A trio of feuds dominated music news this week, the most prominent being between Neil Young and Spotify.
Removing his catalogue from the streaming giant due to their hosting of Joe Rogan’s podcast, the classic rocker was supported by fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell who also had her songs taken off Spotify. Politics aside, this situation right here is a perfect example of what I’ve been hollering about for years. Fans of both Young and Mitchell who had carefully curated playlists filled with those artists’ songs now no longer have access to those songs. Just like when Netflix removes TV shows and movies, this scenario shows how much power streaming services wield. They can remove any media at their whim and without warning, for any reason. For those who did not have offline copies of Neil Young or Joni Mitchell’s songs, this means they have lost them and have to rely on some other service or source to get them again.
Owning a copy of the music you paid for is paramount. Whether it’s physical or a digital file, you absolutely need to ensure that you will always have access to it, no matter what happens externally. Whether it’s label disputes, ending contracts, or other controversies, no real world events should affect the media that you own. Growing up in the early 2000s, I’m forever an MP3 baby, and back all my favourite songs up on CDs as well.
Promoting his new album on the interview circuit, former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr hasn’t been shy about dropping barbs and jabs about his onetime bandmate Morrissey. It’s certainly within his rights to do so, but it is disingenuous to pretend like he hasn’t when Morrissey confronted him about it this past week in an open letter that was “calm and measured”, as Morrissey himself wrote. There wasn’t anything incendiary about it, just a simple request to quit dredging up past grievances – a request that Marr snidely brushed off. Though Morrissey has said some unsavoury things in the past, he’s absolutely in the right here and Marr comes off as an immature man unwilling to admit the huge debt he owes to The Smiths.
It’s hard not to roll your eyes when Taylor Swift starts trumpeting about her supposed authenticity. Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn made a somewhat erroneous statement this week when he said that Swift doesn’t write her own music, setting the popstar and her legion of stans off. The truth is though, that when Swift wrote on her own she stuck to a very static template.
There’s a reason why her biggest, most popular, and most produced albums all relied on help from the world’s most prominent pop songwriters and producers. She wanted to cross over, she had the money, she got the big guns. Max Martin, Shellback, and Ryan Tedder are credited on nearly every single song on 1989 – Swift’s most commercially successful album. So is Jack Antonoff, who is starting to annoy me so much that I’m beginning to dislike his music. Throwing himself valiantly in front of his queen to protect her from Albarn’s comments, Antonoff defended her songwriting capability while simultaneously discrediting his own work on her tracks. As right-wing zoomers would say, Jack Antonoff is a full-on simp. He’s not alone either, as Swift was also defended by the guys from the National, who she turned to for songwriting help when she wanted to portray herself as a cozy cabin girl in 2020.
There’s nothing wrong in co-writing pop songs, but Taylor Swift’s problem – especially as of late – has been her relentless quest for positioning herself as genuine while making carefully researched marketing moves due to diminishing returns on her hits. Katy Perry is supremely corny and just as manufactured, but at the very least she isn’t trying to be anything but a popstar. Swift comes across as a mean, petulant high schooler who stomps her feet and pulls her face into a pinched pout when she gets called out by an actual artsy kid. Damon Albarn has definitely made some missteps before, but he’s never even come close to hobnobbing with the glitzy mainstream pop world. His music has always been authentic, for better and for worse. Also this is the guy who wrote “Country House” – one of my favourite songs of all time – so I’m absolutely taking his side in this matter.
Aside from the feuds, here’s some thoughts on songs that were released recently.
At some point in the early days of 2022 “abcdefu” by GAYLE blew up on TikTok as a memetic sendoff to the previous year. While I’m not the biggest fan of the lyrics (they’re very mean to an ex’s presumably blameless mom and sister), this is 100% a pop hit. This is the kind of break-up song Taylor Swift wishes someone had written for her, an earworm that hits all the right notes with its instant classic of a chorus. The best pop song of the past two years, hands down.
In case I was being a little too positive there, let’s dial it right back to needlessly pointed criticism. The band SAINT PHNX are so incredibly bad, I cannot believe that a band can emerge out of nowhere so fully insipid. There is not one single drop of individuality in this banal, cookie-cutter soft rock that sounds like music OneRepublic was too ashamed to perform. I can guarantee you that you can likely sing any generic pop hook and it will be one of the songs on this band’s EP, which is an amalgam of about a thousand motivational anthems from the past decade and a half.
Our Lady Peace frontman Raine Maida is a good guy who has written some of Canada’s best alternative rock anthems. But he is absolutely trying way too hard to fit in with the cool kids these days. If it’s not NFTs, it’s trying to turn Our Lady Peace into a new band without any ties to the past 30 years of work. New album Spiritual Machines 2 is all processed beats and electronic textures, to the point where it sounds more like a solo side project than a rock band. There’s nothing that connects it to the original 2001 album.
Here’s an interesting bit of pointless personal information: while I was listening through the iTunes previews of Spiritual Machines 2 I accidentally clicked on fellow 90s rockers Stereophonics new song “Forever” and thought that it was part of the new OLP album. It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination but it is certainly more palatable and suited to a post-grunge band three decades into their career. This is what OLP should sound like now.
