Every year, as per industry standards, we writers are expected to submit our annual ‘top ten albums of the year’ entry. It’s always a tough exercise for me personally, as I find it sort of exhausting to go back and figure out which new albums I’d like to stand behind. Many times there aren’t ten good ones put out in a single year, so that leaves me in a precarious position. Either way, I always do churn out ten albums I can recommend on some level, although the bullet-point format never really allows me to explain how much/why I champion such efforts.

It has become more of a tradition I enjoy much more as a reader than I do as a writer. This is the time of year where I generally dig perusing around my colleagues’ entries and see what they included on their respective lists. Well, maybe I should clarify this....I used to enjoy this. It gave me an ultra-useful shorthand guide to a lot of music that I may have missed for whatever reason, or simply a different perspective on some of the stuff I initially dismissed on a knee-jerk reaction or something. In other words, it gave me a truly useful glimpse into a convenient, easily accessible world of beliefs that I sometimes tend to block myself out of during the other eleven months of the year.

That seems to be a thing of the past. Every year seems to be moving farther away from independent and critical thinking and instead into full-steam ahead into collective, revolting, mob-mentality cut and paste bullshit. After taking a look around at various end of the year lists, there appears to be absolutely nobody willing to commend any act that isn’t currently sitting right near the top of metacritic review scores.

This means that the Robert Christgaus of the world have triumphed over the Lester Bangs. I’m strongly reminded of the Dean’s quote he dropped years ago when making one of his endless ‘why my opinion counts and yours doesn’t’ justifications:

“One concept the non-old have trouble getting their minds around is the difference between taste and judgment. It's fine not to like almost anything, except maybe Al Green. That's taste, yours to do with as you please, critical deployment included. By comparison, judgment requires serious psychological calisthenics. But the fact that objectivity only comes naturally in math doesn't mean it can't be approximated in art.”

If this train of thought prevails (and all signs point to it becoming ubiquitous on a number of highly functioning levels), then you as fans, can forget about reading anything that allows you to formulate your own thoughts and feelings regarding any album that comes out in the next few years. Why bother? The way things are setting up, your opinions are a hazy afterthought in the name of the big picture, which of course consists of omniscient monks in Pere Ubu t-shirts sitting atop mountain peaks and bestowing wisdom down on all those unfortunate souls who never really saw any point in listening to Beach House’s ‘Teen Dream’ record for more than five fucking minutes.

This movement which insists on keeping music morbidly serious probably makes a lot of you sick to your stomach. I don’t blame you. It makes me gag too, and I’m part of the goddamned movement! The difference is, I have never taken music that takes itself seriously, all that seriously. It’s art. It changes the world we live in. I get it. But let’s get a grip here. We haven’t been hit by a truly monumental record since Radiohead delivered ‘Ok Computer/Kid A’, instead jerking off to remastered Pavement albums or the possibility of new music emerging from Kevin Shield’s camp.

Writing about music, to me, is fun. Listening to music, to me, is fun. And more importantly, talking about music with other people, to me, is a lot of fucking fun. It’s upsetting to me I’m part of an industry that perpetually spits on the last sentence, but that doesn’t mean I have to drink the kool-aid. Even writing about the ‘fun’ that goes into all that was sort of difficult to commit to paper, as that’s generally one of the last thing my colleagues will ever admit to experiencing when listening to the music they claim to love, but that just goes to show how long I’ve been a ghost in this machine.

So instead of bitching about it all day, I’m going to get proactive. I’m going to channel the spirit of Ed Dmytryk, and spit back in the face of all those who claim to be part of a ‘higher education’ in the world of music journalism, just because they’re paid a dime a word to assign a star review to whatever new minimalist garbage Matador decides to get behind. I may be writing this, but I assure you I’ll get much more pleasure out of reading this than I will writing it. After all, this is for the fans out there, and I’m a fan first, writer second.

Without further adieu, I present to you:

Five Bands Critics Love but I Hate and I Hope You Hate Them Too:

Let’s get started.

