The history of indie music in this decade has been all about borrowing. So it seems inevitable that some young band would hit on the idea of borrowing an album’s worth of Afro-Pop from the likes of Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, and the Talking Heads, who, back in the ’80s, borrowed that sound from actual African musicians. Vampire Weekend are not the first to have this particular brainwave — for one example, see the ridiculously catchy “Rough Gem” from Islands’ “Return to the Sea” — but they do a bang-up job, enough to get them a fantastic amount of attention for a debut record. Perhaps a little too much attention. The backlash against the band much beloved by critics started this fall, before they’d even released an album. All of the members are recent Columbia grads, and they deliberately mash-up descriptions of unapologetically preppy undergraduate life with Afro-centric rhythms, going so far as to call one song “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” (which manages to rhyme reggaeton, Benetton, and Louis Vuitton) and embracing the label “Upper West Side Soweto.” They manage to work in references to a closet full of fabrics, including cufflinks, pinstripes, pure Egyptian cotton, “bleeding madras,” and a keffiyah (which in a truly inspired lyric is stained with kefir). And “Oxford Comma” must be one of the very few pop songs dedicated to a punctuation mark (their keyboardist once worked as an intern at the OED). Nevermind. That song is one of many — “A-Punk” and “Cape Cod” among them — that feels like an instant pop hit. When a band has come up with a full album’s worth of smart, literate, incredibly addictive pop on the first try, they’ve earned the right to be smug (not that we’re suggesting they are or anything). -
About the Author
Amy Benfer has worked as an editor and staff writer at Salon, Legal Affairs, and Paper magazine. Her reviews and features on books have appeared in Salon, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, The Believer, Kirkus Reviews, and The New York Times Book Review.