Now Take Them Out, Devils Presents: The Year In Pop (Part 2)
by Simon Lazarus Vasta
By Simon Lazarus Vasta
I’m handing out more run-on sentences/awards this week. Miss part one? Read it here.
The Peter Gabriel Award for Most Ambitiously Accessible Album of the Year goes to: Liars’ WIXIW
While Liars’ sound has changed a lot over the years, they’ve never been known to make an album that’s friendly on the ears. Admittedly, there would be moments, like Drum’s Not Dead’s “The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack,” Liars’ “Protection,” and Sisterworld’s “Proud Evolution,” but overall, their records had a tendency to revel in noise and the clatter of drums. Enter WIXIW, a mostly electronic effort that is shockingly temperate and more in tune with tourmates Radiohead than their old noise-punk cohorts. Honestly, it’s the most punk move Liars could have made, and WIXIW’s relative accessibility never compromises the band’s scope or imagination. Their best work since Drum, no question.
The Mysteriorum Libri Quinque Award for Occult Folk Opera of the Year goes to: Damon Albarn’s Dr. Dee
Dr. Dee started its life as a collaboration between Albarn, cartoonist and Gorillaz co-founder Jamie Hewlett, and comics legend Alan Moore (Watchmen, From Hell), but the project seemed doomed by Albarn and Hewlett’s splintering friendship, as well as Moore’s reputation as The Most Difficult Human Being in the World. Miraculously, Albarn still managed to pull his impressionistic folk opera about Elizabeth I’s court natural philosopher and master magician John Dee off, and just in time for the Cultural Olympiad in London. Like most contemporary opera, Dr. Dee suffers without its visual component, but it still makes for a compelling listen due to its surprisingly personal nature. At its core, the opera is about reaching for the stars, only to come back with a fistful of rhinestones, and whether there’s a difference between enlightenment and merely the illusion of it. One suspects that Doctor John isn’t the only D the title is referring to.
The Adam Sandler Award for Excellence in Artistic Bankruptcy goes to: Japandroids
I gotta hand it to you, Japandroids; you really go above and beyond to be awful. When your first record, Post-Nothing, came out three years ago, I found it to be a shallow collection of insipid anthems targeted at a demographic of overly-nostalgic twentysomethings. The way a song like “Young Hearts Spark Fire” attempted to bait its audience into feeling something with the most superficial of sentiments felt borderline offensive, and I didn’t think it could get any worse.
And then the next year they dropped “Younger Us.”
“Younger Us” was the exact same song as “Young Hearts,” except worse. Let me give you a sample of the lyrics here:
remember when we had them all on the run
and the night we saw midnight sun
remember saying things like “we’ll sleep when we’re dead”
and thinking this feeling was never gonna end
remember that night you were already in bed, said “fuck it” got up to drink with me instead!
Yeah, dudes make Paul Banks look like Leonard Cohen. At best, the song was fucking stupid. At worst, it was a cynical, lazy attempt to be the musical equivalent of those “hey, remember slap-bracelets and other such ‘90s things?” on Buzzfeed. It was “1979” mashed up with “Don’t Stop Believing” except stripped of both songs relative soul and charm. I didn’t think it could get any worse.
This year, Japandroids released their second album proper, Celebration Rock.
Y’know, not every band needs to be innovators. Not every artist needs to be a genius. There’s a lot of good music out there that just does its thing and goes home. And there’s a lot of mediocrity out there that is perfectly innocuous. That’s not Japandroids. That’s not Celebration Rock. It’s the same bullshit sentiment in every song. The same vague, generic platitudes. Imagine if you hit a young Bruce Springsteen in the head with a rock over and over again for hours and then forced him to write an album’s worth of nostalgiamistic hogwash. Celebration Rock is far worse. It feels like Japandroids is pumping out the same vacuous crap year after year, except every year it’s a bit worse. And the fact that the album cover of everything they release looks exactly the same (Futura+border+black and white photo of band members Brian King and David Prowse) doesn’t exactly hide that fact; if anything, it’s a deliberate fuck-you to an audience who keeps on buying it over and over again.
Japandroids are the worst.
The See? The ‘90s Revival Isn’t a Complete Dead-Eyed Waste of Time Award for Excellence in Indie Rock goes to: (3-way tie) PAWS, Blood Red Shoes, & Cloud Nothings
Much of the work that has come out of this current round of nineties nostalgia has felt like soulless products of an inevitable twenty year cycle. However, a few albums managed to steal liberally from two decades ago without becoming generic copycat sludge. Sure, PAWS’ Cokefloat!, Blood Red Shoes’ In Time to Voices, and Cloud Nothings’ Attack on Memory are all heavily inspired by Superchunk, Pixies, The Breeders, Throwing Muses, Lush, Sebadoh, The Afghan Whigs, and so on and so forth, but more importantly, they’re inspired. These albums, and the bands that made them, get it. They get the two-minute kissoff and the nine-minute guitar freakout, they know when do be goofy and when to be serious as the grave, they know how to connect with their audience in a way few ‘indie’ groups understand anymore.
That’s it for now, but don’t forget to check in over the next two weeks for parts three and four. Follow Simon Lazarus Vasta on Twitter @Hunter_S_Narc