1. The Pixies

I’m not sure what they should be more proud of: being the figurehead of the incredibly blasé college rock movement pushed through the early nineties mainly notable for their refusal/inability to contain a single memorable riff or lyric worthy of remembering for more than three seconds and still managing to sell millions of albums, or escaping whatever animal farm they were bred from and convincing the general population that there are actually people out there that are legitimately uglier than the sum total of all nine Slipknot masks.

It’s pretty surreal just how much luck we can refer to when we discuss the Pixies legacy. If it wasn’t for ‘Where is My Mind?’, they’d be largely unknown to the general public. If it wasn’t for Steve Albini working on ‘Surfer Rosa’, chances are, nobody would have heard of them at all and they would have collapsed into the vortex of creative bankruptcy a hundred thousand more talented bands before them have careened into head-first.

But because Steve did make ‘Surfer Rosa’, Kurt Cobain publicly threw his name behind the band, and they became a group for all those who stupidly chastised Nirvana for their commercial success. This club of the way-too-well-known acts also includes the Vaselines, Meat Puppets and, to a lesser extent, White Zombie’s first EP which Cobain claimed to adore. Speaking of Nirvana, if you don’t own all their albums, go out and buy them all right now, but none of the aforementioned bands (except White Zombie, naturally).

Totally incapable of following up ‘Surfer Rosa’ with anything meaningful in the slightest, the Pixies floundered in a sea of internal squabbles amidst some pretty overwhelmingly mediocre music that still was extremely comparable to some of the best moments on ‘Surfer Rosa’. That album is a classic in name only. Time has proven its arrangements and recording to be nothing more than a collection of barb-wired guitar (Albini’s constant stamp) punctuated by strange arrangements and Black’s ineffectual yelp forcing itself in at the most inopportune intervals to create an anachronistic sound that actually fooled a lot of people into thinking this was interesting music.

If all this teaches us anything....it’s that not only critics can be ignored, but plaid-wearing leaders of a grunge movement as well.

2. Crystal Castles

This band’s popularity might be the most perplexing out of the bunch. About ten years or so ago, the German electro band Atari Teenage Riot coined the term ‘Digital hardcore’. Basically an electronic version of many hardcore punk groups...think if Black Flag impregnated Black Sun Empire, and you have a pretty good blueprint of the description.

The thing is though, digital hardcore had its day in the sun. It came, and thankfully went, and we really haven’t had any other significant acts that could fit under that description. At the time of this writing, Atari Teenage Riot are not only the Beatles of the movement, they’re the Stones, Zeppelins, and Elvis’ of it as well.

To be fair, Crystal Castles probably aren’t digital hardcore, since they shy away from extreme left-wing political stances and don’t have any guitars or instrumentation of any kind whatsoever.

That’s the good news for Crystal Castles. The bad news: they aren’t even worthy of such a shitty ass description, as I’m sure Atari Teenage Riot cover acts wouldn’t want to be seen with them in public.

If you haven’t heard Crystal Castles, well it’s a band with a guy and a girl. The guy gives us a whole lot of blips, and bleeps, and whirs, and a whole lot of other stuff that sounds like something you might hear during the final boss in a Final Fantasy game. The tempos are constantly staggered, never generating anything resembling a rhythm or harmony. This is probably the quality that has made their supporters salivate; a lot of hare-brained journalists seem to go ape shit over abstract time signatures in music, seemingly under the belief this approach should actually be much more applauded than writing a good song under a conventional time arrangement.

Now, you’re probably wondering what the girl gives us. Basically, bunches of screaming overtop the incredibly sophomoric programming referencing not only nothing of substance, but nothing that makes any kind of sense at all.
Oh, and none of the song titles have anything to do with the actual songs. Yeah...they’re one of those annoying bands.

