Ruminations on authenticity and negativity
Every year I impose a cutoff date in mid-November for songs. After that day I refuse to listen to new music and squirrel away any new singles I may come across into a folder to open on January 1st. That way I begin each year with a fresh new playlist.
Being in a more immediate mindset lately, I set no such cutoff date in 2021. Franz Ferdinand’s “Billy Goodbye” could have easily been an entry on my year-end countdown for 2022 – the band’s greatest hits album is not out until March – but the state of the world has instilled me with a greater sense of urgency. For the very first time since I began compiling and critically analyzing music 20 years ago, I had an empty playlist to kick off the year.
Unfortunately this means that for the past three weeks I’ve been listening to Grimes’ “Player of Games” on repeat as it’s the only great song I’d found thus far. It may very well be my favourite song of 2022 at the end of the year, seeing as for the past two years I discovered my top song within the first two weeks of the year. It’s a scary thought knowing that I might not hear anything better for the next 11 months but it’s entirely possible.
Luckily this past week brought me two high quality tunes that have tempered that fear a little. Though they don’t immediately ignite a fire in me they certainly have potential to be growers and if nothing else they may at least pad out the rest of my year-end countdown, which would now be comprised of a grand total of three songs.
Though Fontaines D.C. singer Grian Chatten doesn’t sound like Morrissey, the rest of his band certainly sounds like The Smiths. New song “Jackie Down the Line” jangles ominously like the best hits of the mopey new wavers did, with an air of authenticity to the whole thing. They’re a real deal sort of band. Chatten’s “doo doo doo, la la la” line which he repeats twice in the song is such an old school move that gives the song a dry charm.
Metronomy are a strange band to define. They’re a quaint British band that have neither made it as a mainstream act nor gotten much recognition in the indie world. They’ve got a very pleasant, small air about them – like a less frenetic version of Bloc Party. They’ve delivered a few gems over the past decade, and though their latest song “Things Will Be Fine” doesn’t sound like some monster hit, it’s very listenable. It also sounds a lot like The Grateful Dead, namely, “Touch of Grey”. It may be more suited for a spring night, but the breezy instrumentation is eminently likeable any time of year.
You might be surprised to learn that I take no pleasure in constantly criticizing the art of others. Even here on my secluded corner of the internet I feel bad releasing negativity out into a world filled with so much of it. I’m just annoyed at constantly being disappointed by artists and the fear of a future without good new music, and feel that keeping my pithy remarks relegated to this site is a compromise. My opinions do not ever make their way into the public sphere.
Really, I’m doing it because I care. I would like nothing more than to enjoy at least one song from every single artist on the planet, no matter what genre. I want to be proven wrong by every band I’ve ever dismissed as inessential or bad. But man, guys like James Blake and Perfume Genius just keep on not being good and I can’t help it.
I bring this all up because last week I dismissed a new song by Billy Talent even though it wasn’t particularly egregious. It didn’t tick any of the “annoying trends” boxes and really didn’t do anything especially wrong. Listening to the whole new album, it really didn’t merit me trouncing it and bemoaning its generic nature. The rest of the tracklist does in fact feature a lot of Billy Talent’s trademarks, and it’s only natural for them to try one or two songs in a more straightforward manner.
This week I intended to turn my ire on another punk-adjacent Canadian band. PUP has to this date not written a song which I have enjoyed, and the situation has not changed with their new song “Robot Writes a Love Song”. I hope that there is something on their new album that will change the situation. Because I do not understand the hype.
I also do not understand the hype surrounding Connecticut emo band Anxiety. Reading the press release about their new album, I expected something worthy of the exaltation. This was supposed to be a “viscerally catchy, massively promising debut”. But it just sounds like every single other “emo revival” band since 2013. The big chunky chords are there, the guitar arpeggios are there, but the hooks are not there. I hope that they learn to write a good song.
Last week I forgot to include an artist from the PR emails I get, so this week I will do two.
The first is a song called “Millennial” from a band called Pacific Estate. Before listening I expect them to sound like an emo revival band like Turnstile or Dirty Nil. My expectations are very low. Now that I am listening I see that I was in fact wrong. This sounds like White Reaper fronted by Arkells singer Max Kerman. Although it’s not my style personally, I cannot fault it. It is a party rock tune complete with a full-on pub rock ending and is overall fun. I give it 7/10.
The second is a song called “Plaque Protection” from a band called Sham Family. For some reason I am thinking this will sound like FIDLAR (grimy, alcohol-punk). Now that I am listening I see that I was once again wrong. This is a very accurate recreation of early post-punk, right down to the dour British vocals. This sounds straight from somwhere between 1978 and 1981. I enjoy the outro, which is a perfect example of how to do unconventional song structure right. There is still a proper moment of catharsis even though it doesn’t end on a chorus. I give it 8/10.