Ever have those moments where you hear a “new” song and get all excited about it only to find out that you were actually late to the party in making said discovery? For a moment in 6th Grade, I once fretted about not being on top of what everyone else was listening to. True story: that Summer between graduating elementary school and going to Jr. High, my uncle took me to the big variety store (Valley Fair in Irvington, NJ, for those of you back East) and let me pick out an album for my birthday. I was torn as to what to choose. As a young Beatles fan I wanted the latest Beatle “anything” I could get my hands on. But in the end I chose the Partridge Family’s first album instead of John & Yoko’s Life With The Lions purely for that reason.
But then by 7th grade I realized, to quote my recently discovered favorite Kinks B-side: “I’m not like everybody else.” Once I accepted that, the musical world became my oyster and I began to explore sounds old and new with the same relish as hearing the big hit of the day on the radio.
Good music is good music.
Anyhow… at brunch one Saturday in San Francisco’s hipster-trendy-but-still-cool Mission District, I heard a catchy melody playing in the background, so much so that I asked the waitress what the song was. She checked their iPod and told me it was a group called Discovery. Never heard of ’em. But a quick trip to Amoeba Records indeed turned up a lone album from 2009 that looked intriguing. I went for the LP, as the cover is beautiful and it came with an MP3 download for the car.
So what was I hearing? Well, the singer from Discovery sounds very much like The Zombies’ Colin Blunstone, but in his early 80s collaborations with Dave Stewart. Turns out Discovery is a side project from Vampire Weekend’s keyboardist and Ra Ra Riot’s lead singer. (Who knew? Guess its time for me to finally check out those bands now!)
The song I heard was called “Orange Shirt,” and it is one of those earworm-y kinda tunes that you either love or hate. It’s actually quite funny musically, as they use sampling and programming to extremes, much in the way that auto-tune was co-opted into a vocal effect vs. a last ditch voice correction tool. Discovery’s music is very much from the slice ‘n dice school of production. Lots of bleeps, beeps, chirps, and boops here. Obvious clipped loud cymbal crash samples are thrust in your face to the point where it’s almost annoying. But in a good way. Drum beats pulse and throb in a way you know that no drummer would likely play.
But where many dance records get repetitive and boring, with static metronomic beats, Discovery sounds at times as if they are playing their old school drum machines by hand — or at least programming them that way. Time speeds up and drags to a crawl suddenly, like someone was manipulating analog tape movements. But there is nothing analog about this album, except maybe some of the synths they might be using (is that an ARP 2600 I hear in there?).
This is a fun record that doesn’t aim to be much more. And that is where Discovery shines. A Facebook friend even commented on one of my recent posts about this album that this was his “summer album” of 2009. Indeed, Discovery is good windows-wide-open (or top-town if you have a convertible) music.
On the nicely pressed standard (but fairly thick) LP pressing, the music sounds remarkably full bodied despite its clippy chippy production. And it comes with a fun fold out big poster with liner notes and more variants on the pixelated rainbow-flavored cover theme. If you are looking for a little modern pop bubble gum sunshine, you might just like this album. You can find it on Amazon or your favorite independent music store.
Here’s that song I first heard in the restaurant:
This one’s fun, too:
And for perspective, here is that Colin Blunstone / Dave Stewart song from 1980: