Wrap-Up Report March 2018

march not very good for music maybe april be better but ok lets read about march for now.

The Good Stuff

  • Here’s something sad: I only really liked one song in March. As in, for real, without any qualms or caveats. That song would be “Bury Me” by some group called Actors. I don’t know anything about them, and having heard the rest of their stuff I don’t think they’re going to be anything resembling a creative force on the music scene, but this one song is pretty great. Imagine Interpol‘s Paul Banks doing a cover of Econoline Crush‘s “Sparkle and Shine”, or New Order going industrial and you’ve got the gist of it.

 

  • Back in 2015 I was sent by my boss on a strange adventure: to snap a photo of a billboard promoting Muse‘s upcoming single “Dead Inside” for our company’s social media accounts. It was weird, but it spoke to both the popularity of the band and their proclivity for showmanship. There was no billboard for latest single “Thought Contagion”, in fact there was so little fanfare for it you’d think it was a promo single rather than a proper offering for radio play. It basically got the opposite of a massive debut, buried in iTunes and put into light rotation on rock radio. The song itself? A Muse song through and through. It sounds like Muse covering themselves, checking off every box on the band’s trademark cliche list. There’s a mad scientist keyboard riff, a whoa-oh anthem cribbed from Arcade Fire, and lyrical references to the Illuminati, the hivemind effect, and other nefarious systems meant to drain your individuality- all sung about very earnestly by Matt Bellamy in his signature operatic tenor. Though the production is (very) slightly muted, it’s still enough bombast to pop in a way very few mainstream acts do anymore.

 

  • For the record: I don’t actually like hard rock group Bad Wolves‘ cover of the seminal Cranberries classic “Zombie”. It’s hard not to burst out laughing the second the lead singer’s tOtALLy WoUnDeD vocals kick in, and it gets even more rawk-fisty during the chorus. It’s basically the second coming of Three Days Grace. But man, a good song is a good song, and the original’s platinum-strength hook withstands the cover’s inherent corniness. Also of note: the drums in this song are absolutely pristine and what all mainstream music percussion should sound like in 2018.

 

  • Field Report /Postdata / Reuben and the Dark: Three punchy folk-rock bands with three songs that are almost great but just miss the mark due to the bands caving in to the awful “non-traditional song structure” trope. A trend I thought was mercifully over two years ago, but has had an unfortunate resurgence lately. The first two songs, “60 Second Distance Run” and “Black Cloud” respectively, are absolutely fantastic- up until you suddenly realize that they’re both missing a final chorus. Field Report simply end their tune with a Sufjan Stevens-esque coda and Postdata veer off into a pointless bridge that adds absolutely nothing to the song- at least do a guitar solo or something?! Meanwhile, Reuben and the Dark mash together a whole bunch of decent elements and hope that somehow it makes a song. It’s passable, but awfully unshapely.

The OK Stuff

  • The Decemberists new album I’ll Be Your Girl is almost a total write-off, even if there is a small handful of nice moments on it. Lead single “Severed” might not ever achieve the lift-off it teases, but the guitar solo in the bridge is memorable. “Cutting Stone” employs the dreaded “analog” 70s disco sound (more on that later), but has a pleasant enough melody to listen to in spite of its dry production. “Rusalka Rusalka” could’ve been epic if it didn’t switch into “Wild Rushes halfway through”. The rest is boring.

 

  • Get ready for lovelytheband and “Broken”, because along with AJR‘s endearingly dorky “Sober Up” it’s bound to be a summer anthem for 2018. Also get ready to hear a lot more of both bands, because while both songs are catchy enough to be ubiquitous, they’re both not terribly unique. That’s actually a good thing for both. In all likelihood they’ll manage to avoid one-hit-wonder territory and have a solid run of material rather than have a monster smash and vanish like so, so many before them.

The Not-So-Good Stuff

  • Hipsters are falling head over heels for Rhye‘s latest album, but this is one of the most obvious “emperor’s new clothes” cases in a while. This sounds like if Starbucks opened some sort of late-night lounge and they needed something toothless and mellow to play while people drank their spiked cappucinos.

 

  • Same goes for Lucy Dacus‘ sophomore release, which is basically just Feist with distortion guitars. Aimless, meandering, and not hype-worthy at all.

 

  • Ok, three strikes and time’s up for The Neighbourhood. They’re clearly uninterested in ever making something palatable again, so going forward their releases are not even worth checking out.

 

  • Moaning might have had one of the best songs of the year so far with “Artificial”, but the rest of their album is derivative post-punk along the lines of the terminally boring Preoccupations, who also just released another collection of droning Joy Division knock-offs.

 

  • Speaking of which, let’s talk about Editors. Like the Neighbourhood, it’s time to shelve the UK’s answer to Interpol. Their new record is another utterly generic release similar to their totally forgettable 2013 album, and hinges entirely on frontman Tom Smith‘s showy new vocals. There’s also a pointless new over-emoted version of 2009’s “No Sound But the Wind”, which already had a re-imagining in 2011 anyway. It’s a head-scratcher as to why they decided to try it again in an even less adventurous style.

 

  • As you can see, I’m a total grinch and don’t like too many things. So it’s nice when the world at large agrees with my eternally grouchy opinions. Such is the case with the new Jack White album Boarding School Reach, which has been panned by listeners everywhere as a scattershot, self-indulgent disaster. Finally people hear what I’ve been railing against since the release of the world’s worst song, “Icky Thump”. White was the guy responsible for re-popularizing vintage/analog/back-to-basics recording- one of my least favourite trends in modern music – so I am schadenfreuding hard right now.