Review Summary: Fuck Jay-Z. THIS is the death of auto-tune.
Hipster darlings and fellow New Yorkers Vampire Weekend and Ra Ra Riot have made their names performing brainy, worldly rock music that, for all its calculated charm and schoolboy shtick, never came off as overly arty, or, worse, pretentious. Honest, thoughtful, impeccably catchy – many an overwrought blogger has written more than I need to relate here. Just don’t try applying anything you’ve learned from those records to their newest bastard child, Discovery.
Featuring Wes Miles and Rostam Batmanglij, from Ra Ra Riot and Vampire Weekend, respectively, Discovery and its debut release LP is a vanity side project of the highest degree. A “fun-loving” record that embraces the cheesier aspects of modern pop music, it’s hard to tell whether Batmanglij and Miles are being ironic or painfully earnest. Not to say modern pop is inherently rotten; rather, it’s the duo’s uninspired production, lackluster songwriting, and persistently annoying use of Auto-Tune that condemn LP to the “what-were-they-thinking?!” realm.
It all starts off rather promisingly with “Orange Shirt,” a sparse R&B drumbeat and streaks of neon-colored synths framing some Vampire Weekend-esque vocals. “Osaka Loop Line” is even better, an engaging, down-tempo piece that builds off one of the record’s better hooks into a sublimely pleasing chorus. Unfortunately, around the 2:46 mark a meandering breakdown inexplicably turns into the equivalent of an electronica trash compactor. Take the original Super Mario Bros. soundtrack, toss it into a blender, and then gargle the results and you have what the backing track sounds like by the song’s conclusion.
Indeed, as the album continues, it’s the duo’s ill-advised production choices that continually turn agreeable synth-pop into ego-fueled sludge. “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” features an absurdly annoying guest vocal by Dirty Projectors’ Angel Deradoorian that reminded me of children playing with the pitch control on their Casios, while one might be forgiven for thinking that “Swing Tree” was actually recorded with toy synthesizers. Then again, no amount of cheaply-recorded bloops and bleeps can redeem run-of-the-mill lyrics like “when I saw you at the discothèque / send my vibe out to you” or “it’s hard to stay cool / when you smile at me.”
The welcome arrival of Ezra Koenig on vocals makes the thumping fuzz of “Carby” a highlight, but the good tunes on LP are few and far between. By the time you’ve reached the Auto-Tuned-to-death deconstruction of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” it’s difficult to tell whether this is all an elaborate joke by Miles and Batmanglij. Taking a stab at pop music is all well and good, but when you half-ass the production and make songs about as aesthetically interesting as a pastel paint-by-numbers, don’t expect to be taken seriously.
Perhaps LP is really an ingenious satire on the state of mainstream pop music. Perhaps the dudes from Vampire Weekend and Ra Ra Riot are secretly having a laugh at the expense of Top 40 America. Then again, maybe Discovery is just what happens when people get a taste of success and decide to unload all the products of their misspent youth on a public that doesn’t know better. Not cool, guys. Not cool at all.