Vampire Weekend’s side projects have been tried and tested, with notable successes including Rostam Batmanglij’s duo with Ra Ra Riot’s lead singer, Discovery, and Ezra Koenig’s L’Homme Run. VW drummer Chris Tomson released his solo project under the name Dams of the West on Feb. 24, and it stacks up nicely with the ventures of his fellow band members, but doesn’t stand out as anything better than what the band as a whole has put out before.
The new album, Youngish American, gives off a vibe only faintly reminiscent of the fast rock featured on VW’s last album, Modern Vampires of the City. Tomson’s hollowing voice and more rugged rhythmic moments give it a very different sound from anything VW has done, and his lyrical message is what helps keep the album afloat; transitioning into adulthood is full of questions, and it’s even harder to answer them when the world is more deprived of stability than one’s own life.
The lyrics go from intensely meaningful to questionable, like much of VW’s lyricism. In “Death Wish,” Tomson sings, “I think I’m ready to be a father now, but I wanna get some pizza first.” This line, along with the rest of the song and album, portrays the title message of being a man on the verge of adulthood in a country plagued by its own shaky transition. He confesses, “I used to love it when you stayed the night/I knew it was a privilege not a Christian right,” on the last track, “Youngish Americans,” which is as nostalgic as it is terrified of a future of uncertainty.
The biggest problem with Youngish American is that the first five songs feel exactly the same. The rhythm and speed are stagnant throughout most of the album, and after awhile, it starts to get repetitive. Furthermore, Tomson’s voice has its charms, but becomes a bit depressive and monotone if you listen for too long. It would have been a better album if there had been a more excitement, which is alluded to when strings come in at the very end, but lacking throughout.
One song that does stand out is “Will I Be Known To Her,” which meshes punk-rock with classic alternative and has a rougher feel than the other songs on the album. It’s angsty, yet romantic. While “Pretty Good WiFi” uses similar stylistic tactics, the song verges on aggressive and ends up coming off as harsh. However, it’s a refreshing turn in sound, and a hopeful point toward what is to come from the next Dams of the West project.
It’s hard to succeed as a solo artist when the band that you come from is so popular on its own, resulting in inevitable comparisons. Each member of VW is better as a quartet, and even though each member’s solo work is good, it will never be as great as what came out of the band. Dams of the West is a much-appreciated piece of music and is worth listening to, but it is more of an interlude until VW can come out with its own new music.
On a side note, the font chosen for the album cover and for the “Death Wish” music video is incredibly appealing. So that get’s the full five stars. Otherwise, Youngish Americans falls only slightly short.
Voice’s Choices: “Death Wish”, “Will I Be Known to Her”