Baroque roll

Complex beats? Multi-part harmonies? Lush strings? Unforgettable melodies? Sounds like Baroque Pop!

Bibek Bhattacharya        Print Edition: Feb 8, 2009

Imagine a Wes Anderson film, say, The Darjeeling Limited. Now take the artifice and detail of that movie and turn it into music. It will probably sound like Vampire Weekend, 2008’s biggest phenomenon. The New York foursome call their music “Upper West Side Soweto” like true Frat brats; others call it “Indie Afro-Pop”. But this is a misleading term. Vampire Weekend’s songs are meticulously crafted pop songs with irresistible melodies and quirky lyrics, which don’t presume to have much depth.

Fleet Foxes
The Africana touch is in the infectious beat of Mansard Roof, the clean guitar lines on Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa or the keyboard textures on Oxford Comma. But equally important influences are the ringing Indie guitars on A-Punk and Campus and a Brian Wilson-like fondness for designing elaborate soundscapes over simple songs. Add to that the complexity of their shifts in pace and rhythm, the occasional swooning string and flute arrangements— Mansard Roof, M79—and impeccable taste and you get a post-modern baroque pop band par excellence.

Then there are the lyrics. Maybe no other band in recent times has evoked university life as cheekily as Vampire Weekend does on the album. Their point of reference is the Ivy League Columbia University, but the themes are universal— like scoffing at the Queen’s English in Oxford Comma, or celebrating a crush on a professor on Campus. The band is preppy and smart to a fault, right down to its Louis Vuitton accessories (the Wes Anderson touch again) and pairing cardigans with a tie, but their songs move and swing infectiously.

Vampire Weekend
The Seattle-based Fleet Foxes are the musical antithesis to Vampire Weekend. Their sound is hardly urban. On their eponymous debut, like REM’s early albums or The Band’s before them, the Foxes write mysterious songs about an older, spiritual America buried under the freeways and strip malls of modernity. So, while He Doesn’t Know Why is about the return of a prodigal son, Blue Ridge Mountains celebrates a Jack Kerouac-like journey through dark forests and frozen rivers.

In its sound and songwriting Fleet Foxes is a cross between The Beach Boys and CSNY. The cornerstone of both those bands was the intricate harmonies conjured up by the principal singers. The music, as precise as math equations, helped create pocket-symphonies around the vocal melodies. The same is true for Fleet Foxes. On the eerie White Winter Hymnal, vocalist Robin Pecknold sings the mysterious lines, “I was following the pack/ All swallowed in their coats/ With scarves of red tied ’round their throats/ To keep their little heads from falling in the snow/ And I turned ’round and there you go,” and the other band members gradually add their voices and then their instruments in an ever-growing musical tapestry. Heard Them Stirring is breathtaking in its Pet Sounds-like scope.

The songs sound timeless and the immaculate production and precision playing adds to their ragged beauty. Fleet Foxes strive for a lyrical depth that Vampire Weekend eschews. But both execute their ambitious musical ideas and intricate arrangements with an ease that bodes well for the future of pop music.

Fleet foxes
White Winter Hymnal
The finest song of 2008 by arguably the finest band of 2008.

Tv on the radio
Golden Age
A deeply funky rhythm and great catchy songwriting.

Kings of leon
Sex on Fire
Nobody does sexy smouldering boogie better than this band.

Beck
Gamma Ray
Goodtime surf beats, irresistible melody, dark lyrics. Must be Beck.

Bon on Iver
The Wolves (Act I and II)
A beautiful song by a DIY singer/songwriter.

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