Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The 18 Most Overrated Musical Artists of the Last 18 Years

NOTE: I have excluded from this lists bands that have gotten semi-constant positive critical attention but that nobody who actually likes music likes (Coldplay, Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc.). This is mostly because insulting those bands is obvious and wouldn't piss people off, and what's the point of making a list like this if it's not to piss people off?

18. Arctic Monkeys

I'm sick of people complaining about how "indie" isn't a genre of music. Yeah, I know that "indie" means "independent," and it refers to bands that aren't signed to a major label. But you're disabled if you haven't realized by now that "indie" has come to mean something else, a specific guitar-based rock band sound--a specific annoying as fuck guitar-based rock sound. Arctic Monkeys are one of the myriad bands to up the tempo of their generic indie rock sound and think that makes it dance music. It doesn't. You will never know, Arctic Monkeys, how I would look on the dancefloor, because I refuse to get on the dancefloor for your terrible attempt at dance music. Anyone who thinks that this is good dance music, you have never actually heard any good dance music. Or any dance music at all.

17. Why?

Speaking of people who think they are things that they are not, how about Why?, which as well as being a terrible band name, is a good reaction to their existence. Whenever I read anything about this band, I read things about how they are in an "undefinable genre." No, they're in a very definable and very well-populated genre, the SHITTY INDIE ROCK genre. The hip-hop influence is negligible and basically only thrown in to make descriptions of them seem marginally interesting, because the band certainly isn't. If you're looking for someone who does legitimately interesting things on the border of hip-hop and modern rock, listen to Aesop Rock. This is crap.

16. Lil' Wayne

Lest you think my ire is directed only at indie rock bands, let present the worst album of 2008, Lil' Wayne's Tha Carter III. Lil' Wayne thinks that he is the best rapper alive. This is only true in some alternate universe where he has murdered Nas, Jay-Z, and every member of the Wu-Tang Clan, then taken lessons from Vanilla Ice until the student surpassed the master. There is nothing to like in Tha Carter III except the Jay-Z guest spot. Yeah, Wayne and his annoying-as-hell voice jump between a lot of different types of hip-hop on this album, and basically each one of them is a separate argument about something that is wrong with modern mainstream rap. One sounds like Usher, who is terrible, one sounds like R. Kelly, who is terrible, one sounds like watered-down Dr. Dre, which, natch, is terrible. And some of them are terrible in a uniquely Lil Wayne way, too. It's like multiple personality disorder, but all of your personalities suck.

For some reason, critics jizzed all over Tha Carter III. I have only one explanation for this: critics met in a cabal in early 2008, realizing that they will seem out of touch if they don't all love some mainstream hip-hop album, and elected Lil Wayne president. Consider your cabal EXPOSED, critics.

15. of Montreal

Here's a band that almost didn't make it on, not because they're not crappy and overrated (they are), but because it's basically impossible to think of a lot of different riffs on "this is the same generic indie shit I have heard from a hundred other bands, none of which I liked." Of Montreal "mixes it up" by adding some stupid electronic noises. BUH BUH BUH GUH. Good for them. Boring.

14. Dirty Projectors

Unlistenable trash, and this is from someone who likes Captain Beefheart.

13. Deerhoof

Basically the same as above, though not quite as self-consciously weird, so a little more accessible, and therefore more liked and more overrated. Still basically no desire to have any sort of a melody that I could not describe as "yelps." Honestly, try to play one of their "melodies" on a keyboard or something sometime. It will make you feel retarded, which is how Deerhoof feels all the time.

12. The Streets

There is nothing to like about this. Nothing. He's not a good rapper--that is to say, he doesn't have a good voice, good flow, good rhymes, or good subject matter--and his production isn't even interesting either. I have absoultely no idea how he became a indie darling hip-hop artist when he is just plain this terrible. Oh, the dude is also supposed to have a sense of humor. If by that you mean that I laugh at how bad he is for ten seconds before listening to something else, I think that indicates that I have a sense of humor and he is just an idiot.

