Track of the Week: Vampire Weekend's "Horchata"

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 7 2009 11:48 AM

Track of the Week: Vampire Weekend's "Horchata"


In a new Browbeat feature,

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critics Jody Rosen and Jonah Weiner will discuss a recent pop song that has caught their attention. This week, they take on Vampire Weekend's "Horchata," which the band has made available for free download .


Jody Rosen:
I'm predisposed to like this song because of the title. I do love horchata . Such creamy, cinnamony goodness. We should really be having this conversation at Casa Vieja in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, with bucket-size goblets of the stuff in hand. Although maybe Vampire Weekend chose that title just so they could shoehorn in some other cutesy rhymes: Balaclava, Aranciata, Masada ...

Jonah Weiner : I'll confess I've never had Casa Vieja's horchata, though I love that place. In fact, the first and only time I had horchata was 10 years ago at a tiny Mexican restaurant in Ojai, Calif., visiting a friend's fancy boarding school a very Vampire Weekend place to drink horchata, as it happens! The sugar made my teeth scream, first in pleasure, then in pain. Balaclava , Aranciata , and Masada are cute words, and they fall into a great tradition of cute Vampire Weekend rhymes I'm thinking of kefir- keffiyeh , Benneton- reggaeton ; there are other examples. I think Ezra Koenig is pretty great at sketching his world—populated largely by the globetrotting and affluent young—with these sorts of name-drops.

J.R. : I like Koenig, too. Good songwriter. I can't quite fathom the criticism leveled at Vampire Weekend for being, you know, too Ivy League, too effete. That's the point! They're owning it. And I think there's more intentional self-parody in Vampire Weekend's songs than they're given credit for. There's an ironic distance between the well-heeled, hyper-verbal post-collegiates who populate VW songs and Koenig himself. Although, of course, he fits that description. Come to think of it, there's a bit of Whit Stillman in the posture the lovingly detailed, amused depiction of, as the Metropolitan director would have it, the Urban Haute Bourgeoisie . In any case, what I really like about this band are the hooks and the nifty arrangements.

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J.W. : I was corresponding over e-mail with Ezra recently (I've known these guys a bit since they were undergrads), and he pointed out that it's very infrequently mentioned in pieces that catalog the band's penchant for deck shoes, Cape Cod shout-outs, etc., that the chief songwriters in the group Ezra and Rostam Batmanglij are of Jewish and Persian descent, respectively. Gatecrashers at the blueblood boating party. He wasn't disavowing or trying to cred up the band's Ivy League provenance so much as saying what you're saying: there's distance between the band and the world it narrates. I think that distance ironic, critical becomes apparent on the new album in subtle but important ways, if not on this song particularly.

One last bit about the songwriting, before we talk about the nifty arrangements and hooks. Something seems new here in terms of the lyrics the "here comes the feeling you thought you'd forgotten" refrain. Whereas the lyrics and choruses on the first album were often very specific (singing about rules of grammar here, rich girls in sweaters there), this line strikes me as painting with a broader, more "universally" evocative pop brush.

J.R. : Yeah, and that "here comes the feeling" bit is the part of the song that I like the best. (A lot more than the horchata and the balaclava.) The melody takes a lovely wistful turn there, and there's a pathos in the sentiment that grabs me, even if I'm not quite clear what, exactly, is being expressed. Then there's the bridge, which has the best lyrics that Koenig's written yet: "Years go by and hearts start to harden/ Those palms and firs that grew in your garden/ Falling down and nearing the rose beds/ The roots are shooting up through the tool shed/ Those lips and teeth that asked how my day went/ Are shouting up through cracks in the pavement." He's a poet, forsooth!

J.W. : I love those lines. And when he practically yells, later on, "You understood so you shouldn't have fought it!" it's emotive in a way their music hasn't been—at least not typically. In terms of arrangements, I love this one the little plinking melodies (thumb piano and synth?) are more syncopated; the beat gets clattering and stompy. There's a lot more going on, but it all still feels taut and airy. (Hmm. Realizing that if there's going to be criticism of this track, it'll have to come from you—much like Bored to Death and the movies of Spike Jonze, I might be culturally programmed to enjoy this band.)

J.R. : God, I hate Bored to Death . But that's another story. Musically, "Horchata" is a kind of echt-Vampire Weekend song, isn't it—with the Afro-pop sounds and all those plinks and plonks? People get confused by the world-music flourishes, but Vampire Weekend is really a very traditional indie pop-rock group. But they're unusually skilled excellent at slotting together pieces of rhythm and melody to build exciting arrangements. The songs are very well-calibrated little gizmos. They remind me of the Strokes in that respect. Very meticulous. And I like meticulous in my whimsical white boys.

J.W. : Yes and I think there are even more moving parts to the gizmo this time around. This has been fun, Jody. I'm going to strap on some Top-Siders and go eat a Banh Mi. Which, if I were writing a song about my lunch, I'd rhyme with Bun-B.

Jonah Weiner is Slate's pop critic.