Even though I know what Wes Miles and Rostam Batmanglij look like, and it sort of doesn’t make much sense, every time I listen to Discovery’s LP, I picture Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake doing their “Dick in a Box” routine. That’s not to say LP is a joke (it’s not); it’s just that something about the 10 tracks on LP reminds me of dudes in tight, too-short sleeved sweaters and suits with puffy hair and superfluous drawn-on mustaches singing syrupy R&B. And since I’m apparently 12 years old, “Dick in a Box” is what I think of.
But that actually works completely in Discovery’s favor, because LP isn’t a standard take on indie rock with a bookish twist (like Miles’ day job in Ra Ra Riot) or a post-Talking Heads romp through afro-pop (like Batmanglij’s day job in Vampire Weekend); it’s a joyous run through the tropes of contemporary R&B. LP inhabits a world where Hall and Oates are the coolest band ever (well, maybe not the coolest, but the best, certainly), drums are replaced with snappy synthetic handclaps, Auto-Tune is still a fun way to dress up vocals, and all music sounds like it was inspired by videogame soundtracks. It’s also a record that is perfect for summer days spent sitting around on a busted-ass lawn chair with a case of cheap beer.
While Miles and Batmanglij, who started Discovery before either of their bands blew up, both court mainstream acceptance with their main gigs, LP was explicitly created to fit between T-Pain, Vampire Weekend and Usher songs on listeners’ playlists, obtaining the kind of broad appeal neither has achieved on their own. It’s not hard to imagine songs like the effervescent “Orange Shirt,” the sort of bizarre “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” (which features stellar guest vocals from Dirty Projectors’ Angel Deradoorian) or the dance-floor tale “So Insane” getting played on Top 40 radio. But then again, there’s still enough quirk to keep these songs off a traditional R&B station, especially since most of them barely hit the three-minute mark.
If there’s one adjective to describe LP, it’s probably “cheery.” On the excellent “Swing Tree” (which sounds like a water level from Super Mario 64), Discovery sound like they are singing the lyrics through smiles they can’t get rid of. Same goes for album highlight, “It’s Not My Fault (It’s My Fault),” a song sonically indebted equally to Thom Yorke’s The Eraser and the Ying Yang Twins’ “Wait (The Whisper Song),” but that lyrically sounds like a Hall and Oates B-side. Even their shimmering, Auto-Tuned cover of the Jackson 5’s tale of relationship woe “I Want You Back” sounds really happy.
Because LP clocks in at under a half-hour, the happy R&B shtick doesn’t ever really get the chance to wear thin. Angrier critics could take umbrage with the implied race issues involved with two Ivy Leaguers doing an R&B album, but that would overlook the reverence paid here to this type of music. Discovery hold their source material up to he highest regard, creating an album that is both a stellar homage and an updated recreation of the music Discovery hold dear.