I know we’re a videogame generation, but I always hoped that was more of a reference to the fact we all love having videogames in our homes, not having videogames in our music. Crystal Castles are so god-awful that, while listening to them during the writing of this article, I felt myself turning into one of those obnoxious “I don’t want my generation to be defined by this kind of garbage in future decades!” raving lunatics.

What is the market for bands like this? It’s certainly not danceable, so don’t expect it to be played at the Ministry of Sound anytime soon. It DEFINITELY isn’t IDM, so I refuse to lump it into the same sentence as someone like A_ _ _ X T_ _ N (if you can fill in the blanks, then it’s you who is referencing them both in the same sentence. I’m smart like that).
I can imagine people sitting around and listening to the Pixies. I sure don’t see a lot of upside to their music, but I can envision scenarios where in fact, a collective group of people choose to listen to the band. I cannot accomplish this when it comes to Crystal Castles.

Maybe a LARP season-ending windup. I dunno, just a guess.

Oh, and Trent Reznor endorsed these guys. I’m starting to think without Nirvana or Nine Inch Nails in the mix, we wouldn’t have to be having this discussion at all.

Now, that may imply I’m suggesting I’d take a trade off, ie no Kurt/Trent = no Pixies/Crystal Castles. Well let me debunk that right now. I’m not suggesting that.

But it’s might tasty food for thought. Hmmmm.

3. She and Him

Fact: M.Ward is a good musician, not great.

Fact: Zooey Deschanel would barely qualify as a musician on her best day.
What does this leave us with? A creampuff act that has never lets us in, and the more I hear, the more I think this isn’t anything spiteful or calculated on their part. Instead there just is nothing worth a good goddamn for anybody who doesn’t feel like interpreting savage simplicity as anything but totally childish shit that amounts to absolutely nothing.

I do understand why critics and much of the general public perceive She and Him as a sort of breath of fresh air in this contemporary world of distrust and malicious indifference. And I’m not in the boat that subscribes to the theory that suggests our hyper-awareness to all the little wicked nooks and crevices in this world must dictate every fibre of our day-to-day actions and belief systems. I’m really not. I’m well aware that it’s all too easy to numbingly focus on the worldwide travesties that assault our senses on every imaginable level, and surrender to those common enemies is reasonable, although unacceptable.

But just because we live in a hardened police state on one side of the world and a contemporary Gomorrah on the other side, we should never applaud rudimentary appeals that make no effort to even acknowledge the complexities of the human condition in today’s modern condition, much less seize them.
She and Him is simple music, and in all probability, for simple people. They don’t even make a real effort to mask this demographic, but enough smoke and mirrors are present to consider much of their recording a treacherous effort aimed at those yearning for a simple joy via the most moronic impulses twitching a country mile away from anything resembling blood, sweat, or especially tears.

We don’t need shit like this. We’re too smart for She and Him. They don’t leave us much choice in that area. C’mon, a big-eyed girl strumming her fucking ukulele and singing lines like “Running from you is like running a business” shouldn’t leave us starry-eyed and wistful for a simpler time, because truth be told, no time was as simple as these hummers of sweet nothings.

I once read Black Flag shows in the eighties were genuinely frightening spectacles. I’m certainly not disagreeing with that, but seeing all of She and Him’s comatose fans collectively swaying in the breeze like scarecrows boasting a thousand-yard stare is far more alarming to me than a bunch of kids in black shorts throwing beer bottles at each other. I’ll take mutant catharsis over a wild flail against every single valid human emotion any day of the week.

4. The National

The National will never mean anything to the world. The National will never be quoted in yearbooks by anyone who is not trying to actively announce that they do in fact, like the National. The National will never be played at anyone’s wedding, nor will it be the randomly memorable music presiding over a couple’s first kiss. The National have written many good songs, but all these good songs will be forgotten as swiftly as they were embraced by the droopy portion of our society who interprets such emotional indifference as high art. The National will never be played as a ‘fun, random road-trip’ song. The National will never write anything as heartfelt as U2’s ‘One.’ The National will never write anything as heartfelt as Brian Jonestown Massacre’s ‘Let’s Go Fucking Mental’. The National will probably fill up stadiums full of people who couldn’t name five of their songs, or at least recognize them when played in a live venue.

