’m guessing that within one year, this band will be playing festival shows, and really optimistic teenagers will be kissing and dancing, whole hog, to their clean-cut mash of ’80s college rock, Ghanaian and Nigerian highlife (and other unspecified African-ness), and some ska—yes, ska!—so I’ll concede now: Vampire Weekend is really good. In an age when even fifteen minutes of fame seems interminable, getting excited about nine minutes of music might be obscene, almost destructive to a band’s growth. But—and I could be completely wrong about this—I’d be shocked if this was their shining moment.
On the chorus to “Oxford Comma,” drummer Chris Tomson speeds up. Vampire Weekend aren’t crack musicians. This is crucial. On the jangly ska-pop of “A-Punk,” Ezra Koenig chirps “ay ay ay ay!” on off-beats. Vampire Weekend are mildly embarrassing. This is crucial. The hand drums on “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” take the song’s title seriously, a post-Paul Simon college boy’s fascination with Congolese soukous underpinning Koenig’s summery come-ons—“Is your bed made? Is your sweater on?” The question of whether or not four Columbia grads have a right to clumsily approximate African rhythms misses the point. Better that they exist in all their postcolonial glory if it means one less boring rock band. Furthermore, because they probably grew up in houses whose owners spun Graceland a lot more often than Can records or early disco, they come by their sound honestly—and, if not unpretentiously, under a pretense that a lot of people can probably share.
This, though, isn’t a synonym for cloying or cute. While the EP has all the same gumption that K Records had in the early ’80s—Vampire Weekend just can’t wait to make a record because it’ll be so fun!—Koenig’s voice is strong, and his lyrics assertive. Rather than indulge indie-pop’s sometimes-fruitful habit of mistaking nakedness for personal honesty, Koenig opts for understatement—another band might weep about being betrayed; he wonders, self-assured, almost pitying, “Why would you lie ’bout anything at all?”
Vampire Weekend’s not what you’d expect from New York rock. That’s part of the point. Hear it in groups like Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective, and High Places—the city’s best independent bands are less and less serious (Interpol), less fashion conscious (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), less hatefully avant-garde (Liars) and, crucially, less concerned with rock’s rhythmic predictability (the Strokes). No terrible beauties being born, no purple verse rising up from the cracks in concrete. Vampire Weekend, lyrics dotted with references to Northeastern locales, private-school kids—“as a young girl, Louis Vuitton, with your mother on the summer lawn / As a sophomore, reggaeton, and the linens you’re sitting on”—and casual preppiness, seem more in tune with a certain strain of city life than a lot of the area’s more popular exports (and now ex-pats). Again though, the EP’s bright, catchy sandal rock is so primed it practically has its ass in the air, waiting; for the price of two Cokes, you might as well love them in the pre-rush glow.