I’ve made no secret of my distaste for most current music; in fact I’ve frequently opined about the end
It’s come to a point however, where nearly every single piece of new music that is released is incredibly awful. Because every artist (particularly more visible artists) wants to stay relevant, they continue to ape trends that have run amok through the scene, in turn influencing more artists to follow these trends. The problem is that these trends are kind of terrible and detrimental to music and ruin songs. It’s almost a deliberate self-sabotage. These trends are the following:
– “lo-fi/analog” recording
– unconventional song structure
– late 1980’s influence
– anti-climactic choruses
You’ll find at least one of these present in most singles in 2015, and it pretty much explains why there are barely any hit songs any more (as of this writing, the only huge hit of the year has been Mark Ronson‘s “Uptown Funk”.)
Let’s go through these trends and see why exactly they’re wrecking music.
Who started it: Daft Punk, 2013, “Get Lucky”
It was supposed to be a revolutionary statement. EDM godfathers Daft Punk rebelling against mainstream and going all-natural for their long-awaited new album. Instead of crisp, clean modern production, sparkling synths and cutting edge beats, the world got…reductive disco-funk. Later that year Arcade Fire pulled the same trick, no thanks to studio help from lackluster producer James Murphy. The towering Springsteen melodrama and massive statements from 2010’s The Suburbs were gone, replaced by lithe funk and earthy rhythms. The idea of “going back to basics” spread and more bands decided to purposely make their recordings sound worse. Muffled guitars, tinny drums, and record hiss popped up all over the place. Mumford & Son’s latest record Wilder Mind employs some of these tricks, most noticeable on the title track. Right from the start the drums sound weak and amateur, making listening in headphones uncomfortable. Nate Ruess of fun. went old school for his first solo record as well, and one can immediately hear little raw bits come up throughout the album.
The Last Straw:
Diamond Youth are a band that’s party of the much-lauded “emo revival”, which would be a legitimate revival were it not for the insistence of most of these bands to muck up their guitar tone for some misguided aesthetic reason. Most of these bands come from a label called Topshelf, and not one has broken through to the mainstream because of their obsession with garage-style recording. The reason Diamond Youth stick out is because they LITERALLY REGRESSED their sound. Here’s an example of their 2012 material, with polished production:
Pretty good production! But here’s their LATEST single, from 2015.
Why?? Why go backwards? “No Control” isn’t even the worst offender, as some songs on the new record are even muddier.
Unconventional Song Structure:
Hey new bands, let’s not try to re-invent the wheel. Verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus works PRETTY FINE and has for years. Even classical music had defined recurring motifs- you’re telling me you’re going to mess with the formula used by “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”?? Sure, sometimes you get a “Bohemian Rhapsody” that works as an exception, but let’s not kid ourselves, there aren’t any Freddie Mercurys or Brian Mays in today’s crop of artists.
Who started it: This one’s tough. There have been plenty of weirdos writing unstructured messes throughout the ages, but pinpointing the one that started the influx of current disasters is difficult. What I can tell you though, is how you can spot it without even listening to the song.
The waveform of a track is very telling about what’s happening in there. As you can see above, this is an example of the experimental wankery that I’m talking about. Where’s the structure? Why are there two long parts, and then three separate parts at the end? There’s no cohesion at all. You can tell there is no chorus in this song.
This song just went up today, and is another example of obvious indulgence. This one comes from self-proclaimed “pop expert” Owen Pallett, who literally doesn’t know how to write a regular song, let alone a catchy one. Seen above is his contribution to Adult Swim’s annual summer singles collection, which sadly used to be really good. As you can see, there’s about a minute of one section, then suddenly a switch to two minutes of another, and finally another third section at the end. Listening to it you find that only the middle section has lyrics, and the whole thing is just a vague, shapeless electronic fart. These kinds of songs can also be found on the latest albums by Active Child (“Stranger”) and How To Dress Well (“A Power”).
It’s not just one-man electronic projects that follow this trend though- many bands from the aforementioned Topshelf label have bizarrely structured songs as well. Other more known acts to use this are:
– Mumford & Sons, in “Snake Eyes”
– Brandon Flowers, in “Lonely Town”
– Nate Ruess, in “What This World Is Coming To” (indeed!)
