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Bang On with Your Fangs On: Vampire Weekend and Panther

Vampire Weekend and Panther both sink their teeth into their favorite records for short-lived but palpable thrills

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by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: March, 2008
Vampire Weekend temporarily improves on its originators in that three-hour span where you love this album to pieces

Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend
(XL Records)

Now the fog of hype has lifted (I understand that the members of Vampire Weekend have been now put to pasture in some remote back forty of Williamsburg, minutes past their prime) and every critic has had their chance to demonstrate how little or how much they know about African popular music when discussing the alleged Dark Continental leanings of this 'lil band of Columbia students, we can see vampire Weekend for what they are: a pleasant pop band. They are as African as Dave Wakeling of The (English) Beat is Jamaican; they provide a delectable confection made of whitebread spread over with exotic spices. In fact, if they sound like anything, it is other bands. "A-Punk," "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa," and "Campus" smack of being third generation AngloSka reduction, like Special AKA with another AKA added. "One (Blake's Got a New Face)" and "Campus" have that smarty-pants simplicity that The Strokes possessed after their fog lifted. I thought "Mansard Roofs" was a shockingly jaunty Wilco song when it came over the radio. Ditto for "Oxford Comma" but replace Wilco with Spoon. None of these comparisons are necessarily negative; in fact Vampire Weekend temporarily improves on its originators in that three-hour span where you love this album to pieces. After that span of jingle-jangle bliss passes, the shine dissipates, kinda like it did when you got in General Public way back when. I just went back and listened to "Tenderness" on YouTube for the first time in twenty years, and it holds up better than I expected, so perhaps "A-Punk" will slightly warm the cockles of my heart in a similar way in another twenty. Only time will tell; as for VW in the here and now, enjoy the ride as long as it lasts.

Panther
14 Kt God
(Kill Rock Stars)

The frenetic dance party that is Panther has an equally traceable lineage to this listener, but in contrast to Vampire Weekend's variety show, Panther pulls feathers and patches of fur from their ancestors and perform a ritual dance in order to invoke their spirit. There is the push-me-pull-you of the Adrian Belew years of King Crimson - many people forget that the prog rock dinosaurs made a viable stab for art-damaged pop in the very early 80's, the synthetic pulse of Liquid Liquid and Talking Heads' sense of sonic tension, Fear of Music edition. Panther's multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Charlie Salas-Humara is no Robert Fripp, hell, he's not even no David Byrne, but he makes a compelling compulsive groove out of what he is. "Decision, Decision" is the song that sums it up nicely - you can do it, chanted manically over a future-tribal percussive spiral, and the tracks like it find Panther playing to their strengths. The slower, more atmospheric numbers, like "On the Lam" and "Glamorous War", not so much, but they are not what you'd call insufferable diversions; in fact the cello emerging the latter song almost turn this jam around in to something transcendant, but stops short. The chanty big beat numbers like "Puerto Rican Jukebox" and "Beautiful Condo" have the real bite on this record; each possessing that immersive dance-rock throb that I wish would go on for about five more minutes. Is it a particularly deep record? No. A timeless gem? Not exactly. But, given the right environment, the precise level of intensity built on the floor and those songs are the best song you could possibly hear in those five minutes, and sometimes, that is all you need.

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Alex V. Cook
Music Editor

Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com

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