Enough With the Fucking Arcade Fire, Already

One of our primary goals here at Rust Is Just Right is to provide an alternative to a lot of the dismissive snark that is the hallmark of a lot of contemporary music criticism these days.  We believe that in a world that’s overflowing with great music, it’s better to analyze and promote what’s worth listening to instead of attempting to tear down what’s already popular.  Sure, it’s easy to succumb to the temptation of writing something bitingly clever about a band that we don’t like, but it’s not really going to accomplish all that much.  Besides, it’s not our place to decry other people’s tastes.  If you enjoy something, we’re in no place to tell you why you’re wrong–life is simply too short and awful to take away any such joy like that.

Given those parameters, this editorial may seem to run counter to that mission.  Yes, we are going to slag on Arcade Fire, but that’s not the main purpose of this piece.  No, our qualms are with the breathless adulation and coverage that the band receives on an infuriatingly and consistent basis, and how Arcade Fire has somehow in the past decade became shorthand for what’s “good” in “indie rock”.  This unabashed love of the band has frustratingly led to the ridiculous need that many publications and writers to shoehorn a mention of “Arcade Fire” in pieces that are completely irrelevant to the group.

First, we’ll lay all our cards on the table and explain why we don’t like the band in the first place.  Well…Eels wrote a superior album about coping with the deaths of close family members, Pavement did a much better job of writing seemingly-tuneless melodies, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor along with Broken Social Scene did a far better job of simply being a collective of Canadian musicians.  Hell, even the cover of Funeral is infuriating, since it comes off as a rip-off of the art associated with Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea–shit, it even has the same goddamn font that NMH used.  The art just screams “WE REALLY LIKE NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL AND WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT WE’RE COOL LIKE THAT!”  If you want more substantial criticism (beyond this standard rock-critic trope of accusing a group of being derivative of all these other influences), it boils down to the fact that their music is boring, they can’t sing, and have never written an insightful lyric.  They wrote a two-chord song, and they couldn’t figure out how to do it in a key that was in the range of their singer–LCD Soundsystem managed to do that, and came up with one of the greatest songs of the decade despite James Murphy’s limited vocal abilities.  This is a band that ruins their one decent moment, the song “Wake Up”, with an abrupt and inexplicable shift into fucking “Walking On Sunshine”.

Perhaps my frustration with the band can best be explained by their presence in the film “Her”.  It’s an absolutely amazing film and further cements in my mind that Spike Jonze is a true genius, and I was glad that he won an Oscar for his work.  However, I had significant issues with the score.  There was one key scene where the OS “Samantha” composes her own music, and we in the audience here it played back.  It’s twinkly piano music that sounds pleasant on the surface, even if it has no real melodic ideas, and sounds like something an entity with limited knowledge of songwriting would create.  Which seems to fit the idea of a computer attempting a human behavior and approximating that behavior except…it was frustratingly obvious that the piano was played by a human, since the rhythms were wildly imprecise and fingers were lingering too long on certain notes and making the notes stick together and therefore ruining the illusion.  That’s Arcade Fire in a nutshell: humans attempting to mimic machines which are trying to pass off as humans, and failing miserably.

For the most part, it hasn’t been an issue and aside from their presence in an otherwise magnificent film, I’ve been able to avoid Arcade Fire rather easily.  It doesn’t take much to avoid clicking links like “Watch Arcade Fire’s 25 Best ‘Reflektor’ Tour Cover Songs”, even if those links appear everywhere and on multiple sites.  No, the true problem is when the band makes a random appearance in an article that has absolutely nothing to do with them, as illustrated in this review.  Pitchfork’s review of M83’s re-release of their first three albums marked the moment when we officially reached Peak Music Critic Insufferability, as the reviewer attempted to describe M83’s style with this statement: “Arcade Fire are perhaps a better touchpoint for their overall approach: lead with emotions telegraphed big and wide enough to fill a stadium, and let the guitars and synthesizers fall into place around them.”

Now, let that sink in for a second.  Not only is it ridiculous to compare the music of the two bands (since no one who has ever listened to both bands would find a connection beyond “these are two acts that create sounds”–just listen to that video above and explain how it resembles Arcade Fire in any fashion), note that the connection between the two seems to be…that the two groups are both emotive.  This assertion that somehow Arcade Fire was the first group to emphasize emotion in some capacity in their music is completely insane (especially in an era where “emo” was huge) and demonstrates the myopia that afflicts a generation of rock critics in which in order to convey that a musician is “serious” that it must be compared to this one band.  To further underscore how clumsily the point is made in the review, note that the comparison to Arcade Fire is immediately dropped and no further mention is made in the rest of the review.

