Even you could beat up these guys.Courtesy of Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend’s just-released debut album is enjoyable enough. Actually, it’s all we’ve been listening to since it leaked last week. Still, if ever there were a band guaranteed a backlash, it’s these guys: They’re white, bookish, Columbia-educated nerds pillaging African music (or at least Paul Simon’s Graceland) for their hooks (which we freely admit are very catchy). Typically, when the songs are so good, we’re able to overlook such transgressions — but their Night Out With in this week’s “Sunday Styles” made even this geeky Vulture editor want to steal their lunch money and give them all swirlies. After the jump, we recap their story so far and anticipate what’s to come.
The story so far…
In October of 2006, Vampire Weekend receives its very first mention on a music blog. Benn Loxo Taccu’s Matt Yanchyshyn posts “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” calling it “very catchy.” He notes the African influence but can’t quite put his finger on which Paul Simon album it reminds him of. (It’s Graceland.)
The band becomes popular so quickly that not even Britain’s NME magazine can schedule a cover shoot fast enough. As their number of MySpace friends surge past 10,000, Vampire Weekend are declared The Next Arctic Monkeys (Even Though They’re Older, More Studious, And Not Technically From England). Fears of a backlash increase when, in a controversial piece in the Times Styles section, the band describes its own sound as “Upper West Side Soweto.” An Idolator editor vows never to read another story about VW again, and one Vulture editor pledges to give up reading altogether.
With the release of their self-titled debut album, critics fall in line behind the blogs and Vampire Weekend is lavished with endless acclaim. Pitchfork gives it an 8.8, comparing the band to the Strokes, and, yes, Paul Simon. Only New York’s Hugo Lindgren dissents; months ahead of the curve, he concedes their dancebility but notes that “[if] they’d shown up at CBGB circa 1978, these outré Ivy League preppies probably would’ve been beaten with bicycle chains.” Nevertheless, on the day of the record’s release, Paul Simon’s e-mail in-box buckles under the strain of several million Google News Alerts.
What happens next?
On January 30, the band plays the second of two sold-out shows at New York’s Bowery Ballroom. Plenty of buzzy young artists have brought legends like David Bowie and Lou Reed to the venue, but Vampire Weekend is the first to attract Paul Simon, Chevy Chase, and the twenty members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the African vocal group that sings on “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” all of whom respectfully refrain from harmonizing for the duration of the performance.
In late 2008, after Vampire Weekend has guested on Saturday Night Live, sold out the Theater at Madison Square Garden for nine consecutive nights, and licensed songs for commercials for every product in Apple’s lineup, Zach Braff discovers a hip, new underground band called “Vampire Weekend.” He adds them to the soundtrack for his new movie, a coming-of-age story about Zach Braff sleeping with whichever currently popular 22-year-old actress is the hottest. He explains in the CD’s liner notes: “Their songs sound like Graceland by Paul Simon, another artist with which I am newly familiar.”
Out of disgust, the band’s original MySpace friends storm the actual Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, torching Elvis’s mansion to the ground. By now, many of them have moved on to new, edgier bands hailing from grittier New York colleges, like Barnard and NYU’s Stern School of Business. Even so, Vampire Weekend presses on. They release their second album, this time inspired by 1973’s less polished There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, but to no avail. Pitchfork gives it a 1.3, comparing the band to the Strokes. It leaks on the Internet several weeks early, but after widespread blogger antipathy, it, somehow, leaks back off the Internet.
BACKLASH TO THE BACKLASH
Vampire Weekend gives it another go, but during rehearsals for their third album, they realize much of their new material sounds like Songs From the Capeman. They announce a hiatus, and the band members enroll in law school, business school, or MFA programs, except for drummer Chris Tomson who enrolls in all three. Years later, influential music blogger Mark Willett from Music for Robots rediscovers an MP3 of “Oxford Comma” while cleaning out an old iPod. Shortly after, the band reunites and hipsters welcome them back with open arms.
Related: Elements of Pop [NYM]
Playing Favorites [NYM]