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Contra is the second album by American indie rock band Vampire Weekend, released in January 2010 on XL Recordings. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. The album title is intended as a thematic allegory and a complex reference to the Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries, the 1980 The Clash album Sandinista!, and partially to the Contra video game.

Music and lyrics

The lyrics of "I Think Ur a Contra" include the phrase "Complete Control", the title of a Clash single (notably, an influential 1980 triple album by The Clash was entitled Sandinista! after the socialist militancy opposed by the Contras during the Nicaraguan civil war). This refers partially to the controversy surrounding their punk roots. The title "Diplomat's Son" is a reference to a story singer Ezra Koenig wrote about in boarding school, though the content lyrically talks about a homosexual relationship told by Rostam Batmanglij. The song also features a vocal sample from M.I.A.'s "Hussel". "Holiday" begins with the opening lyrics of Fairport Convention's 1969 rendition of Matty Groves.
Koenig has stated in multiple interviews that the album contains lyrical themes of opposition consistent with its title, and feels it is important to understand that the word "Contra" is a fundamental concept of conflict, without any implication that one side is right or wrong. The lyrics of Contra are also meant to express a desire to be compassionate even towards people and things you disagree with. He also states the lyrics of Contra deal with reconciling feeling of privilege and guilt, for which he uses the term "first world guilt". Contra is considered by critics to be instrumental in cementing the cultural significance of Vampire Weekend first formed with their debut record, as Contra deepens and commits to a general attitude of rejecting traditional notions that rock musicians are poor, underprivileged rebels. Whereas their first album brought to light the prejudices against affluence and wealth in rock music, Contra, even in its title, openly argues this stigma.
The band made an effort to make their second album a natural expansion on the universe created in their debut album, as a result Contra covers a far greater gamut of musical influences than their debut album, drawing inspiration from genres such as ska on "Holiday", synth pop on "Giving Up the Gun", speed rap on "California English" and even rave music on "Run". The production of the album, directed by Rostam Batmanglij, was also different from their former work in that it did not use chamber echo and natural reverb but instead used digital effects to give the album an eighties aesthetic. Other distinguishing features of Contra are the use of backing vocals as textural elements, the debut of Rostam as a lead guitarist and more layered drumwork in which fundamental Latin beats are blended with drum machines to create a busier rhythm section.

Critical Reception

Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, reported an average score of 81 based on 38 reviews, described as "universal acclaim". The Guardian awarded the album four out of five stars, stating that " will probably be among this year's most played and most joyful tunes." Spin praised the album, calling "the balance of classical, rock, and world instrumentation, cagey rhythms, and stunning prettiness isn't just architecturally resplendent, it's reassuringly sweet and strangely moving." NME gave the album an 8 out of 10, and described Vampire Weekend as "one of the most unique bands on the planet." Consequence of Sound named it the best album of 2010. On December 1, 2010, it was announced that Contra was nominated for a Grammy for "Best Alternative Music Album". This album was number 6 on Rolling Stone's list of the 30 Best Albums of 2010. Pitchfork Media placed it at number 6 on its list "The Top 50 Albums of 2010".

Commercial performance

It is the band's first album to reach number one on the Billboard 200, and the 12th independently-distributed album in history to reach the number one spot on the Billboard 200 since Nielsen Soundscan began recording data in 1991, while also being the first independent artist to have done so without ever having signed with a major label, after already established rock bands Radiohead and Pearl Jam and before Arcade Fire's The Suburbs. The album sold 124,000 copies in its first week and as of September 2010, has sold 400,000 units in the US alone .

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