11. Modest Mouse

Here we go again, having to riff on the same "this entire genre of 'indie rock' sucks" thing, but having to do it in a different way. Here's an interesting thing: I actually like Modest Mouse a decent amount, certainly more than any of the other artists I'm filing under "bad indie rock" in this. I like them because their version of "indie rock" is basically appropriating ideas from Tom Waits and cloaking them in the indie guitar sound. Tom Waits is one of my all-time favorite musicians, ergo, what Modest Mouse makes isn't so bad.

So...the best thing I can say about Modest Mouse is that they stole something I like and made it shittier. Yep, Modest Mouse, you deserve spot number 10.

10. Bloc Party

Wow. Here's an impossible one. Another one of those stupid indie rock guitar bands (I'm beginning to think I shouldn't have put so many on this, but the list is already written, so SOLDIER ON), but this one there is absolutely nothing notable about. If someone ever tells you that "indie" isn't a genre, put on some Bloc Party, and say, "Hear this? This is the blank slate, generic form of indie." They will probably say, "Oh, yes, pretty much everything I listen to sounds like this. I have just realized that all of my music is not only able to be pigeonholed, it is also terrible." Just kidding, that would be in an awesome world. In this world, people will not be dissuaded from liking Bloc Party, who are a terrible band.

9. Kanye West

Kanye West is a great, great hip-hop producer. He is also a terrible, terrible rapper. Basically all of the bands above this have godawful lyrics (with some exceptions for Modest Mouse, who stole some Tom Waits lyrical ideas as well), so it's a little unfair to start digging into lyrics now, but you know what? Let's do that. If for no other reason, because lyrical skill in hip-hop is somewhat more important than it is in most other genres, or at least, I feel, it's harder to ignore bad lyricism. So here's the opening of the Grammy Award-winning "Stronger":

Let's get lost tonight
You could be my black Kate Moss tonight
Play secretary, I'm the boss tonight.
And you don't give a fuck what they all say, right?
Awesome, the Christian in Christian Dior
Damn they don't make 'em like this anymore
I ask, cause I'm not sure
Do anybody make real shit anymore?

I think I speak for basically everyone when I say...um...really, Kanye?

Not coincidentally, this song has fucking awesome production...done by Kanye West. Please man, quit rapping and go back to producing for other people who can rap, like Jay-Z, Lupe Fiasco, and Talib Kweli.

8. Death Cab for Cutie

Alright, I definitely put too many of those stupid indie rock bands on here, I realize that now. I apologize to anyone reading all of these who is now preparing themselves for another "X variant on indie rock is still boring, stupid, uninteresting, and unmelodic." But imagine, imagine if you had to listen to a full album of each of these artists as you read this list, and think of how much sicker you would be of this generic sound even more so than I am sick of writing the same comment over and over. So, anyway: the mopey, slow, sad variant on indie rock is boring and shitty, too.

7. The White Stripes

Okay, here's another one where I actually respect and like the artist a fair amount, but the amount of critical attention is ridiculous. Pretty much all White Stripes songs are interchangeable blues-rock with intentionally stupid drumming...which is a perfect description of all of their first four albums. This becomes really obvious when you look at several different critics lists of the best albums of the last ten years. They pretty much always have exactly one of the first four White Stripes albums on them, but which one? Totally up for grabs. Mainstream choice? Elephant. Pitchfork choice? White Blood Cells. Uber-hip choice? De Stijl. You could remove the lyrics and probably none of the people picking could tell which of those albums they were listening to. Anyway, later in their career, the White Stripes started doing marginally interesting things, with, you know, more than two instruments, to which critics responded, "This is okay, but not as awesome as the really generic rock you guys used to make."

