"Holiday" / Vampire Weekend
In my household, I have to say, we were awaiting Vampire Weekend's second album with bated breath. Their 2008 debut was one of those rare things that everybody in our family loved like crazy -- every time it came on the radio, we'd all cheer. And although my son Hugh was the one who first introduced us to this spunky world-pop crew, for this second album I was the one who scored the goods first, by reviewing an advance copy it for Blogcritics.
Hugh and I went to see them Sunday night at this spectacular converted movie palace uptown, its interior a gilded riot of Moorish and Oriental decoration (it's the same place Reverend Ike used to preach). They are just as engaging live as I expected -- animated and enthusiastic, executing these complex songs with crisp professionalism. There wasn't a wasted note in the evening. What I couldn't appreciate beforehand was what a great singalong band this is -- the audience was all over those catchy refrains, dancing in our seats and having a simply fabulatastic time.
"Holiday" is always a promising title for a song (think the Kinks' "Holiday" and "Holiday Romance," Nick Lowe's "Time I Took A Holiday") and this breezy track lives up to its peers. Loaded up with ska, pulsing along like a speeding car, it has a deliberately tinny sound that somehow just feels like a beach vacation to me.
Not just a holiday, but "the best one of the year" -- a desperately needed getaway in the depths of winter, "when I'm counting on my teeth" (chatter chatter chatter). I'm guessing the Caribbean ("our republic on the beach"), that favorite long-weekend escape for privileged Northeasterners, the usual characters for this gang of Ivy League Columbia graduates. Jeez, that takes me back. I recall the anxiety of those crack-of-dawn flights, all the touseled blond children, the sets of matching suitcases, on President's Day break -- that long February weekend when it seemed no Manhattan private-school family would dare not fly south. Our kids always felt spectacularly unsurprised when they ran into school friends at the resort's kids club (colonialism is NOT dead). And then you'd meet the same kids skiing at Deer Valley or Vail over the March vacation, like clockwork. Yet I have to admit, identifying with these scenarios is part of Vampire Weekend's appeal for me.
But really, who wouldn't enjoy this recklessly catchy little song? "I’ve got wheels, I’ve got Cutter spray / And a healthy sense of worth," lead singer Ezra Koenig declares; "Half of me is the gasoline / But the other half’s the surf." Even when when the song floats away from its moorings in the bridge (something vague about a naive girl who turns vegetarian during the Iraq invasion), I'm ready for that percussive single-note synth riff to start up again, cruising back up the beach. This song may be edged with thoughts of bombs, with a nagging fear, but it still bursts out of the gate with dizzying joy. Listen to Ezra's little falsetto whoops; they may be ska or Afropop or Bollywood, but they're definitely not bland conventional pop.