The National will never be played at a keg party. The guys in the National have never BEEN to a keg party, probably because they’ve never been invited to one. The National is music for people who have never seen ‘The Blues Brothers’. The National is the unofficial favourite band of every totally droned out Zach Braff character he’s ever played. The National is vanilla cupcakes with Prozac icing. The National’s best song is worse than Kraftwerk’s shittiest unreleased song. You know that hot girl running on the beach? Yeah, the National is the vendor beside her trying to sell you an Afghan blanket. The National has less interesting thoughts in their entire band than Moby’s yoga teacher.

The National are a copy jam in an office full of folks who get off on finding interesting ways to embrace total wasted fucking time. Despite what they might say, nobody at a National concert would ever honestly rate their time at the show as more than 6.3 out of 10. The National was shocked when they noticed they do in fact have an actual website. The National is that dream you cannot remember and stop caring when you figure out you can’t. The National is Chaucer’s Cliff Notes. The National is Pete Doherty’s alter ego’s third favourite band, trailing only The Boss and Soul Asylum (well, their old stuff). The National consider Bret Easton Ellis every other writer in the world. The National is that snobby cell phone call-center representative who tries to make you feel like an asshole when you politely inform them they overcharged you by $274 on your last bill.

The National probably never heard a Jesus and Mary Chain song. The National’s unofficial pickup line consists of “Hey...you into The National?” Group members typically flee and cry in the bar’s bathroom following the girl’s inevitable response of “The National what?” The best moment in the National’s entire discography is akin to walking into a bank and being pleasantly surprised you are faced with a somewhat short line-up. The National is that eighteen year old bottle of scotch you got for Christmas from that second cousin who barely even fucking knows your name and you haven’t bothered to open the thing in four years since you hate scotch.

In other words...I do not care for the National. But I’m just one opinion. This position has taught me a lot, but if I’ve learned anything from it, it’s this: everyone deserves a shot at immortality. All of us worth a fraction of their weight possess an inborn voice buried deep below, a voice free of ignorance and external influences that exists in a world of unpolluted transparency that only a select few every find the courage to truly channel. A voice that has the power to bellow through and around all those other voices that serve no other purpose but to stain the purity all of us desperately want to express. A voice that collapses under the weight of those same domineering influences that insist on conveying their interpretations of ‘right and wrong’ to a perpetual dull roar.

Music to me, as it should be to you, is something that brings people together. This isn’t to say my ideal world is millions of people swaying to the same song in perfect unison. No, instead it’s a million people swaying to a million different songs, but all for the same reason: the dreamlike reminder one simple piece of music can give us, the reminder how bloody amazing it is to be alive.

I never wanted to write a piece on a band for the sole purpose to make you want to hear what I’m writing about. My goal has always been a much more pedestrian, libertarian one. More than anything I write about music because I love it, because at times it feels every bit as vital to me as the blood pumping through my veins or flesh and bones that make up the entire working aesthetic that continues to be Jeff Thiessen. It’s more than arrogant to think that you reading about a piece of music I’ve laid 3,000 words on will make you run home and feel the same wonderful things I feel when the notes float through my headphones and into my cerebellum. I’m not that skilled a writer, and truth be told, I’m kind of glad I don’t have that kind of power through the written word to implore all of you to like what I like.

Sure it’s possible this will happen here and there, and I’m certain it has over the course of my time doing this gig, but at some point all great writers realize that whatever they choose to write about is sort of beside the point. My subjects will always place a distant second to a successful articulation of what exactly that subject has meant in my life and how it has impacted me and who I am today. If I accomplish this, then it’s fair to say you may get the urge to seek out your own path that just may conclude with a serviceable howl, a prevailing twitch that triggers a roam through life absent approval from that upper-pantheon of nameless voices that none of us should ever really give a shit about. If I accomplish this....then I have earned your thanks and gratitude and am a writer worth remembering.

