XL · January 29, 2008
“It’s the tenth anniversary of this initial dance fest, so let’s look back to the beginning of the indie pioneers’ journey.”
Vampire Weekend is a mood: In my (hipster) friend’s dorm room, blasting ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,’ and having a dance fest is the vibe of the century. For four years, Vampire Weekend will own my young soul, and for the rest of my life, they will probably lease it out. It’s the tenth anniversary of this initial dance fest, so let’s look back to the beginning of the indie pioneers’ journey.
Vampire Weekend made a legacy for themselves ten years ago even before their self-titled album dropped. They were the hot topic of every music blog and they even landed themselves on the cover of SPIN Magazine (the first band to do so without even having an album out). So, what was it with these fresh-faced Ivy League graduates that took the world by storm? Well, maybe it was because they were something the world has never seen before. Bands like The Strokes and Interpol that were born out of New York City had a rough ‘n tough attitude that decorated the image of New York with cigarettes, electric guitars, and a general coolness. Vampire Weekend came along and dusted the grime off that image by bringing forth a clean, preppy sound that reminded everyone about that one Ivy League school people go to in New York City.
It was new, it was different, and it pissed a lot of people off. Vampire Weekend not only gentrified the scene that birthed the post-punk bands that defined New York, but they did so with heavy inspiration from the African music that the band members originally bonded over. The backing vocals in the song ‘One (Blake’s Got a New Face),’ for one, are modeled after African backing vocals, resulting in accusations of cultural appropriation. The band has also been criticized for rarely citing African musicians they draw inspiration from. They appropriated both the scene and the beats, so with this perspective, it’s easy to see the polarizing opinions over them. But at the same time, Ezra Koenig’s complicated lyrics dripped in a satire and cultural criticism that should be applauded. With lyrics like “The pin-striped men of morning/ Are coming forward to dance/ With pure Egyptian Cotton/ The kids don’t stand a chance,” commenting on capitalism murdering the hope for the survival of innocence, he takes on things he knows about: post-college grief and disdain for what kids are thrown into. It’s a different path than talking about the nitty gritty streets of New York that bands before them walked through.
It’s easy to disregard them as music for the people that mirror the members: the white, young, educated upper-class. The song ‘Oxford Comma’ speaks about a grammatical preference that seems only relevant to people who would have graduated from (eye-roll) Columbia, but the lyrics (“Why would you lie about how much coal you have?”) criticize people who brag about having too much money, something that their assumed target audience probably does. There are layers to the words, a hell of a lot of name-dropping, and a myriad of location references (looking at you, ‘Walcott’), making them both fun to sing and sobering to think about.
Even though you can’t read a review from 2008 of the album without the comparison to Paul Simon’s Graceland, Vampire Weekend set a precedent for the scene that Paul Simon did not (as much as we all love Paul Simon). Bands like LVL UP and Diet Cig have followed the literary structure of clever lyrics that express the same type of college kid sorrow. They set the stage for the clean and simple sound with that enticing beat you just want to dance to. They brought a youth to the city scene. Critics aside, Vampire Weekend brought a fresh take on pop to the game that people didn’t know they were looking for. And once everyone heard the first few snappy beats of Mansard Roof, there was nothing that could stop Koenig from taking over the world in his Ivy League sweater and boat shoes.
And if you were interested (which you probably are considering you’re at the end of this article), there has recently been a revamp(ire) of their website. Ezra Koenig has also announced that the new album is “80% done,” So be on the look out for those collegiate vibes they’re about to drop