Last year I didn’t write a “most disappointing” albums list because I was happy and didn’t want to be spiteful towards anyone. Fuck 2011. here are the album which didn’t make this shitty year any better.
Fleet Foxes “Helplessness Blues”
It is only partially Fleet Foxes’ fault that I dislike them. They are an especially generic folk rock band, and I could simply ignore them if only people would stop telling me how sensational, how important their music is. There are so many groups that are great that are making wonderful, bloodrushing music or even comfortable, permanent-address music, but Fleet Foxes do not do either, in my ears. Their lead singer graduated from the obnoxious Paul Simon school of enunciation that makes it seem like he took a pristine sip of fair-trade Darjeeling and undid his neckercheif so he could reach the higher register. His lyrics are full of non-profundities presented as their opposite, and the band themselves wouldn’t know passion if someone had just power-sawed off a vital organ. This is, at its best, supremely boring music. So what’s so disappointing? That there are a million groups better suited for the attention, and somehow these guys got it instead.
The Ex- Catch My Shoe
The great thing about The Ex was that they were punk for a reason. Their songs were a chain link fence that your face was being ground into because the vicissitude and burning of what they sung about demanded as much.The history lesson goes like this. Their last album prior to Catch My Shoe, the epic, 2-disc Turn was a global album which reflected on the complexity of cultural exchange and commodification in our western world. If this sounds like a school lesson or a New Yorker article, it was so much better than that. Then their lead singer quit. Then 7 years past. Then they wrote a new album with a singer who wants nothing more than to be original vocalist G.W. Sok. Then they confused engaging with non-western music (incorporating drones, chants, revolutionary folk songs into their music), with shoving non-western elements into songs which count down the seconds until they you stop listening to them. Then they recorded this new album with Steve Albini, who managed to neuter whatever energy was left. Then they named the thing after that one time an Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at former-President Bush. For a band whose entire career has been built on timeliness and relevance, this is about as low as they could have gotten. A revolution, by definition, cannot grow up. So here you go.
Low’s previous albums take time. They take time to listen to, time to think about, and then time to listen to again. They open up to you like abstract expressionist art. C’mon is surface level, short, dull. I wouldn’t ask anyone to listen to this album twice. I won’t ask anyone to listen to album once.
The Get Up Kids- There are Rules
I’m not entirely sure why they decided this would be a good idea. The Get-Up Kids, along with Sunny Day Real Estate and a few others, were the few bands whose material weathered the great emo backlash of the mid-aughts. Part of what had made the band work was their very organic-seeming musical arc, from the amazing and incurable energy of the band’s early EPs to the measured melancholy of On A Wire and Guilt Show. And just at the time when emo was becoming a caricature of itself, the band broke up. There are Rules is the band’s first album in six years, and, if nothing else, it surely has the band attempting a bold statement. And failing. Here, the band tries to come out swinging, only to see some hooligan looking kids staring at them from out in the street, then beating a retreat to a second-floor bedroom and writing music, which is only disgruntled and reactionary. Nothing else. Every song on here has the same tempo (awkwardly sped up), a mood (they’re going for pissed, but can only muster incontinent), and a somewhat bewildered sounding Matt Pryor, screaming his vocals behind, for some reason, an 18 wheeler fulla reverb. The band was smart enough to know this was their’s to lose. So why couldn’t they stop themselves?
The Mountain Goats- All Eternals Decks
This list isn’t about quality, it is about disappointments. The new Mountain Goats album isn’t terrible. It is mediocre. It is, however, terribly, terribly disappointing. John Darnielle’s last album was career highlight The Life of the World to Come, which was the kind of album which grabbed awkward words like aloof by the taught skin of their necks and shook them into the words they were trying to disguise themselves from– fool (and maybe loaf, too). That album had the feel of a novel. All Eternals Decks has the feeling of a first collection of short stories by a young writer. There’s skill, but there’s also a lot of hackneyed attempts at being “edgy,” a reduction of complex feelings to impassioned but dumb emotional banners, and, dropping that analogy, the most ill-fitting musical accompaniment that Darnielle has ever had. Everything about this album feels like posturing; something I would have never expected from John Darnielle, who has made a very successful music career out of pointedly not giving a shit about expectations. His release rate is about one album a year, so hopefully this one’ll get swept away by something better soon.
The Strokes- Angles
Ninety-Nine percent of people without hearing impairments would’ve told me this album was going to be lackluster. Even The band called it a mess before it was even out. The reason it is on a list of disappointments is “Under Cover of Darkness.” This song is four minutes which capture what made people so interested in the group initially; these emphatic sheets of guitars and this voice that is doing everything right but couldn’t care if it wasn’t. This is a song which is trying hard not to get ahead of itself. That’s part of the thrill. If they would’ve chosen any other track as the album’s first single, this song would’ve gotten burried and I almost certainly would not have listened to this album. But, of course, they couldn’t do that. As much as it is The Strokes’ MO to play it cool, you know it breaks these guys’ hearts that they got everything right just once, and then had half an hour of tape left to fill.
Next up are my favorite albums from previous years which I discovered this year, and then my favorite albums of 2011. Happy Cyber-Monday everyone!