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. 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.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Fast Food Worse For You Than The KFC Double Down

Everyone’s been talking about this insane sandwich that KFC has put out. I argue you can’t have a sandwich, proper, without bread, but the concept of two pieces of chicken filled with sauce, cheese and bacon is certainly scintillating.

I haven’t had the chance to chomp down on one of these suckers yet, but I intend to. I decided to see if there was any fast food worse for you on the market and it turns out there are tons. What could be worse than this gluttonous monstrosity? Check it out.

Before we start, where does the double down stand? It weighs in at 540 calories, 32 grams of fat and 1,380 milligrams of sodium.

I suggest you discontinue reading this if you’re hungry.

5. The Baconator

The Baconator was released in 2007 and has since become a staple of the Wendy’s fast food franchise. In an attempt to lure in 18-34 year old males that hate anything healthy, including veggies, they created a hamburger that was composed of two four ounce patties, two slices of American cheese, six strips of bacon and mayonnaise and ketchup for condiments.

It became very popular very quickly and is now offered in several variations, including a single patty, the original double patty and now an even more heart-stopping triple patty burger. There was also a special, limited edition Spicy Baconator which had pepperjack cheese, jalapeno peppers and chipotle sauce.

So how does the Baconator stack up against the Double Down? It has a whopping 830 calories, 60g of fat and 2260mg of sodium – and that’s just the original double patty version.

4. Double Whopper

Since it was first introduced in 1957, the Whopper has been one of the most popular and best known sandwiches in the fast food market – and the title sandwich of Burger King (known as “Home of the Whopper”) and their Australian restaurant Hungry Jacks.

The basic Whopper comes with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, mayo, ketchup and one quarter pound patty. It has been presented in a plethora of variations. A few highlights include:

  • The Pinata Whopper, with jalapeno peppers, nacho chips and hot sauce. They are inexplicably only sold in Sweden and Denmark.
  • The Mustard Whopper, which is simply mustard instead of mayo… I can’t imagine why that demands a special title.
  • The Alfresco Whopper, topped with avocado and aoli sauce instead of mayo and ketchup, as well as two slices of cheese and three slices of bacon (which sounds freakin’ delicious). This one is for the Hungry Jacks crowd.
  • The Meat Beast Whopper, loaded with bacon, cheese and pepperoni and only available in the US, UK and Ireland.

The Double Whopper is one of the basic variations on the class, including two patties instead of the standard one. Where does it stand in the nutrition race? It comes in with a whopping (teehee) 990 calories, 64g of fat and 1520mg of sodium.

I would’ve compared the original Whopper to the Double Down, but it didn’t quite exceed it in the sodium department. Here’s the score, just for those wondering: 670 calories, 39g of fat and 1020mg of sodium.

3. BK Original Chicken Sandwich

I figured I should compare a chicken sandwich, considering the basis of this list is from KFC. I’m not trying to pick on BK, but this was the first one that came to mind.

Introduced in 1978, the Original Chicken Sandwich was brought in to try and entice the young adult market that was willing to pay a little more for a better product. As per usual, BK was trying to fend off McDonald’s – the fast food giant – and also keep the then relatively young Wendy’s at bay.

It’s a simple sandwich: a fried chicken patty, mayo, lettuce on a Kaiser bun. It has also had a bunch of variations, but it has been my opinion over the years that they are all awful so I won’t be mentioning them here.

What’s the damage this baby will have on your heart? The OCS is loaded with 660 calories, 40g of fat and 1440mg of sodium.

2. Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese

You know I had bring up McDonald’s in this list. Personally my favourite (standard) sandwich they offer is the Double Quarter Pounder, so I wanted to research this one. I’ll let you know where the Big Mac stands at the end, because I’m sure you’re all wondering.

In the 70s McDonald’s started looking at some new menu items, again to bring in a new market share of young adults. During research they saw that there was a gap in men that wanted more meat in their meat to bun ratio, so the Quarter Pounder with Cheese was born. Its toppings are two four ounce patties, two slices of cheese, pickles, onions, ketchup and mustard.

As is always the case with men, adding a new patty is always a good idea, so a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese – as well as a Double Big Mac – were permanently added to the menu at a later date. Interesting note: McDonald’s has a sandwich known as “The Pounder” that is not on any menu, but can be asked for in several countries, which includes four patties, five pieces of cheese and the standard veggies and condiments. In Australia, you have to ask for a Double Quarter Pounder with two extra patties, but you can get the sandwich.

Wanna know what’s in the Double QP with cheese? It has 740 calories, 42g of fat and 1380mg of sodium.

For the Big Mac kids: 576 calories, 32.5g of fat and 742mg of sodium.

1. Wendy’s BLT Chicken Salad with Honey Dijon Dressing

The next time you're at Wendy's and you think, “Oh, I should just be healthy and have a salad,” you will think twice.

Although Wendy’s is just as much a burger joint as their major competitors Burger King, McDonald’s or A&W, they have attempted over the past few years a faux-healthy wing offering items like baked potato, chili (which is filled with burger meat, by the way) and salads. They were, however, the first restaurant to offer salads in 1979, which led to their Garden Sensations line in 2002.

One of the popular salads offered in this line is the BLT Chicken Salad with Honey Dijon Dressing. You might think that at least you’re having a salad instead of a burger and fries. Before I even outline the caloric destruction this salad offers, I want you to think about it for a second. This salad consists of lettuce, a chopped up fried chicken patty and honey dijon dressing. It’s basically a chicken sandwich with dijon mustard, sans the bread.

So where does the BLT salad stand: 720 calories, 50g of fat and 1610mg of sodium. It is basically worse than any of the single, original burgers and chicken sandwiches you can get at any of the fast food restaurants you probably frequent.

So, there you have it. Everyone is up in arms about the Double Down because it rocks two pieces of chicken instead of bread. The thing is, in comparison to the standard burgers you’ve eaten since you were a kid, the Double Down is actually – and I say this only in context – the healthier of the fast food choices. You can now feel no shame when you walk into a KFC and buy yourself this pseudo-sandwich.