It's a pain in the neck

“Peo­ple de­scribe us as th­ese in­cred­i­bly priv­i­leged, waspy, brain­less, white­washed dudes.” No one ex­pected a bunch of prep­pie boys from Columbia Uni­ver­sity to wheel out the rhythms like Vam­pire Week­end did on their de­but record – and the quar­tet are still

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

IT’S De­cem­ber, and Ezra Koenig and Chris Biao of Vam­pire Week­end are sit­ting in the offices of XL Record­ings in Lon­don, quaffing hor­chata and chat­ting about their sec­ond al­bum, due out early in the New Year. Well, ac­tu­ally, they’re not drink­ing hor­chata, the sweet Mex­i­can rice drink that kicks off the al­bum’s lead track; they’re drink­ing plain old cof­fee.

Koenig and Baio look, dress and talk like re­ally po­lite young men, which makes it all the more sur­pris­ing to hear they nearly caused a diplo­matic in­ci­dent in – of all places – Bel­gium. Trav­el­ling’s a tricky busi­ness at the best of times; you have to be care­ful not to of- fend the na­tives or in­sult their gods. And for Pete’s sake, don’t dis­re­spect their na­tional trea­sures.

“Ba­si­cally, we’d never heard of Toots Thiele­mans,” ex­plains Koenig, a man who nor­mally con­sid­ers him­self well versed in all forms of lounge, ex­ot­ica and easy lis­ten­ing. “Al­though I’ve come to re­alise I’ve heard his mu­sic many times. So we were with all th­ese Bel­gian peo­ple, out hav­ing din­ner in a restau­rant, and I just made an off­hand com­ment about John Pop­per from Blues Trav­eler be­ing the great­est har­mon­ica player of all time. And ev­ery­body went si­lent. It was later ex­plained to me that Toots Thiele­mans is one of the most fa­mous liv­ing Bel­gians. So we’ve be­come ob­sessed with him. We found out he played har­mon­ica on the theme tune for Se­same Street.”

De­spite that glar­ing gap in Koenig’s mu­si­cal knowl­edge, you can’t ac­cuse the singer of be­ing mu­si­cally in­su­lar. Vam­pire Week­end’s self-ti­tled de­but al­bum dis­played a breadth of in­flu­ences well be­yond the baili­wick of your typ­i­cal col­lege kid from up­town Man­hat­tan. The al­bum fused in­die, surf, punk and African rhythms (to name but four gen­res) to oddly be­guil­ing ef­fect.

The band called it “Up­per West Side Soweto” – this is what The Beach Boys might have sounded like if they’d grown up on the Ivory Coast, or what Fela Kuti might have sounded like if he came from Martha’s Vine­yard.

The weird brew worked a treat, giv­ing an ex­otic flavour to such col­le­giate an­thems as Ox­ford Comma, A-Punk and Mansard Roof. The in­con­gruity of it all is neatly summed up in the lyric of Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa: “This feels so un­nat­u­ral, Peter Gabriel too”. The band’s ap­pro­pri­a­tion of East African polyrhythms has earned them com­par­isons with Gabriel, Paul Si­mon and even David Byrne – Byrne’s prob­a­bly the clos­est to the mark, not just be­cause there’s an echo of early Talk­ing Heads there, but also be­cause the lyri­cal eru-

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.