The only person I know who uses the word “discotheque” is my mom. So using that word was definitely a tribute to her and my imagination of what her experiences were like in Iran in the 1970s. —Rostam Batmanglij
“Iranian discotheque, 1970s” is probably not the first party scene that popped into the heads bobbing up and down this summer to LP, the debut album from Discovery, a synth- and drum-machine-laden side project from Vampire Weekend’s keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij and Ra Ra Riot’s lead Wes Miles. Still, until Batmanglij mère (see Bidoun 13) weighs in, we can only reserve judgment on the fidelity of her son’s channeling of her experience, and in any case, Discovery’s chirping machine sound is ecumenical enough to support several decades’ and continents’ worth of electronic and pop reference. Chief among the pleasures of Miles and Batmanglij’s effortlessly playful collab (make that effortlessly playful-sounding: LP was five years in the making) is its sense of breezy breadth. Unpretentiously brief and expertly crafted, this album manages to cram in scenes and eras as disparate as Art of Noise’s London, Prince’s purple Minneapolis, the Gary–Detroit / Jackson–Motown axis, T-Pain’s North Florida, and back to London — only this time via the Nima Nourizadeh–directed music video for Hot Chip’s “Over and Over.” If there’s a singular “there” to be teased out of that profusion, it’s not a specific place or time so much as a technology — what ethnomusicologist Wayne Marshall calls “treble culture,” that particular, very-now timbre of music made mostly by machine and destined, despite clubland roots, for private and mobile consumption via headphones and laptop speakers.
The two notable absences from Discovery’s mix are Vampire Weekend’s so-called “Upper West Side Soweto” and Ra Ra Riot’s studious and studiously arranged rock, their only traces the sounds of Batmanglij’s and Miles’s voices — falsettos and the occasional sparkling harmony burnished with Auto-Tune. LP’s songwriting could best be described as economical; if Batmanglij’s “discotheque” reference is a stealthy, ethnically resonant wolf, it arrives in a boy band’s unabashed yet sheepish clothing in “So Insane”: “When I saw you at the discotheque / Sent my vibe out to ya!” But the vocals bring an air of keening, buzzing regret to the proceedings, as in a gloss of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” that is faithful and current and knowing all at once. LP’s retro flourishes and late-adolescent lyrical framing (“All the other girls have been driven home / so where’s the freedom in a disco if you’re all alone?”) suggest an adult retooling of songs that were beloved once upon a distant time. Listening to it is like catching your breath while shuffling through a trove of your parents’ snapshots — how young and beautiful they are! How little they know of what’s to come.