Cara a Cara: Vampire Weekend vs. Coconot

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Twitter: @maryangelrox

In 2008 a group of music nerds with an acute sense of rhythm and a curiosity for world sounds released an album. Vampire Weekend’s debut went on to sell half a million copies and has landed on Rolling Stones’ top 500 albums of all time. The bouncy beats and African-inspired tracks set off a sequence of comparisons to Paul Simon’s Graceland and a debate about appropriation swirled around the band’s light-skinned members. That same year a Spanish band released an album with a very similar feel to much less fanfare. Their music tried to invoke not just Africa but Brazil and the innumerable links between the two. Indeed, despite drawing from separate parts of the world, their similarities are easily perceptible.

Coconot consists of Alfredo Montes on guitar and drummer Pablo Díax-Reixa, better known as El Guincho. Díaz-Reixa hails originally from Gran Canaria but now calls Barcelona home, which is where Montes is from. Internet lore states they met while traveling western Africa. Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig and Rostam Batmanglij grew up in NY/NJ and D.C., respectively, and met while in college at Columbia University. Both band members acknowledge the influence of South African Soweto (named after the Black African slums in which the music was born), Persian folk, and Madagascan music. Coconot’s 2008 release is titled Cosa Astral and whereas Vampire Weekend’s 2008 album was their debut, Cosa Astral was Coconot’s sophomore effort.

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Cosa Astral keeps your feet tapping with non-traditional beats and eclectic instrumentation. So eclectic, in fact, you’re not really sure what you’re hearing, which echoes the stylings of Brazilian sonic mastermind, Tom Zé. Like Vampire Weekend, the goal for Coconot seemed to be to create accessible pop hooks but in a new and re-imagined way. However, whereas Vampire Weekend is charming, melody-driven and keeps to a clean and straightforward production approach, Coconot is experimental, noise embracing, and allows for a fair amount of Brazilian fuzz-funk guitar in tracks like “Polen muchacha!,” which accounts for the band’s often relayed comparison to Animal Collective.

Still, their main point of resonance is rhythm: their incorporation of an ever-evolving litany of thumps and bumps, percussive guitar loops, and tribal-backing vocals. El Guincho’s solo work is more sample minded, but Coconot is a multi-instrumental approach to a synthesized sound.

There is also a clear link to both African rhythms and Brazilian samba and tropicalia, insinuated in their 2006 debut album, Novo Tropicalismo Errado, which is also worth a listen, as it’s sure to kill your boredom. These African influences, whether we heard them via the Web, vinyl, travels, or our parents’ music collection, bring to the forefront questions about our relatability to that sound and how we infuse other cultures’ traditions into our own. As technology and globalization erase borders of influence, what defines the right and wrong of cultural appropriation?

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