However, the most ridiculous aspect of the comparison is just simple chronology.  M83’s first two albums were released before Funeral, while their third was released a couple of months after.  Unless those crazy Canadians can bend the rules of time and space, it can be definitively stated that they had absolutely no effect on the French electronic duo.  If you’re dead-set on making some sort of comparison, perhaps another article can be written about how M83 influenced Arcade Fire, but why bother.  I mean, this is a great song that displays subtlety and mastery of melody–something that is difficult to find in an Arcade Fire song.

That’s not the only irrelevant mention of Arcade Fire I encountered this month–in a review of Death From Above 1979’s new album, I learned that apparently we started measuring time in terms of Arcade Fire album releases in the past decade.  To be fair, that isn’t the worst problem with that ridiculous review (which includes gems like finding out that Wolfmother was apparently a dance-punk band), but it once again points to the annoying habit that many rock critics employ of needlessly dropping references to Arcade Fire.  DFA1979 are as bad a comparison as M83 in terms of music, but why the hell should that matter?

These are all symptoms of the general problem of giving Arcade Fire way too much credit than they deserve.  In this feature, we see the band get praise for…incorporating “whoas” in a song, as if having an instrumental swell accompanied by a wordless chorus was a fucking revolutionary act (just one year later, we would see a much better example of this technique from My Morning Jacket).  Arcade Fire somehow also gets credit for “having an auxiliary floor-tom for intermittent bashing” when Radiohead had a hit the previous year doing exactly that (and to great effect).  Even the most diehard Arcade Fire fan has to admit that Radiohead is a much more influential band.  Besides, has this been a real trend?  Sure, White Rabbits used it to great effect on “Percussion Gun” and it helped get people to listen to their fantastic album It’s Frightening, but for fuck’s sake, it isn’t worth tricking me into clicking a link for a goddamn Imagine Dragons video.  More than anything, it just seemed like an excuse for this poor excuse for a Canadian collective to employ extra people to play random percussion, seemingly ripping off Slipknot of all bands (hey, I knew I forgot another random influence of Arcade Fire).

Arcade Fire fans, I mean you no harm.  But please, if you end up working as music critics, please refrain from constantly mentioning your favorite band.  It reflects poorly on all of us.

Over the Weekend (Sept. 8 Edition)

News, interviews, and goofy fun videos as you deal with a full work week…

In preparation for the release of Death From Above 1979’s new album The Physical World tomorrow, you should check out Noisey’s profile of the band.  If that’s not enough to get you pumped, well, you could always go back and read our piece on the brilliance of You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine.

As Radiohead begins preparations for a new album, drummer Philip Selway is about to release his second solo album, Weatherhouse, on October 7.  Today, the band posted the SoundCloud link to the gorgeous “It Will End In Tears”, and is definitely worth a listen.

Soundgarden/Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron gives some advice to aspiring musicians in this interview with Guitar Center.

SPIN is jumping in on the “let’s revisit 1994” bandwagon, providing a top 100 list of the “Best Alternative Songs” of that year.

And finally have some fun watching Nicki Minaj attempting to teach the various parts to her dance from the “Anaconda” video to fashion models.

Over the Weekend (July 14 Edition)

In contrast to the relative paucity of links from Friday, we’ve got an avalanche of videos and news this week.  So here we go!

The music world lost another giant this weekend, as Tommy Ramone passed away due to complications from bile duct cancer.  Tommy was a vital part of the Ramones, anchoring their back-to-basics but give-them-hell attitude from behind the drumkit, but he also was an early producer for the band and was the main creative force behind many of the band’s most-loved songs, including “Blitzkrieg Bop”.  After he left the Ramones, he continued making his mark, including producing one of the greatest albums of all time, Tim by The Replacements.  Now is as good as a time as any to listen to that album along with any and all Ramones albums you may have, and be sure to read this great write-up by Jon Wurster in SPIN.

Interpol released their “first” official video from El Pintor, for the propulsive and upbeat “All The Rage Back Home”.  I put “first” in quotations, because that ignores the live video for “Anywhere” that previously was released, but is also understandable because at least this is a studio recording.

Here are some initial thoughts on the song: 1) I love it when Interpol goes for speed, and it works even better in contrast to the slow open; 2) The lead guitar in the verses, while a continuation of the first slow part, clash way too much with the chords once the song gets into gear; it’s a lot like when I was in jazz band in high school, and the director would point to me suddenly and go “you have the next 16 bars”–a lot of noodling on the upper part of the neck that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever; 3) In the video they have Paul playing bass, emphasizing that as a recording unit they’re a three-piece, but live they will have a more traditional lineup with Paul on second guitar; overall, Paul acquits himself quite well, though I hope on other songs he attempts to replace Carlos D’s ability to use space and off-beat rhythms and lines that were such a key part of the early Interpol sound.  In related news, Interpol announced today the details of their fall tour, with tickets for most shows going on sale on Friday.

