I remember walking home from high school one afternoon six years ago, listening to Sonic Youth’s Washing Machine on my Discman. Somehow, despite the insistence of all the press I had read and the recommendations of my friends, I hadn’t really been into Daydream Nation, the band’s landmark album that is supposedly its most influential, if not its best.
I had this odd habit at the time that I feel other people might understand. When I’d get a new album, if it was good, I’d only listen to the first half of it for months. At that age, I would get obsessed with new music easily and, honestly, the first few tracks on my favorite albums kept me busy for weeks. Anyway, at this point, six years go, I hadn’t actually gotten around to listening to the last track on Washing Machine, “The Diamond Sea.”
What took me over at first was the simplicity of the composition. The characteristic mirroring of the vocal line in the guitar and the simple drumming were absolutely beautiful. The guitars were restrained and almost gentle. I continued listening and was probably daydreaming about something unrelated when I suddenly started paying attention again: Around six or seven minutes into the track — the piece is about 19 minutes long — I realized what I was listening to. It was noise. A straight-up wall of distorted noise. There was no melody, no vocals. This was the first time ever that I truly enjoyed listening to noise.
Since this incident, I’ve learned two important lessons about listening to music. First, albums may contain hidden treasures. It is my duty as a seeker of awesome sounds to find these treasures if they exist. Second, foreign genres of music are just like vegetables. You hate them when you’re young, refuse to try them, and hate them when you do. Then on some odd day you randomly eat something with broccoli in it, declare it tasty, and recoil in horror at the sudden cognitive dissonance.
One of my favorite places on the Internet to get served up musical vegetables is www.muxtape.com, a sort of online mix tape simulator. The premise of the site is simple: You get one username and 12 MP3 uploads, none of which can be over 10 megabytes large. After uploading songs you can change their order and share your username with your friends who can then get on the site and stream the tracks you put up in their browser. There are no comments, no stats, and no contact info for the muxtape makers. The front page of the site has links to a random selection of tapes, which I’ve been having a lot of fun exploring. Since they’re all made by people, the track selections are often very eclectic and fun.
Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut album has been on WRCT’s top 10 for several weeks, and this week is no exception. The band is the talk of Pitchfork Media and a variety of blogs, got 4.5 stars from Rolling Stone, was named “Year’s Best New Band” by Spin magazine, and all you indie kids have been gleefully clapping to its song “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” for the past six months.
If you are not yet familiar with Vampire Weekend, the group is composed of four Columbia University grads who create catchy indie-pop. The players toured with The Shins, and they cite an afro-pop blog (www.bennloxo.com) as one of their sources of inspiration. These guys — just like a lot of the guys I hang out with — are thoroughly intelligent, well-dressed, and friendly. They surf the Internet and they make short films.
Seemingly cool guys, really. I desperately want to love their album. For some reason, though, their music makes my stomach turn. Every attempt to sit through all 11 songs has been halted by some primitive repulsion.
Vocalist Ezra Koenig describes “the ideal Vampire Weekend” in an interview with The Bwog (www.bwog.net) as “preppiness with West African guitar pop, a perfect fusion of happy world music with Western, New England preppiness.” Oh, is it preppy music, Ezra?
Wikipedia describes the slang usage of preppy adequately: “In recent years, young people have begun to use the term ‘preppy’ to describe those who strive to appear better off financially or socially than others in a middle-class environment…. The slang version most often describes publicly educated people absorbed in the middle-class hypermaterialistic pop culture pursuit of ostensibly quality-made goods sold at prices attainable by almost all Americans” (emphasis added).
Vampire Weekend’s endeavor to appear well off (or, rather, flaunt this privilege) shines through each of the debut’s tracks. The players take the visceral bob and sway of the afro-pop they’re so in love with, correct their pitch and replace them with crisp synths, crooning vocals, and an over-processed drum set. To me, at least, Vampire Weekend’s sound reflects a paternal colonial view of Africa that persists despite the band members’ highly-publicized Ivy League education.
And the band members are sure to make their education and lifestyle shine through their nauseating lyrics — which mention Lil’ Jon, Benetton, Louis Vuitton, Darjeeling tea, Oxford commas, the Khyber Pass, the dowdiness of a sweatshirt, and a soiled keffiyeh. Additionally, they complain about Cape Cod and treat New Jersey like some gritty exotic escape. How adorably and provincially tragic!
Perhaps I’m taking Vampire Weekend far too seriously — although the band members, along with music journalism as a whole, seem to be taking their skyrocketing success pretty damn seriously. If so, I really hope Vampire Weekend is a (very unfunny) joke.