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.