Review Summary: Although Vampire Weekend can't quite measure up to the hype enveloping their self-titled debut - after all, who really could - the band does provide an enjoyable, consistently pleasing batch of pop songs.
If you’re to believe the wildly unfair amount of hype surrounding Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut album, the Columbia University students who formed the band are one of the greatest things to happen to popular music since The Strokes sparked new life into rock and roll at the turn of the century. The hype, which on the basis of a few demo tracks has been festering and exponentially expanding since early 2007, will suggest that Vampire Weekend’s tribal African rhythm sections, classical music loving orchestral arrangements, and pristine pop melodies are some of the most innovative combinations since sex and candy.
This is, of course, an absurd and desperate claim to hurl upon any band, especially one that is in the mere infancy of its life. Although Vampire Weekend are indeed an incredibly talented group of musicians, and although the overarching aesthetic which defines their sound is a breath of fresh air, the group’s debut can’t ever quite match up to the delusions of grandeur it has been assigned. Instead Vampire Weekend have put together a cohesive, well-executed batch of songs that are consistently pleasing but never astounding.
Vampire Weekend should hardly be criticized for such a feat, though, because even though their record lacks the replay value of a timeless classic, “Vampire Weekend” is an album nearly anyone can enjoy. Most of this can be attributed to the well-polished, clean feel of the album, as well as the fact that “Vampire Weekend” places a clear emphasis on distinct, easily accessible pop as opposed to the sludge and dirt of a more rugged, distorted rock record. Every single note, of every single song rings out clearly.
It doesn’t take much more than a listen to the catchy bounce of “Oxford Comma” for this fact to settle in. The track hops along behind a steady mellotron as lead singer/guitarist Ezra Koenig casually exercises his effortless vocals through one of the catchiest sing-along tunes on the album. Likewise, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and “M79” are meticulously crafted gems that illustrate the fact that Vampire Weekend put an intricate amount of effort and detail into each song. On “M79” dueling violins restlessly whirl about with such force that the track nearly captures the experience of a live symphony and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” utilizes a laconic bongo to hold the beat before closing the song with a keyboard riff not far from something Bach might have written.
That said, not all of “Vampire Weekend” is the band’s own unique version of Afro-pop, nor is it all worthwhile material. “Campus” is about the closest Koenig and company come to writing a conventional indie rock song, but after a listen or two the song is just that. Conventional and boring. The same can be said for the majority of the back half of the album with the notable exception of “I Stand Corrected,” a nostalgic, piano-driven lament that borders on doo-woop before eventually bringing to mind the Arctic Monkeys in one of their finer moments. Perhaps more noticeably, album closer “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” sounds like a Vampire Weekend cover of The Police, although I might only be saying that because Koenig does a spot-on Sting impersonation throughout the entire song. Regardless, the song mixes everything that is Vampire Weekend, swirling strings, a thumping bassline, and precocious keyboards.
In the end, “Vampire Weekend” is undeniably a fine debut record from a band that clearly has loads of potential and songwriting ability. Still, the album as a whole becomes redundant and uneventful after a couple listens all the way through, and I find it hard to believe that “Vampire Weekend” will triumphantly trounce the test of time. In the meantime, though, “Vampire Weekend” is certainly worth your time, as long as you keep your expectations in check.