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January 11, 2010 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 2010-01-11

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8A - Monday, January 11, 2010

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Vampire Weekend's sophomore slump

The Columbia grads
stumble aimlessly through
angst on latest disc
By SHARON JACOBS
Assistant Arts Editor
In 2007, a certain self-aware, adorably preppy
band of Columbia University graduates burst
onto the scene with cute dit-
ties like "Oxford Comma"
and "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwas- **
sa." They called themselves
Vampire Weekend, and the Vampire
Afro-poppy sound of their Weekend
eponymous debut album pro-
posed a fresh, playful take on Contra
Manhattan high society. XL
The old VW embraced its
prep-school lifestyle, or else
cheerfully poked fun at it. But the new VW, as
revealed on its newest release, Contra, is restless
and rebellious. Somehow, four confident college
kids have retreated to the J.D. Salinger discon-
tent of high school.
So what is it exactly that's been frustrat-
ing lead singer Ezra Koenig? "My revolution
thoughts / Live in lies of desire," he complains
on album closer "I Think Ur A Contra." The title

only adds to the confusion, with the most arbi-
trary use of text-speak in recent memory. "We
onlyworkto live/Until we live to work," Koenig
mourns in "Run." How utterly original. The lyr-
ics throughout Contra are railing against some-
thing, but it's impossible to say what. Phonies,
perhaps?
"Diplomat's Son," a vague upbeat reminis-
cence, samples M.I.A., but to what effect? What's
happened to Bryn and Louis Vuitton and all the
colorful idiosyncrasies decorating VW's debut?
Like much of Contra, the track doesn't have
much of a point, and while the music is enticing
at first, it stays fairly static for six long minutes.
Likewise, "I Think Ur A Contra" fills a blend-
er with sonic layering, rambling vocals and a
latin-tinged piano riff to pour out a four-and-a-
half minute glass of pointless meandering. You'd
think VW's Ivy League professors would have
taught these boys how to be concise.
But the most obvious train wreck on Contra
is "California English." Fast-paced and discon-
nected, it employs jumpy staccato orchestration
and Auto-Tune (really) for a jumpy and discon-
certing overall effect. It's not unlike the sound of
a good song played backwards on a record.
Occasionally, however, Contra's experimen-
tation actually works. Case in point: "Cousins,"
a joyfully wild roller-coaster ride powered by
the grittiest guitars on the Upper West Side.
It's a departure, sure, but the yelping chorus

and churning guitars manage to hold the track
together.
Album opener "Horchata" takesthe opposite
route, forgoing guitars entirely to paint a picture
of a Caribbean winter escape. Nostalgic strings
and a cheerful mess of tropical island percussion
anchor the simple but strong melody. Though
lacking in lyrical innovation, this is easily Con-
tra's catchiest, most hummable track.
Despite a few shining stars, there's nothing
holding together the songs on Contra besides a
vague sense of unease. "White Sky" is a bundle
of teen angst wrapped in a pop song, while "Giv-
ing Up The Gun" pairstired-out lyricswith tight,
bouncy music. Hardly a cohesive whole, Contra
is a collection of songs, each with its own take on
what the new Vampire Weekend should be.
Impressive sophomore albums are notorious-
ly difficult to pull off. To besuccessful, they must
prove the group is more than a one-trick pony
without completely alienating its fanbase. The
overall sound of Contra is still cutely intellectual,
still bouncy, still somewhat worldly - still Vam-
pire Weekend. It's the odd experimentation and
lack of a thematic center that make the album
weak. If VW releases a focused third album with
more directed experimentation, maybe Contra
will be remembered as nothing but aslight soph-
omore slump from the college kids who could.
But it looks like thisband's going to have to work
hard to keep up with its New York indie peers.

