Take four Ivy League-educated preppies. Dress ’em up in Izod polo shirts and khakis. Feed ’em a steady diet of King Sunny Ade & Fela Kuti, and run it through the average young person’s pop sensibility. Flourish it with a bit of a classical element, and you’ve got the debut album by New York foursome Vampire Weekend.
These guys have made a pretty big splash on the music scene in a very short time. Within weeks of the release of their first record, they’ve already earned the prestigious musical guest spot on “Saturday Night Live” as well as the cover of “Spin” magazine. I personally found out about the band through a cubemate of mine who went to New York’s Columbia University with the guys and was raving about the album weeks before it came out. After a few scattered listens, I was convinced that this was something I needed to own, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Clocking in at a lightning-fast 34 minutes, Vampire Weekend’s album is a fast, fun listen. The band fuses together several musical elements that are quite different and somehow makes it work.

I was hooked from the second I heard the album’s opener, Mansard Roof. I don’t know what the hell a mansard roof is (actually I do now, I googled it), and the lyrics don’t amount to much (for me, anyway), but the second I heard the African-inspired drumbeat kick in, my *ss was moving and sometimes that’s all that matters. The band members are obviously inspired by Afrobeat (or they raided their parents’ record collections for old Talking Heads and Paul Simon albums), and they kind of take the p*ss out of the juxtaposition between their blueblood upbringing and the sound of their music with tongue-in-cheek song titles like Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.

Current single A-Punk is another winner, with a breakneck beat (featuring flute interludes!) that suggests The Ramones as played by the New York Philharmonic, complete with staccato “Ay! Ay! Ay! Ay!” choruses. Meanwhile, M79 (named after one of the buses that runs from one side of Central Park to the other) has a jaunty rhythm that’s goosed along by a pretty impressive-sounding string section…well, certainly more impressive than any strings I’ve heard on a rock record in recent memory.

Being young Ivy Leaguers (or maybe just being young New Yorkers…ha!), the band is lyrically on the obtuse/pretentious side. Your enjoyment of this record will probably be from an instrumental or a melodic standpoint more than it’ll be from a lyrical standpoint. That’s not to say the band doesn’t come up with some interesting things to say. I’m not sure what the hell Oxford Comma is about, but any rock band who can get away with quoting the King of Crunk (“First the window, then it’s to the wall/Li’l Jon, he always tells the truth”) is fine by me. The clearest narrative here is Walcott, which tells the story of the title character as he escapes vampires in Massachusetts and escapes to New Jersey. The lyrics originally popped up in a screenplay co-written by lead vocalist Ezra Koenig, titled…you guessed it, “Vampire Weekend”.

I guess the best way to describe the music on this album is “sophisticated lo-fi”. It’s certainly not overproduced, with a tossed-off quality that’s completely endearing. You’ve also gotta love the varied elements of ear-candy, from the Coldplay-esque rolling piano (at about 11X Coldplay’s usual speed) featured in the aforementioned Walcott to The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance, which sounds like dub reggae meets “Turn Turn Turn” by The Byrds. The thing is, despite sounding underproduced (in the best possible way), you can also tell that these kids have some serious chops. The album is bare-bones but not amateurish.

It’s also loads of fun, and I recommend Vampire Weekend for that factor alone. There’s a lot of manufactured hype and buzz from everyone-industry insiders, critics, bloggers-but these dudes are the real deal. It’s indie pop (in the truest sense…this album is actually independently distributed) that you don’t have to be a hipster douchebag to enjoy.