6. Nirvana

Well, duh, you knew this one was coming. I seriously considered not putting it on here, because it's so mind-numbingly obvious, but then I realized that Robert Christgau, a critic on whom I can usually count to call bullshit on a bad band, and Pitchfork Media, that writer of unreadable reviews with a critical consensus that is still often well-earned, called Nevermind an "A" album and the sixth-best album of the nineties, respectively. No. No. No no no no no no. How often does anyone who truly likes music listen to Nevermind, really? It can't possibly be more than once every few years, to reassure themselves of its importance, or something. Nevermind is a stupid album that basically just takes what the Pixies did and makes it glossier as well as making every song sound like the next. I have nothing against glossiness, but when the central appeal of your music is supposed to be how raw it is, you are making stupid, hypocritical music. Oh, also, the Pixies had at least twice the sense of melody, and ten times the lyrical ability.

5. The Strokes

Not a truly terrible band, but a bad band that is responsible for a lot of the other bad music on this list. The Strokes didn't invent the "indie" guitar band sound that I've complained a lot about here, but they refined it into something that could be easily copied by tons of other bands and added an easily imitateable vocalist. All in the name of bad pop/rock. Do you remember their first single, "Last Nite"? Remember how you thought it was nothing at all special, but also not too offensively bad? Think about if you had realized then that basically all critically-approved rock music for the next eight years would sound almost exactly like that. You would have clawed your ears out. You should have.

4.5/4. Animal Collective/Panda Bear

Heellloooooooo, modern critical darlings! I have listened to two different different Animal Collective albums all the way through several times, as well as the one Panda Bear album a few times. I cannot sing a single melody, name a single lyric, or give you a defining feature of any single track other than those that apply to both bands as a whole (kinda folk-y, acoustic instruments, weird noises, obscured voices singing things I can't make out). There is a name for music that does not grab you in any way: BAD.

3. Radiohead

This is a difficult one. It is a difficult one because my high school self unequivocally would have declared Radiohead my favorite band, and when I saw them only a little over two years ago, I really, truly enjoyed the experience. They're a great live band. So how come the only album I reliably go back to is Kid A? It has to do with several things (MINI-LIST):

1) Thom Yorke is a shitty lyricist. See:

Please could you stop the noise, I'm trying to get some rest
From all the unborn chicken voices in my head
When I am king you will be first against the wall
With your opinion which is of no consequence at all
Ambition makes you look pretty ugly
Kicking squealing Gucci little piggy

This isn't a dark portrayal of a post-apocalyptic world, as someone defending it might say. This is just angsty nonsense. "Unborn chicken voices"? What the Christ does that mean? And this is basically as lucid as it gets. Ask anyone what a given Radiohead song is about. They will tell you it is about alienation, technology, and inhumanity. Ask them what another Radiohead song is about. It is about the same thing.

Part of the reason Kid A is the best is because it has the fewest lyrics.

2) Radiohead's music is essentially soulless. It doesn't help that the lyrics are intentionally "inhuman," but what really makes it bad is how calculated the band always feels. Radiohead's music is basically what you'd get if you looked down some list of all the things that were supposed to be in critically acclaimed music: pop music, yes, but with experimental tendencies, adventurous use of time signatures, that doesn't have clear roots in any single genre. But you don't feel it. None of it. I never feel like Radiohead is playing any sort of emotion or statement to me, I feel like they're playing Radiohead to me. Which is hard to relate, because I am not Radiohead.

Part of the reason Kid A is the best is because the songs on it hit you with something, at least. "Idioteque" is the best song they ever recorded.

3) Radiohead is depressing. But Radiohead is depressing in the general "things appear to be quite bad, yes yes" way, not in the personal way that Bob Dylan is depressing, or the cynical, observational way that Randy Newman is depressing. I feel depressed, not in an emotional or connective way, just in a general "I feel shitty because I'm totally supposed to now" way.

Part of the reason Kid A is their best album is because it's least depressing album. Except maybe In Rainbows, which was pretty good.

