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Contra (album)

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Contra (album)

Vampire Weekend
Released January 11, 2010 (2010-01-11)
Recorded 2009
Genre Indie rock, alternative rock, indie pop, Afrobeat, synthpop, baroque pop
Length 36:40
Label XL
Producer Rostam Batmanglij
Vampire Weekend chronology

Vampire Weekend
Modern Vampires of the City
Singles from Contra
  1. "Cousins"
    Released: 17 November 2009
  2. "Giving Up the Gun"
    Released: 19 February 2010
  3. "Holiday"
    Released: 7 June 2010
  4. "White Sky"
    Released: 16 August 2010

Contra is the second album by American indie rock band Vampire Weekend, released in January 2010 on XL Recordings. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. The album title is intended as a thematic allegory and a complex reference to the Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries, the 1980 album by The Clash Sandinista!, and partially to the Contra video game.[1]


The release of Contra was announced on September 15, 2009,official website, as of January 5, 2010.

Music and lyrics

The lyrics of "I Think Ur a Contra" include the phrase "Complete Control", the title of a Clash single (notably, an influential 1980 triple album by The Clash was entitled Sandinista! after the socialist militancy opposed by the Contras during the Nicaraguan civil war). This refers partially to the controversy surrounding their punk roots. The title "Diplomat's Son" is a reference to a story singer Ezra Koenig wrote about in boarding school, though the content lyrically talks about a relationship told by Rostam Batmanglij.[5] The song also features a vocal sample from M.I.A.'s "Hussel". "Holiday" begins with the opening lyrics of Fairport Convention's 1969 rendition of Matty Groves.

Koenig has stated in multiple interviews that the album contains lyrical themes of opposition consistent with its title, and feels it is important to understand that the word "Contra" is a fundamental concept of conflict, without any implication that one side is right or wrong. The lyrics of Contra are also meant to express a desire to be compassionate even towards people and things you disagree with.[6] He also states the lyrics of Contra deal with reconciling feeling of privilege and guilt, for which he uses the term "first world guilt". Contra is considered by critics to be instrumental in cementing the cultural significance of Vampire Weekend first formed with their debut record, as Contra deepens and commits to a general attitude of rejecting traditional notions that rock musicians are poor, underprivileged rebels. Whereas their first album brought to light the prejudices against affluence and wealth in rock music, Contra, even in its title, openly argues this stigma.[7]

The band made an effort to make their second album a natural expansion on the universe created in their debut album, as a result Contra covers a far greater gamut of musical influences than their debut album, drawing inspiration from genres such as ska on "Holiday", synthpop on "Giving Up the Gun", speed rap on "California English" and even rave music on "Run". The production of the album, directed by Rostam Batmanglij, was also different from their former work in that it did not use chamber echo and natural reverb but instead used digital effects to give the album an eighties aesthetic. Other distinguishing features of Contra are the use of backing vocals as textural elements, the debut of Rostam as a lead guitarist and more layered drumwork in which fundamental Latin beats are blended with drum machines to create a busier rhythm section.[8]

Artwork and lawsuit

The cover of "Contra" features a candid polaroid of a girl from 1983. The photo was found by Rostam while searching through photo archives of that year. The striking quality of the image is what attracted Vampire Weekend to it, and which has made it a topic of such focus and discussion. Ezra states that when he first saw the image, he felt he read "some sort of hesitation" in her face, and that the band discussed at length what her possible age or emotional state could be in the photograph, without ever becoming certain of either. Koenig believed that "wrapped up in her expression is this question: 'How is she feeling?'" and that "maybe she wasn't even really sure at the time."[6]

In an interview, lead singer Ezra Koenig revealed that the girl pictured on the front cover is "now living in Malibu".[6] Koenig has confirmed that the picture was taken in 1983 (by photographer Tod Brody) and was chosen as a juxtaposition to the debut album's cover which, while taken in 2006, looks as if it "inhabits the same world".[9] Koenig also referred to the girl as "Kirsten" in a post on Twitter.[10] Koenig likens the image to the Rorschach test as multiple meanings can be extrapolated from just a few signifiers, saying, "Some people get very mad when they see a white blonde girl in a Polo shirt."[9]

On July 15, 2010, Vampire Weekend, along with XL Recordings and Brody, were sued by Ann Kirsten Kennis, the woman who identified herself as the mysterious woman on the cover, for $2 million for using the photo without her permission.[11][12] Kennis has said that the photo was taken while she was "a high-fashion model under contract with prestigious agencies in New York City." In addition, Kennis said that the release forms for the photo that was allegedly signed by Kennis herself, were forged.[13] In a statement released by Kennis' lawyer Alan Neigher, Neigher said that Kennis discovered herself on the cover when her daughter brought home a copy of Contra and showed it to Kennis. Neigher also mentioned that Brody did not take the photo and said that it was taken by Kennis' mother. Despite this claim, Brody claims that he took the photo and says that he had the photo for 26 years[14] until Vampire Weekend discovered it on his Flickr page and bought it for five thousand dollars. Ms. Kennis' own former agent, Sue Charney, told Vanity Fair "To me it is very clearly a Polaroid taken at a casting session."[15] Koenig later responded on the matter and said that "this is the first time any of us have ever been sued, so we're still learning how it works," he added, "There's nothing we can say about it. We're not trying to be mysterious. I imagine in the next few months there'll be plenty to talk about. Given it's our first time, we just want to do it properly."[16]

On August 15, 2011, it was announced that Kennis had dropped her lawsuit against XL Recordings and Vampire Weekend after they paid Kennis an undisclosed sum.[17] All litigation in the Vampire Weekend case was dismissed by Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank of the United States District Court for the Central District of California on August 12, 2011. There is no further pending litigation between any of the parties.


