The Worst in Music of 2015
The name “Viet Cong”
So this year, we watched as a band named after an off-hand racist comment rose on the charts. They’ll no doubt crop up on bunches of more positive lists this month, even after colleges like Oberlin barred them from playing. Sang Nguyen, a writer at Impose and also a second-generation Vietnamese-American, wrote a killer letter that best summed up the indecency of it all:
It’s possible that a lot of people who support Viet Cong—and perhaps even the band themselves—are plainly unaware of the weight that this band name carries for so many people. But that excuse doesn’t work in a culture where history and information are so readily available. We exist in a critical time where art does not exist in a void. Everything exists within the context of ongoing conversations, and this means more so than in previous musical climates, problematic and triggering behavior by artists will be called out. Simply put, offensive shit does not fly like it once did. To see a phrase and album imagery that are loaded with a history of violence and trauma—ripped by a rock group who does not—and cannot—identify with it, and emptied of its meaning, is unacceptable no matter what the reasoning behind it is.
Everything about Mark Kozelek
After that sausage-butchering nonsense between him and the War on Drugs, the ornery dick called journalist Laura Snapes a “bitch” onstage, in front of nearly 2000 people – which, y’know, is not cool at all, and which Snapes viciously called him out for:
…in this life, Kozelek trades in sucker-punches. He impugns online “bitching and whining”, but hides behind one-way email exchanges, balks at the idea of his peers speaking about him and issues tirades (and sometimes, sexual advances) from the cowardly remove of the stage, with the get-out clause that it’s a performance. He can use sexually violent language to reduce female critics to the status of groupies, knowing that while male musicians’ misogynist acts are examined for nuance and defended as traits of “difficult” artists, women and those who call them out are treated as hysterics who don’t understand art. “The world don’t owe us shit, I learned that real fuckin’ young,” he sings on Universal Themes’ Little Rascals. If anything remains to separate Kozelek from his work, it’s that his music preaches that the least we owe one another is decency.
(Kozelek also put out a rather middling LP this year, but we’ll get to that.)
Ill-conceived name aside, Slaves deserve shaming for their godawful debut Are You Satisfied?, in which they pose and preen as the “voice of our generation”. Eh, maybe they are, if this generation consists mostly of misogynist meatheads that string buzzwords together to make political arguments. Lessee, what did I say about this when I reviewed it…
…neither of them Slaves wrote very good songs about women. ‘Sockets’, a commercial-grade garage tune (you know the type – polished, sterilized, injected with steroids, re-packaged, and resold as ‘authentic’), talks about the typical boy-crushing, impulse-buying teen girl stereotype, and rollicks along to the refrain “IT WASN’T OUR FAULT”. Particularly painful is the bit about “trying on shoes is becoming a problem / but that’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s going to stay”. Okay, bub – so this self-inflicted malaise of over-consumption you spoke of earlier, is that innate to us womenfolk?
Then there’s ‘She Wants Me Now’, another third-hand imitation (like Jet miming the Clash), and it’s exactly what the title suggests. And while the chorus is annoying enough – I can already see a dozen companies queuing for the rights, banking on its illusion of youth to sell cars, movies, and beer – certain verses irk me even more: “you / don’t understand / that I’m a man / and I’ve got responsibilities”. Perhaps these women are presented as extremes, but the way Isaac explains their behavior suggests that they have no life outside their romances.
Oh right. That. Yeh. People said I was “taking everything too serious” when this review came out. Funny, that. So legit hip-hop reviewers can scrutinize Future’s use of AutoTune to impart emotion on his inane mumblings, but I can’t examine how women are simplified and stupified in faux-punk anthems. OK. Got it.
Father John Misty
Oh, where do we begin? First there was that whole storybook packaging debacle, where the LPs destroyed themselves before they even hit the shelves (and which paint the Father and/or his marketers as either sadistic bastards or idiots).
Then there were the songs, deplorably dull and with lyrics that I poked plenty of holes in:
So basically, “I Love You Honeybear” is about Tillman flipping the bird at the apocalypse. And this is what kills the song – the culmination does not try to unearth some new truth about anyone even the two characters of the narrative. Mr. Misty sneers at the status quo, but does nothing to subvert it, or even to expose it (just who are the “garden variety oblivious”, anyway, and why?). I’m better than you, he says to us, over and over, and never explains why.
