m the kid. It just ends up that way, I don’t know why it is.

But last week, probably for the first time of my life, I felt old at a gig. At the age of twenty, I was suddenly the old curmudgeon, stuck in his ways with his headbanging and attempts at normal dancing. Around me were heaving swarms of underage girls being giddy about the band, and analogous swarms of underage boys trying to look cool in front of them. They pogoed. I tried to pogo too, but somehow, I was weighed down. I tried not to make a snide smile at their chants of “Ezra, Ezra” before the band started, but I couldn’t help it. I tried to zone out everyone else, but extended arms with phones and cameras surrounded me and dragged me back to a world where fame is the thing and the fact of Vampire Weekend being on stage in the first place is two-thirds of the battle for enjoying your night.

Bah, humbug.

The band were a lot of fun though, I have to admit. They were feeding off the unselfconscious singing along (of the type I talked about before, with fists raised during lines about Peter Gabriel as if they were singing about world hunger), and putting the energy back into the show. The slightly more skeletal live approach worked really well, and songs that were skeletal to begin with, like Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, probably came off the best.

I can’t pick out any weak moments in the set. They played everything off the album and one new song that sounded like Animal Collective (“I can see that, yeah” – bassist Chris Baio, upon being quizzed on this matter), and even included an ill-thought-out but nevertheless not-terrible Fleetwood Mac cover as an encore. They don’t simply replicate the sound of one of the year’s best albums, but they don’t try to mess with the formula either, and anyone with half a funnybone couldn’t have failed to enjoy this.

Oh, and a postscript to the bottle-blonde gentleman who felt it necessary to make a low-res digital video of most of the set over my head while simultaneously dancing… I can think of a website you might like.

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