Bryce Rudow is a contributing writer for All Things Go
Overloaded by all the “new music” options you keep hearing about? We’re here to help. Here’s four songs, and in this week’s case, a mixtape, we think you should fucking know (this week). Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments too.
Much to my mother’s chagrin, I inherited the title of “Tunes You Should Fucking Know” when I started writing this column a few months ago. While I’m sure BYT-editor Logan or whoever came up with that title probably never put that much thought into it, I started thinking about it while figuring out what songs to write about this week. For the most part, I try to complete that thought with “Tunes You Should Fucking Know Because They’re Enjoyable Songs To Listen To”; this week, though, I need to focus on the SHOULD aspect, as these are all songs (and in one case, a mixtape) whose existence one SHOULD know about because of their cultural significance, even if they aren’t necessarily enjoyable to listen to.
It seems like some of the bigger (and occasionally reclusive) names in “the scene” are going to be releasing albums this year (including Arcade Fire, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Avalanches, David Bowie, Daft Punk, The Dismemberment Plan, The Flaming Lips, Modest Mouse, Phoenix, The Postal Service, Vampire, Weekend, etc etc etc.) I always find it fun when the big stars put out new material because everyone loves to analyze it so much, whether it be trying to see how a band has progressed with their 7th album or seeing if an artist has rebounded from a sophomore slump.
One of the most interesting (and recurring) phenomena, though, is when the music world overvalues a song/album just because of the name attached to it. For my 2013 predictions, I claimed that Long.Live.A$AP would be “The Emperor’s New Clothes of releases this year, meaning everyone will feel compelled to applaud it because of an overwhelming sense that is what they’re supposed to do, while ultimately secretly not finding it all that great.”
This week, I’ve got 3 songs (well, three songs and a mixtape) all put out by popular acts that may or may not be getting a little Emperor’s New Clothes bump. Since I’ve been surfing Super Bowl prop bets all day, I thought I’d put odds on how likely it is that each song is actually not as good as the recognition and acclaim it is getting.
- The Strokes – One Way Trigger
Ranked by Rolling Stone as the 199th best album of all-time, The Strokes’ Is This It? started out like a Pixies B-side, but by the second track, “The Modern Age”, you were well-acquainted with what is The Strokes’ signature sound; by “Someday”, you were introduced to their hit potential; by the time the 1-2 punch of “Last Night” and “Hard to Explain” connected, you were uppercutted with the explosive “New York City Cops” and spent the rest of the album already reeling from the excitement. Is This It? was as impressive a debut album as you’re going to find.
The band followed that up with the similar and safe Room On Fire and basked in the limelight that was still reflecting off their heralded first album. Then, there was the more-divisive First Impressions of Earth‘s which was met with some trepidation that ultimately was buried by elated fervor over the band’s burgeoning creativity in terms of genre, including tracks like “Vision of Division” where they really let themselves go (and shred harder than most metal songs) or the 80’s-tempo’ed “Juicebox”.
A long hiatus later, they threw Angles at us, and while the band has admitted that the recording process for it, including Julian Casablanca’s long-distance relationship with the rest of the band and Hammond’s whole rehab getaway, was something they’d never repeat, they did branch out into more fascinating and extensive musical stylings, including the utilization of MIDI samples, keyboards, overdubbed guitars, and vocal layering. It didn’t meet the overwhelmingly high expectations that such a long hiatus will inevitably bring along, but it was still a welcome addition to their catalogue.
And now, there is “One Way Trigger”, the first song released off what is expected to be the band’s upcoming fifth album.
The ever-faithful sect of Strokes fans will find the bright sides of this song, but I don’t think even the most loyal Stroker (that sounds really dirty) would be able to look me in the eye and tell me they feel 100% confident in the upcoming album based off this song.
While this might be the band still trying to find a new sound that isn’t as rigid Is This It?, it’s jarring to hear Casablanca’s falsetto wail over this many electronics (even if in hindsight Angles forecasted this all along). I just don’t know if we’re ready for the once brooding, fuck-all Strokes to be as exuberant as they are on this gypsy punk-meets-“Take On Me” song. It may be catchy, but it’s not that memorable as a song alone, and with such a hopeful-yet-cautious fan base, The Strokes may need something a little more substantial for those fans to latch onto.
Rumored upcoming single “All The Time” is going to do a lot in showing us just what The Strokes have in store for their upcoming album, and whether or not it’s going to be something worth hanging on to.
Emperor’s New Clothes odds: 2 to 1
- The Knife – Full of Fire
Let’s face it, The Knife have always been a little weird. Even their poppier tunes have an off-kilter, dark vibe surrounding them. The mysterious, rebellious, and sometimes downright flippant brother-daughter pair that is The Knife enjoy their placement outside of any semblance of the mainstream. But let’s also remember that if it wasn’t for them, The Churches, Grimeses, Zola Jesuses, and Fever Rays of the world might not exist.