Radiohead spinoff band The Smile dropped another new track this week, and although it’s leagues better than the yowling debut song, it really just sounds like a drab Thom York solo track. More importantly, this is the first time in history that a Thom Yorke project is behind the times. It sounds unoriginal. They were beat to the punch by smooth-jam peddlers like Chet Faker and Black Pumas and all the other bands with their “analog recording” vibe.
Spastic new buzz band Black Country, New Road have so much hype surrounding them and it’s almost entirely unmerited. They are the epitome of a try-hard hipster act who do everything to derail their own success with pointless diversions. New song “Chaos Space Marine” almost takes off at one point, but after what sounds like half a chorus it just devolves into a shambolic mess reminiscent of a fiddle-infused Broken Social Scene, or a bluegrass version of Los Campesinos.
The emo-rapper scene that includes MGK, Grandson, YUNGBLUD, and a dozen other chaos goblins has a subgenre of younger zoomers that includes guccihighwaters, aldn, glaive, and a dozen other weird timotheeee chalameeee clones. One of these 347aidan, whose new song “IDON’TWANNATALKTOYOU” is just so zoomer-oriented that I can’t listen to it without feeling like a withered ancient one.
The mushy-mouthed, raspy voiced teen mumbles some story of modern relationship woes vis a vis texting issues over an instrumental that sounds like an indie track from 2004. It would be acceptable if he hadn’t just strung together two verses and two choruses and called it a song. It would be even more acceptable if he hadn’t invited spoiled industry plant renforshort to feature on the track, lazily ripping off Billie Eilish with her hushed “smoky room” vocals.
The quality of Band of Horses’ output dropped off so steeply it was surprising that they stuck together for this long. But they’re back and trying again, with mixed results. “In Need of Repair” has a nice chorus and hews closely to the classic Band of Horses sound, but like the aforementioned 347aidan, this is not a full song. This is two OK verses and two OK choruses followed by an anti-climactic and pointless verse that is thankfully easily lopped off at a natural endpoint.
I found another perfect example of a bad song – “Nothing Like This” by Allister X. Man oh man if this doesn’t tick all the boxes of “style over substance”. It reminds me of generic bottom-of-the-barrel indie bands like Capital Cities or Saint Motel or COIN, all flashy brass sections and danceable beats with the laziest hooks on the planet. The chorus? A monotonous “You ain’t seen nothing like this before / like this before / like this”, delivered without a hint of melody. Atrocious.
As much as I’ve liked Orville Peck’s output so far, I’m holding my breath because I think he has the potential to be disappointing. He’s yet to write that big hit that would launch his career into the stratosphere, something which I genuinely hope for him and his singular sound. This past week I found a song of his on iTunes I hadn’t heard before, and listening to it I was both pleasantly surprised and shocked that I’d somehow missed it. It was disciplined, melodic, and pushed his country-indie into a new direction. It wasn’t until I heard a recognizable instrumental hook that I realized I was a huge dummy and it was a cover of Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy”, a song I only knew because Brandon Flowers had sampled it for “I Can Change”. Doy, my bad.
But it got me thinking. If Orville Peck can recognize the value of a song like that, then why not follow that template? He knows what constitutes a hit single, now all he has to do is make his own.
I warned you – the next new bad trend in music might be “live sounding” instrumentals. Bleachers did it on “Stop Making This Hurt” and now NO WIN have done it on “New Year”. Two songs does not a trend make, but this may be heralding more copycats in the future. An attempt to emulate 90s indie, perhaps. “New Year” certainly does want to be a 90s song – more specifically, the second hit single that never materialized from “Teenage Dirtbag” band Wheatus. NO WIN have the 90s guitar hook down (though annoyingly underproduced) and I’m glad to say that once the song launches into its chorus it sounds a little more full, but overall “New Year” is frustratingly raw. The drums sound like they were recorded from across the room. There’s a tinny sound to it that also plagued PUP’s new song “Robot Writes a Love Song”, as well as the aforementioned 347aidian’s “IDON’TWANNATALKTOYOU” and several tracks on Our Lady Peace’s new record. Perhaps there’s yet another bad trend emerging here – crispy, tinny production.
So that leaves me with one genuinely good song this whole week. Canadian band Partner’s “Time is a Car” sounds like Fleetwood Mac meets Bruce Springsteen, with a massive chorus and some full-bodied production behind it. Though I have to admit I had to play it back a few times to make sure I was hearing it right- were they really singing “Lightning McQueen / take us away”?
They indeed are, and strangely enough, it works without sounding like a song written specifically for the Pixar franchise.
I’m gonna cover two songs from my inbox this week, because the bands’ names stood out to me.
The first is The Trampoline Delay and their song “Don’t Let Go”, which I think will sound like Phantogram. Now that I am listening to it, I realized I was incredibly wrong. This is a very faithful rendition of 90s alt rock. It sounds like Smashing Pumpkins went punk. The production is lacking a little, but that’s to be expected as it is a band just starting out. I give this song an 8 out of 10.
The second is a band called Sugarfungus, which I’m hoping will be some sort of frenetic party-funk. Nope, wrong again. “What’s a Used One Worth?” is pretty standard synth-pop along the lines of Cannons or 1000000000000 other Toronto bands. It is OK, except for the fact that it resurrects a long dead trend that I hoped had been thrown away 6 years ago: the drumless chorus. Totally kills the catharsis. Also some messy choices structurally, and overall a disappointing song that wastes a good vibe to experimentation. I give this song a 4 out of 10.