I’m fairly sure that I very briefly gave Vampire Weekend’s debut a go some years back, and quickly dismissed it as ‘not my sort of thing’, possibly without actually making it all the way through its 34 minute run-time. Some time later, I remember being a little surprised to read something in, probably, the Guardian, suggesting that it was a kind of spiritual successor to Paul Simon’s Graceland.
Because, revisiting it properly this week, I can confirm, that it really isn’t. Yes, I suppose there is a kind of surface similarity in that both records make use of Afrobeat influences, but where that felt integral to the song-writing process in the case of Graceland, on Umpire Weekend’s record it just sounds like a bolt-on novelty, a fairly desperate attempt to distinguish this from lots of other run-of-the-mill chirpy indie pop music, to make them sound more musically innovative than, say Villagers.
It begins with a rather irritating synth keyboard stabbing noise, and Ezra Koenig’s vocal, which I really can’t warm to. The song, Mansard Roof is really fairly non-descript, though it does have in its favour the fact that it is a good deal less annoying than singles Oxford Comma and A-Punk. Oxford Comma sounded vaguely familiar and even the title has a kind of clever-clever knowingness that leaves me thinking ‘oh, shut up…’
I suppose it could be thought of as carefree summer music. But it just doesn’t click for me. It’s not the sound of sitting on in the park on a warm summer’s day with a book, a beer or an ice-cream, so much as the sound of being stuck indoors with a nasty illness, watching other people enjoy the summer weather.
At its worst, it’s just downright teeth-grindingly awful. I very quickly found myself skipping ‘Blake’s Got a New Face’ with its repeated yelping of the song’s title. I can’t quite put a finger on when and why nonsense lyrics work, but I can only add this song to the list of counter-examples.
But on about the fourth or fifth listen, bits of this record did begin to unlock themselves for me. For all the world music/afrobeat influences that have been talked up, it’s actually the use of very conventionally western string section that provides the interesting extra colour on many of the tracks here. M79, for all that the strings remind me just a little of the theme tune to Blue Peter, works really well, and I like the way that they sit in the background on Walcott. I Stand Corrected is just a good piece of pop song writing. Not enough to encourage me to check out their later albums, but such that I kind of understand why people who are not me really like Vampire Weekend.
Highlights: I Stand Corrected, M79