Since the heady days of the early nineties at least, it has been a generally accepted rule that the worlds of modern chart R&B and indie music do not and should not ever really collide. The melding of rock and rap has had varying degrees of success over the years (Puff Daddy and Jimmy Page, to jog the memory), but overall the sometimes-saccharine lyrical content and sensual (there, I said it) nature of R&B as a genre does not lend itself to reference point-laden, self-consciously postmodern present-day indie music. So the idea of indie darlings Vampire Weekend attempting an album which references both Daft Punk and Usher would reasonably strike fear into the heart of any music fan.
Discovery sees VW’s multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij teaming up with Ra Ra Riot’s Wes Miles to make what they loosely describe as a fun pop/R&B record, and, indeed, it kicks off that way with the glidingly harmonious ‘Orange Shirt’ and bubbly ‘Osaka Loop Line’. ‘Can You Discover?’ is almost an ode to Auto-Tune, with Miles crooning “Baby baby baby please” like a No Diggity-era Teddy Riley over squelchy synths. Sadly, at times it somehow comes off more cod reggae than soul classic, but in the same way that Paris Hilton can pull off a listenable tune in the summer, it’s enjoyable.
It’s songs like ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’ that allow the true genius of an album like this to shine through, possibly due to the Dirty Projectors’ Angel Deradoorian’s punchy vocal hook that’s equal parts nursery rhyme and SWV. Miles’ at times non-descript voice perfectly contrasts, as twinkly beats and dirty synths punctuate the slightly creepy lyrics about how he “did your laundry while you slept/ And hung it up beside the door”. ‘Carby’ kicks off like a castrated Outkast with electro xylophones, and a slightly cringy cover of ‘I Want You Back’ seems ill-placed. While there are hints of the mother bands involved here, particularly on downbeat closing track ‘Slang Tang’, it’s all a bit confused.
There’s no doubt that talent abounds on this album, but at times it all gets a bit too Brooklyn hipster and patronising. Do Batmanglij and Miles have a true appreciation and love for the music they claim to be attempting to ape? That remains to be seen, but as generic electro-pop albums go, you could do worse this summer.