2. Eminem

Eminem is a bad rapper with an annoying voice. He also should have been included on my list of worst examples of satire, because, like Tucker Max and Maddox, his misogyny, homophobia, and general idiocy isn't ironic, it's just the way that Eminem is. Even more so than The Streets, I cannot figure out how Eminem came to be such a critical favorite. His rhymes can approach competency, but his subject matter is so terrible (killing your wife? did you really think that was a good idea for a pop song?), his voice so grating, his production (which he mostly does himself) so uninvolving and boring, and his lauded sense of humor so NONEXISTENT--really, nothing here justifies how dark and mean it is, unlike Dre's The Chronic, or Wu-Tang's 36 Chambers, say--as to cancel out any possible positive qualities the dude has. He's less interesting than tons of better and worse rappers out there, so why did he get famous and popular? Oh, right, because he's white. And he even admitted it, in verse no less. Eminem sucks. (Also, that song I just linked is hilariously bad.)

(Note: someone reading this might assume I hate all white rappers. I don't. I like Aesop Rock, whom I previously mentioned, the Beastie Boys, and Atmosphere...if he's white. I forget.)

1. Weezer

If there's one thing I'll excuse over any other, it's pop sensibilities. Many of the bands considered for this list, or suggested when I was requesting submissions from friends, were bands like the Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Beck, Ben Folds Five, and Vampire Weekend. (Most of those, by the way, garnered multiple nominations.) I threw all of those out because they're simply too catchy, too good at crafting memorable melodies, and too fun to get stuck in your head and sing to really deserve hatred or ever be substantially overrated.

So how did an unabashedly pop band get all the way to #1? It's simple. The bands I just named are good pop bands. Weezer is a bad pop band. It's the difference between a song you listen to over and over because it's so damn catchy that you NEED to hear it again, and a song you wish would stop playing in your head because it's so damn hypnotic. That's what Weezer is. Hypnosis.

Even people who will readily admit that (working backwards) "Pork and Beans," "Beverly Hills,"Dope Nose," "Hash Pipe," and "Island in the Sun" are the hypnosis-type bad pop music (oh God one of those is stuck in your head now and I am so sorry), a lot of people will still defend Pinkerton and The Blue Album. Including my esteemed colleage and fellow list-maker, Peter. I apologize for this, Peter, but I declare Blue Album worship the worst case of rose-tinted glasses in the history of music. It was one of everyone's first "indie" albums when they were getting away from music everyone hates now, and they have a childish attachment to it now. Cuomo's melodies were just as insipid then as they are now. ("Surf Wax America"? What the fuck? And do the keyboard-test, mentioned in the Deerhoof entry, with "The Sweater Song" to discover that...yeah. That melody is terrible.)

What's more, Rivers Cuomo's unabashedly heart-on-sleeve lyrics (without any real poetic or lyrical ability) were an inspiration to thousands of somehow-even-worse bands that have plagued music since The Blue Album came out in 1994. I'm going to copy and paste this directly from Wikipedia, so you know these aren't just my choices:

Many modern bands such as Ash, Jimmy Eat World,[29][30] Fountains of Wayne,[31] Dashboard Confessional,[31][32] The Ataris,[31][33] Ozma,[34] Ultimate Fakebook,[29] The Used,[30] Hellogoodbye,[35] Relient K,[36] Bloodhound Gang, The All-American Rejects,[37] Good Charlotte,[38] The Pink Spiders,[39] The Academy Is...,[40] Say Anything,[41] The Calgary Sun, Biffy Clyro,[42] Something Corporate,[43] The Stereo,[44] The Fall of Troy, Nerf Herder,[45] Hoobastank,[30] The Anniversary,[29] Saves the Day,[30] Rye Coalition,[29] Tera Melos, Thursday,[30] The Get Up Kids,[29]Motion City Soundtrack,[46] and Ludo[30] and Taking Back Sunday[30] have been compared to Weezer or named them as an influence. (Wikipedia)

Yeah. What a legacy. Why anyone continues to worship these guys, even their early stuff, is a mystery to me. Weezer is the most overrated band of the last eighteen years.

(Note: credit where credit is due, the idea of pointing out bands as having terrible melodic ideas by playing their melodies on a piano was originally suggested, as far as I know, by Dr. David Thorpe, a Something Awful writer, in this column.)


Anonymous said...

u fag

Shira B. said...

Good list! I am generally in agreement with you. Also, I am thrilled to find out that someone else hates Weezer.