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Picks and Pans Main: Music

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Vampire Weekend

Contra |



When your debut album lands you on SNL, the pressure is on for the next one. But Vampire Weekend—the smart indie-rock band composed of four Columbia University grads—takes the expectations in stride on the breezy Contra. Gliding by in 37 minutes, it’s all executed with such understated cool that they barely break a sweat in their cardigans. The Afro-pop accents—shades of Paul Simon’s Graceland—are, if anything, more pronounced than they were on 2008’s Vampire Weekend, kicking in with the kalimba thumb piano on the opener “Horchata.” But ska (“Holiday”), calypso (“California English”) and mariachi music (“Run”) are also deftly mixed into their melting pot.

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Cousins,” the punchy, punk-spiked single


Of the Blue Colour of the Sky |


For those of you most familiar with OK Go from their dancing-on-treadmills routine in 2006’s “Here It Goes Again” video—which became a YouTube sensation and won a Grammy—there’s a lot more to the quirky quartet than that memorable bit of kitsch. Their third studio album finds these geeks getting downright funky. Indeed, Blue Colour displays tinges of the Purple One on cuts like “WTF?”—a falsetto showcase for frontman Damian Kulash—and the synth-laced standout “White Knuckles.” Meanwhile, they reveal some Stonesy soul on “Needing/Getting,” with its lyrical echoes of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

Kid Sister

Ultraviolet |


These are tough times for female rappers, with Missy Elliott, Eve and Lil’ Kim all having seen better days. (Sorry, Kim, Dancing with the Stars doesn’t count.) But Kid Sister (real name: Melissa Young) helps to fill the void on her funky-fresh debut. Granted, she’s not a pure emcee, doing her share of singing as well, and her music is more electro-pop than hip-hop. Some songs, such as the old-school party jam “Life on TV,” conjure up Neneh Cherry, while others, like the hyperkinetic highlight “Switch Board,” bring to mind M.I.A. She gets notable assists from Estelle, Gnarls Barkley’s Cee-Lo and her fellow Chicagoan Kanye West. The latter shows up on the synth-lacquered “Pro Nails,” which extols the beauty of mani-pedis. Although Kid Sister isn’t the best rapper or singer, she proves that sheer energy and enthusiasm can go a long way.

Catch the 52nd Annual GRAMMY® Awards

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