Discovery, “Orange Shirt”
I am a notorious and avowed critic of modern R&B music. It’s awful. The classic sounds of 1960s and 1970s Motown have been replaced by copious amounts of AutoTune, excessive rap cameos and nonexistent song structures — and that’s not a good thing. The genre died with Michael Jackson’s career in the early 1990s. We’ve since been forced to endure artless slop on both sides of the gender divide. (Ginuwine? B2K? Monica and Brandy? Really?) R&B is dead and I have little hope for its revival.
All of this explains my ambivalence about the recently released debut album of Discovery, the side project of Vampire Weekend keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij and Ra Ra Riot lead vocalist Wes Miles. The duo bravely attempts to craft an indie R&B quasi-renaissance by filling out the flimsy genre structure with elements of electronica and synth-pop. The result is a fuller, more unique vision of what R&B could be. Yet I remain unconvinced: Discovery’s LP either represents a fresh, innovative way forward for the craft or it merely embodies all the genre’s recent weaknesses (there’s still plenty of AutoTune here) on synth-powered steroids, justified only by the pair’s well-earned indie cred. I am undecided.
“Orange Shirt,” the album’s lead-off track, is included below. Featuring layers of keyboards (producing some insanely fast scales, nonetheless) and an up-tempo beat, the song fits the summer season well. It’s the type of song you can blast from your car stereo while driving leisurely with the windows down in unhealthily hot weather — and enjoy it. What I can’t seem to deduce is whether or not these qualities mean Discovery has made something innovative and worthwhile, or just another disposable summer jam like the many that have come before.
Listen to “Orange Shirt” below and share your thoughts. I’d love to have a second opinion.
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