Vampire Weekend's Moment of Truth

Jan. 28, 2008
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For the last eight months, the chorus of bloggers shouting about how Vampire Weekend will become the next big thing has become absolutely deafening. Today, after almost a year of this hype, the band finally releases its debut album, and soon well see whether these predictions come true.

Its an interesting test of the blogospheres tastemaking chops, since over the few years, new medias success rate at predicting future stars has actually been pretty low. For every Arcade Fire, theres dozens of We Are Scientists, Stars of Track and Fields and Softs, attractive bands that were prematurely lauded by trigger-happy bloggers, but (at least so far) havent found the success their early supporters promised.

Vampire Weekend rose particularly fast and particularly high. Within months of playing their first real shows, the trendsetting blog Stereogum began trumpeting these young New Yorkers on the strength of their self-released demos, and just two months later, the New York Times was writing them up approvingly.

Usually, bands that green that skyrocket that high quickly come crashing downsometimes even before the put out a full-length albumbut Vampire Weekend could actually buck the trend. In both sound and image, the groups aesthetic is novel enough to capture the publics attention, but familiar enough to keep it.

At their core, theyre the same-old, time-tested boys with guitars singing about girls, but they put a pleasant twist on the formula, infusing an agreeable African jangle into their songs in lieu of the usual overwrought indie-rock chords.

And, to go along with their consciously different sound, the band made a bold fashion choice as well: Instead of ultra-skinny jeans and ironic accessories, they treat every day like its casual Friday at the office. They dress, in a word that front man Ezra Koenig has embraced, preppy.

There were a lot of things we wanted to avoid when we started the band, things that we were tired of, Koenig told me in an interview earlier this month, and maybe that also crossed over to the way we felt about the kind of clothes that we wanted to wear. I went to thrift stores a lot in high school, but I always wanted to find old Brookes Brothers shirts, not ironic t-shirts. Its two sides of the same coin, really. But its funny: You can get a collared shirt for so cheap, or you could pay a hundred dollars for a distressed, weird t-shirt. Ultimately, I feel like one I can relate to more. It feels more refreshing to me, in a way almost like an anti-fashion sort of thing.

In an era where rich young rockers downplay their pedigree by dressing like street rats, this is a welcome bit of truth-in-advertising. Vampire Weekend looks exactly like they sound: happy, clean-cut and educated. Their gimmick is that theyre not being gimmicky.

The prep-school aesthetic also ties in thematically with the bands self-titled debut, which is very much the product of four recent Columbia University graduates. These songs are filled with nostalgia for the college life theyve just left behindthe campus culture, the class crushes, the endless academia and thats the albums appeal. Its a happy, wide-eyed tribute to the period that many listeners look back on as the best time of their life.

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