Vampire Weekend – Debut Album Review
By Tyler Mandell | Top Tracks: Oxford Comma and A-Punk
It was only a matter of time before I would check out Vampire Weekend’s debut album, considering my love of worldbeat music, such as the work of Talking Heads, David Byrne, and Paul Simon. The album received lots of comparisons to the latter’s famous album Graceland, though they admittedly varied in quality. Still, Graceland is easily one of my favorite albums, so I knew I had to check it out.
The album’s musical style is a mixture of indie pop/rock with various African music genres, such as afrobeat, soukous, and ska. Admittedly, the influences tend to only come in the form of percussion and the guitar strumming. A lot of people have criticized this album for appropriating African music, though I don’t think that’s a fair claim. The band uses Afropop as an influence for their general indie music style rather than fully imitating it or using it as a novelty. They’ve also named specific influences for the album in interviews such as Fela Kuti. I think it’s important to let artists experiment with other genres even if they’re of a culture they don’t belong to, just as they’re being honest about where they got their ideas from.
The songs themselves are fine for the most part. They’re all very accessible and likeable in a fun, summery sort of way, like their biggest hit A-Punk. This was the band’s breakout hit and for good reason – it’s a great ska-influenced dance song that’s super catchy and reminds of beach party-type surf rock n’ roll. I also like Oxford Comma, which is super cute and has wonderful guitar tones and vocals that sound very 60s. The main hook is also wonderfully catchy.
Yet at the same time, I feel a bit unfulfilled by the album. The entire thing is nice and consistent, but at the same time it’s somewhat forgettable and a few songs feel underdeveloped or end just as they’re getting somewhere (I Stand Corrected). The band’s songwriting at this point in their careers can be shaky, such as on One (Blake’s Got a New Face) with its main hook that grows repetitive as the song goes along. Yet at the same time, the production on this album is always great: in the song I just mentioned, the band incorporates diverse influences like indie music, afrobeat, and electronica in creative ways.
This isn’t a negative review by any stretch of the word, as each track is at least a fun pop song in its own right. However, very few of the songs here seem worthy of much attention or significant praise. Songs like Bryn or Campus are cute and enjoyable while they’re on, but they lack memorable qualities or much substance. Yet there’s still moments of greatness and promise on the record, like Walcott, with its beautiful orchestral strings and passionate vocals from Ezra Koenig.
As it is, Vampire Weekend’s debut is fairly decent, and anything but a bad start for the band. Admittedly, some of the problems here can come down to my personal preferences and tastes, which makes sense considering the massive following the band immediately gained from its initial singles. The band has released three more albums following this one, each with a different feel and general musical style. I wish they would make an album that revisits their initial style of African-inspired indie pop, as I think there’s a lot of room to improve on it.