Brace Yourself, Humans. I’ve Been Drinking Haterade: Overrated Albums of 2012
I did listen to these records but did not enjoy them. (OK there is one I didn’t listen to. You’ll find out which one soon enough.) They are in no particular order, not most hated to least hated. Just an order. I saw and heard these records everywhere this year from SPIN to Rolling Stone to NPR to Pitchfork and Stereogum and other local places. As I am trying to always keep you guessing (well, are you?) and trying to keep alive the rudeness of complete music coverage, I wanted to talk about records I didn’t enjoy because I spent a lot of time talking about records I DID enjoy. Recently, I decided that no matter how much you dislike a song, you should listen to it all the way through once. Just to be sure. To be safe. I guess this is a post to follow that. Enjoy. And Happy New Year, ya’ll.
1. Bat For Lashes – The Haunted Man (EMI)
Sure I put “All Your Gold” on my favorite songs list. But honestly, what drew me to it was its’ catchy hook. It is a song that has some kind of potential, but of what – I’m not sure. The rest of this record is pretty much Natasha Khan whispering into a microphone. As my mother would say, “She’s whispering. So what she’s saying must be important. But because she’s whispering, I can’t really hear her.” I have other issues with the rest of the tracks. The production is friendly, and is put together well. But it’s a trance that never leads you anywhere. The beating beats and thumping bass are unimpressive. Khan’s lyrics just repeat themselves over and over AND OVER again at the end of her songs, like “Lilies” and “Horses In The Sun.” “Oh Yeah” sounds so familiar it could easily be another song. I can’t put my finger on it. “The Haunted Man,” title track is uninteresting. This record is like being in a wind tunnel. You want to reach the other side but it’s preventing itself from getting there. “Laura” the single (“you’re the train that crashed my heart/you’re the glitter in the dark/ooo-ooo Laura/you’re more than a superstar.” WHAT?) is a heartbreaking quiet piece. When I listen to this record, I just want her to GET TO THE POINT. This Mercury Prize nominee (for her previous two releases) lost me at Hello.
2. Best Coast – The Only Place (Mexican Summer)
Let’s get this one over with. I DID write about this record when it came out, but now I cannot remember why. I saw her three Octobers ago Georgetown’s campus. The show was full of underage drunks. Cults opened for her. They both sucked. Cosentino promised the crowd she was drunk. I was two feet from her and should’ve smacked her silly. Rolling Stone put her on their year end list, at number fourteen no less, calling her voice “indie rock’s mightiest.” Vom. All her songs sound the same. I read a feature on her in RS – I bought it because I was waiting in an airport and Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul were on the cover – and she talks about how she’s a homebody suffering with depression and she loves her cat and smokes weed and blah blah blah. No longer Pitchfork’s queen (who called Crazy For You gorgeous) her frequent appearance in RS proves my point that The Fork is RS incarnate. It’s all the same oat bag, you guys.
3. DIIV – Oshin (Captured Tracks)
This record pisses me off. I am a Beach Fossils fan and am looking forward to their new record (news is, it leaked. Story to follow…) Awarded a Best New Music and favored by the two indie heavy hitters in their year end lists, Oshin is a terrible Beach Fossils record. Started by Zacharcy Cole Smith (guitar player of BF) as a side project, this record IS a Beach Fossils rip off. When you love The Fossils, you know what you’re getting: so-so dreamscapes and a dozen songs that all sound alike. (They hold a special place in my heart – they came to Ithaca, NY to play a show on a day I was going through some shitz. On the way into town they broke up with their drummer and played with a Mac Book metronome in his place. It was the first “indie” intimate show I had ever been too. They made a lasting imprint on me.) When I read about DIIV I was excited. But when I heard their music, it was a big let down. “How Long Have You Known” is the only OK track. (Remember that time they were called Dive and then changed their name to DIIV? Yeah, me too.) I saw them open for Japandroids and it took everything I had not to shout mean things at them. It was the most boring 40 minutes I ever stood through. (The only thing that prevented me from yelling was the fact that they were all doing something I cannot. I guess we’re not all winners.)
4. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp (Jagjaguwar)
There seems to be an overflow of female artists this year that made records that do nothing. Van Etten sounds whiney to me. Complaining about something I’m unsure of. Her voice could be beautiful, but I’m not sure in what context. “Serpents,” the lead single, seems to be sure of itself. But it sounds like every other song I’ve ever heard. For me – personally – there doesn’t seem to be anything special here. Van Etten seems to be more lyrically developed than Kahn. But “Serpents in my mind/looking for you/crimes/everything changes” makes me go MEH. Not one of the twelve tracks on this record is upbeat. None of them make me feel good (and yes, I know we all need a downer sometime. I love Elliot Smith, so trust me on this.) But there just seems to be nothing here for me.
5. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (Def Jam)
I know what you’re thinking. How can she hate this record when everyone from Pitchfork to NPR to Rolling Stone and Stereogum all call this an instant classic? I cannot tell you how many times I’ve tried to make it through this record. I guess I am not doubting Ocean’s talent. (Note to reader: I am not trying to discredit anyone as an artist with this list – okay maybe DIIV and Best Coast so far.) I don’t prefer the new smooth school of R&B (like The Weeknd…) I can make it through “Super Rich Kids” but only because it features Earl Sweatshirt. This lengthy release rubs me the wrong way. I do like the way Ocean breaks the fourth wall on “Sweet Life”. And we can all appreciate Ocean’s courage coming out. (But let’s not forget that Syd Tha Kid – also of the OFWGKTA collective – started out as openly gay. Stil no one seems to notice her sexuality or talk about it as much. Double edged sword? Double standard? Two way street? Ehh, you decide.) I don’t like it. Deal.
6. Jessie Ware Devotion (PMR)
That same smooth R&B that is found in Ocean’s record still rubs me the wrong way with Ware. The English soul singer – are we seeing a trend here people? – has a beautiful voice. But she’s hiding it under loads of production and reverb. When I asked my co-worker, who “is” a soul singer, about Ware – she asked me how I had heard of her. When I told her I saw Ware get a Best New Music on The Fork she asked me what Pitchfork is. (I then realized why her singing ‘career’ hasn’t taken off.) My disinterest in this album is definitely a preference thing. I love soul music – so please don’t write me off. But there is something living inside this ‘new wave of R&B’ that annoys me. Over produced and unusually generic sounding, I’m over it.
7. Alt J – An Awesome Wave (Canvasback)
AHOY – look what The Fork did this time. Like they’re famous for giving a bad review to OK Computer (or was it Kid A?) they gave a “bad” review to this year’s Mercury Prize winner, Alt J (actually makes a: ∆ – uggggg). (Also, they used the word tentativeness. Let me help you out with that one.) “Triangles are my favorite shape.” Yeah, we know. I’ve already written about this boring record more than once here. And how Django Django got hosed by not winning the Prize instead. After a number of revisits, I’ve already deleted this beaut from my iTunes. So forgive my ease when I say this band is boring and this record sucks. Let’s move on.
8. Sleigh Bells – Reign Of Terror (Mom + Pop)
I will give it to them, I really like this album cover a lot. That’s pretty much all this record does for me. I was excited for this release after spending quite some time coming around to 2010’s Treats – a great power album that, well, now makes me want to listen to The Go! Team instead. When I saw the LAME video for the first single, “Comeback Kid,” I knew I would be let down by this. How many power guitar screaming whisper records can we make? This band does sound like itself. And while that is usually – mostly – a good thing, here…not so much. Miller and Krauss seem to have exhausted it already. Noise Pop can only take us so far. Sleigh Bells will seriously have to step it up for their third to groove me the right way.
9. Beach House – Bloom (Sub Pop)
More cool album art. But it’s still not enough. If I can make it through the rest of my life without hearing the single “Lazuli” I will be the happiest woman on planet earth. (That goes for “Myth” too. Oh, and “Other People.” Did I mention these all sound the same?) Teen Dream didn’t do it for me. And neither did Bloom. It’s like that band Wild Beasts -woofdie snide boring music made with machines – yeah, I know I love music that’s made with machines. But again, they are machines and tend bleed together. I’m over it. I’ve been over it since day one.
10. Grizzly Bear – Shields (Warp)
This year, New York Magazine put Grizzly Bear on the cover of their magazine. Calling them “Indie Rock Royalty” but asking “What does that buy them?” Stating that not all of the members have health insurance and they live like poor college kids despite the fact that they sold out Radio City Music Hall. Their previous, Veckatimest, never did it for me either. While “Yet Again” is a charming song – and has the most play counts from their record in my iTunes (5) – the rest of the record fell flat for me. Rolling Stone called them “muscular” and The Fork said, “The arrangements here are thunderous and billowing, sparse and punishing, rarely polite.” (Vom.) Hmm…it is a folky record. And diverse. But there is something here that made me never go back for more. Every few months I’ll hear one of their songs and enjoy it. But I’ve only ever gone looking for this band as they’re a favorite to close friends of mine. Maybe I don’t hate this record. But I can live without it.
11. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city (Interscope)
Yeah, you’re probably surprised by this one too. good kid, m.A.A.d city falls under the same hip hop umbrella-problem I have with pretty much every (recent) hip hop record made. All I hear – when I hear Lamar – is drum machines. When I stumbled on A Horizontal Myth‘s “Deconstruction Masculinity…” I started to learn about this record and seriously consider it. But then when I went back to listen to it, I couldn’t get through – what sounds like – immaturity. A while ago on a retrospective WXPN 88.5 World Cafe session, Beck talked about how it is hard for any hip hop artists to use sampling like they used to – like in the days of Run D.M.C. and Public Enemy. I feel my brain reverting back to this point all the time when I hear hip hop on the radio – mostly Shade 45, the channel my work cubemate blares all day – and how they all sound the same. It is a complaint across genres. “People” “say” that all indie rock sounds the same the same way I think all “new” hip hop sounds the same. (I also find it interesting that everyone from Rolling Stone (#6!!) to Pitchfork (their #1!) to NPR to Stereogum and SPIN put this record on their year end list.) When artists don’t have the money – or ability – to sample classic soul and R&B, people start making up their own beats. And because they’re all using the same machine it’s boring as hell.