Critical reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[18]
Entertainment Weekly B+[19]
The Guardian 4/5 stars[20]
Los Angeles Times 3.5/4 stars[21]
NME (8/10)[22]
Pitchfork Media (8.6/10)[23]
Robert Christgau A[24]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[25]
Spin 4/5 stars[26]
Uncut 4/5 stars[27]

The album received positive reviews from most music critics. Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, reported an average score of 81 based on 39 reviews, described as "universal acclaim".[28] The Guardian awarded the album four out of five stars, stating that "[Contra] will probably be among this year's most played and most joyful tunes."[20] Spin praised the album, calling "the balance of classical, rock, and world instrumentation, cagey rhythms, and stunning prettiness isn't just architecturally resplendent, it's reassuringly sweet and strangely moving."[26] NME gave the album an 8 out of 10, and described Vampire Weekend as "one of the most unique bands on the planet."[22] Consequence of Sound named it the best album of 2010. On December 1, 2010, it was announced that Contra was nominated for a Grammy for "Best Alternative Music Album".[29] This album was number 6 on Rolling Stone's list of the 30 Best Albums of 2010.[30] Pitchfork Media placed it at number 6 on its list "The Top 50 Albums of 2010".[31]

Commercial performance

It is the band's first album to reach number one on the Billboard 200, and the 12th independently-distributed album in history to reach the number one spot on the Billboard 200 since Nielsen Soundscan began recording data in 1991, while also being the first independent artist to have done so without ever having signed with a major label, after already established rock bands Radiohead and Pearl Jam and before Arcade Fire's The Suburbs.[32][33] The album sold 124,000 copies in its first week[34] and was awarded Gold by the RIAA on November 21, 2011 which means it has sold over 500,000 units in the US alone.[35]

Track listing

All lyrics written by Ezra Koenig except where noted, all music composed by Vampire Weekend except where noted.
No. Title Length
1. "Horchata"   3:26
2. "White Sky"   2:58
3. "Holiday"   2:18
4. "California English"   2:30
5. "Taxi Cab" (music: Koenig, Rostam Batmanglij) 3:55
6. "Run"   3:52
7. "Cousins"   2:25
8. "Giving Up the Gun"   4:46
9. "Diplomat's Son" (lyrics: Koenig, Batmanglij) 6:01
10. "I Think Ur a Contra" (music: Koenig, Batmanglij) 4:29
iTunes bonus tracks
No. Title Length
11. "Giant"   2:50
12. "California English: Part 2" (Pre-order only; also a B-side to "Cousins") 2:57
'Contra Megamelt' bonus disc
No. Title Length
1. "Contramelt A"   6:11
2. "Contramelt B"   4:36
3. "Cousins" (Toy Selectah Mex-More Remix) 3:20


Vampire Weekend
Additional musicians
  • Mauro Refoscomarimbas, rebolo, zabumba, shekere, shakers, auxiliary percussion on "Horchata"
  • Marcus Farrar – shekere, auxiliary percussion on "Horchata"
  • Libby Gery – background vocals on "Giving Up the Gun"
  • Anne Donlon – background vocals on "Horchata" and "Giving Up the Gun"
  • Nat Baldwindouble bass on "Horchata", "Taxi Cab" and "Giving Up the Gun"
  • Jonathan Chu – violin, viola on "Horchata", "California English", "Taxi Cab" and "Diplomat's Son"
  • Hamilton Berry – cello on "Horchata", "California English", "Taxi Cab", "Giving Up the Gun", "Diplomat's Son" and "I Think Ur a Contra"
  • Seth Rosenfeld – cello on "Giving Up the Gun"
  • Jesse Novak – additional instrumentation on "Giving Up the Gun"
  • Jeff Curtin – hand drums on "Giving Up the Gun" and "I Think Ur a Contra", shakers on "I Think Ur a Contra"
  • Shane Stoneback – shaker on "I Think Ur a Contra"
  • Rostam Batmanglij – producer, mixer, audio engineer
  • Justin Gerrish – mixer, except on "White Sky"; audio engineer
  • Shane Stoneback – mixing assistant, audio engineer
  • Fernando Lodeiro – engineering assistant
  • Tito Fuentes – audio engineer on "Cousins"

Chart performance

Charts (2010) Peak
Australian Albums Chart[36] 2
Canadian Albums Chart[37] 1
French Albums Chart[38] 15
French Digital Albums Chart[38] 2
Irish Albums Chart[39] 4
Italian Albums Chart[40] 98
New Zealand Albums Chart[41] 12
Polish Albums Chart[42] 90
UK Albums Chart[43] 3
UK Indie Chart[44] 2
U.S. Billboard 200[45] 1
U.S. Billboard Independent Albums[46] 1

Year-end charts

Chart (2010) Position
UK Albums Chart[47] 64
US Billboard 200[48] 72

Chart procession and succession

Preceded by
Conditions by The Temper Trap
UK Independent number-one album
23–30 January 2010
Succeeded by
The Betrayed by Lostprophets
Preceded by
Animal by Kesha
U.S. Billboard 200 number-one album
30 January 2010 - 6 February 2010
Succeeded by
Hope For Haiti Now by Various Artists
Canadian number-one album
30 January 2010 - 6 February 2010

See also

Alternative music portal


External links

  • VW's Track-by-Track
  • Stream of the album at NPR
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