HOLMES
From Page 5A
graced with the impish magne-
tism of Robert Downey, Jr. As the
film's titular detective, Downey
quips and barbs his way through
the film without an ounce of over-
acting. The role of the devilish
savant is clearly a comfort zone
for the mercurial Downey, and
the film shines brightest when
Holmes unleashes his wit, rather
than his fists or his electric fight-
ing cane, upon those in his imme-
diate vicinity.
Meanwhile, Jude Law ("Clos-
er") puts away his patented smug
face and performs admirably as
Dr. John Watson, Holmes's best
friend and investigative partner.
The effectiveness of the Watson
character hits its peak whenever
Holmes is pestering him, which
happens to be most of the film.
Unfortunately, it's hard to make
a great film with just two strong
performances, especially when
you have dozens of roles to fill.
"Sherlock Holmes" starring sixty
copies of Robert Downey, Jr.
might have worked, though.
Filling out the cast of impor-
tant players are Rachel McAdams

("State of Play") and Mark Strong
("Body of Lies"). As Irene Adler,
McAdams is meant tobe Holmes's
foil, matching him word for word,*
gibe for gibeclue foreclue. Instead,
she stands around looking pretty,
often distressed, occasionally in
danger, until. Holmes rectifies the
situation. If there were an Oscar
for Most Useless Performance,
McAdams might top the list of
contenders. And Mark Strong,
who plays the villainous Lord
Blackwood, would be hot on her
heels. With only two settings -
menacing hiss and brawny shout
- Strong's performance reeks of
discount Gerard Butler. It's not
Strong's fault that his character is
so hopelessly stupid, but he might
have reined in the ham for hisown
sake.
It's not unreasonable to expect
Ritchie to dilute the verbosity of
the Holmes character or attempt
to enliven the pace of his adven-
tures with some fisticuffs. The
Sherlock Holmes franchise is
fairly dusty and warranted a new
angle. But Ritchie misfires by
placing the perfect Holmes in an
otherwise stupid movie. It's not
simply an unfaithful adaptation;
it's an asinine film, and would
be no matter whose character it
licensed.

4

,4

Oh shit, Sherlock!

THE ROAD
From Page 5A
between Mortensen and Smit-
McPhee. Their relationship goes
beyond father and son into some-
thing more meaningful - some-
thing more sacred. They need
each other to survive. At one point
in the movie, Mortensen says his
son is his god, and that he will do
anything and everything to pro-
tect him. The child knows noth-
ing outside the forsaken world in
which the two live. Mortensen's
character struggles every day
with the options of either trudg-
ing onwards with the slim chance
of a brighter future or ending his
son's life so that he may never
grow up to witness such terrify-
ing times. The dynamic is raw and
gut-wrenchingly beautiful.
But ultimately, "The Road" suf-
fers from the predictable rhythm
into which it settles as the movie
progresses. Any misfortune the
two travelers suffer is followed
immediately by something fortu-
itous, which is then followed by
misfortune, and so on andso forth.
This doesn't necessarily make the

movie overly formulaic, but it does
severely dampen the mystery and
intrigue of the story when view-
ers can mostly accurately predict
that some boon will come out of
a particularly harsh or disturbing
scene.
Putting these issues aside, the
movie doesn't do an adequate job
of portraying some of the hor-
rors of the world. The book viv-
idly describes certain scenes that
highlight the atrocities people can
commit when faced with extreme
survivalist situations. For a movie
intended to reach a mass audience,
it's understandable to exclude
some of those ghastly images, but
if such is the case, the question of
whether "The Road" should have
been adapted into a film in the first
place remains unanswered. The
movietreads alittle too cautiously.14
Really then, "The Road" is great
for those who have not already
read the McCarthy novel. And
for those who have, at least the
outstanding performances by
Mortensen and Smit-McPhee
echo some of the focal points of
the book. The movie isn't a revolu-
tionary journey, but at least while
it lasts, it's a memorable one, well
worth traveling.

I

4

Most intense game of 'Duck Hunt' ever.

CHECK OUT THE DAILY
ARTS BLOG, THE FILTER,
FOR EVEN MORE
THRILLING CONTENT

4

. Video game and album release guides: Daily Arts keeps youin
the know about the games and jams this week has to offer,
. Music videos of 2009: David Riva gives his picks for the best mixes of
the auditory and visual stimuli the past year had to offer.
FIND IT AT:
WWW.MICHIGANDAILY.COM/BLOGS/THE FILTER

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