Halfway Report June 2018

June has been an extremely busy month for music, so I’m dumping a whole lotta opinion at the halfway mark. Of course this means if the second half is dry I’ll have nothing to talk about at the end but that is mostly unlikely as I will always find something to gripe about, always.

The Good Stuff

  • One of my favourite songs of the year so far: a blend of ska, emo, and brit-pop all packaged up into one neat song called “I Love You, Will You Marry Me” by YUNGBLUD. It’s a fun burst of energy that sounds like very little else in the mainstream arena.

 

  • Two songs off Snow Patrol‘s comeback album Wildness are worth repeat listens: “A Dark Switch” and “A Youth Written in Fire”. The former does veer a little too close to Ed Sheeran style “”funk””, and the latter does have some awkward lyrics, but both are good songs. It’s a strange situation. Neither are really “single-worthy”, but both fill up a playlist nicely. They’re the solid sort of melodic album cut you don’t find anymore, considering most artists don’t even put effort into their frontline singles nowadays.

 

  • Few artists nowadays stick to the straight and narrow path of their original sound, but for around a decade Beach House have done just that. They still play four-minute songs that sound like eight-minute songs, drenched in woozy synths and shoegaze vocals. On new album 7, however, they show a measure of restraint and there are no less than THREE tracks that are concise, straightforward songs. “Lemon Glow”, “Black Car”, and “Girl of the Year” all manage to avoid throwing in a melodic detour and are all the better for it.

 

  • CHVRCHES are another band that have not budged an inch since their breakthrough in 2013. It’s fascinating how there are thousands and thousands of bands that can be grouped under the “synth pop” umbrella, but some can still carve out distinct niches for themselves with this sort of focus. The Scottish trio still use the same patches, the same glimmering sawtooth synths,  and the same big drums they’ve always used, and are all the more unique for it. New record Love is Dead stays right on course, and delivers another round of quality tunes like “Forever”.  Absolutely pristine production on here as well- a perfect example of how modern mainstream music should be mixed.

 

  • Eight years ago I was speaking with a colleague of mine about a cover that Deftones had just done of The Cardigans‘ “Do You Believe”, expressing surprise about their choice. He shrugged it off, saying “everyone covers everyone now”. It was true then and even truer now; covers, collaborations and remixes by unexpected artists are no longer shocking. After all, the very next year saw Michael Bolton teaming up with The Lonely Island for a song about the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and Metallica conspiring with Lou Reed to create the worst sounds known to humanity. Here in 2018, Betty White could rap on a Kendrick Lamar track and it would garner a yawn from most people. Still, the fact that the Deadpool 2 soundtrack features an original Celine Dion song written specifically for the film is worthy of a smile. It’s a fun piece of promo, and a well-done one at that. “Ashes” straddles the line between satire and seriousness, so it does feel like it’s waffling at some points, but the melody and production are top-grade belt-out karaoke. As far as action movie ballads go, it totally demolishes Adele‘s “Skyfall”.

The OK stuff

  • There’s a Post Malone song on his latest album beerbongs & bentleys called “Over Now”, and once you listen to it you understand the pop-rapper’s modus operandi. It’s on this song that he jumps out of his quaalude haze and yells a few bars, his voice suddenly resembling none other than Mr. Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit fame. Just like Durst, Post Malone is a cultural artifact waiting to happen. He’s a meme, not just to his detractors but to his fanbase as well. His entire aesthetic can be summed up by a depressed youth posting a dimly lit video to Snapchat or Instagram with the caption “mood:”. He’s more a feeling than an artist, an outlet for millennials in desperate need of an avatar for the post-party comedown. In many ways he’s millennial angst personified: sensitive, but only through the lens of a popular socialite. It’s not particularly ambitious stuff, but it is redeemed slightly by maintaining a strict sonic template for the entire album. Soft pads, laconic trap beats, heavy reverb, topped off with Postie’s bleating goat vibrato bemoaning how money and drugs are so bad but so good.

Basically, he’s the frat version of the Weeknd, watered down and ready to be irrelevant in five years’ time.

Also, this:

 

  • After a Twitter user (playfully) harangued the band for months, Weezer finally gave in and delivered a cover of Toto‘s biggest hit: “Africa”. It’s an endearing bit of fan service, even if the final product isn’t as polished as one would hope. Rivers Cuomo goes all in with his vocals, but it’s clear that this wasn’t something given five-star studio treatment. Hey, at least it’s better than when Arcade Fire cold-shouldered Peter Gabriel with their utterly uncommitted version of “Games Without Frontiers”.

