Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bands We Were Supposed to Like

It seems every two years or so another band comes out of no where that the music media picks as the next big thing.  Thus they spend all their energy through glowing reviews and articles trying to convince us, the music loving public, that we should really be into this band. Now of course sometimes they're right, or at the very least partly right. Sometimes these groups that they hype up actually turn out to be decent if not pretty good.

Music is a subjective thing and it's harsh to completely attack a music journalist for his or her own personal views of a band. But so often it seems that legions of music journalists all pick the same band to trumpet and just as often it's simply unfolded like some sort of conspiracy. The band, for all its sparkling praise on music websites and in magazines, is really nothing special if not downright crap. (Kings Of Leon, I'm looking at you) Here are a few of those bands whose overblown hype has especially annoyed me over the years.

 5. Death Cab For Cutie
From 1997 through 2003, Death Cab quietly went about their business, releasing three albums to little fanfare. The group originally began as a solo project by vocalist/guitarist Ben Gibbard while he was still a member of the band Pinwheel. While it's true that the band's very first EP, Something About Airplanes was favourably received in the independent music scene, it's also fair to say they hardly made a blip on the radar. Over the next few years, the band changed drummers twice and released two more recordings: We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes in 2000 and The Photo Album in 2001. The group would go on their first national tour across the U.S. in 2000 but they were hardly a big name at the time.

Things would begin to change towards the end of 2003 with the release of the album Transatlanticism. Teen drama The O.C. used a couple songs from the album and Six Feet Under, CSI: Miami and Californication soon followed. This got them noticed, the album started selling and soon they were signed to Atlantic records on November of 2004. Their followup to Transatlanticism and first release on a major record label, Plans, was highly anticipated and came out in 2005 and reached Gold status by 2006 - the same year I started hearing about them. They played on Saturday Night Live and began campaigning loudly for PETA. Their 2008 followup,  Narrow Stairs, while representing a strong departure from their earlier style, was eaten up by critics and many even touted it as the album of the year.

Death Cab For Cutie certainly aren't a bad band by any stretch but Gibbard's supposedly "earnest" vocal style really grates on me and their melodies come across as overly simple. Sometimes when a song reaches its "C" part it just sounds like a mash of "A" and "B". Again, it's difficult to pinpoint what exactly it is about their music that bothers me but I wouldn't complain nearly so much if they didn't have so much critical and commercial success.


4. Modest Mouse

 Formed way back in 1993, Modest Mouse underwent multiple personnel changes and released three records before their fourth, Good News for People Who Love Bad News, went platinum and put them on the map in 2004. This was particularly due to the success of the record's two singles "Float On" and "Ocean Breathes Salty". For the rest of that year, you really couldn't go anywhere without hearing these songs, particularly the catchy "Float On", a song whose repetitiveness still drives me crazy.

The success of Good News for People Who Love Bad News caused people to take a closer look at the band's previous work and their 2000 album The Moon & Antarctica, is today regarded with much critical acclaim even though I find it to be completely forgettable. Pitchfork.com seems to think it's the best alternative rock record of all time or something. Check out this embarrassing review. Whatever.

Late in 2004 the band played on Saturday Night Live (of course playing "Float On") and the album was nominated for the Best Alternative Rock Album award at the Grammys. Their 2007 followup, We  Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, reached number one on the US Billboard chart and the band did a tour with REM in 2008. I'll confess I'm not familiar with any of the songs from that record but I'm truly glad they seem to have faded from the spotlight in the past few years because I was sick of hearing what a great band they are.


3. Arctic Monkeys
Bands like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols made not being able to play your instruments cool. Arctic Monkeys looked to continue that proud tradition and, for awhile, were highly touted as a band to watch. They gained their popularity mostly through the Internet, actually through fan-based websites. This led to their debut album, 2006's Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, becoming the fastest selling debut album by a British band in history. Seriously. Think about some of the bands the UK has produced and then read that statement over again.

It actually took them several years to release a record because they wouldn't play ball with any executive meddling, which is certainly something to be respected. By the time they finally signed with Domino in 2005, they'd become a highly coveted act in the music industry.

When the record hit the US it performed almost as well, becoming the second-fastest selling debut for an indie rock group in the country. Although critics in America were slightly more reserved in praising the band than their British counterparts, I'm sure not all the bullshit I heard about them came from overseas.

Their first single with Domino, "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" shot straight to number one on the British billboard chart when it was released in October of 2005. It's one of the most annoying rock songs I've ever heard, so of course critics ate it up. They were on the cover of NME a few months later and eventually the magazine declared Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not the fifth greatest British album of all time - I shit you not.

The best way I could describe their sound is "noise rock" with yammering vocals. Thankfully, their following albums, released in 2007 and 2009, didn't achieve nearly as much success and they've more or less fallen back into, I won't say obscurity but at least just moderate popularity. It had been quite awhile since a band with so little talent soared so high.


2. Interpol
Another band that Pitchfork lost their shit over (dubbing their debut album the best album of 2002), I first heard of Interpol from a friend who I lived with in the Roost at King's. While it's true that said friend is known for being...overly enthusiastic...about just about everything, I quickly found that he wasn't the only person full of glowing praise for this completely underwhelming band.

