It’s now obvious that back in January 2008, the economy was well on its way to imploding—hindsight is always 20/20. Back then, everyone had jobs, plenty of money, and much more important things to worry about, like predicting when the backlash would strike down the most darling of indie rock’s freshman class. As with the financial crisis, it’s clear these days that the backlash had already begun when Vampire Weekend dropped its eponymous debut album. But two years later, the band that made it cool to tell people that you’d never sold your Graceland cassette finds its stock as high as it ever was, due in no small part to that feel-good combination of having faith in what you do, playing like you mean it, not letting the haters get inside your head, and whipping up exotic pop songs that inspire DIY harmonies whether or not you know what Ezra Koenig is singing about. In other words, Vampire Weekend is here to ease your Great Recession pain.
Like Vampire Weekend, Contra is coming out during the month when it’s just as easy to be a best-album frontrunner as it is to get lost in the shuffle by the time those lists are made. But Vampire Weekend’s new disc seems to have aspirations beyond just making a good impression in 2010: It’s a career statement, one that’s letting the world know that these Columbia University preps have more than just a fleeting interest in world music, that they’re still aiming to impress but aren’t always going to take the easy route, and that sophomore slumps are for the kind of suckers who only had one good album of material to begin with. Once again produced by keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij, who’s brought over some of the electro-pop and Auto-Tune heard on his excellent Discovery side project, Contra follows its predecessor’s wise use of space, only filling in gaps when necessary. And thus Vampire Weekend continues to be Talking Heads’ heir apparent, with a good amount of Smiths-like literate pop thrown in. (Not surprisingly, both of those bands sidestepped sophomore stinkers on their way to greatness.) The 10 songs here don’t collectively match the near-perfection displayed on the band’s debut, but Contra is varied and vivacious enough to make each spin as revelatory as the first time you realized what the band was getting away with and how well it pulled off the feat. Some immediate highlights include the spasmodic islands-meet-the-streets “California English” and the bumping electro-rock jam “Giving Up The Gun,” but like all purveyors of well-executed pop, Vampire Weekend offers a bevy of sounds and emotions that easily meet listeners halfway every time they enter the band’s magical little contra-world.