There are a few words I did not expect to use in describing Vampire Weekend's second album. Paul-Simony-er is one of them, but that's mostly because it's not a real word. Another is aggressive.
It's hard to imagine Vampire Weekend's being aggressive about much of anything (dry cleaning? DVR-ing Frontline?), but Contra sounds like a record from four guys trying to stay on your radar as if the Sadie Hawkins dance were coming up. So, it's not "aggressive" in a Pantera sense but rather in its upping of VW's post-grad game. "Cousins" finds singer/guitarist Ezra Koenig reaching almost Achtung Baby Bono levels of feistiness (is that distortion?) between dive-bombing figures from Mali and solos that sound ganked from late Fugazi.
The percolating "California English" is already causing all sorts of arguments at Starbucks over whether its employment of Auto-Tune is too ironic for its own good. The dubby pulse, elegant strings, and brainy-suitor falsetto coos of "Diplomat's Sun" can turn any boring commute into a less boring Wes Anderson short. And I wish other bands luck in making better pop than "White Sky" — a song growing out of its school clothes, rich with skittering guitars, an infectious polyrhythmic electro push, and references to things like Richard Serra to get the young ones Googling.
If all this sounds as if it were just more of the same, at least it's a great deal more of the same. If anything, Contra is an album that will weed out fickle fans more than it will attract new ones. Although some songs ("Taxi Cab" and "Holiday" especially) can make it seem like just another, nicer sweater to knot around our necks, the other word I never expected to use here is perhaps the most important for a young band of VW's talent: better.