Alright we’ve made it. This will be the final wrap-up report for this year until the Best of 2018 countdown closer to the end of December, and any songs released in this next month are gonna be considered for judgement in 2019. So let’s see what squeaked in under the wire in the second half of November.
A ton of big-name releases swamped the mainstream scene and they were all aggressively mediocre. Not very good, not very bad- perfect for radio.
Mumford & Sons have offered up Delta, their follow-up to the unbearably mundane rock record Wilder Mind. Good news: it’s better than its predecessor. Bad news: it’s still not very good. The group have blended their watered down folk paste with glossy pop textures, resulting in a record that sounds like every other band out there. The one interesting moment is the song “Woman”, which is kind of mealy-mouthed but borrows elements from the underrepresented early 90s new age scene. Think Sting‘s “Desert Rose”, Enigma, or that House of Stone and Light song that sounded just like Sting but wasn’t Sting.
If Elon Musk was a band, he would be Muse. A pompous futurist who doesn’t really have original ideas but dresses his concepts up in flashy visuals? The two are made for each other. I’m not too well-versed in Musk’s past, but I do know that Muse were once legitimately interesting and made some groundbreaking music. Now it’s the exact same electro-rock opera thing over and over and over without the slightest hint of self-awareness. It’s like they’re simultaneously too epic and not epic enough.
Another band I’ve written way too many words about on this blog is Imagine Dragons, so I’ll keep my thoughts on their new album Origins brief.
This album is the definition of the word mainstream. You will not find a sound more “2018 mainstream rock” than Origins.
Finally, There is absolutely nothing worth listening to on the new the 1975 album.
Same goes for Damon Albarn‘s latest as The Good, The Bad, & The Queen. Merrie Land is bland and safe, typical Albarn, traditional sadsack Brit-pop that is miles removed from the transgressive music the man used to make when he was in Blur.
The most annoying trend of 2018 was undoubtedly the “extra minute of instrumentals tacked onto the end of tracks” that was so prevalent in every genre. The opposite might be just as bad. It’s not a trend yet, but a band called Uncon may be the first to employ the “sudden stop” trope. Their song “Heartbreaker” could have been a great electro-soul track, but just as a nice saxophone bridge kicks in, there’s a sound effect mimicking a tape cassette being shut off and a sardonic voice says “that’s enough of that”.
It’s unlikely that other artists will follow with this exact gimmick, but more likely is the option of forgoing a full song and stopping suddenly after two minutes. Most band already forgo the traditional [intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus-outro] structure – the art of the middle-8 bridge is long dead – so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if pop songs suddenly just started throwing out highly truncated songs in the interest of short attention spans.
While we’re on the topic of non-traditional song structure, let’s talk about another song from The Killers‘ guitarist Dave Keuning‘s first solo album. Last time I praised the title track “Prismism”, but I’m gonna be a little more reserved with “Restless Legs”. It’s not terrible- imagine a more palatable version of Walk the Moon‘s “Shut Up and Dance” – but it has one of the weirdest structure’s I’ve heard in a while. It’s a chorus, followed by a verse in the middle, followed by another chorus.
I can’t help but root for Carly Rae Jepsen. The pop starlet has consistently beaten the odds, scoring one of the biggest hits of the decade after having competed on Canadian Idol five years (!) earlier.
She then persevered and managed to cultivate a rabid following despite not netting another charting hit on the level of “Call Me Maybe”, and through cultural osmosis many of her songs have since become sleeper hits. She kept going and going until she emerged on the other side of the music industry collapse as a legitimate star. She’s got her silo of devotees and will be able to sell venues regardless of whether she has another massive smash hit or not.
“Party of One” is decidedly not a massive smash hit, but it’s not terrible either. It’s a solid album track, middle of the road in every respect. It doesn’t reach the pure pop highs of “I Really Like You”, but it’s not the generic bore that “Cut to the Feeling” was. It’ll sound good in the arenas Jepsen will no doubt continue to fill.
The problem with Grimes‘ new song “We Appreciate Power” isn’t that it’s lacking stylistic cohesiveness, it’s that the onetime hook master seems to have neglected her Midas touch here. Every part of the song, from the cheesy metal verses, to the early Nine Inch Nails post-chorus, to the 70’s prog ballad bridge, is dull and flat. Elon Musk’s style over substance attitude seems to have drained the Montreal songwriter of her effervescent pop magic.
In the last entry I flipped out writing about Toronto folk-pop crew Birds of Bellwoods and their mind-blowingly obsolete sound. Just a few days ago a slightly higher profile band essentially pulled the same trick. The Strumbellas dropped an admittedly catchy song three years ago with “Spirits”, and are now offering “Salvation”.
And it sounds like every single car commercial from the past five years. In terms of adding to the cultural mosaic it is virtually pointless. It is so so so so so so overdone and generic. The walking H&M mannequin from Maroon 5 might be a faceless sponge and the frontman of one of the worst bands in the known universe but he was right on when he said earlier this week that mainstream rock is going absolutely nowhere. All innovation is happening in every other genre, and we’re gonna have to see if this trend continues into 2019.
Yikes, this has been a pretty bleak entry, so let me finish with a song that I actually did like.
I saw Amy Shark twice this year and heard “Middle of the Night” both those times. I didn’t really give it too many listens afterwards, but I revisited Love Monster recently and this refreshingly dark pop gem stuck out in the waning days of 2018. It’s also kind of funny to pretend that it’s actually a Taylor Swift song, if only to imagine the (mostly) squeaky clean pop star singing the dramatically profane chorus.