Author: Grandy, Eric
Date published: August 26, 2010
"In December, drinking horchata..." The voice is rising and sweet, set to a few steely plunks of marimba-the first thing you hear on Vampire Weekend's sophomore album, Contra. It's December 2009, the album won't be out for another month, but you've got a promotional advance copy on your iPod and you're on vacation. It's not the right continent for horchata, but it's warm enough for sandals. Ezra Koenig is singing in your earbuds, the whole song blossoms open on the chorus "Here comes a feeling you thought you'd forgotten," and you're already looking forward to looking back on this someday. You're drinking the local beer.
The album's about love, mostly- looking for it, longing for it when it's gone, learning to negotiate it while it's in bloom-but it's a love story lit up with class anxieties (maybe the girl you're vacationing with is a little more moneyed than you are) and niggling concerns about authenticity, other people's and maybe your own. You're close enough to the good life to get a good look at it-the Manhattan apartment, the friends with pools-but you still feel locked outside. You feign horror at having a doorman open the door of your taxicab; you fantasize about holidays and running away. You smoke pot and listen to the Clash; you wonder about revolutionary bona fides, hippie toothpaste, M.I.A. agitprop art.
"You were standing there so close to me, like the future was supposed to be," Koenig is in the aisles of the grocery, in the blocks uptown. You're in a 7-Eleven on the other side of the globe. The stately harpsichord and gently bowed strings of "Taxi Cab" ballroom-dance through your head like the score of a better Wes Anderson film, which is also how you imagined, or at least hoped, the future might be. But the song is already looking back, wistful.
A lot of the album has to do with remembering, it turns out. The faint dancehall doo-wop of "Diplomat's Son" fl ashes forward from "a night when the moon glows yellow in the riptide" to its conclusion, "Looking out at the ice cold water all around me/I can't feel any traces of that other place."
When the holiday is over, you go home. You go back to work. "Every dollar counts, and every morning hurts." You listen to "Giving Up the Gun," that vibrating synth part, the little fl ourishes of guitar on the lines "I heard you play guitar/Down at a seedy bar," the poppy, inexplicably upbeat sing-along about letting your metaphorical weapons go to rust. The girl is gone-New York, Berlin, who knows?
You're looking back. The future never turns out how it was supposed to be, "years go by and hearts start to harden"; possibly, it's unwise to soundtrack your present with songs that fantasize about future nostalgias. But you put Contra on, and even though you can't go back again, it still feels as impossible and impermanent and perfect as warm sand in winter. You remember.
Vampire Weekend perform Sun Aug 29, Marymoor Park, 6 pm, $39.50, all ages. With Beach House, Dum Dum Girls.
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