Vampire Weekend’s Chris Baio debuts The Names

Baio - The NamesWhen Chris Baio announced his plans to release a debut album back in April, we were promised "Bowie and Ferry-influenced pop songs and dumbsmart arena techno." The former seemed feasible; the latter sounded like a night out with Nathan Barley. What none of it sounded much like was Baio's main band, Vampire Weekend. The New York four-piece have certainly worn their influences on their sleeves, spending formative years cherry-picking from Afrobeat as much as European indie rock, while managing to carve out a unique sound of their own. What remained to be seen was how the bassist would marry his own diverse musical passions.

As it turns out, The Names is certainly a stylistically scattershot affair. The Balaeric vocal samples jutting out of opener "Brainwash yyrr Face" provide an early thrill, and even a half-hearted Cut Copy impression on the record's title track does little to diminish the enjoyment. Unfortunately, the inflections of Bowie and Ferry that do make an appearance here seem to be presented more as karaoke than homage, and provide a jarring contrast to Baio's stronger electronic work. "Sister of Pearl" serves as a fairly limp glam-stomp. The situation worsens with "Needs", as Baio delivers what can only be described as an American impression of an English New Romantic singer, with a snaking, Eno-esque synth line completing the dress-up.

It's worth noting that Baio has been Chris' DJ name for a long time, even prior to joining Vampire Weekend. And there's the rub: this record doesn't feel so much like a bassist trying to be a pop singer - which could have involved a full band and producer to fill out the rough edges- but a DJ trying to be a pop singer using only his laptop. The tracks are mostly solid, even if the production is hit and miss, but Baio's vocal affectations also mean that several of his 'Ferry' tracks actually come off a lot closer to Erasure. Lyrics also seem to be a struggle on The Names, with "Matter" summing the whole thing up pretty succinctly: "I was feeling heavy feelings that I didn't wanna say, so I wrote 'em in a letter, and threw it right away."

There are moments of effective pop songwriting, such as late album highlight "Endless Rhythm", which demonstrates Baio's previously hidden knack for a catchy chorus. Nonetheless, it's a rare triumph of self-confidence on an album which never quite feels comfortable in its own shoes.

Release: 18th September 2015, Glassnotes

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