Batmanglij is also gay, a fact he's never really discussed publicly. His friends have known since college, but he didn't come out to his parents until about two years ago. (Asked how they handled the news, he laughs: "My dad went to British boarding school. You don't get much gayer than that.") A self-described homebody, he was in a pretty serious relationship last winter, but they split up a few weeks into the recording of the album. "I tried everything to get him back," Batmanglij says. "He broke my heart."
To cope, Batmanglij threw himself into his work, clocking 15-hour days at Vampire Weekend's new studio. Their first album was recorded piecemeal, in Columbia music rooms and Tomson's parents' barn in Imlaystown, New Jersey. But for Contra, they went pro – setting up shop at Treefort Studios, a renovated storage space in industrial Brooklyn, and logging time at Manhattan's Avatar, where Bruce Springsteen recorded Born in the U.S.A. Where their debut often sounded like four guys jamming in a room while one of them pressed record, Contra sparkles with studio wizardry: shimmery synths, gee-whiz samplers, even some Auto-Tune. "Our first record kind of has one vibe, one tone," says Baio. The new one, Batmanglij says, "goes in a thousand places at once."
Familiar themes prevail – rich girls, exotic locales. (Koenig wanted to call it either Paper Chase or Young Money.) The cover photo teases the band's yuppie reputation: a Reagan-era Polaroid of a blonde in a yellow Polo. But there's also a newfound compassion. Take "Diplomat's Son," which is inspired by that boarding-school story Koenig wrote. The original is an angry parable of class tension and resentment that culminates in a bloody beat-down on a soccer field. Batmanglij took it and made it a love story. "After you leave college, the world opens up," Koenig says. "For this record, I wanted there to be songs that everybody could understand."
Contra's title has been interpreted as a reference to everything from Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries to the Eighties arcade game. One night at a bar, Koenig elaborates: "Basically, a contra is anybody you try to frame as your opposite – as not a part of your world. It's setting up a dichotomy. You can talk about people in very nuanced, compassionate ways – or you can be like, 'I'm liberal; that person is not. I'm for real; that person is a sellout.'"
Vampire Weekend being Vampire Weekend, the conversation soon moves to Hegel-contra-Marx and the Hegelian dialectic – the philosophical formulation that begins with a thesis, is challenged, and ultimately resolves into a conciliatory third way. "We talked about those ideas a little," Koenig says. "Not that we were having, like, a philosophical book club. In the dialectic, 'contra' is most similar to the word 'antithesis.' It's the opposite of what came before. But the idea of synthesis is, things that seem like opposites are actually deeply related." Everything is mixed up. Polar opposites don't exist.
"So Contra implies conflict," Koenig says. "But ultimately, I'd like to think the album is more about . . ."
Smiling, Batmanglij finishes his thought. "Resolution," he says.
This story is from the February 4th, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone.
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