Not long ago I read a rant by some guy lamenting the prevalence of eclectic musical tastes which is characteristic of the late aughts. He longed for the times when people would define themselves as adherents to specific genres or styles (punk being his example) and be willing to “fight” on behalf of their identity-conferring, willfully narrow tastes. Basically, I think this is bullshit and, while I am sympathetic toward teenagers’ tendency to make concrete personas for themselves via the fashions and preferences circling different styles of music, it seems to me that the music that shakes up what we thought we knew about ourselves (rather than confirming what we already assume) is the most valuable, regardless of its type.
How far, then, should an artist or group take all this mixing up and mashing together of diverse influences? It’s a question that will never really have a satisfactory answer but one that we may find ourselves asking again and again, always in regard to particular cases.
Some bands do it and it works—at least, sometimes it works. Many records that make eclecticism their central premise are absolutely shudder-inducing. I am not interested in this as a question of authenticity, of indie bands borrowing tropes from, for instance, hip-hop, R&B or various African styles. More interesting are the songs where the genre-mashing seems both self-conscious on the part of the performers and also, somehow, quite natural, not just an affectation but something that actually adds another dimension to the sounds that make the songs up.
Discovery is a side project of RaRaRiot’s Wes Miles and Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij. LP is basically an electro-pop album that leans heavily on auto-tuned vocals and (knowingly) the cliché moves of chart R&B from the last decade or so. The lyrics are, for the most part, light (even slight) and saccharine run-throughs of youthful longing. But this seems a decision rather than a failing. What is interesting about the music is the way the different surfaces and styles touch on each other rather than any depth represented in the lyrics. They seem calibrated simply to wash the proceedings in whimsical and nostalgic mood.
“Osaka Loop Line” is a remembrance of someone in the title town over a rubbery beat and fuzzy, wobbling synths, a solid stride into Postal Service territory that builds to a satisfying conclusion which uses auto-tune to surprisingly emotive ends. This and “Go Insane” are probably the catchiest, most accomplished tracks here. The latter plays more off a skittering rhythmic sensibility and some vocal-hooks that would sound perfectly in place on a Vampire Weekend track. Angel Deradoorian from Dirty Projectors makes an appearance on the silly but nevertheless ingratiating “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” Bubbly synths and Deradoorian’s cut up vocals make magic out of the mundanity of dopey, juvenile romanticism.
LP is sometimes ridiculous and cloying (“Carby,” featuring VW’s Ezra Koenig, especially grates) but for the most part exudes an undeniable charm. What I like best about it is the way it experiments with sounds that are so ubiquitous as to be invisible, giving them a new color by skewing from one simple function to another. It’s nothing that is going to blow you away, but as a side-project it seems to succeed as a space for two musicians to play around with sounds and styles that fall outside the confines of their respective bands.
The Postal Service – Give Up
jj – jj n° 2
Tough Alliance – A New Chance
MP3: “Orange Shirt”