- How you react to learning that Chris Baio titled his debut album after a Don DeLillo novel might depend on your view of his day job as Vampire Weekend's bassist. Fans will look forward to unravelling the literary allusions in clever pop songs, while others might see it as proof that the New York band are smart arses in danger of suffocating under self-satisfaction. The Names certainly won't disappoint the former, but it doesn't give much ammunition for the latter.
Sure, there are references to Bergman, Dostoyevsky and abstract painter Robert Delaunay. The title track appears to use a personal crisis as an allegory for drone strikes, which isn't far from DeLillo musing on rapacious capitalism through one man's journey in Cosmopolis. But Baio's tunes are short and snappy, and at around 40 minutes long, The Names takes less time than reading most chapters of a DeLillo book.
A former DJ, Baio clearly knows how electronic music works, but doesn't seem immersed so deeply that he's bound by its conventions. "All The Idiots" follows house music's rulebook most closely, making for an average track by typical dance floor standards. "I Was Born In A Marathon" smashes two sides of the musician's persona together: the first half is highly sprung house and the second is a folksy strum that sounds almost unrelated. But the electronic elements pep up his song structures, as with the 2-step-style vocal chops on "Brainwash Yyrr Face." "Matter" has what could be the world's politest dubstep bassline. None of which distracts from Baio's ability to craft a great chorus, like the one that blooms in "Sister Of Pearl."
That track is an explicit tribute to David Bowie and Bryan Ferry, but a closer comparison for Baio would be Hot Chip. Both his voice and the synth pop stylings on "Needs" evoke Alexis Taylor & Co. Though recently relocated to London, the American doesn't quite share their quintessentially English sensibilities, something he acknowledges on "Endless Rhythm"—inspired by a painting in Tate Modern—when he sings "I came to / In a city / Still indifferent to me." However, The Names proves that an outsider looking in can often find new and interesting perspectives.
01. Brainwash Yyrr Face
02. The Names
03. Sister Of Pearl
04. I Was Born In A Marathon
06. All The Idiots
08. Endless Rhythm