For better or worse, the last year has been marked by the rise of the almighty auto-tune. This pitch-altering device is so powerful that it caused Kanye to stop rapping and, subsequently, an R&B stampede. Discovery, a band consisting of Wes Miles (lead singer of Ra Ra Riot) and Rostam Batmanglii (a multi-instrumentalist for Vampire Weekend), is arguably the first indie-pop group to tap into it. As such, it’s hard to tell whether their debut album, LP, is a) excitedly pushing the boundaries of R&B/auto-tune by breeding it with indie music b) a joke, or c) a victim of a gimmicky trend in popular music.
In the attempt to create an electro-R&B album, there are bound to be awkward white boy moments. Wes Miles’ pretty, melodramatic Ra Ra Riot voice is no exception. On the opening track, “Orange Shirt,” fMiles sings over what could easily be a Flo Rida backing track, complete with a ticking hi-hat and the UNKian lyric, “We can walk it out.” This song immediately poses the question that pokes through the majority of the album – What audience was this record intended for?
As the title of one other track suggests, “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” has both the name and the sound of a song that would be in Billboard’s Top 100 Songs. Behind its boppity beat, the track fluctuates between Angel Deradoorian’s gender-confused lyric, “I wanna be your boyfriend” and Wes Miles’ sweet falsetto. It’s undeniably silly, but like “Swing Tree,” an uppity synth tune in the spirit of Mariah Carey’s “Heartbreaker,” it’s undeniably catchy.
As masturbatory as this concept is – a nearly forced, kitschy mesh of R&B and indie pop – it’s hard to knock an album whose goal was (possibly) to embrace the guilty pleasure of chart-topping singles while creating something infinitely more interesting. What is unforgivable, however, is the heavy, auto-tune tweaked cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” It’s a cruel, unnecessary test [Ed Note: Our music editor’s response: “I think you’re cruel and unnecessary, Stelios!] to discover if it is actually possible to take today’s current pop music memes and apply them to slightly cheesy pop music of the past. The song, similar to the band’s cover of the Ra Ra Riot classic “Can You Tell” (renamed “Can You Discover” on this album), is better as a joke and/or a parody of today’s pop trends.
There is a fine line between indie pop and mainstream pop and, on several of the tracks, specifically “It’s Not My Fault (It’s My Fault),” Discovery successfully straddles the somewhat musically challenging – a syncopated clickity intro – and the musically accessible – a sing-a-long chorus. It’s difficult to tell if the album will, in the following year, be perceived as a product of its time or, more hopefully, a clever and diplomatic blend of two seemingly disparate genres. For now, you’ll just have to walk it out.