The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance
Rolling Stone: 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: 2012 edition (number: 430)
Vampire Weekend are the latest band to unexpectedly defy genre and geographic expectations. Since the turn of the millennium, New York groups have reworked proto-punk sounds popularised by The Velvet Underground (The Strokes, Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, Holy Hail), or rubbery punk-funk (The Rapture, !!!, Radio 4, LCD Soundsystem). But on this remarkable debut the latest NYC hopefuls clearly draw from a far deeper well of influences.
The most overt feature of the VW sound is the refreshing adoption of Afrobeat percussion. This alone differentiates the quartet from their peers, but when added to a multitude of nautical references and other, often ambiguous, lyrics about delightfully esoteric subjects, the results are constantly rewarding.
What other act would write about punctuation (Oxford Comma), loft conversions (Mansard Roof), the link between rich US college fashions and Victorian British Imperialism (Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa and possibly others)? Only a band with the balls to make a 2008 version of Paul Simon's Graceland, crossed with moments of art-disco cool that namechecks Peter Gabriel, Louis Vuitton, at least two types of English tea and Manhattan bus routes. And that's not counting M79 and The Kids Don't Stand A Chance, whose harpsichords and string sections would be more at home in the court of Louis XIV than a 'rock' album.
Some listeners may be utterly baffled by a record including lines like Walcott's "The lobster's claw is sharp as knives/ evil feasts on human lives" and Mansard Roof's "The Argentines collapse in defeat/ the admiralty surveys the remnants of the fleet". Some may also feel that the material sails too far into jaunty waters on occasion. But minor quibbles aside, clearly this quartet isn't interested in tired posturing or being cool for the sake of it. What bursts from the speakers is compellingly warm and joyful. Vampire Weekend have crafted an educated, endlessly imaginative and different piece of work that's arguably the first truly great album of the year. And you won't even need to wear a crucifix or garlic clove to hear it.