The point, and always will be for me, is to transfer the fire that burns deep inside my belly into something you all can grab and run with in whatever direction you please. My passion is rock n’ roll, so what? In the grand scheme of things, I’m just another kid who likes to play his records way too loud. I no longer take great pride in the fact I can write pages upon pages on some remote band you’ll have probably never heard of. I do, owever, take pride in the fact that I am blessed with a passion that runs free outside of my daily world, a passion and love that brims over so violently and constantly that all I’m really left to do is look to the skies and wish with all my being that this will never turn into something I can control or have any command over.

If that isn’t the point, then none of this really matters. Then what we do is destined to be forgotten, and I’m tired. I’m tired of the separation and classifications I have been seeing so much of these days. I’m just like any of you, and you’re all just like me in the sense that the best days of all tend to be the ones when we are challenged to see things differently than we’re accustomed to, when we are implored to view the world passionately, urgently through the glimmering light in another’s eyes that will never truly burn out if that light is allowed to be reached out and touched by everyone else.

I mentioned above there are FIVE bands that I do not appreciate that the critical world adores. This is true. There are four listed above, but the fifth will come from the voices beyond the brain writing these words. The fifth will come from some of you. Below here are a few such examples, but they’re just to get you started. After all, critical journalism is epigrammatic shorthand awaiting completion from the reader. I’m hoping you will help me finish this piece, but I have a hunch it will never really end.

“Radiohead is a perfect example of a rabid fan base consistently sounding off about the so-called 'genius' of a mediocre band. Their concept albums lack concept, their music lacks direction and cohesiveness, and their lyrics drip with the sort of overt sadness that only Coldplay can match in banality. Radiohead is not the future of music. Their misguided, scattershot jump from style to style has made them nothing more than the world’s most overrated jam band. Every generation has to have their ‘Sgt.Pepper’s’, but, if any other band had so joyously neglected to develop an overarching them to their music, their audience would have walked out on them years ago. Yet Radiohead fans will continue to worship at the altar of a false god.”

-Thomas Weinmaster: Age 22/Student

"I have sincerely tried to give Deerhunter a chance. Really. Especially since my main intention in life is to fit in, and it seems as though Deerhunter is featured at most of the cooler parties I manage to sneak into. They're always on "indie" stations, and all the cool people I know own Deerhunter on vinyl. Vinyl's cool, right? Hell! Even music critics tell me to love them and they must have tons of friends! But really, I think on my first pass through their masterpiece ‘Halcyon Digest’ I fell asleep. Maybe it was during that song that sounded like a video game swimming sequence. Honestly, I don't understand how something with such subdued, unintelligible vocals could be so damn popular. Maybe I'm just not "hipster-scene" enough for ambient-punk-indie-whatever music.”

-Ashley Turner: Age 25/Real Estate Agent

“Dr. Dre has been a staple in the argument of the greatest of all time and for the life of me I can't fathom why. He hasn't done anything relevant in years and his new single ‘Kush’ is the very definition of sleepy. He’s been involved in a lot of very relevant events in hip-hop over the years, including the finding of NWA and Eminem, but one could definitely make the argument he’s the Phil Jackson of the rap world. Dre isn’t the major most people see him as, instead just a product of the people around him. Really, we’re just talking about one of the best coattail riders of all time.”

-William Stuart: Age 22/Mobile Phone Representative

“Beach House: I've tried so hard to like this band, because friends with good music taste rave about them and music critics love them, but I can’t. I've tried listening to them really loud, tried listening in bed, tried listening drunk, tried stoned, nothing! I think people just love them because there are only two of them, and one happens to be a female with a man’s voice. I understand why that’s unique, but so is a moustache on a chick and nobody likes that, so why do we like Beach House?”

-Shelby Gaudet: Age 28/Hair Stylist

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