Pasatiempo - - Pasa Tempos -

Con­tra (XL Record­ings) When Vam­pire Week­end made its record­ing de­but in 2008, many crit­ics (in­clud­ing this one) as­so­ci­ated the group’s Africa-via-Man­hat­tan sound with Paul Si­mon’s Grace­land. On its fol­low-up record, the band again re­minds me of Rhymin’ Si­mon, but tracks like “White Sky” re­call his ear­lier ca­reer, when he was in love with word­play and with life — just shuf­fling down the cob­ble­stones and feel­ing groovy. In hind­sight, the band’s African con­nec­tion was over­stated, and its true ap­peal sur­faced in the baroque string pas­sages, post-punk flail­ing, and ear for lyri­cal de­tail. All of this and much, much more is on dis­play in Con­tra: from the rapid-fire mari­achi punk of “Cousins” to the reg­gae of “Diplo­mat’s Son” and the taste­ful au­totune in “Cal­i­for­nia English.” Rarely does a band pull such dis­parate sources into a co­her­ent, dis­tinc­tive sound. And it’s heart­felt, too: in “Taxi Cab,” Ezra Koenig paints a pained, wist­ful story with lyrics like “You were stand­ing so close to me/ Like the fu­ture was sup­posed to be / In the aisles of the gro­cery / In the blocks up­town.” It plays out over a sim­ple drum-ma­chine beat, a cello, and clas­si­cal pi­ano, and when the harp­si­chord and strings come in for the bridge, it sucks all the air out of the room. It’s so win­some a song and al­bum that it re­minds me of some­thing Paul Si­mon once said in a taxi head­ing down­town, and could dou­ble as a come-on to the band’s many de­trac­tors: “You don’t feel you could love me, but I feel you could.” — R. B.

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