Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is 'Vampire Weekend' by Vampire Weekend.
Vampire Weekend’s ‘Vampire Weekend’ is a masterpiece of high-brow pop. Cheerful and succinct, the album has since become a stalwart of the ‘best albums of the 2000s’ lists – and with good reason. There are few albums with more accessible pop melodies than their debut offering. The New Yorkers have gone onto more introspective and solemn territory since, but their debut is a dazzling example of what sharp musical minds brimming with youthful exuberance can do.
‘Vampire Weekend’ is poppier than a Britain First member shouting at James McClean on Remembrance Day. At the time, indie was full of working class heroes with angular guitar sounds who were only interested in the gritty and the grim. Vampire Weekend offered a contrasting viewpoint to their contemporaries’ offerings. Where Alex Turner presented Scummy Men on street corners and Kele Okereke concerned himself with youthful weariness, Ezra Koenig opted to romanticise the delightful, upper-class, coastal lifestyle.
‘I see a Mansard Roof through the trees’ is as Ivy League an opening line as it gets. Brands like Louis Vuitton and Benetton are tossed about and flesh out the lives of the characters this album creates, while the intro to M79 is an aural reconstruction of a country garden complete with Maypole. Everything was different for them because they’re not from Rotherham they’re from New York City. But this buoyancy sat uncomfortably with many critics, who wrote them off as ‘silly white boy musicians’. Or as the Village Voice’s review laid it out, they had “the putrescent stench of old money, of old politics, of old-guard high society” about them.
But like a sexy nerd, below their sweater-vest covered exterior were all the best bits; in this instance, a dry humour and a sense of the absurd. Walcott tells the story of a man escaping a zombie apocalypse on the coast using lobster claws as weaponry. Campus sees a young character slink out of a girl’s dorm after a regrettable one-night stand. It was escapist and relatable and entertaining too. Indeed, the whole charm of ‘Vampire Weekend’ lies in its unashamed alignment to the posh.
Musically it was in a space of its own. Inspired by African pop cassettes that they’d found while abroad, the New York outfit fused afrobeats with bright, swirling, classical strings to create ‘Baroque Afro Prep Pop’. It wasn’t led by guitars, but rather an assortment of instruments that wouldn’t necessarily be associated with indie rock at the time. On paper this sounds horrific - four elitist white men poncing about with harpsichords and singing about the boating life? No, thank you. But beyond the page, this sound occupied a space that few others did in the noughties; one of non-European influenced pop.
This brought along its share of grief too. To some extent, this would have been expected; all January-Release Musical-Messiahs get an earful as soon as they get a bit of traction, for one reason or another. Their Old Money, tennis-shorts adorned swagger was one thing, but rewriting Paul Simon’s Graceland was another altogether. While Mr. Simon himself insisted that the band weren’t stealing his work but rather “drawing from the same well”, it didn’t stop lazy comparisons being thrown around. In the same way you couldn’t release a record of a vagrant drunkenly shouting at a dog and not expect to be compared to the Sleaford Mods, Ezra Kroning’s clean-cut guitar and Rostam’s Afrobeat approach to the organ gave Vampire Weekend’s detractors a rod to beat them with.
You can’t beat a great tune however, and it is this notion that has seen Vampire Weekend last the test of time. Every track would pass the Old Grey Whistle Test with ease. A Punk is almost perfect as a song goes, Oxford Comma can live in your head for days without becoming annoying, One (Blake’s Got a New Face) is dripping in charm. Released on the same week that the Irish economy officially went back into recession for the first time since the 80s, the album closer The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance was hauntingly prophetic.
If you’ve never heard it or indeed, actively avoided it, now’s the time to get on board. Some albums are perfect for long, lazy Summer days, others are just perfect. You’ll stand corrected too.