Nothing Not New: Vampire Weekend

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Welcome to "Nothing Not New," a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 40-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.

Artist: Vampire Weekend
Title: Contra
Release Date: January 12, 2010
Label: XL

Vampire Weekend is one of those hipster bands that all my younger and cooler friends and colleagues seemed to be talking about two years ago. At the time, I liked the band name and had high hopes for them, until I finally saw a promotional video for one of their songs on MTVu. I thought: That's not what a band with a name like Vampire Weekend should like.

Now, it's 2010 and, like vampires themselves, this band is totally yesterday's news. Yesterday, I popped the band's new record, Contra, into my computer and gave it a listen. What is the big deal? Now, I should tell you that I didn't like Paul Simon's Graceland when it came out in 1986 (then, I was 17) . . . and I don't like Vampire Weekend's Contra today (now, I'm 40). I was told I'm not the first person to make that comparison. So what? It took me about 15 seconds of listening before I wondered: "What is this Graceland crap?" As I continued to listen, I couldn't stop thinking about The Lion King ("Oh, this sounds like the music they played when Simba learns about the Circle of Life!")

To be fair, there are thoughtful arrangements and a lot of tasteful musicianship here, but I really can't abide anglicized ethnic music. The same kind of thing is all over the score for that new movie Avatar, the one about the blue people. Except in that movie it's anglicized Native American music. On Contra, it's white-washed African music. Just like Graceland.

There are a couple of straight-forward indie-pop songs ("Taxi Cab," "Cousins," "Giving Up the Gun") that I didn't think were too bad, but everything else (especially opening track "Horchata") was just a little too cute for me. Just like The Lion King.

Best song: "Giving Up the Gun," the least "African"-sounding song on the record 
Déja vú: As I've mentioned too many times already: Graceland by Paul Simon. 
I'd rather listen to: Real African music (but not really).
Grade: D+

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