Vampire Weekend, “Contra” (XL) [1 STAR out of 4]

SHARE Vampire Weekend, “Contra” (XL) [1 STAR out of 4]

While the sheer exuberance of the African rhythms so cheerfully appropriated by New York’s preppy wonders Vampire Weekend eventually prompted me to warm to them a bit as a live act–the sunny sounds were hard to resist at the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2008, thanks to irrepressible drummer Chris Tomson–more than any distracting questions about authenticity (are privileged Columbia University grads less entitled to rip off Afro-pop sounds than Paul Simon was?), the superficialities of their concerns (polo shirts, yachting, butlers and the rest) continue to make their self-titled debut annoying to the point of being unlistenable.

Despite the heavy title of the quartet’s second album–allegedly chosen to evoke “Sandinista” by the Clash, though the historical reference is to Nicaragua’s right-wing death squads–the rhythms seem stale, predictable and at times ennervating (slowing to a crawl on “Diplomat’s Son,” a misguided dalliance with dub reggae); the hooks are much skimpier and less memorable, and bandleader and primary songwriter Ezra Koenig has even less insight to offer while bragging of his groovy globetrotting: His idea of insight into our polyglot culture is to brag of drinking horchata, a milky Mexican concoction made from rice, while wearing a balaclava, a Ukrainian ski mask.

Who can’t relate to that? This reviewer, for one: To these ears, Vampire Weekend has made an even more airy, trifling and unfulfilling disc than its predecessor. And because it’s the second time around, there are even fewer reasons to care.

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