LP Turns 10

LP Turns 10

Rostam Batmanglij came out publicly in a Rolling Stone profile in 2010, but for anyone who had latched onto Discovery’s LP, which was released a year earlier (and a decade ago this past weekend), that confirmation felt like an afterthought. “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” presents itself as an immediate beacon of queer desire. Even before “Diplomat’s Son,” the tragic love story that Batmanglij wrote with his main band Vampire Weekend around the same time, “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” captured the rush of hormonal devotion and internalized shame that comes with being young and gay and unsure of how to exist in a society that’s changing but not quickly enough.

The Ramones-flipping hook is taken up by Angel Deradoorian, right off the hype of Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca, but its verses are sung by Batmanglij with a painful clarity:

I started sleeping in your bed
But I woke up on the floor
I did your laundry while you slept
And hung it up beside the door
I want to dress you in the morning in last night’s clothes
I wanna be your boyfriend
But I don’t want anyone to know

Discovery’s first and only album is filled with unrequited crushes, sublimated lust, tentative love given with a bated breath — pop songs with an implicitly queer view. “Can I sleep inside?/ I know you’re nervous, though/ So I promise to leave before your mother wakes up in the morning,” the group’s other half, Wes Miles, sings on its opening track. Multiple songs evoke the dance floor, a gay haven and sanctuary that still can’t stave off the alienation and loneliness: “Where’s the freedom in the disco when you’re all alone?” Batmanglij’s VW bandmate Ezra Koenig asks in a guest feature on “Carby.”

A lot of the album’s most direct lines end up being sung by someone other than Batmanglij on LP, but his post-Discovery work makes it clear that he was the driving force behind much of the album’s aching want. One of his best solo songs, “Gravity Don’t Pull Me,” taps into the same well of sadness that populates LP: “The worst things I ever did was to this same boy, I couldn’t help it,” he sings on it. “I messed things up/ And I broke his heart.”

It must have been hard, especially in 2009, for Batmanglij to be left-of-center in a band that drew so much ire by those who perceived them to be straight, white, and privileged, descriptors that didn’t mesh with Batmanglij’s personal experience. The son of Iranian immigrants, Batmanglij has been open about his complicated relationship with race, class, and identity, and he uses his music as a way to interrogate and contextualize all three.

On LP, he was still in the process of figuring out how to navigate all of this publicly, but Batmanglij found a kindred spirit in Wes Miles, the frontman of Ra Ra Riot. Both of them were part of buzzy groups that made sweeping, collegiate music and both of them were looking to break out of their prescribed sounds. They started working on music together in 2005, and when the album was released four years later, LP sounded ahead of the curve, a blend of indie-rock and electronic and hip-hop influences that would eventually become the norm. Soon enough, everything would sound sort of like Discovery and Discovery would sound like nothing else, because they effectively stopped existing after this album.

The band has cast a long shadow, though. This past spring, two Discovery songs were featured in the film Booksmart as a foundational part of its soundtrack. Directed by Gen X’er Olivia Wilde, it’s a film about Gen Z teens that was marketed to millennials — that cross-generational pull explains why Discovery’s music works so well in the movie and gets at what has made this album so enduring. The two of them packaged youthful anxieties into sputtering pop songs that sounded bright and confectionary but felt like the end of the world.

LP is entirely synthetic — drum machines and sticky synths and looped programming. Its humanity comes from the narratives that Batmanglij and Miles were telling: stories about sexual frustration and the awkwardness of desire and feeling misunderstood by everyone around you. They write from a similar point-of-view, a yearning that manifests itself in a balmy suffocation.

“Osaka Loop Line” is about a crush that feels trapped in its own cyclical prison of adoration and disappointment. On another one, they sing: “Oh baby, you got me so insane, I just don’t know what’s going on/ I try to get off my knees and fight this feeling, but I can’t.” Discovery made something as small as a crush feel as epic as fantasy. On “Swing Tree,” they tap into poetics:

If I was a boy at sea
I would be swinging from a broken tree
I would be down on my back, looking up at stars at night
If I could get back to reach the saltiest of evergreens
You know that I would turn back just to fight the whites of iron eyes

“I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” is the album’s most straightforward expression of that inexplicable desire, a rush of how and who to love. “With that song I was having fun, but at the same time it was honest — those lyrics are meaningful to me, they come from my heart,” Batmanglij said in a 2010 interview with Out. “I was disappointed when it didn’t become a gay anthem, but, you know, it’s not too late.”

It’s still not too late. LP deserves its place in the queer pop canon and beyond that, it’s one of the best synth-pop albums to come out of the last decade. It channels the complexities of desire into songs that are a blast to listen to but never lose a grounded sense of purpose, an emotional undercurrent whose pull is undeniable.

Discovery was certainly better than a side project had any right to be. Miles and Batmanglij have worked together a few more times over the years, but nothing has reached the heights of their first collaboration. It’s part time capsule, signifying the crest before the boundaries between pop and rock broke down completely, and partly universal and ageless — a coming-of-age that still feels fresh to this day.

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