Speaking of tours, the recently reunited Slowdive (and subject of one of the first pieces on our site) have announced that they’re going beyond an initial run of festivals and are going on a full-fledged tour.  I can’t wait to see them in November, as that month seems to be shaping up to be “Reunion Month” with Death From Above 1979 stopping by the Northwest a couple of weeks later.

We’ve mentioned before how much we’ve loved Hamilton Leithauser’s solo debut, and we’re glad to see that he’s released another music video, this time for “I Don’t Need Anyone”.  This one is pretty funny, and has a nice dark edge to it that’s perfect for a Monday.

Continuing with a theme of funny videos, Metallica cut a humorous promo for Sportscenter, fitting in with the latter’s long run of great ads.  In this spot, the band is looking for something to do now that Mariano Rivera has retired and so they no longer have to play “Enter Sandman” for his entrance music.

As there is the “Rule of 3’s” in comedy, so it is with funny music videos, as Weird Al released a video for his parody of Pharrell’s “Happy”, with the clever “Tacky”.  Yankovic gets some famous friends in on the fun, and those who have tired of hearing the original should welcome it. (Warning: Video autoplays)

And for your last video, if you need to come down a bit, there’s The National doing an interview over on Pitchfork that should help.

After some rumblings before, it’s now official that Radiohead will be heading to the studio to record their latest album in September, according to Billboard who listened in on a BBC radio interview.  As always, it will be interesting to see just what direction the band will take this time around.

Unexpected Influences

Over the years, I believe that Radiohead’s Amnesiac has been unfairly overlooked.  Previous albums OK Computer and The Bends were rightly hailed as two of the finest albums of the 90’s, and helped solidify my love of the band.  It was with the band’s release of Kid A when my devotion wavered a bit.  It was an unexpected curveball, even when accounting for the probability that the band would take a creative left turn after the triumph of OK Computer and their even greater commercial success and critical respect.  It took dozens of listens before I began to fully appreciate the album and realize the thought and musicianship behind it.  I wasn’t the only one–at the time of Kid A‘s release, critics gave it moderate praise, as indicated by the Metacritic score of 80.  It wouldn’t reach its status as a consensus top album of the 2000’s until much later in the decade, as artists drew inspiration from the record and audiences fully processed its impact.

Amnesiac, which was recorded during the same sessions as Kid A, was an easier pill to swallow.  For years, I preferred Amnesiac to its compatriot, as it seemed to feel more like a rock record, though a subdued one, with just the right amount of electronic and experimental touches.  Songs like “I Might Be Wrong” and “Knives Out” were great singles that you could immediately jump to, and “Pyramid Song” was a total triumph, a song that decades from now will be recognized as one of Radiohead’s greatest accomplishments (and be sure to watch the beautifully moving music video, with its devastating ending).  Gradually my opinion has been swayed as to which is the better of the two albums, but I still hold Amnesiac in higher esteem than most, if it’s remembered by people at all.

Perhaps the most overlooked song on this overlooked album was this short instrumental near the end of the album, “Hunting Bears”.  It’s presence is particularly jarring on the album, between the jazzy “Dollars and Cents” and the glitchy/disorienting “Like Spinning Plates”; the jagged, trebly guitar pierces through like a knife from the subtle synth background, playing a mysterious melody that slowly gets swallowed up in reverb.  It may not be a particularly significant song in the Radiohead catalog, but it’s a nice change-of-pace on the album, and I can’t help but being caught up in its intrigue when I listen.

The MC5, while a noteworthy band in the history of rock, does not seem like it would be a particular influence on Radiohead, beyond perhaps just a general prompt for some teenagers to pick up some instruments and raise holy hell.  Their sped-up blues-rock and revolutionary rhetoric were a revelation for many, and their music and antics helped inspire the first generation of punk rockers.  Their debut, the live album Kick Out The Jams, is rightly heralded as a landmark album, but that is certainly not their only contribution.  Some have a soft spot for their follow-up, Back in the USA, but I prefer their third and final album, the rollicking High Time.

High Time built on the ramshackle spirit of their debut, and is a better attempt at capturing the live spirit that inhabited the typical MC5 show (or at least that’s the story that I’m told, since I am too young to have witnessed the band perform during its heyday, though periodically some clips pop up on YouTube).  It’s been unfairly overlooked over the years, not only by the public at large, but audiences who would be inclined to listen to the MC5 at all.  Perhaps its most noteworthy appearance came in the first episode of “Eastbound & Down”, when the song “Miss X” was used to announce the introduction of April, Kenny Powers’s muse (due in no small part to the fact that MC5 member Wayne Kramer was responsible for the music on the show).

