Stop Listening to That: Listen to This
Your guide to better choices in the music world
We’ve all had it happen, to friends or to ourselves, those sad lapses into the deep and dark pit of sadly lacking popular music. Maybe it’s a band that we used to love, and we just can’t quite let go of their latest album; maybe it’s that we’re just a shmuck for what everyone else is doing. Either way, I’m here to tell you that it’s a new year and it’s time to make changes. Break those CDs (who has CD’s?) and embrace a reality that can make both your head and heart happy, not to mention reduce or even eliminate your shame.
Listening to Green Day?
Stiff Little Fingers
Similar use of bass, still fun and plenty melodic, but not, well, shitty. Green Day has been on a fast decline ever since that Goddamn American Idiot album that someone deserves to be retroactively fired for calling the salvation of rock and roll. How the boys who once threw dirt clods mid-set at a mud-infested Woodstock turned went from Dookie to “Kill the DJ” (a surely-by-now-tween favorite from Uno!) is beyond me. The once-innovators have become parrots and recyclers, even to the point that the lyrics “Hold him underwater ‘till the motherfucker drowns” is a not-even-subtle rip off of Bloodhound Gang’s penning of “We don’t need no water let the motherfucker burn”. In text and expression.
Stiff Little Fingers, on the other hand, has been punking the world since 1977. In the 25 years since forming they’ve released albums that range everywhere from roots-loving Sex Pistols goodness to tunes edging uncomfortably close to the guilty pop-“punk” pleasures of the aforementioned little green men. Take a look at the long discography, and you’re guaranteed to find something you like. And even better, something you like that won’t bury you in shame.
Listening to Florence and the Machine?
April Smith and the Great Picture Show
Florence Welch, running the world right now empowering every shy girl in the states to kick ass dancing in their bedrooms, has an unfortunate defect in her career: she’s just not a very good singer. Breakout hits like “Kiss with a Fist” have made her voice sound fantastic, but wander any deeper into albums, or watch a single televised performance, and you’ll see she just doesn’t have the pipes for the music she’s singing now. In fact, her background circling in garage punk scenes and singing at “squat parties” suits this rawer, pitchy style far better. (Hear about her start on All Things Considered) The punk scene is really more where she belongs, but it’s not where she’s going.
So I offer up to you instead an artist with a far better grasp of their vocal chords but a similarly free spirit. Though slightly more soulful than Welch, April Smith is a freaking delight to listen to; coy and lilting, she hop, skips and bubbles over melodies like a sultry lounge singer on a coke bender. It’s fresh, energetic, and above all, flawlessly executed. I’d recommend her not just to Florence fans, but any young listeners looking to un-rot their ears from the atrocious education they’re receiving from the world in terms of music.
HoneyHoney is another nice substitute, though a little trickier since their latest album went far enough to country to knock them out of true sympathy. Still, the album before this most recent one, First Rodeo, isjust the right mix of emotion, butt-kicking jam and a little rock and roll. “Give Yourself to Me” is probably the right track to get your feet wet with: one of the more rock-focused cuts it’s enjoyable, empowering, and above all, sung wonderfully well.
Listening to Fun?
Oh Fun, how my feelings are mixed about you. On the one hand, you do deliver catchy tunes and could very well be actively progressing the cause of Pop. On the other hand…you are an awfully reductionist future of some really promising talent. Thus, you must be expunged! Therefore, if it’s pop you want, Mika is the perfect person to give it to you at two liters per second. What he does is piano-based, maybe closer to Queen than anything else, but polished with pop sensibility and wonderfully operatic. It’s not a deep stylistic departure from Fun, but for finding maturity in melody, better composition, and lyrics that are pleasant to listen to in their own right, Mika is certainly a better choice. Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention…
For those who don’t know, this is the band that coughed up Nate Ruess to form Fun when it died. If you’re not already familiar, I don’t know if I can recommend this move strongly enough. If you latched solely onto the radio-ready top two tracks of Some Nights, this may not appeal to you—it’s a looser, more authentic band-based sound. But give it a chance, if only when you inevitably get tired of Fun (if you haven’t already). When you require a little more than music-industry-frozen cold-polished gleam, The Format will let you get Ruess’ signature gender-bending range, melodic stylings, and a little more soul than what’s left post-production in today’s pop universe. Not to mention, it’ll open up a whole new set of songs to enjoy.
Listening to (New) Weezer?
This is a tricky one: where Weezer started was a very specific place of sweaterriffic quasi-aggressive nerdhood that I’m not sure we’ve really properly returned to. Still, for nostalgia or some other reason, if you’re like me you occasionally give in when songs like “Beverly Hills” come on, don’t immediately skip them. There is something infectious to Weezer’s newer brand of unbridled, straight-ahead rock, but it does leave you feeling incredibly dirty afterwards: like the “moped” of music. The good news is there are other places to find this enjoyment, case and point: Foxy Shazam. I’ve been hooked on Foxy ever since going to see them at the Marquis almost a year ago: it was an electrifying night full of belted melodies, heart-felt authenticity, and above all 100% serious partying. It might be a bit more raucous than Rivers Cuomo’s usual, but Foxy Shazam absolutely scratches that modern-day Weezer rock itch. And if you’ve got a hankering for the olden days? Well, that’s what Pinkerton and The Blue Album are there for.