 

  • It would not be a great surprise if in the future Father John Misty:

A) Became an outspoken curmudgeon like Morrissey

B) Won an Oscar for Best Original Song

Both are equally likely, but the second will only come true if he would just rein his songwriting in a little sometimes! Seriously. “Hangout at the Gallows” has all the ingredients of a great song, but his tendency to throw in pointless melodic diversions annihilates any chance of it being memorable. The self-indulgent additions are like little unclipped strands of hair, waving around and distracting from the central focus. Tie it up, Father John Misty!

 

  • Amy Shark has built up a lot of goodwill over the past year, and with a brand new album coming out in 2018 she could become a new popstar. Her brand of super-earnest love songs has won her a strong cult following, but with every new release it’s starting to become apparent that she may really be the Australian Taylor Swift. Case in point: at a show in Toronto earlier this year, she told the crowd the backstory to one of her songs was rooted in a conversation with an ex-boyfriend who dared to say to her “You know, you’re not so perfect either.” Without a hint of satire or humor she continued on, completely straight-faced, saying that this experience fueled her need to get back at him with an angry diss track. This constant need for validation is a little much, even for someone like myself who’s always had an affinity for melodrama, and the fame may turn her into a carbon copy of Swift.

 

  • Both Kanye West‘s new solo album Ye and his collaboration with Kid Cudi Kids See Ghost are in the same vein, despite the varying reception. Each album sees Kanye dishing out deeply personal feelings in strange ways, sometimes yelling, sometimes ranting over his own voice. Kids See Ghost was the more anticipated (and subsequently more celebrated) of the two, but it doesn’t really live up to the hype. If you want a song that sounds like what this album should sound like, see “Superfly” by hip-hop artist BLESSED.

The Not-So-Good Stuff

  • There aren’t too many songs I legitimately loathe, but Mura Masa‘s remix of Perfume Genius‘ “Slip Away” is the rarity that made me want to flip off my computer screen upon hearing it. Like I said last year, “Slip Away” is a song teetering on the edge of greatness. It’s filled with all the necessary parts, but they’re arranged in a way that frustratingly makes the track feel jumbled. You’d think that a remix would nudge it the right way, but Mura Masa turns it into the worst kind of remix: the kind that people think of when they hear the word “remix”. It barely resembles the original at all, with just a bare bones house beat interrupted with the occasional “ah ah”. Side note: tinny 90s house beats are the “analog hiss” of electronic music, and there is no reason to use them whatsoever because they sound terrible. Everyone ought to take an example from CHVRCHES; that is what electronic percussion should sound like.

 

  • In an objective universe, Jungle‘s song “Happy Man” is an inoffensive, listenable piece of music that goes in one ear and out the other. But we live in a universe where Gnarls Barkley‘s “Crazy” exists, and there is absolutely no point in listening to this song when that one does. Translation: This sounds exactly like “Crazy”.

 

  • Florence + The Machine finally deliver the first proper single from their upcoming album and…it is really bad. It’s called “Hunger”, but there is nothing about it that indicates any sort of driving force or motivation. One of the most inessential songs ever.

 

  • Last time around Interpol delivered the best song of their career in “All the Rage Back Home”, a tune that new track “The Rover” tries to emulate to diminishing returns. It would be entirely passable if not for the awful, awful production, with the vocals and guitar drowned out with dry, nearly blown out drums.

 

  • The much-trumpeted-about reunion of the Smashing Pumpkins has been met with a collective “meh”. It’s not really the “original lineup” without D’arcy Wretzky, and audiences have responded accordingly. Ticket sales for the tour are underwhelming, as is “Solara”, the new song which objectively speaking may just be the worst song Billy Corgan has ever written.

 

  • I’m sick of writing about Stars and their generic output every other month, so unless they release something exceptionally good or bad I am declaring a moratorium on covering them. “One Day Left” does fall on the better side of mediocrity, but that simply makes it a 6/10 rather than the usual 4/10. A boring rewrite of “Take Me to the Riot” that realizes too late that the chorus needs vocals to be effective.

 

The Weird Stuff

This is not something that should be in this world.