Their second-album, but first of prominence, Deep Cuts came out swinging with the now-legendary “Heartbeats” (bolstered in popularity by Jose Gonzalez, Sonia Bravia, and one of my favorite YouTube videos of all time) and ebbed and flowed between exciting and haunting until the beautiful outro track of “Behind the Bushes“, Pearl Jam homage and all (I don’t count the last track on the album “Hangin’ Out”, as I’m not sure why it’s actually there).
Then came the seminal album Silent Shout. Much (deserving) praise was heaped at the band, who had created a texturally rich sonic landscape that was more focused, more intense, and more encapsulating than previous efforts. It was heralded as a brave and artistic leap forward for the band, and while I admittedly still have a hard time getting through it all in one sitting due to its cold, heavy, dourness, it rightfully has been enshrined as a classic.
Then, a few days ago, The Knife released “Full of Fire”, the siblings’ first song as a group since 2006…
Because they are no stranger to bold musical innovation and possibly more so because of the long gap in between releases, fans were quick to revel in the experimental new song, along with its equally experimental music video/short film by feminist filmmaker Marit Osterg. But my first introduction to the song, an email on the All Things Go writer’s chain, summarizes my feelings towards the track perfectly: “I don’t know what I just listened to.”
The song is weird. And not fun weird. It’s just weird. I am fine admitting that there is some “art” out there that I just can’t get, and that may reflect poorly on me, but I cannot comprehend how anyone could look at this song in a favorable, optimistic light. But Pitchfork is awarding the industrial techno song Best New Track and Stereogum is calling it “glorious”. When I read that, I felt like Mugatu taking crazy pills. Luckily, a few trustworthy friends confirmed my bewildered criticism of the song, with one in particular making a vivid comparison to a Disney-esque parody of a Berlin nightclub’s soundtrack, so I know it can’t be just me.
I’m terrified for what The Knife has in store for Shaking The Habitual, due out April 8th, but something tells me no matter how horrifying their haunted-house electronic music is, there will be music reviewers there to salivate over it.
Emperor’s New Clothes odds: 10 to 1
- Paul Banks – Everybody On My Dick Like They Supposed To Be (mixtape)
Paul Banks is most famous as the occasionally mopey, but forever talented force behind indie-rock legends Interpol, whose signature iconic sound set a tone for an entire genre of music 10 years ago with its debut album Turn On The Bright Lights. His previous popular side projects, including two releases under the name Julian Plenti and one under his own, while entities unto themselves, have all directly reflected that original Interpol sound to varying, but still obvious, degrees.
What isn’t as well-known about Mr. Banks, though, is that, according to the man himself, hip-hop was his first love and that he has sporadically spun under the hilarious moniker DJ Fancypants. That might explain the seemingly-shocking mixtape he just dropped last week entitled, ahem, Everybody On My Dick Like They Supposed To Be.
What’s even more shocking (at first), though, is that it is fantastic…and I’m afraid it’s going to get stupidly underrated.
Yes, this mixtape has the exact opposite of Emperor’s New Clothes potential. I think Paul Banks has already been pigeonholed, even if it has been in a positive way, by most audiences because of Interpol. Even his Julian Plenti and eponymous albums were always given the benefit of the doubt for any faults because of the man making them. This mixtape, however, is an immediate departure from that Paul Banks that people assume they know, and there might be a bit of backlash because of it. Unfortunately, rveryone is too busy scratching their heads about it’s sheer existence to really listen to the songs, which is a shame; they are diverse, inspired, thematic, and most importantly, incredibly well-written. The guest vocals courtesy of Talib Kwali, High Prizm, and El-P give it a sense of validity, but it’s the instrumentals and seamlessly interspersed spoken-word samples that really flaunt Banks’ talent. He flirts with old-school gangsta rap beats, 90’s era R&B, and modern hip-hop throughout the 21-track affair, and shines in the deployment of each. It’s amazing to hear even that signature Interpol sound pop up and mesh incredibly well with vintage breakbeats on tracks like “Arise, Awake”.
Give this entire mixtape the listen it deserves and try to forget the fact that the man responsible for it is the same one who has 200 couches where you can sleep tight.
Emperor’s New Clothes odds: 1 to 5
- Lovestreams – Shock Corridor
Okkervil River’s singer/songwriter Will Sheff has been a beacon for the indie folk/alt-country genre. His novelistic lyrics have always been set atop guitar-based musical arrangements who were most at home partnered with a piano or banjo and whose poppiness was more aligned with artists like Adam Durtz than even Sheff would probably care to admit. His expansive, rabid following is most likely also filling their album shelves with The Mountain Goats and The Decemberists.
But with his new side project, Lovestreams, Sheff harkens more towards a mix of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone and that Blue October song that I like a little more than I know I should, wailing his raw, woozy vocals over arpeggiated synths and a drum machine instead of a guitar and banjo.
Introduced on his website as something he’d wanted to do for years, Lovestreams was created intentionally to not “owe anything to music [Sheff] made before,” and he certainly has accomplished that. However, because of his loyal and large fan base, “Shock Corridor” might be getting a little more coverage than it deserves. Having said that it’s still an enjoyable song that proves Sheff is more than a one-genre pony. We’ll see where he goes from here with this.
Emperor’s New Clothes odds: 3 to 2