Best albums of 2008: #3 Vampire Weekend “Vampire Weekend”

Vampire Weekend formed in 2006 in New York City. The four original band members, Ezra Koenig, Rostam Batmanglij, Chris Tomson, and Chris Baio, met while attending Columbia university and took their name from a short film project that frontman Koenig was working on but never finished.

It is indicative of its time and place that by the time this, the group’s debut, self-titled album was released, two years later, many of its songs were already known or at least familiar to the indie music community. The internet and blogosphere was in full hype machine mode and Vampire Weekend were definite beneficiaries. The debut hit and climbed both the UK album charts and Billboard 200 upon its release. It was met with critical acclaim from most corners but of course, with quick success came backlash, some detractors screaming about theft of world musician thunder by privileged white kids. Interesting, then, and the band did lash back with explanations, that all four members graduated college with student loan debt and that their collective lineages were varied and multicultural.

When I first got a hold of this album, I did so with some excitement. There was so much fun and energy in the songs. The album sounded very DIY, almost like a mixed CD-R, which was likely a result of the self-production and the range of recording locations, including a family member’s basement. And the sound, which many attributed to thievery of afrobeat sounds and compared to Paul Simon’s “Graceland”, I thought more hinted at the world outside of North America rather than outright plagiarism and with its mixture with punk and post-punk sensibilities, was reminded more of music by The Police than Mr. Simon. The lyrics’ subject matter were varied and quirky, name-checking other musicians, grammatical usage, and architectural details, and the music was intelligent, unique, and also just this side of Wes Anderson-ville.

Of course, two albums later (and soon to be a third) and “Vampire Weekend” is considered a classic album by an indie rock world mainstay. It ranked high on many best album lists of its year and decade lists by many music mags, blogs, and websites. And well, looking back, I still love it and can sing along to most of its tracks. Have a sample of my three picks for you and if you haven’t checked out the album as a whole, I highly recommend it.


“M79”: This is one of the first tracks on the album that really caught my attention. And how could it not, really? Bursting forth with harpsichords and orchestral strings, it hops and pogos along with a ska-like rhythm and pace, complete with staccato guitar riffs. But what does it mean? A bit of research confirmed that the M79 is a crosstown bus in New York. So, much like their other tunes, the metaphoric-sounding lyrics by Koenig make a lot more sense to New York habitants and insiders. Words like “No excuse to be so callous. Dress yourself in bleeding madras. Charm your way across the Khyber pass.” are really about dealing with relationships across class and cultural lines in the big apple.

“Oxford comma”:  If the last track was one of the first songs of the album to catch my ear, then this was most definitely the first. Released as the third single off the album, track two sounds so simple, driven forward by the plunk, plunk of organ chords and the sparse rhythm that sounds like it was banged out just using the one drum. Even the guitar that peaks it’s head out of the melody for a solo midway through the song feels free and easy and uncomplicated. And that opening line: “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?” If designed to catch attention, it certainly does the trick (especially to a grammar geek like me). Vampire Weekend rarely use profanity in their songs so its appearance here says something about the the song’s protagonist’s attitude towards his antagonists’s apparent haughtiness. And yeah, it’s all so damned catchy.

“A-punk”: Talk about energy. Track three is it. Living up to its name, “A-punk” certainly calls to mind the sniper attack of two minutes or less punk, though this tune clocks in just over that time. It’s got skank and slam dance beats, staccato rhythm guitars, and some surprising flute-aping synths give the song some levity. Koenig throws a lot of lyrics at us in such a short span of time, the subject of which are cause for debate. References could be to bands of influence, historical context, more NYC time and place. However, what’s not up for debate, given the “ay, ay, ay” instead of “oi, oi, oi”, is the sensibility. This is a song for dancing to, for letting loose and forgetting it all, a song for Saturday night, a song for partying. Ay, ay, ay!


Check back next Thursday for album #2. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Fleet Foxes  “Fleet Foxes”
9. The Submarines “Honeysuckle weeks”
8. Schools of Seven Bells “Alpinisms”
7. Glasvegas “Glasvegas”
6. Spiritualized “Songs in A & E”
5. Elbow “The seldom seen kid”
4. Death Cab For Cutie “Narrow stairs”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best albums of 2008: #4 Death Cab For Cutie “Narrow stairs”

I got into Death Cab for Cutie with their breakthrough album, 2003’s “Transatlanticism”, but perhaps a year or so after its release. To be honest, I wasn’t sold on them right away, especially on that of the voice of frontman, Ben Gibbard. It took me a while to get used to, most definitely a few spins in my CD carousel. By the time 2005 rolled around and the band unleashed “Plans” upon the world, however, I was sold. I noted a slight change in sound with that album, from more guitar focused indie rock to something crisper and cleaner with a hint of the electronic. I imagined at the time that Gibbard’s work with Jimmy Tamborello in The Postal Service (whose 2004 album I really did fall for right away) must have informed this change some. I got to see the band live in 2006 while they were still touring “Plans” and was quite drawn in by it all.