With the disparate nature between the two bands now settled, let’s get to where the two bands unexpectedly meet.  I embedded the song “Future/Now” from High Time up above, and as you listen to it you may still wonder where the connection is–it’s a groovy blues rock song that sounds like it’s ready to kick off the party and lead a wild protest march.  But the song unexpectedly shifts gears slightly after the 3 minute mark.  At 3:16 we have…a reverby guitar that plays a similarly mysterious melody to what we’ve heard before from this article.

Even though there are a few noticeable differences between the two songs, there is still clearly some similarity between the second half of “Future/Now” (perhaps we could consider it the “Now” part) and “Hunting Bears”, from general style to specific tones.  While I believe it’s unlikely that Radiohead was inspired by a deep cut from an old proto-punk record and can more likely be chalked up to coincidence, it would be great to find out that the band decided to give a subtle nod to one of the favorite bands of their youth.  At the very least, maybe some people searching around for information on Radiohead will be inspired to pick up an old MC5 album, and I would consider that a fine accomplishment on my part.

Catching Up On The Week (June 13 Edition)

For those of you who survive Friday the 13th and the full moon, here are some #longreads to get around to on your weekend.

Earlier this week, we had our review of Hamilton Leithauser’s solo debut, but for those of you who need an additional fix of The Walkmen, Drowned in Sound has the stream for Peter Matthew Bauer’s solo record Liberation! available on their site.  The stream wasn’t working for me when I checked, but maybe it will for you; at the very least, you can read Bauer’s track-by-track guide to the album.

Next week also sees the release of Familiars from the Antlers, and Pitchfork caught up with them for an interview.  The band talks about a couple of unexpected inspirations for the new album, including Twin Peaks and The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Johnny Greenwood recently announced that Radiohead is taking a year off, which I guess counts as news if you were looking around and noticed, hey, it’s been…over a year since The King of Limbs, but people are reporting this anyway.  Read up to see what adventures Johnny has gone on in the meantime, and while you do that, be sure to check out these pictures that fifth graders drew after being subjected to Hail to the Thief.

Stereogum has a look back at Hot Fuss, since we celebrate the ten year anniversary of every decent album that we at the very least half-way remember/are likely to sing a couple songs while drunk at karaoke.  (Everybody thinks that they can sing “All These Things That I’ve Done”, but it’s tougher than it seems–they could probably do “Mr. Brightside” however, since the vocal melody is basically the same pitch throughout the song (that said, I still enjoy the album)).  However, this provides an interesting behind-the-scenes look in the days before their breakthrough release, and is worth checking out.

AV Club finishes up their “Fear of a Punk Decade” feature with a look at 1999 and…Jimmy Eat World, because that pretty much says everything you need to remember about punk in 1999.  Granted, there’s a much more in-depth discussion of a lot of other bands, but let it be known that was the hook to get you reading.

Normally we tend to keep things strictly music-related on this site, but considering the subject’s connection to music, we’ll say that you should take a look at The Hollywood Reporter’s quest  for answers to the suicide of Searching for Sugarman director Malik Bendjelloul.

And finally, SPIN interviews Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings about his recent collaboration with Wavves.  We’re pretty excited to see what the final result of that combination will be.

Covered: “Reckoner”

Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original.  If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before.

One of the highlights of Radiohead’s classic album In Rainbows was the song “Reckoner”.  It may seem like a contradiction when I put it this way, but if I had to describe it, I’d say it was a beautiful, haunted, jazzy piece.  The first instrument the listener hears is the super-clean guitars with their rich, bassy tone, a style used throughout In Rainbows but used to maximum effect here (I’ve quipped to friends before that it seemed that Radiohead forgot that there were other pickups on their guitars besides the neck pickup, but it works perfectly in this context).  The stuttering rhythm of the beginning arpeggios are complemented by a shuffling drumbeat, which gives the song a right mix of propulsion as well as unease.  The use of the ride cymbal also adds to the haunting quality, giving an instrumental haze through which Thom Yorke’s ethereal vocals filter in and out as he pleads in a gorgeous falsetto.

So it would seem like it would be difficult to match the greatness of this song, right?

I would say that while the original is a great song, I believe that the Gnarls Barkley cover surpasses it.  The instrumentation is faithful to the original, right down to the tambourine part as played by Danger Mouse.  One small difference is that instead of strings, the band opts for some distortion on the guitar, a substitution which works great in the live setting.  But what sets this version apart from the original is the amazingly emotional vocal performance by Cee Lo.  He gives this song all the passion that it didn’t even know it needed, turning Thom Yorke’s pleadings into a forceful demand.  It’s a stunning, powerful performance, and is the key to what makes it one of the best covers I’ve ever heard.

***Side Note: I was actually at the concert in 2001 at The Gorge where Radiohead debuted an early version of “Reckoner”.  It sounded pretty much nothing at all like the song we all know now.