Number 6: Vampire Weekend – “Cousins”

There’s no denying the culture of hip-ness in the world of indie music. And I’m not talking that detached, aloof hipness of the goat-cheese-strata-eaters. I’m talking about the increasing import of genuine popularity that has pervaded the once-pricklingly-antisocial alternative scene. Being the new indie posterchild, the with-it cool kids, the blogged-about phenomenon is a big part of success in the modern indie music marketplace.

But there was a time when this wasn’t true. The era of the blog dawned just a few short years back, bringing with it the era of the “blog band,” that new band that bloggers were tripping over themselves to be the first to call the next big thing. And Vampire Weekend were arguably the first major beneficiaries of this new form of hype.

Maybe you don’t remember the fever-pitched, breathless missives that critics were shooting off in support of this band. They were supposed to be the dawning of a new era of indie music, a defining act in the sea of indie poppers. The blogs said the same thing about Tapes n Tapes, which turned out to be not exactly right, but to a certain extent, Vampire Weekend did fit that bill, making a weird afro-pop-indie hybrid kind of music that was as surprising as it was pleasant to listen to, with a few songs that became ubiquitous in nearly no time.

So where are the gents of Vampire Weekend after the bloggy hub-bub has died down? Well, they’re pretty much in the exact same place. They’re still masters of that African pop guitar sound, they’re still writing songs with lilting, often poetic (if meaningless) lyrics, and their songs are still cropping up all over the place, in commercials and films and dorm rooms everywhere.

And it’s mostly because of songs just like this one, off of last year’s Contra. “Cousins” starts off with a blistering guitar riff, something that’s delivered with the speed and mania of a jittery math rock band or a punk holdout. But it’s also just a frenetic lift from the African pop world. It’s a treat for an ear that wants something sophisticated and surprising, but it’s also a pretty simple pleasure for how jaunty and joyous it sounds.

The song itself has a lot of Vampire Weekend classic touches, like percussive and driving rhythm lines, hopping bass parts, a really giddy bell-ringing outro, and those fantastic African guitars. Always those maddeningly brilliant guitars. It’s hard not to be at least a little overjoyed by this song, either as a catchy, breathless pop song or as an experiment in the pop-sounding boundaries of alternative music.

Vampire Weekend are kind of the perfect poster-child for this new, post-blog indie scene. Their albums aren’t weighty and high concept, but their songs are damn catchy and driven and quite complex without being difficult to listen to. So even if the blogs were wrong, even if Vampire Weekend aren’t the saviors of indie pop, they’re at least pretty great spokesmen for the cause.


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