A major part of what is referred to the post-punk revival scene in New York City, Interpol formed in 1997, playing in the city, and from what I can figure, Paris. My friend explained it to me something like this: "They're a really awesome band and they could have signed and toured and become really big but they didn't wanna do any of that so they just play over in France." Right.

So anyway, after releasing some EP's and "keeping it real" in France or whatever, they finally signed with Matador Records in early 2002 and released a proper studio album, Turn on The Bright Lights, later that year. Critics seemed convinced that we were witnessing the next Joy Division (which I can assure you, was not the case) and orgasmed all over the place in their praise. The record didn't exactly explode but did manage to sell 300 000 copies by 2004. All the while, music publications did their best to tell us that we just weren't getting it because Interpol was definitely something special.

Their 2004 album, Antics, achieved Gold status in both the UK and US and all over again we got to hear about what an amazing band Interpol was but it was just the same shit. How much do Interpol bug me? Well, let me put it this way: if you consider yourself a fan I want to punch you in the face.


1. Kula Shaker

Well, we've reached the top of the heap when it comes to overblown hype for a lame band. Surely you must remember these guys. I sure as hell do. It's also true that I've barely given them a thought over the past ten-plus years. But as soon the idea for this list began forming in my amazing brain, Kula Shaker rushed straight to the forefront of my thoughts.

Like in so many of my other lists, let's go back to the nineties for a moment. After the grunge movement of the earlier part of the decade, I would say that the biggest movement in rock was definitely Britpop. Stemming from the shoegazing school of the late eighties and very early nineties, bands like Blur and Oasis became absolutely huge in England and North America and, just as it had happened with grunge, record labels, music publications and fans all scrambled to find bands of a similar style. The Camden Town area of London in particular became a sort of musical centre for many of these bands. As Melody Maker, a popular English weekly newspaper declared: "Camden is to 1995 what Seattle was to 1992..."

And it was Kula Shaker that would earn the label of the next big thing in Britpop, just as the genre's popularity was beginning its decline. While bands like The Verve and Radiohead - previously overlooked during the height of the genre - started gaining real success and acclaim around 1996 heading into 1997 (with the release of Urban Hymns and OK Computer), Kula Shaker absolutely exploded out of the gate with their album K. It quickly went double-platinum and became the fastest-selling debut since Oasis's Definitely Maybe.

Their style was Hendrix-esque psychedelic rock which I guess everyone was really in the mood for at the time. They would win the "Breakthrough British Act" award at the BRIT Awards in 1997 while music publications on both sides of the pond fell all over themselves with praise. Even some rather unwise remarks about the Swawstika in an interview with some members of the UK music press (made by frontman Crispian Mills) couldn't stop the band's momentum. If anything, it only gained them more publicity. The album continued to sell like crazy while the band played the Glastonbury Festival, the V Festival and T in the Park, all to critical acclaim.

All through 1998, fans and critics masturbated with glee over Kula Shaker and their apparent masterpiece, K.  They salivated over the news the new album would be released in the summer. But this didn't materialize and so the hype only grew. It wasn't until February of 1999 that the followup,  Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts, dropped. And guess what? It pretty much bombed. Shocker. In fact the band fell so far so quickly that, shortly after playing at V99 as a last-minute replacement for Placebo, the great Kula Shaker broke up.

They would eventually reform in 2004 but by that point, I, like much of the rest of the world, had forgotten all about them. They remain together to this day and I couldn't care less. I certainly don't miss their loopy guitar riffs, excessive use of sitar and bullshit lyrics written in Sanskrit. What I don't miss most of all (couldn't I have just said it is what I miss the least? Oh well) is hearing about how great they're supposed to be.

4 comments:

Ryan said...

I can say - with great pride - that I haven't even heard of two of the bands on this list, haha.

I've of course heard of Modest Mouse, but I can't say that I've knowingly heard a single song by them. I once met a friend at the mall that was absolutely drooling over an Arctic Monkey's album. For whatever reason I pictured them as some obscure Norwegian trance band or something, lol.

I did like some Death Cab for Cutie back when Transatlanticism came out, but that's because it had a feel of "trip hop" in there that I kinda dug. I didn't realize they were such a big deal!

Regardless, another fantastic list. Let's go punch some Interpol fans, shall we?

Cole D'Arc said...

i can't believe you don't remember Kula Shaker! a commercial for their stupid album used to run all the time on Much, Rachel Perry never shut up about them, they were Rolling Stone, Spin and like every other music publication.

The reason i put interpol so high is because of how much i hate them. a lot of people haven't heard of them but anyone who considers themselves "in the know" about music certainly has (and probably professed to love them)

i briefly considered using one entry as a shared position for bands like The Strokes, The Vines and The Hives, as they were a real fad of last decade but decided against it after reading some annoying reviews of Modest Mouse online.

Shane said...

I really only vaguely know one or two of these bands (which may be a blessing), so there's not much I can say. I like to bitch about people who are inexplicably popular, so I wish I could join in. Sigh. Next time write about something I know more about ...like pancakes, or cartoons. lol

As always, the list is well written and organized to give me a taste of what these bands were all about.

Cole D'Arc said...

shane> that's precisely why this blog needs me. if it was just you, all we'd have is lists of delicious pastries and carnival rides.