– Everything JJ (or are they jj now?) has ever done
The Last Straw:
But the worst perpetrator of this trend is a Montreal native who goes by the name Mas Ysa. This guy, along with having a grating bleat of a voice, simple can’t write ONE normal song. All his songs are giant messes, filled with barely connected parts and long stretches between singing. Just look at this waveform:
Is that even a song?? How does this engage listeners in the least bit? Waste of internet space.
Late 1980’s influence:
We’ve been stuck in an 80’s revival for what seems like forever; in fact we’ve been reliving the 80’s for longer than the 80’s were around.
Who started it: Again, hard to track down the original sinner because the 80’s have been around for so long. Bear in Heaven seem like a good person to blame, as all their work has that rubbery-bass, staccato single-guitar-string-noodling, major key synth stab sound to it.
The sad part of this is that there are so many parts of the 80’s that are better suited for mining. New wave and post-punk ran their course twice, but nobody’s touching epic reverb guitar or colossal drums. The only time I’ve heard that combination used was by The Panic Division. Bands, try this sound on! It’s cool and interesting! No, instead everybody just wants to sound like Mariah Carey’s “Emotions”. (Which is from ’91, I know).
And when I say everybody, I mean everybody. Indie bands like Bear Hands, Delorean, The Wombats, CYMBALS, Painted Palms and Blood Orange are all fans of the sound, but so are mainstream acts like Carly Rae Jepsen, Walk the Moon, Charli XCX and Sky Ferreira.
It’s nauseating. Did anyone want to hear bands like Nickelback or Death Cab for Cutie make “funky” music?? NOPE. But they made the songs “She Keeps Me Up” and “Good Help Is Hard To Find”, respectively. And yeah they are just as embarrassing as you might think.
The Last Straw:
Kate Boy have been releasing dark, mysterious electro for about three years and today announced their debut album, preceded by a single. So far their record has been spotless; every track they’ve released has been nothing short of great. Except this one, which sounds like a Paula Abdul B-side. It throws away their whole brand for the sake of fitting in. RIP in peace, Kate Boy.
You’re listening to a song, it’s inching up towards the chorus, ok here it comes, here we go…..nothing. There’s no payoff, no reward for the listener. It’s a complete betrayal by the artist.
Who Started It: As far as I can tell, this trend originated in the bowels of frat-EDM. Some DJ bro decided that a snare build-up shouldn’t end with a release, and instead some disparate bass synth riff. You can hear it most noticeably in Baauer’s “Harlem Shake“. The problem is that most other EDM performers usually hide the monotonous chorus by creating a melodic verse to get your hopes up before the stupid breakdown.
Countless indie bands started using the anti-climactic chorus trick, but some of the more obvious examples are Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor”, Other Lives’ “Reconfiguration”, and AWOLNATION’s “Windows”. It didn’t help that minimalist artists like James Blake and the xx popularized the lack of dynamics and using silence in songs as well. Nobody wants to write BIG choruses anymore.
The Last Straw:
It’s coming from inside! That’s right, this insidious practice has entered mainstream. This year both Taylor Swift and The Weeknd have resorted to it, which means that now more artists are going to see this as something “to do” in songs and it’ll just keep on happening in a sick cycle.
Taylor Swift uses it in “Bad Blood”. (1:10)
The Weeknd uses it in “Can’t Feel My Face” (0:38), not only killing the dark futuristic vibe he builds up in the first verse but also starting on the wrong chord, destroying all momentum.
Who Started It: Mumford and Sons. Duh.
At first glance this trend doesn’t seem to be harmful at all. For every Lumineers or Vance Joy that slithers out into the spotlight, there’s a dozen upbeat folksters that are forever relegated to the iTunes up-and-coming section (Hi, Great Lake Swimmers and Lord Huron!)
But there’s a deeper problem with this trend, and that’s because when folk entered the fold, it opened the door for every other genre to come in and be mashed-up with every other genre. It created a monogenre, a melting pot of sound perfectly exemplified by…
The Last Straw:
X Ambassadors. Their latest single “Renegades” has everything off the modern rock checklist: folksy strumming, shuffling hip-hop beat, positive yet rebellious lyrics, and of course, whoa-ohs. It’s not particularly offensive, because it sounds like everything else. Everyone’s using all of the ingredients now, resulting in a soundscape where nobody stands out, and nobody will be remembered for a specific sound in a generation.
So that’s why I don’t listen to music anymore; it just doesn’t matter.