Then, in early 2008, I heard “I will possess your heart”, the first single off the upcoming album, and I sensed a reversion back to the mean. This was more prog and rock than pop and electronic for sure. Now, I’m not saying I didn’t like “Plans”, no, not at all. It was a great album and a great balancing act. However, I was glad to see that the seesaw was tipping back into rock territory.

I’ve read that former guitarist Chris Walla had been quoted while the band was working on “Narrow stairs” as saying that the album was sounding “pretty weird and pretty spectacular; lots of blood” and further calling it “creepy and heavy”. Weird descriptions for sure when you think of how the final product sounds but I really like the idea of saying that there is “lots of blood” here. I can totally see that. Not that the album is a horror show but how Gibbard and company are always pouring their heart out into their music and putting it on display for us.

“Narrow stars” is a mighty fine album and complete, so it was hard to pick just three tunes for you but here is what I’ve got.


“No sunlight”: As the song’s title suggests, the lyrical themes and subject matter are dark. A cloudy day, tall and modern buildings blacking out light, the loss of innocence, the letting loose into independence, and finding oneself losing their ideals and dreams and optimism. Gibbard’s fresh-faced delivery makes you believe he is/was that way, which makes it all the more real and dire. And yet… and yet… the track is a boppy and toe-tapping number that weighs in at just two and half minutes, like a sniper attack aiming right for the heart. Yeah, it’s total Brecht.

“You can do better than me”: You want to talk heartbreak and self-deprecation? Check these lyrics out: “We’re starting to feel we stayed together out of fear of dying alone. I’ve been slipping through the years. My old clothes don’t fit like they once did so they hang like ghosts of the people I’ve been.” And is if that weren’t enough, Gibbard finishes you right off with this page ripped from Morrissey: “Cause you can do better than me but I can’t do better than you.” And like the last track, this is one short, not even two minutes, practically an interlude. The bass drums just chug along, pacing the organs that sound carnival-like, and Gibbard dances inside the ring, alone, alone, and alone, in a loveless relationship that is like a well-worn circus tent.

“I will possess your heart”: Ok. Here’s something different. The aforementioned first single off the album. It’s eight minutes in length, at least half of it an instrumental intro that throbs and beats itself deep into your soul. Heavy bass and twinkling keys dance and flirt with chiming guitars. It’s a total tease that builds and builds for over four and a half minutes, making you anxious for reprieve. Finally, Gibbard starts in with his obsessive, stalker monologue, words as creepy as those of “Every breath you take”. It’s a song that shouldn’t ever be a single, or a hit single at that, but it did very well, almost garnering the band a Grammy (if you’re impressed with that sort of thing).


Check back next Thursday for album #3. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Fleet Foxes  “Fleet Foxes”
9. The Submarines “Honeysuckle weeks”
8. Schools of Seven Bells “Alpinisms”
7. Glasvegas “Glasvegas”
6. Spiritualized “Songs in A & E”
5. Elbow “The seldom seen kid”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best tunes of 2011: #17 Girls “Alex”

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Song number seventeen on this list of great tunes from 2011 is “Alex”, a non-single from Girls’ second album, “Father, son, holy ghost“.

Girls was an indie rock band based out of San Francisco. The two primary members were guitarist/vocalist Christopher Owens and bassist/producer Chet ‘JR’ White. The rest of the band was filled out by a constantly revolving door of musicians and it was this turnover that ultimately doomed the band when Owens finally grew tired of the fluidity. The group disbanded the year following the release of “Father, son, holy spirit”, making it not only their second but also their final full-length album.

It is unfortunate, really, because both albums (the other being 2009’s “Album”) are quite good and each received heaps of critical acclaim upon release. I was particularly enamoured of the second one when I came across it, finding in it hints of Teenage Fanclub and Sloan, personal favourites of mine. Indeed, if I remember correctly, “Father, son, holy spirit” found itself a spot on my old blog’s inaugural kick at the end of year best albums list can. A surprise that might have been greatest to myself.

“Alex” is track two and definitely a highlight off the album for me. It is rumbling and boppy bass lines, lazy guitars, jaunty drums, and Owens’ soft croons, showing a hard exterior but betraying soft insides. It juxtaposes mellow garage rock feels at the verses with controlled rock jams in between.

But who is this Alex?

Well, she has blue eyes, black hair, and a lovely smile. She is in a band. She has a boyfriend… but who cares? Well, who cares about love?

We all should. And that’s why you should at the very least give this song a listen.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.