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Vampire Weekend: Contra (XL) 

It's fair to say that Vampire Weekend's debut was overdiscussed and overhyped. That's not to badmouth the album; it was a slight, delightful confection.

But the frenetic buzz surrounding the band—the blogosphere debates over the band's merits—made them into the Jonathan Safran Foer of indie rock: Are they smug literati or jubilant man-boys? It is all just fraudulent hackery? Or are these boys from Columbia University enterprising geniuses, like them or not?

On Contra, the band's sophomore album, these debates will not be settled, only recycled—if anyone still cares, and I'm hoping nobody does. The band's Whit Stillman-meets-Graceland aesthetic is a pleasure, but lacks gravity. The band is more notable for stealing wittily from other artists than for being self-determined; they're cutup artists, not visionaries. In that vein, Contra's got a lot of effervescent charm, from the herky-jerky rhythms on "Cousins" to the plaintive electro-pop on "Giving up the Gun."

The band runs into the most problems lyrically. Ezra Koenig is more interested in wordplay than storytelling, so a lot of his couplets are mere ornaments that achieve no purpose. The album opener, "Horchata," is far more interested in producing clever rhymes for the title than in saying anything, leading to flatly stupid lines like "I look psychotic in a balaclava." It doesn't mean anything, but it might sound good, depending on your ear.

And so it goes with Vampire Weekend. To my ear, Contra sounds pretty good. No big.

More by Sean Bottai

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