Slamming, Defending Vampire Weekend's Rich-Kid Rock

The band's California-tinged new album Contra re-ignites a critical controversy

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It's hard to think of a modern band more divisive than Vampire Weekend, whose eponymous debut album of bouncy Afro-pop ignited the music blogs in 2008. The group's liberal-arts roots (the members met at Columbia University) may have hurt more than they helped, as critics took Vampire Weekend to task for cultural tourism, calculated irony, and too many five-dollar words. Other critics, and the band's many fans, countered by pointing out that the album was really good -- catchy and quirky; unafraid to show its smarts.

Now the boys are back with "Contra," which tweaks the band's sound while keeping the vocabulary and the sunny melodies in place. A new Vampire Weekend record means a new conversation about who has the right to record what music, whether it even matters, and whether the result is worth listening to. Here, a sampling of the latest "Contra" diction:
  • From One Cynically Aped Cultural Milieu to Another, argues Gawker's Foster Kamer: "Brooklyn-bred Vampire Weekend's back with a new album, and new press lines to go with it: they've transitioned from their 'prep-chic' Ivy League linage image into ostensibly different 'California'-style brand identification."
  • The Band Is Thinking One Step Ahead of You, suggests John Mulvey of Uncut: "How else should a bunch of rich American boys respond to rebel rock than with an album named after Reagan-backed right-wingers? Vampire Weekend might be neither authentic nor inauthentic, but they’re certainly not averse to playing with those ideas, or with exploiting the tension between them." 
  • People Only Hate the Idea of Us, pleads singer Ezra Koening in Paul Lester's Guardian feature: "Koenig has a theory that his most ardent detractors -- 'mostly,' he guesses, 'white, college-educated critics' -- are just using Vampire Weekend for some easy point-scoring. 'They don't often get the chance to be activists, so when they see us come along, it provides them with a brilliantly simple opportunity to be activists: 'This is an outrage! These people are exploitative!''"
  • Sure It's Rich-Kid Rock -- That's Why It's Fun, says Chris Richards of The Washington Post: "While the band's members should be applauded for keeping it real, their appeal lies in the escapism they provide. They're a troupe of bons vivants maxing and relaxing in the throes of a failing economy."
  • Actually, It's Just the Opposite, believes Jim DeRogatis at the Chicago Sun-Times: "Bandleader and primary songwriter Ezra Koenig has even less insight to offer while bragging of his groovy globetrotting: His idea of insight into our polyglot culture is to brag of drinking horchata, a milky Mexican concoction made from rice, while wearing a balaclava, a Ukrainian ski mask. Who can't relate to that?"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.