Four tracks into my first listen of Vampire Weekend, I threw my pen at the wall. It sounded familiar.
I checked the Mighty Spreadsheet of Albums. Did I do this deliberately, and forget about it? Apparently so – apparently after a fortnight ago I have Paul Simon on the brain.
This week, I am thinking about tracking other people’s thought processes along. Because without wanting to go all first-you-must-create-the-universe on you, nobody makes anything creative out of nothing at all. There is no such thing as a work without influences, only work where those influences are harder to spot. And sometimes, as in this week and a fortnight ago, two groups start from a similar point and walk a similar path of fusing the familiar and the foreign, but twenty years apart from each other. They’re related closely enough that tone-deaf sods like me can hear it, and everyone else can point it out, but those twenty years make a difference. Twenty years on and you get this (with warning for language and also for the directorial thumbprint of Richard Ayoade):
This week, I am thinking about trying to do something that has been done before, in a different cultural climate, with better access to electronics, and not nearly as nice a voice (sorry Ezra Koenig – it’s just a bit grating, and not really for me). And on one level, it seems like a foolish thing to do, because the original exists and this world contains quite enough crap remakes for the time being.
On another level, I think there’s certainly space to take ideas that have been done once before, and to bring them on another outing in a different context – that’s how you find new facets of meaning. So on balance I don’t really begrudge Vampire Weekend their auditory palette, their east coast small town stories, the fact that they seem to have a knack for giving their drummer something interesting to do. In fact, those things are all recommendations.
What I do begrudge them, however, is that terribly indie thing where you take nonsensical or cryptic lyrics and put them to jaunty background music. Why do they do it? What is it for? Is this another thing I have to thank the Gallagher brothers for popularising? Will somebody please explain this to me?
And then, you know, with Graceland at least Paul Simon seemed to recognise that he was doing something overtly political. All I can find about Vampire Weekend is a hundred and one band profiles where they insist they’re not WASPy or colonial – which, fine, but that does also distract from the fact that there is something inherently political in the kind of cultural fusion they’re doing. And all you’re going to do is remind people that technically you’re allowed to do it? Live a little, darlings. Perhaps I should have listened to Contra, their second album, which is more overt about its sources and also contains a wider range of voices and instruments. Maybe that would have been more interesting.
Vampire Weekend made me think a lot of things – or rather it fitted in with a lot of the other things I was thinking this week – but it didn’t really make me feel anything (except occasional mild confusion). I can see why you might feel things? I can see why other people would love this album? But it and I are vibrating at different frequencies. It sometimes happens. Carry on, everyone.