13 January, 2010

Social Commentary via Ralph Lauren?

Vampire Weekend's second album, Contra, was released yesterday to mixed reviews. Big surprise, right? Vampire Weekend are always given the shaft in one way or another. They are considered too preppy, too lyrically obtuse, too Ivy League, not "authentic" enough, too much like Paul Simon (I fail to see how that is a negative attribute), and really just too much for most music reviewers to take. But I found myself in this funny little wrinkle of synchronicity where I felt the need to re-watch season one of Hugh Laurie's and Stephen Fry's Jeeves and Wooster based on the novels by P.G. Wodehouse, on the same day that I needed to do a complete stock-taking of my current feeling for Vampire Weekend's first album.

I came to some fresh conclusions upon a fresh listen, in light of P.G. Wodehouse, and this blog entry from just about two years ago by Elif Batuman: My Life and Thoughts: Beautiful Shirts

All of these things really made me think about social commentary in music and art in general, and what spaces are authentic, and what spaces are contrived, and what makes for a thoughtful comment, and then I thought about Rudyard Kipling and I thought about Ernest Hemingway. And largely, my thoughts got away from me - as they have a tendency to do. But one thing I realized is that if Vampire Weekend had the ability to spark all of this discussion and controversy, then isn't that a good thing in and of itself? I mean, at least it means that people are taking these ideas into account, and feel like they are being challenged in some way. So how is that wrong?

On the musical commentary side, I find myself enjoying both Vampire Weekend and Contra. My first thought with Contra was that VW had pulled an M.I.A. M.I.A.'s first album had a lot of world music influence, and it all sounded fairly rough in terms of its application of computerized sounds. It wasn't streamlined to the point where it sounded like something futuristic. But Kala hit home with a world music sound that pushed the boundaries in terms of computer music. The synthesized sections were clear and common. This is true on Contra. The album is streamlined, it sounds cleaner and slightly more contemporary. It's a sound that you cannot easily tie to Paul Simon, and I find it rather entertaining.

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