Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Vampire Weekend -- "Walcott" (2008)

Walcott, don't you know that it's insane?
Don't you want to get out of Cape Cod?
Out of Cape Cod tonight

Many of you -- OK, one or two of you -- have been eagerly awaiting my posts about my recent Cape Cod vacation.  Here goes -- but first, a little background about Vampire Weekend and our featured song, "Walcott."  Then we'll discuss Cape Cod architecture and hit the Cape Cod Rail Trail once again.

Jan. 4, 2010 New Yorker
The members of Vampire Weekend are four recent graduates of Columbia University.  A January 4, 2010 article about the band in the New Yorker described them as "four upper-middle-class boys . . . channeling Third World musical traditions," and that their first album "has a lightness that can be unnerving to hard-line rock enthusiasts."  
NPR included that album on its list of "Best African Music of 2008" and the band has called their sound "Upper West Side Soweto."  Some of their songs may remind you of Paul Simon's "Graceland," which features South African musicians, but it's a little ridiculous to say that Vampire Weekend plays African music because they sound a little like a white singer-songwriter who made one album with some African musicians.  Vampire Weekend's music is about as African as you'd expect music from four white kids who went to an Ivy League school to be.

One of their songs has this first line: "Who gives a f*ck about an Oxford comma?"  (Click here for more about the Oxford comma, which is often called the serial comma.)   Another of their songs -- "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" -- mentions Louis Vuitton and "the colors of Bennetton."  (Click here if you don't know what "kwassa kwassa" means.  Unless you grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, you probably won't.)  Does NPR really believe that what Vampire Weekend plays is  African music?

I rarely like new music the first or second time I hear it, so I often find myself listening to the same old stuff over and over.  I rarely have the patience to sit still and listen to a new album straight through, but riding my bike distracts me enough that I can get through unfamiliar music without getting antsy.  So I load up my iPod with new music (usually from CDs I get from the public library) before I go to Cape Cod, when I have the time to take long and frequent rides.

Since the first Vampire Weekend album has a couple of songs that mention Cape Cod, I thought I might focus on their songs in the series of posts about my August 2010 Cape Cod rides I was planning to do. 

"Vampire Weekend" cover
The Vampire Weekend CD, which is less than 35 minutes long, doesn't really have that much substance -- the New Yorker article mentioned above calls their music "a cheery fusion of British New Wave and West African guitar pop," and goes on to say that instead of sounding "strummy and raw" like a lot of recent indie music, it sounds "spare and polished."  I would emphasize the "spare" part -- certainly not as minimalist as the xx, but pretty darn minimalist.  After a few times through it on a recent bike ride, I began to warm to it a little, but I wouldn't consider it a great loss if I never heard it again.

I think my main problem with this album is that there's no real emotional element to the music -- you don't get the feeling that these songs really mean that much to the band.  The songs are glib and clever, but when I call music "cute," it's not intended as a compliment.  If I were in college, I might have a different opinion.  But it seems to me that Vampire Weekend has a lot of growing up to do.

According to the New Yorker article, some of the songs are based on some very short stories that one of the band members wrote for a creative-writing class at Columbia.  One professor who read those stories compared them to the stories of Lydia Davis, "with her oblique and hermetic sense of humor."  Lydia Davis is sometimes gulity of being a little too oblique and hermetic in my opinion, but her best stories are as good as any stories I've ever read.  (Here's a site where you can read some of her stories.
"Walcott" may be the best song on the album, and it is serendipitous that it is about Cape Cod.  It mentions Hyannis Port -- famous as the site of the Kennedy family compound -- Wellfleet (perhaps my favorite Cape Cod town), and the "Provincetown bears."  (Believe me, they ain't talkin' about ursus americanus.)  So while I'm using it to kick off my series of posts about Cape Cod, most of those posts are going to feature System of a Down songs.

Let's move from music to architecture.  How about a brief introduction to the Cape Cod cottage, a style of house which originated in the area in the 17th century?

A traditional Cape Cod cottage is a simple frame building with a steeply-pitched roof and a central chimney.  It is covered with wide clapboards or wooden shingles, which if left unpainted will weather to a pleasing gray color.

A "full Cape" cottage has two windows on either side of the central front door.  Here's an old full Cape that's only a half mile or so from my family's house in Dennis:

"Full Cape" (Dennis, MA)
Here's a modern full Cape:

Modern "full Cape" (Orleans, MA)
Note that there's no chimney in this cottage.  This house is almost certainly new enough to have modern central heating instead of relying on fireplaces for heat.

A "half Cape" has only two front windows, both on the same side of the front door.  Here's a half Cape that stands on Route 6A in Yarmouth Port:

"Half Cape" (Yarmouth Port, MA)
A "three-quarters Cape" has one window on one side of the front door and two on the other side.  This one is a stone's throw away from Rock Harbor in Orleans, which we'll be visiting later.

"Three-quarters Cape" (Orleans, MA)
Click here for more information about Cape Cod cottages.

I saw dozens of old and new Cape Cod Cottages on my rides along the rail trail.  Some of the old ones had been modified -- new wings were built on, or dormer windows added to make the upstairs bedrooms more comfortable.  There were many newer homes that were much larger but still tried to look like traditional Cape Cod cottages.

Some of you have read my posts about my Memorial Day weekend bike rides on the Cape Cod Rail Trail.  (Click here to read the first of my two posts about my Cape Cod bike rides over Memorial Day weekend, both of which feature Modest Mouse songs.  Click here to read the second of those posts.)  On August 15 -- my first full day on the Cape -- I rode from the rail trail's South Dennis trailhead (Route 134 in Dennis) to milepost 6 (just past Seymour Pond on the Brewster-Harwich line).  That's an easy 12-mile round trip.
Along Long Pond, there were signs, signs, everywhere a sign:

"Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?"
As always, I took a break at the Pleasant Lake General Store, which maintains a policy of strict political neutrality:


I got back home in time for a nice sunset:

Cape Cod Bay at sunset
That's about it for day one of my Cape Cod vacation.  There's much more to come.

Here's Vampire Weekend's "Walcott":


Click here to order this song from iTunes:




Click here to order from Amazon:



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