Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Oxford Comma" / Vampire Weekend

I'll admit it, I'm a grammar geek; the very idea that anybody would call a song "Oxford Comma" thrills me. True, the song is a vicious put-down of a grammar geek girl who cares about the Oxford comma, but that doesn't stop me from loving it. (The song I mean. Well, and the comma too.)

Vampire Weekend has to steer very carefully around being pretentious -- a bunch of Ivy League kids who met at Columbia, they label their music as Upper West Side Soweto because it mixes Western classical and African pop (dig their song "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" for instance). They dress up like preppies in cashmere pullovers, polo shirts, and neck scarves, and they refer to Cape Cod constantly in their songs. Yet among their indie creds are a tour opening for the Shins and a March 2008 cover shot on Spin where they were featured as the year's best new band. I could hate them already.

And yet, their music is pretty irresistible. Those Afro-pop rhythms are infectious, their lyrics are funny and fey, and the strings and horn section actually make sense in the musical context. But just in case, they make it quite clear in this song that they're not pretentious -- not pretentious at all! "Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?" the singer (Ezra Koenig) protests in rat-ta-tat rhythm. "I've seen those English dramas / Too-oo / They're cruel," he notes, with goofy octave-jump yodels to underscore his point. The drums rap along briskly, accompanied by bleepy stabs of organ; a plinky guitar solo in the bridge sounds more like ukele or mandolin. It's just a tad precious, but then so are the Shins.

The truth is, this pretension stuff is all relative. I don't blame him for dissing this girl, with "all your diction dripping with disdain" -- but he's still into the one-ups-manship himself: "Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma? / I climbed to Dharamsala / Too-oo / I di-id / I met the highest lama / His accent sounded fine / To me, / To me." We're not talking a man of the people here -- the mere fact that he knows what an Oxford comma is betrays him. (Raise your hand if you have absolutely no idea what an Oxford comma is.)

Too clever by half? Yeah, they are, but that's not such a bad place to start. (Elvis Costello was too clever by half when he started out, as I recall.) I hugely enjoy this first album of theirs; I'm curious to see where they'll go next. And I'm dying to know what their SAT verbal scores were.

Oxford Comma sample

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