VampWeekendCover.jpgVAMPIRE WEEKEND: Modern Vampires of the City

XL, 43 minutes
Rating: 4/5

Like network TV sitcoms, indie rock bands nowadays have one chance to make an impression.

So to many, Vampire Weekend will always be the polo-playing collegiate types who once wrote a song about grammar snobbery. Never mind that they’re among the most self-aware bands of their generation, or that their second album Contra was both an artistic improvement on their debut and a bigger commercial hit. Those who expected them to disappear after 2008, or at least devolve into self-parody on future albums, should find Modern Vampires of the City frustrating or revelatory for the same reason: it’s a pretty great record that refines the VW sound without retreating from it.

From the opening uplift of “Obvious Bicycle” to the gentle coda “Young Lion”, it’s clear VW has more or less perfected their own style. Some Dan Deacon-esque vocal pitch-shifting aside, nothing on the album is a total departure from what they’ve done before. But its strongest songs — “Step,” “Everlasting Arms” — build what were once skeletal pop songs into full-blooded bangers. Modern Vampires isn’t flawless — “Hudson” is a real slog — but it’s about as quintessential a Vampire Weekend album as we’re ever likely to hear.

TribeCalledRedCover.pngA TRIBE CALLED RED: Nation II Nation

Tribal Spirit Music, 39 minutes

Rating: 4.5/5

A Tribe Called Red is Bear Witness, DJ Shub and DJ NDN, three artists of First Nations descent who mix rhythmic electronic music with traditional chants and drum circle arrangements. They called it "powwow-step."

With the wrong approach, this could have cheapened what is still a mostly unexploited (if esoteric) style of music. What’s amazing and truly commendable about A Tribe Called Red is how much space they give to the cultural elements of the source material, actually letting the featured artists, including Atikamekw, Ojibway, Seneca and Mi’kmaq vocalists of various generations, do a lot of the heavy lifting. TCR add weight to the mix — hearing the typical dubstep “drop” surrounded by native voices in “NDN Stakes” is head-spinning — but their stroke of genius is in tweaking their heritage just so.

‘Cause truth be told when I first read the broad outlines of Nation II Nation I was expected a hip hop album, or at least one that sampled First Nations music to serve some other purpose. But in opting for original collaborations over samples and never allowing their own work to dominate their guest vocalists’, A Tribe Called Red make the ostensibly archaic and traditional sound of their people feel not only alive and new, but relevant to Canadian indie music as a whole.

four-tet-roundscover.jpgFOUR TET: Rounds (Reissue)
Domino, 45 minutes (Original Album), 74 minutes (Live Disc)
Rating: 5/5

There was a time around the turn of the century when acts like the Crystal Method and Prodigy (and to a less egregious extent, the Chemical Brothers) were more or less everything this average kid knew about electronic music. Then I discovered two albums by Four Tet (born Kieran Hebden) — Pause (2001) and Rounds (2003) — that opened strange new worlds.

At the time, Rounds felt unprecedented in its subtle treatment of electronica. Hebden’s craft couldn’t have been further from the ear-bleeding, steroid-enhanced tunes clogging up video rotations at the time. His sound was organic, lived-in. Little wonder “Hands” opens the album with the sound of a beating heart.

While Pause has a kind of kitchen-sink approach to sound and songwriting, Rounds is more focused and direct. Unsurprisingly, it was Hebden’s most acclaimed release until his magnum opus There is Love in You (2010), taking a straight (if disorienting) rhythmic path on “She Moves She, ”“As Serious As Your Life” and “Unspoken.” He conjures more spiritual longing with instrumental tracks like “My Angel Rocks Back and Forth” than a lesser artist could with an entire choir of voices.

Even more than usual, please take the above “perfect” rating as subjective; as with many “favourites” my assessment of Rounds is permanently tethered to the time and place in which I first heard it. We all have albums like that, that stay with us in some small way for the rest of our days.

NOTE: This reissue comes with a bonus disc of live material from a 2003 Copenhagen show. It is wonderful, but best heard after fully absorbing the album tracks.

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