We introduced this new feature, The Mildly Pleased Hall of Fame, back when we were celebrating our 10th anniversary in February, and I’ve long wanted to contribute to it. But it’s been hard to think of something worthy, especially in the realm of music. Because there seem to only be so many artists and albums that me, Sean, and John all have affection for. Though this one jumped out to me for many reasons, considering it celebrated its tenth anniversary around the same time our blog did. Also, I can’t speak for my colleagues, but to me, Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut was such a potent snapshot of where the blog’s music tastes were at in 2008. Yet is also an album that still sounds great now.
Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut was an entity that had already been laying around in the culture before I had bought it on iTunes in the Fall of 2008. I’m not sure why I’d slept on for so long, considering it was already a cornerstone of the music libraries of kids my age in the throes of college life. I was made fully aware of this my first semester at art school, where I would often hear the spiky melodies of Ezra Koenig’s guitar parts and buoyant vocals bleeding out of dorm rooms, while fighting for airtime with MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular.
This of course, was perfect dorm music. Vampire Weekend formed while its four members were attending Columbia University, and many of the songs are very overtly about college life. Not only in the irreverent abandon that comes with hanging out with your buds and trying to get in the pants of girls that are a little too smart for you. But also the album is tinged with the kind of whip-smart lyricism that could only come from exposure to literary studies at an Ivy League school. This kind of upper-class intellect-flaunting was something that made people a little suspicious of Vampire Weekend as a legit rock band, but I think has faded with the years and with the fact that these songs still sound good, and in just about any venue.
I’m not sure if I was one of those people skeptical of Vampire Weekend’s preppy aesthetic, since it did take me a little while to completely admit my love for this album. Though I do wonder if this sect of skepticism was mostly from GenXers still holding on to the punk-influenced indie rock of the ‘90s. Also, the dirty jean-jacketed cool that had birthed the New York bands of the early ‘00s (The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, Interpol etc.) also seemed to be at odds with the fact that Vampire Weekend seemed like a band who would’ve proudly admitted to having taken a shower in the last three days. However, there didn’t seem to be anything calculated about this juxtaposition, seeing as Vampire Weekend have admitted to being huge Strokes fans in their early days.
Another thing that probably felt problematic about Vampire Weekend’s debut was the so-called presence of cultural appropriation. You can hear strains of African pop music in many of the songs’ unorthodox instrumentation and rhythms, much of which could be traced to Vampire Weekend’s affinity for their more worldly influences. But, also could be attributed to their desire to not just sound like your typical rock band. Which might account for why their discography so far seems almost perfect – because they’ve never become complacent enough to let themselves sound typical.
The thing I often struggle with in terms of cultural appropriation in art is that most of the time it’s coming from a place of reverence. So it’s hard for me to ever get too offended by an artist who just wants to create something that rejects a narrow worldview that only depicts what’s right in front of them. Vampire Weekend somehow managed to have it both ways, while singing about their very specific college-bred lifestyle, while also having the more broad musical tastes of a generation having grown up with the internet, and having access to everything the world has to offer.
This I think continued into Vampire Weekend’s later albums, as the band seemed to continue branching out, incorporating more electronic and hip-hop influences, while also still retaining a kind of pristine pop sound rooted in the past. None of this ever seemed like it should work, yet somehow it always does, especially on 2013’s Modern Vampires of The City, which might actually be the band’s best album. But I do feel like this first Vampire Weekend album really saw the future coming, in its ability to see a newer, less narrow future for rock and pop music.
On top of everything else, it’s not only an album initially associated with the internet and blog culture, but it might be the most talked about album on this blog. It came up in its original review, our top tens of 2008, Colin and John’s top tens of the decade, a podcast about the best albums of 2008 and of the ‘00s, as well as being compared to the two albums that would follow it. So, since there’s a lot of this album running through this website, and its influence on a couple of white guy pop culture enthusiasts trying to be more open-minded about their beloved pop culture, it seems like an easy shoo-in for the Mildly Pleased Hall of Fame.