Finally, when queried about this list, Hannah Golightly exploded into this rant about how Mr. Tillman may have actually stolen his whole persona from John Grant:
I am pissed off with Father John Misty for ‘taking John Grant’s place’ on someone I know’s top of 2015 list! Have they no ears? He’s the poor man’s John Grant ffs! He reckons in some interview i am reading now that he took trips and ‘discovered some gay alter-ego’- hmmmm hmmmmm hmmmmm I am scratching my head trying to figure out WHO that alter ego sounds like? Hmmmm errrrrr??? Can anyone help me figure that out? It’s one of those things that would be perfectly good were it original. But come the fuck on. He can’t sing like John Grant coz no one can! And he sure as hell can’t write songs like him with unexpected satisfying melody twists that are better than some orgasms. And when he swears, it doesn’t have the same effect of waking you from the slumber-induced by the rich beauty of Grant’s classical singing style, making you realise that this stuff has got edge and attitude in spite of it’s string section. This is the painting by numbers John Grant. This isn’t art to me, this is interior design. Listening to his I love you Honeybear album, I don’t want to hear this man’s stories, I don’t want to hear his views and opinions. How someone could take John Grant’s shtick and make it sound so generic and bland is anyone’s guess. Is this what John Grant sounds like to people who don’t get John Grant? Coz I don’t get this, yet it bears the same cornerstones, in theory at least. I cannot get over how incensed I am that this guy Joshua who is posing as a man called *cough* rip off *cough* John!!! Like that’s not even his name! Has stolen the theme ‘Honeybear’ from John Grant. Now I understand marketing all too well- this guy is being positioned to soak up the scraps from John Grant’s sold out show’s table. Exhibit A your honour:
Joshua, flippin Joshua renames himself John, pretends to be gay, pretends to be John, pretends that calling someone “honeybear” is part of his personality…. at what point does copyright get infringed here? At what point does John Grant take out a restraining order against this imposter? There’s being influenced by someone and then there’s taking trips and taking over that person’s career and top spot that was earned by Grey Tickles, Black Pressure this year- my personal album of 2015. Is Nickleback the voice of a generation now, coz I thought that was Kurt Cobain’s job? This is what that would be. By all means copy the fuck out of John Grant- who wouldn’t want to do that? John Grant is incredible! But to take over John’s top spot in people’s minds? What in the hell is that? Choosing PVC over real leather? Laminate flooring over handcrafted wooden floorboards.
Our fearless editor, when queried about this list, lamented about LPs that failed to deliver.
The Courtney Barnett album wasn’t as good as the previous two EPs. As clever as the lyrics are, it made me think about her vocal melodies and the lack of variety in them. Having said that, I did listen to it a couple of weeks ago for the first time in months and it did sound good though.
I was so looking forward to the Sufjan Stevens and although songs in isolation are faultless, as an album it didn’t gel for me. It wasn’t as good as Age of Adz, it wasn’t as good as Seven Swans, the album it was returning to musically. It missed the female vocals of both of those albums.
Sun Kil Moon’s Universal Themes was no Benji.
The Father John Misty only had a couple of good songs on it (“Bored In The USA”, “Holy Shit”) and again wasn’t as good as the first album. I wish I’d gone to see him when he first played in Brisbane (at The Zoo) but it was the same night as My Bloody Valentine and I already had tickets. I saw him a couple of weeks ago and although it got better as the show went on, it was kinda flat. Despite being a sell-out, the crowd didn’t seem into [it]. I was trying to work out whether pulling James Brown moves, dropping to your knees on regular occasions, arms raised to the sky didn’t work because doing all that stuff doesn’t work for Americana (for want of a better term) or just because it all felt so forced and choreographed.
I’ve found it fascinating how most of these albums have then been towards the top of the End Of Year lists. They’re a fascinating topic on their own, the uniformity across all the different publications and me trying to work out why that happens, why there’s so little variety. Are these albums really the pinnacle of music in 2015. Or is that when you have a dominating influence that’s middle class, white dudes (probably with beards) between 25-40, who have more than likely grown up with the established rock canon, whether the end of year lists are always going to be the same. Plus the influence of any scoring system used which rewards the least offensive albums to the majority over an album that one person might have thought was the best thing they heard all year.
Speaking of least offensive albums on End of Year lists…
You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you CAN judge an album. Also, as a rule of thumb, if anyone tells you that a plain red cover is a brilliant idea, then brand them as hipsters and smite them.
Kurt Cobain necrophilia via Montage of Heck.
Indeed, the possibility that Kurt Cobain’s farts could’ve climbed the Christmas charts would’ve been delightful. But no, no no no, focus here. As many a writer more capable than I have pointed out, Montage of Heck sucks dry the last of the nostalgia cash cow that marketeers have been leeching for decades. Alexis Petridis dissected the deluxe edition for the Guardian, so we didn’t have to:
There are several joke songs, none of which are funny and some of which make you wonder aloud at the patience of Tracy Marander, the girlfriend who financially supported Cobain while many of these recordings were being made. In the documentary, she says she did so happily, because he was always busy, always creating, but their relationship floundered when she eventually suggested he might consider going out and getting a job as well – a conversation you suspect may well have happened after Marander came home to discover that his day’s endeavours had involved recording Beans, a spectacularly irritating joke song that Cobain, incredibly, lobbied to include on Nirvana’s debut album, Bleach.
Well? Do you recall something far more horrendous that we’re forgetting? You must be. Please comment below, or on the Twitters, or on the Facebooks. Anywhere you can blabber and post links.