It hasn't taken forever for Vampire Weekend's self-titled debut to come out. It only seems that way.
That's because in the blogosphere, where reputations are made quicker than you can say Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - and where the backlash begins long before a CD hits those anachronisms called record stores - the members of Vampire Weekend have been superstars for an eternity.
Or, at least, since last summer. That's when the hype started to hit about the four Columbia University grads who play a sold-out First Unitarian Church tonight.
VW became the object of the Internet's affection because singer-guitarist Ezra Koenig and his bandmates - Rostam Batmanglij, Chris Thomson and Chris Baio - make highly inviting, light-on-its-feet music that introduces a ringer into the indie-rock universe: Afro-pop.
Perfectly titled songs like "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" - one highlight of
(XL ***½), released last week - cheekily blend brand-name-dropping ("Do you stay up to see the dawn / In the colors of Benetton?") with pearly polyrhythms and guitar lines derived from African stars like Kanda Bongo Man.
is a Congolese term for a hip-shaking
dance move that's thought to derive from the French
, meaning "what's that?")
The sound, which these smart-alecky Ivy Leaguers have dubbed "Upper West Side Soweto," has predictably drawn comparisons to Paul Simon's
"It's unavoidable," says Koenig, 23, on the phone from San Francisco, speaking about the landmark 1986 album on which Simon employed South African musicians. "If you're American and you're into African music and you were born in the '80s, at the very least you need to think about that album and understand its implications."
Koenig - who on his blog has called himself a "fourth generation Ivy League . . . American Jew" who was "raised in NJ to middle class post-hippie parents" - says none of the band members are "experts" on African music. But they get defensive when questioned about
, because of the implication "that's all we know about African music."
The original idea for the band, founded in 2006 during Koenig's senior year as an English major at Columbia, was to draw on New Wave-era acts like Elvis Costello, Graham Parker and Squeeze. "They're all very angry and funny in a way that's very different than the Sex Pistols and the Clash," Koenig says.
He and two of his bandmates had previously been in an amusing rap group called L'Homme Run (they can be sampled at
Early on, VW - named for an unfinished Koenig student vampire movie - made lots of rules: No trip-hop beats. No distorted guitars. Influences started to seep in, from the Senegalese band Orchestra Baobab and African-flavored indie act Dirty Projectors, as well as the great 1986 South African compilation
The Indestructible Beat of Soweto
and Koenig's father's King Sunny Ade LPs.
And, of course,
"To me, it's all kind of mixed up," Koenig says. "It doesn't come from any one place."
Being the Beatles of the blogosphere, Koenig says, results in "certain Web sites talking about you like you're the be-all and end-all . . . when the truth of the matter is, the bands you think of as these massive indie bands, like Arcade Fire, still don't sell as many records as Nickelback."
Even so, if viral Internet buzz can create expectations for a band that can't possibly be met, it's also done VW a world of good.
"So many people heard our album before it came out," Koenig says. "And that's been great. We can do a national tour and have people singing all the words. We could never have done that if it hadn't been on the Internet."