Though I know no member of either group on a personal level, its fairly safe to say that the past couple years have been stressful ones for both critic darlings Vampire Weekend and fringe indie successfuls Ra Ra Riot. For Vampire weekend, the stress has been the good kind. They were hyped up the ass, and by the end of 2008, everybody and their monkeys uncle knew their name. But this meant endless touring and countless interviews, which, though seemingly easy to us mere common folk, has to be tiring as hell. As for Ra Ra Riot, the tragic death of their original drummer set the band back in more than one way, emotionally scarring the members and delaying the release of their long-in-the-works debut. Needless to say, both bands deserve some good old R & R, and now seems like as good a time as any for a much needed break.
But, wait, whats this? A new collaborative album from members of Ra Ra Riot and Vampire Weekend? Neat! No breaks for these guys, apparently! No, they just go from project to project. Now, if you’re thinking, Hey, I like Vampire Weekend and I heard a Ra Ra Riot song and thought it was good, this new album will probably be full of songs similar to the ones each respective band put together for their debuts, well… Sorry, folks! You’re in for a rude, rude awakening.
Enter Discovery, the creation of Vampire Weekend keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij and Ra Ra Riot frontman Wes Miles. It looks neat. It even has artistically minimal cover art. In other words, the fittings for an awesome release. But as the old saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover. These things become sayings for a reason.
Despite its hype and appearance, LP is pretty much the break that the guys needed all along. Its far more of a vacation than a genuine release. To call it an effort would be giving it too much credit, though it may have taken some. Put simply, its an inside joke, a product of fucking around in a basement with a keyboard, a drum machine, some recording software, a couple of microphones, and credible connections, that sadly, way too many people are going to scrutinize and review as more than the sum of its parts, even if those parts come from two pretty extraordinary bands. So I guess it’s even more disturbing to know that the project began in 2005, before either members’ main outfit took off. Essentially, this was always just two dudes screwing around, only now it’s being officially released.
But the problem isnt that its a joke. Its not even that it isnt all that great. Thats perfectly fine. People are allowed to have fun and make silly music. The problem is how it’s being marketed and its subsequent reception. A group simply cant release something like this to the public without explicitly pitching it as a gag. Its just not fair to the eager fans. I place the blame on the groups publicity and the media outlets that are undoubtedly going to treat the record as, well . . . a record. This includes myself. But really, should we have expected anything less than “great” from members of bands who released the albums they did last year? No. But, nevertheless, what we’ve been given is the stuff that should fill hard-to-find bootlegs, b-side collections, and throwaway EPs… not hyped releases. Dont get me wrong, its fun. Its a lot of fun. It was probably hilarious to make and mix. But, thats about the extent of it.
The real kicker, however, is, Do I want to listen to the auditory equivalent of a few dudes doing kegstands and playing beer pong? No, I want to hear some music that I could never make, because its too damn good. Thats the type of stuff guys with talent should be putting out. Instead, they are releasing their sketches, their warm-up exercises as full flegded records, and without any warning. And unfortunately, a warning probably would have made this a somewhat positive review.
But without one, heres what happens: When Orange Shirt begins, and I cant tell if its T-Pain or the new soulja boi tell em, I get a little upset. After my initial shock, I start getting into the fuzzy electro pop, bobbing my head and such. Its catchy as hell and perfectly enjoyable. But, then I realize that what I’m listening to is some white indie kids imitating trash pop. I won’t lie, they do a good job at it. The music is shallow, a pretty one-dimensional beat with skitting synth and drum claps. The lyrics are sexual, but not overly. Its fine. But, I just cant get over the fact that this was supposed to be good in the good sense of the word good. It wasnt supposed to be a novelty.
You can argue all you want that the thing was created in earnest, but none of these arguments will be able to defend Can You Discover?, a re-imagined version of Ra Ra Riots Can You Tell?, which filters Wes Miless previously passionate, beautifully sung lyrics through the notorious auto-tuner. Sorry, but if that isnt a joke then I dont really know what is. The songs island reggae meets trash-pop is interesting, but also completely silly.
There are some songs that are hard to classify as jokes, but in the context of what cushions them, it doesnt really make a difference. Osaka Loop Line is an amusing, crunchy raver about staying up all night riding Japanese trains. Here Miless vocals retain a sense of dignity, which makes the song one of the harder to pin down. But thats just it, we shouldnt have to be the ones deciding. The band should, and its aggravating that they havent done their jobs.
With the ingredients for a really cool diversion of a side project, the outcome is nothing short of a disappointment. Dirty Projectors Angel Deradoorian cant even turn a song as stupid as I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend into something valid. Ezra Koening lends his vocals to Carby, yet the effect placed on them makes it difficult to even notice the Vampire Weekend frontman amidst the rest of the tracks.
I will say that the guys were quite timely with their decision to cover the Jackson 5s I Want You Back adding (In Discovery) to the tracks title. I dont know if they are psychics, or if they pinned it on to the tracklist last minute, but the timing is more than a bit scary. Then again, I wouldnt be surprised if they recorded that track the night before the release, because none of these songs could have taken much real thought. Sometimes fun is okay, but when its at the expense of your fans, you need to let them know whats going on. Luckily, neither of the members’ respected bands have reached a stature that yields die-hard fanatics. Nobody is going to be seriously offended by the release, but these dudes really should have been clearer with their intentions, if they even know what they are.
Wes Miles via Pitchfork: “Well, we definitely had a sense of humor when we were creating the music. But it’s serious, too. It’s not, like, serious serious, but, um….”
As something to be proud of:
As a joke:
“Osaka Loop Line”