Having to leave a vacation sucks. My uncle is heading out tomorrow morning, a day earlier than the rest of the crowd, and he asked me to make him a mix CD for the road.
As Mr. Burns might say with an ominous grin, “Eeeexcellent.”
Life Cycle Week, Stage 2: Vampire Weekend
So… you’re awesome. Everyone loves you. Pitchfork loves you. Peter Gabriel is covering the song you wrote that mentions… Peter Gabriel. Now what? For artists that score a hit with their debut album, the follow-up record must be daunting. The need to balance fans’ expectations, financial success (that gold-plated robot panini press isn’t going to pay for itself) and creative ambition makes this sophomore album a particularly interesting moment in the life cycle of a band, and Vampire Weekend nailed it. Their second album Contra is one of my favorites in recent memory — a work of both savvy continuation and bold departure. I’d heard “Horchata” on the Interweb, but the first time I listened to Contra all the way through, my friend Tex brought it to my house on his iPod. No Dropbox folders, no MediaFire links, he actually came over and played the album. I checked into it, and it looks like the last time someone did that was early on in the Bronze Age (3300-1200 BCE). The experience was memorable, not just because of the way I first heard the album, but because the songs take the band’s African-influenced chamber pop to a whole new level, and I got to hear their music evolve over the course of those 36 minutes. Keyboardist and songwriter Rostam Batmanglij’s electro-soul side project Discovery seems to have been a dry run for this album, as sequencing and sampling jump to the forefront. I could talk all day about Contra (and probably will end up writing 17 more posts about it), but I’ll stop here so you can check out “Diplomat’s Son,” a fine example of Rostam’s influence on the band. Listen below and grab the album here.
When you have a trusted point of reference, unfamiliar music seems a lot less daunting. I’m a big fan of Vampire Weekend, partly because they wear their African influences on their collective sleeve, and have made an unfamiliar musical tradition seem approachable. Frontman Ezra Koenig took this idea one step further by collaborating with the Very Best on their full-length debut, Warm Heart of Africa. Koenig’s appearance on the title track gave me a place to start listening, and I was handsomely rewarded for taking the chance. The album is brilliant, pairing Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya’s hypnotic voice with clever European electro-pop production to build a wonderfully diverse collection of songs, some perfect for a crowded dance club, others for an afternoon on the beach. Click below to try out Warm Heart of Africa’s title track, which sounds great, no matter where you enjoy it.