Weak start to the year…..let’s get right into it:
Most of the biggest pop culture & entertainment stories this year so far have revolved around Netflix documentaries, the first being the R Kelly exposé Surviving R Kelly. Yes, it took until 2019 for the world to be shocked with the news that the R&B singer assaulted women. It was stunning information that nobody had heard before and most could not believe it. Foundations have been rocked. Next thing you know we will find out that the saintly Woody Allen has acted uncouthly in the past.
Let’s drop the sarcasm, because of course everybody knew the stories, and nobody cared. Lady Gaga, Celine Dion, among many others, were all too happy to work with Kelly up until this year. Now that the mob has cried for blood, it’s not longer prudent to be associated with him. The hypocrisy is unbelievable; it seems that the revelation here was not about R Kelly, but rather about the amoral denizens of the music industry.
There’s another angle here though, and it sets an unbelievably dangerous precedent in regards to music ownership. Many of the artists who worked with Kelly have disowned their work, and pulled those songs from streaming services. Services which people have paid to have access to. This is perhaps the biggest red light in regards to the huge caveat that comes with companies like Spotify or Apple Music: it’s not yours.
Gaga and Dion could have easily turned down the feature from Kelly back in 2013. Instead she accepted it, released a song, and people enjoyed that song. Now because of their need to maintain their public image, they’ve taken that song away from fans of it.
If we remove the particulars of this situation away from it, a dire picture is painted. Spotify can, at any point, take away songs, albums, or artists from their catalogue. It could be a far less egregious issue at play- a label conflict, or a “problematic position” on a subject could be at the core of the removal. Those users who have become reliant on these services (or, as is increasingly the case, grown up with them) will have music they enjoy be taken away from them and will no longer have access to it. It likely won’t be pressed to a CD, and even downloadable files are becoming obsolete. People should be worried.
Earlier this month I had had an emo epiphany, realizing that the hype surrounding the emo revival of the past six years has been because that is what the original emo bands sounded like, and I’ve been craving the more accessible second-wave instead. The second half of January brought out two ideal examples of this disparity.
One the one hand, you’ve got the hipster-approved CommonWealth, with their sludgy, barely-melodic griping gaining thumbs-ups from the elites.
On the other, you’ve got mid-2000s mainstays The Spill Canvas re-recording and releasing a full band version of their hit “The Tide”.
Guess which one I prefer?
Spill Canvas were not a band I originally paid attention to. “All Hail the Heartbreaker” may have been a staple of MySpace pages but it was a little bit too whiny – yes, even for me. They won me over with a solid album in One Fell Swoop, and No Really, I’m Fine yielded the pretty great “Connect the Dots”. I lost track of them after that, but happened upon one of their tweets recently saying that they had a brand new version of “The Tide” ready.
And it works. Like the best Hollywood film remakes, it keeps the original’s charm intact while adding a glossy new coat to it. What of the last 35 seconds- those hallowed lyrics that were in every upset teenager’s MSN Messenger screen name at one point? You’ll be glad to hear that the band sticks the landing with this version. The venom and fervor work just as well surrounded by crashing drums as they did with a lone acoustic guitar.
These New Puritans is a name that’s been bandied around the hipster scene for almost a decade now, and yet have still not put out a good single. “Into the Fire” still doesn’t hit the mark, and that’s in part due to the unnecessarily complex percussion. Way too many drum fills in this thing. It’s almost like this video.
What happened to White Lies? The gloomy UK synth-wavers have gotten so bad it’s hard to even defend their back catalogue. New album Five has not one good song. Not one. The only tolerable track is the straightforward “Tokyo”, which sounds more like the broad pop of Bastille than anything the band’s done before. The rest is generic 80s revivalism with not one hook in sight.
The new album from indie duo Broods is called Don’t Feed the Pop Monster, but that monster is awfully thin and could use a snack. The record’s being positioned as some huge departure into mainstream territory, but other than lead track “Sucker”, there is no pop songwriting to be found. Even that first track misses the mark, mishandling the big hook’s melody.
Finding more than a handful of breakout artists from the past five years is a challenge. Finding a handful within the alternative community? Almost impossible. Catfish and the Bottlemen have potential, but they’ve yet to drop that big song to launch them into the stratosphere. “Long Shot” isn’t that big song; it’s a collection of tired hooks crammed together into a passable but generic song. It’s a lot like all the recent singles from Cage the Elephant, who seem to have exhausted their songwriting capability. “Ready to Let Go” is so boring you can imagine exactly how the song’s title is sung before even hitting play.
I like to think that I’m fairly in tune with what’s happening within the world of popular music, but I must admit that unless they’ve popped up in indie publications on the internet, I don’t know too much about mainstream Canadian acts. That’s why I was absolutely stunned to find that The Glorious Sons had packed an arena a few months ago. I’d pegged them as successors to the Arkells throne, but to become major league headliners within a few short years is incredible. Where did these guys come from? How do they have so many fans? Their sound is just as hard to pin down. It’s like some strange modern rock version of trashy 80s glam rock, but tailor-made for small Canadian towns. Trying to describe their aesthetic is fruitless, as is trying to trace their sound to some sort of influence. They’re just rock guys. Who for some reason are the next big Canuck thing.
Made from the same strain of jangly indie rock as the cadre of acts that have plagued Toronto and Vancouver for over a decade now, Hotel Mira manage to avoid being insufferable for at least one song. “Jungle” is a perfectly fine slice of catchy alternative rock with a fun call-and-response chorus laid over a punchy rhythm. Let’s hope all their future work is just as good.
Last year I noted that the lines between pop and alternative music have blurred to point where it’s entirely acceptable to have act like MAGIC! classified as part of the latter category. I still think that’s true, but Maggie Rogers is a tough sell as an alternative act. Opening for genre-straddlers Mumford and Sons makes it clear she’s not committed to either scene, and her sound further muddies her intentions. Sonically speaking it’s a near-perfect facsimile of late-90s/early 2000s singer-songwriter pop like David Grey, Sarah MacLachlan, and Dido. That on its own is not too much of an issue, but those influences make her brand a tougher sell in the alternative market. In today’s environment, that sound is aligned with the safe, family-friendly image of acts like Colbie Caillat or Sara Bareilles. Not really artists you’d see on a bill alongside Nine Inch Nails.