Solid month for tunes this June was, wrapping up an uneven but overall first half of the year. Let’s explore.
The Good Stuff
- There’s not much that differentiates Sigrid‘s “High Five” from the music her fellow Scandinavian pop sprites are making- except for the fact that it is the jam of jams. Halfway through 2018 I believe I’ve found a front runner for song of the year. It’s beyond cliche to use “confection” as an analogy for pop music, but the instant rush this song delivers is incomparable to anything other than the flood of endorphins that hit your brain when you have yourself a sugary treat.
- Death Cab for Cutie‘s new single sounds like Nickelback. That’s not meant to be taken pejoratively. It’s not a jab implying Ben Gibbard‘s mopey crew have become the indie rock equivalent of assembly line rock. I literally mean that the verses of “Gold Rush” sound exactly like “Photograph”. Every verse teases the possibility that Gibbard will bust out the legendary “…and what the hell is on Joey’s head?” lyric to close it out.That comparison aside, the song is pretty average and a poor choice for a first single.
What’s exciting though, is the collection of previews the band’s thrown out over the past month. The next three songs on the upcoming Thank You For Today all sound amazing, so at the very least this is going to be a front-loaded album just like Kintsugi was. “Your Hurricane” and “Summer Years” both employ spindly Cure-like guitars, but the real highlight has been the live version of the bleary “I Dreamt We Spoke Again”, another potential contender for a spot in year end best-of lists.
- The hagiography of old music acts – particularly classic rock bands – has always induced major eye-rolling from me, but man does Paul McCartney know how to stay relevant. He’s approximately 100 years old by now and new song “Come On to Me” is still an entirely viable radio single. It’s basically indie pop, cribbing a lot of style from Modest Mouse but could fit in on any modern playlist. It’s not as mind-blowing as when he did that dubstep song five years ago, but it shows that the man is a songwriting legend and deserves the praise heaped upon him.
The OK stuff
- I have no strong opinion on Hamilton’s Monster Truck either way, but I find it funny that when they hit the scene they were proclaimed saviours of Canadian metal, only to quickly turn into yet another heavy post-grunge act, a mildly more aggressive Theory of a Deadman. New song “Evolution” is more of the same, “hard rock” but far from “metal”.
- The problem with bands who slavishly devote themselves to copying a specific era of music – or worse, an individual artist – is that they are effectively eliminating any chance at crafting their own legacy. Over the past decade and a bit we’ve seen The Darkness, Wolfmother, and The Struts all donning the “classic rock” uniform (sometimes literally), to varying degrees of success.
The Darkness ironically took a lighter approach, embracing the inherent goofiness of rock posturing and chauvinism. This landed them precisely one hit before they were relegated to “novelty act”. Wolfmother played it a little more straight and managed to land enviable placement in Shrek 3. The Struts were pushed hard by their label and rock radio only to be largely ignored.
This brings us to Greta Van Fleet, the Led Zeppelin wannabes who sound virtually identical to the real deal. They’re accomplished musicians yes, but what future do they have? They will always be referred to as Zeppelin soundalikes. There will never be an interview, review, or write-up that will ignore this fact. They could have been a straight-up tribute act and it would have worked out better for them as at least then they could call themselves the “world’s best Led Zeppelin tribute” and it would ring true- and likely bring in the same income.
- In case you haven’t seen it yet, Drake‘s video for “I’m Upset” reunites a sizeable portion of the Degrassi: The Next Generation cast, as well as…Jay and Silent Bob? It’s funny, and it’s nice that Drake held off for well over a decade before milking the nostalgia, but man is this a missed opportunity. The song is monotonous drivel, a banal, hookless affair that ruins this video’s chance at being iconic. Wouldn’t it have been 100% more effective if this had been the video for the excellent “Hold on We’re Going Home”? To be honest Drake’s been sloppy lately, focusing more on his Pusha-T beef instead of making good music.
- Look, the runway is wide open! WIDE OPEN! The Toronto music scene is ready for a fresh star and all it takes is one act to step up to the plate and deliver. Stuck on Planet Earth could be the ones to kickstart a new sound. They’ve got buzz, a search-engine-optimized name, and a sound different from all their other guitar-based peers in the city. But it might take a few years to hone their sound- “Permanent” effectively plunders mid-90s alternative for cues, but the production lets it down. Never, ever go half-in with reverb; it sounds like a high-school band playing in a gym. Either none or full blast.
- You know what you’re getting when you listen to a Panic! At the Disco album. Other than the aptly named 2008 album Pretty. Odd., the act’s stuck to the theatrical + electronic formula for their career, simply updating both elements as the years have gone on. Their 2005 debut fused cabaret and techno; the 2018 iteration of the band mashes together Broadway and trap beats. The new album is mercifully less intense than the million-gigawatt anthem-core of the last album, with some nice melodies scattered across it (see: “One of the Drunks”). That said, it is still incredibly corny and will likely not convert anyone previously averse to Brendon Urie‘s over-the-top wail.
- Back at the turn of the decade there were some exciting new acts doing cool things around Toronto. Winter Gloves adopted the full-synth approach before most of their peers, while Automatic Toys did dubstep influenced rock before everyone else. Then there was the mysterious Bravestation, who had a hip, math-rock-meets-Wolf-Parade sound and could have been indie darlings. Fast forward to 2018 and the first two bands are long gone, while Bravestation have inexplicably begun using Savage Garden as a touchstone.
Admittedly, using the pop of 1994 is much more refreshing than the pop of 1984, but the leap into basic mainstream music is baffling. Songs like “Ray of Love” sound like something you’d hear playing in the aisles at a Shopper’s Drug Mart twenty-five years ago- something that wouldn’t be an issue if the songwriting matched the sonic pallet. But the high water mark here is a solid 6, and 90% of the album is unforgivably insipid.
- Last year Gorillaz released Humanz, which had a cool name but little else. The overstuffed album had not one moment worth mentioning, a pointless exercise from beginning to end. Damon Albarn seemingly wants to rectify this, or at least give fans something they’ll recognize on tour. The Now, Now is stylistically the polar opposite of the hip-hop heavy Humanz, and overall a more pleasant experience than its dour predecessor. All that said, this has neither the big pop moments of Demon Days or the artsy ambitions of Plastic Beach. It’s a breezy summer album that is good for beach barbecue background noise and not too much else.
The Not-So-Good Stuff
- iTunes previews are the reason I have trust issues. So many times I’ve thought I’m downloading some fantastic song only to listen to the full track and find that the truncated version had highlighted the only good part of the song. This was especially valid during 2015, when bands went overboard with non-traditional song structure.
One chorus! Choruses with no drums! One minute of vocals surrounded by three minutes of ambient sound! How to Dress Well brings all this back with horrible new song “The Anteroom”, which throws out structure for no good reason and turns into an unfocused, unmemorable waste of time and money. The 7-minute extended version is even worse, buffering the central part with random, atonal electronic sounds. Unlistenable experimentation is so hip wow good job.
- The 80s music revival is now in its 14th (!!) year and it makes me want to retch every time I write about it, but bands like Video Age insist on pushing retro AM radio rubbish onto the masses.
- Let’s just forget that there’s a new Florence + The Machine album- shouldn’t be too hard of a feat to accomplish, it does most of the work for you.
The Weird Stuff
Why is this sponsored by Amazon Prime? And how has it been around for seven years already?