November 28, 2012

It’s the End of the World as We Know It, and the Music Is Meh

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The Mayans predicted that the end of the world would occur in December of this year. If there is any modicum of truth to that prediction, this has been an entirely underwhelming final year for music: Kanye West still has yet to come out of the closet, Bieber is eons away from releasing his own Thriller (though “Boyfriend” was a step in the right direction) and, to the surprise of absolutely no one, The Smiths still have not reunited. However, this is not to say that 2012 was devoid of any intriguing musical developments. As in every year, there were trends, trials, tribulations and thinkpieces that will permanently be associated with these past 12 months. In my ever-finite wisdom, I will do my best to boil this year down to its essence.

The Break-Up Album Is Alive and Well

After Taylor Swift released Red to widespread critical acclaim and Rihanna released her relationship-centric Unapologetic, let it be known: The breakup album is still a viable artistic vehicle. For these two, it helps that their beaus in question are the headline-grabbing sorts. Perhaps, as cultural voyeurism peaks with our reality television generation, we want the same celebrity spotting in our music. Red is almost a concept album about the celebrity breakup. Culture critics from TMZ to New York Magazine speculated widely about which song was about who, and, following Swift’s recent breakup with Conor Kennedy, we can expect her to exploit this formula for years to come.

For those of you who prefer a breakup album minus the Perez Hilton speculation, Jens Lekman’s I Know What Love Isn’t is this year’s finest. While (heart-breakingly) excluded from The Sun’s Album of the Year list, it’s a delectable stroke of beautifully orchestrated indie pop injected with Lekman’s pointed observational lyrics and descriptive storytelling. Though he wallows in his own misery, Lekman helpfully reminds us “the end of the world is bigger than love.” A breakup record with a sense of perspective, I Know What Love Isn’t is a welcome juxtaposition to Swift’s tabloid-ready opus.

Mixtapes > Traditional LPs

Aside from the stellar good kid, m.A.A.d. city (see opposite), El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure and Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music, 2012 featured a staggering paucity of quality label-released hip-hop records. But a brief survey of what mixtapes you could have downloaded for free — Joey Bada$$’s 1999, Heems’ Wildwater Kingdom, Death Grips’ NO LOVE DEEP WEB, Kitty Pryde’s Haha, I’m Sorry and Action Bronson’s Blue Chips — indicate that a possible sea change is upon us. As the conservative talking heads famously feared following the reelection of Obama, people are realizing that free shit is awesome. Hackneyed political jokes aside, free mixtapes are a veritable playground for up-and-coming rappers: You can recycle beats, experiment with new ideas and get your name out in the Twitterverse without the pressures and obstacles of a full-out release. Not to get all Howard Hughes on you, but, since I already collect jars of my own urine, here it goes: It’s the way of the future.

EDM Is the New Disco

In a recent interview with Spin, Deadmau5 controversially gave us this statement: “EDM is, like … Event-Driven Marketing, I think, is the acronym there. It reminds me a lot of disco.” I’m not prone to listening to men with mouse helmets, but Joel Zimmerman may have a point there. Like disco, EDM has been co-opted by mainstream artists in awkward ways (Taylor Swift, Flo Rida and Muse have all made uneasy attempts at replicating the genre), and is often criticized for its lackluster lyrics and is associated with garish modes of dress. Its artistic merit notwithstanding (it’s all hit-or-miss for me), 20 years from now all our kids will be looking at our photos from Ultra and wondering what the hell was wrong with us.

Post-Hardcore, of All Things, Is Having a Comeback

’90s-style indie-rock — the kind with roots more in the skuzzy basements of the Midwest than in Williamsburg — is having quite the revival. On the opposite page, you’ll see Japandroids and Cloud Nothings represented, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg: Riot-grrl throwbacks Swearin’, the shred-happy Screaming Females, psychedelic Husker Du-worshippers The Men and Toronto hellraisers METZ all released throwbacks to the era of guitar-slingers who pulled their influences from Our Band Could Be Your Life. The glory of the basement show moshpit can still be experienced, if you dig a little deeper into the annals of the interwebs.

Patrice Wilson, the Man Behind Ark Music Factory, Is Surely Going to Hell

When he produced and wrote Rebecca Black’s abominably popular “Friday,” we all had reasonable doubt. Perhaps Mr. Wilson — a grown man who rapped a verse about passing a damn school bus while driving — was just trying to make a quick buck. We’ve all been there. How was he to know, then, that he would ruin Rebecca Black’s life, turning her into a living, breathing meme that was forced to drop out of school due to incessant teasing?

But then “It’s Thanksgiving” happened. Nicole Westbrook sang into a turkey leg. There were fake fireworks. There were way too many croutons in that stuffing. And, all along, Patrice Wilson, wearing a goddamn turkey helmet, was smiling and rapping his way to legendary mediocrity once again. He may wear a crucifix in the “It’s Thanksgiving” music video, but he is no man of God. If ever there was a sign that the Mayans were right, it’s the fact that this man is exploiting delusional 12-year-old girls — yes, exploiting them — for the sake of Internet celebrity.

Mr. Wilson, if you’re reading this: These music videos are some of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever seen. At no point in these rambling, incoherent works were you even close to anything that could be considered an enjoyable song. Everyone on the Internet is now dumber for having listened to them. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Original Author: By JAMES RAINIS