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Review: Vampire Weekend broadens style on `Contra'

The Associated Press, Friday, January 8, 2010, 5:27am (PST)

Vampire Weekend, "Contra" (XL Recordings)

Vampire Weekend introduced a unique mix of pop, reggae and African rhythms on its self-titled debut, and the quartet delivers an even richer musical landscape on its second CD.

On "Contra," electronic beats blend with African and Brazilian drums, topped with tinkling pianos, sweeping violins, playful marimbas, and layers of percussion and electric guitar. The result is a big, full sound that's dense and light at the same time, with multiple melodies and instruments coloring each track.

The catchy "Diplomat's Son" reveals the band's talent for mixing up rhythms and musical styles. A blend of reggae, dancehall and Bollywood influences, the song changes tempo midstream to show off finger-picked guitars and a chorus of violins.

Though upbeat like the first album, "Contra" delves into deeper territory thematically. "Holiday" is a bouncy ska track that touches on themes of war. "Taxi Cab," which relies on an electronic backbone dressed with delicate piano and deep cello, is a ballad about a relationship gone wrong.

Lead singer Ezra Koenig works the Auto-tune on "California English," a driving track rich with harmonies and strings ("It doesn't sound like T-Pain," he stresses in press notes).

The closing song, "I Think UR a Contra," seems to encapsulate the band's evolution on this album: It layers vocal styles and experimental harmonies atop guitars, strings, piano and electronic sounds.

CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: "Horchata," available as a free download on the band's Web site, gives listeners a taste of Vampire Weekend's style: Upbeat and rich musically and lyrically.

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