12. Cat Power – Sun (Matador)
When I was assigned to listen to this record for the Chunky Glasses podcast I was a part of, I was already bored before the assignment began. Having known about The Greatest and hearing the last gasp of that record when I joined the radio staff in college in late 2006, I knew about Cat Power. I had heard Cat Power. (I do enjoy her cover of “Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” she did for I’m Not There in 2007 – which we played endlessly on the radio.) But I had never remembered Cat Power. This summer, I thought it would be a good idea to walk to work each way for exercise. The six miles in the at least 90 degree DC weather wore my legs down to pipe cleaners, so I stopped. But along the way, I listened to this record over and over again, trying to find something in it. “3, 6, 9” is a decent song, but all it does is repeat itself again, again and again. Rolling Stone called her “brilliantly morose” and NPR calls this record a “triumph.” Meltdowns in all, I am still trying to figure out why people love Chan Marshall. Also, can we talk about how lame this album cover is please?
13. The Walkmen – Heaven (Fat Possum)
If I have to hear “Heartbreaker” one more time, I might go more than nutty. The Walkmen have been putting out records since 2002. I have never listened to any of them. But as this record was hailed as a best of the year by Stereogum – at number eight – I am aware of them. The Walkmen’s sounds are on the same family tree with “older” “indie” bands like The Avett Brothers and The National….a bunch of dudes, making rock music…that all sounds the same. I will give it to them with nice album design.
14. Purity Ring – Shrines (4AD)
Purity Ring has 4.6 million scrobbles on last.fm. Think about that for a second. If you wanted more drum machines and more of those fake hip hop sounds with only reverb-ed vocals – this is the record for you. While the single, “Fineshrine,” is a fun word to say, this song was so played on Sirius XMU that I knew before it was even playing how long I had to tune to a different channel. I forced myself to sit through it once – or maybe that was because I was unable to change the channel for some reason – and I think I enjoyed it. Once. This goes for “Belispeak” too. This record sounds like it was made with a calculator. SPIN says these songs “are songs are gorgeous little glass globes containing entire ecosystems.” I missed the bus on this one, majorly. Not even sure I “get” the album art…?
15. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball (Columbia)
I hate Bruce Springsteen. I hate his whiney voice. His saxophone heavy rock. His New Jersey Pride and his rah-rah white America 80s standard. Rolling Stone calls it a record made for the 99% – but hello, it was made BY the 1%. It is – of course – their number one record of the year. Keep ’em happy, Jann. Keep ’em happy. (Although, I will say David Remnick’s New Yorker profile of the Boss is fascinating – if you want to learn about him and not listen to his music.)
You are so wrong about kendrick. I dont think you understand, it is supposed to sound immature. Its him recalling a day in his life as a teenager. The album tells a story. Also you drum machine comment, would lead me to believe you just dont have an ear for good hip hop. I guess thats ok.
mostly, these are all a personal taste thing. he wanted to sound immature and he did. that is something i don’t like about it. i’m not asking hip hop to sound mature, but it’s almost like he’s tricking us with this theme record. to the average radio/top 40 listener, who doesn’t read about and write about and analyze Lamar’s music – he can sound like an immature success (see: Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe…. a song hip hop radio plays endlessly and its’ listeners will interpret it any which way they want – regardless of how Lamar intended it to be.) when i hear his music and then read about him and hear his music again, it seems (or sounds?) that he wasted his talent. because it does not sound mature to me. also, re: drum machines: they are boring, every drum breakdown sounds the same – that overused snare waterfall makes me gag every time i hear it. it shows me a lazy producer. you want to be innovative and interesting use actual instruments. i don’t like Jay Z – but the man has damn good production on his music. that is my favorite thing about him.
ear for good hip hop? hip hop i like (and you be the judge)…in no particular order: Wu-Tang, Das Racist, Mos Def, Biggie, ATCQ, Beastie Boys, Kanye, the Roots, Odd Future, Action Bronson, Jurassic 5…..
Really glad that someone has the nerve to make a list like this (that many others, including myself and several friends) would agree almost completely on. The only one on here that I believe lives up to its critical acclaim is the Grizzly Bear album, but even that is a step back from Veckatimest.
I gave both Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar so many chances I feel like I know those albums better than many that actually MADE my Top 40 list. Nope, still don’t get the hype. It’s definitely a matter of personal taste, and for me this year, just not being in a hip-hop/r&b mood most of the time.
Anyway, great post.
yeah, i was thinking about how many records on collective best-of lists were records i really didn’t like. so i started listening to them. this list just kept growing and growing. i’m glad i did something like this. people need more ‘critical’ or ‘negative’ push back from …anyone. thanks, man!!