You (possibly) listen to terrible music

A guide to being a more tasteful, less reprehensible person.

by Jay Boller

Now that you’ve made it past the abrasive and shocking title of the article, you’re thinking one thing: “Oh no, some pretentious indie-kid is going to barrage me with buzz-bands from atop his vapid pretention-horse.” Well Sir or Madam, valid concern. If I were in your shoes, I’d probably think I’m a bastard for writing this article, too. But the thing is, there’s a musical epidemic on par with skin cancer or HPV afoot in America.

Looking at a Top-40 playlist, or at a Grammy nominee list, is a downright painful endeavor. Although this article could be tossed aside as arrogant condescension by some, I argue that that logic is flawed. There’s some music (everything in the first bracket below, for example) that is so utterly soulless and evil that it can no longer be considered a preference. It’s objectively bad. If scientists were able to conduct studies, the elements of Danity Kane would neighbor the elements found in cyanide. It transcends debate. Opinions are nonfactors. Certain acts are certifiably awful. And the real crime is – unlike cyanide – huge portions of the U.S. population actively digest these artists and spend money to obtain them.

The following is help. It’s an emergency ration for the ear.

Now, taste is something that cannot be spoonfed. A Seether fan will not like Mastodon 100 percent of the time. But it is at least a nudge in the right direction, a nudge away from the compliancy that abounds, where human beings allow fellow human beings to squander their potential and embarrass themselves without a hint of shame.

The system starts with an abortion of a band or artist that’s inexplicably popular. From there, the reader is directed to a moderately decent act that is accessible and safe. It’s a life preserver. At this point, the reader can wade into safer and less toxic water, finally arriving at “good” artists (third bracket). I tried to use contemporary artists and I picked artists that are universally respected; this is not just me transcribing my iTunes.

All irony and taste-flexing aside, if this helps just one person to not waste their life and dollars on something offensively terrible, then a storm of angry e-mails from Hurricane Chris fans will be received with a smile.

Bad country: Rascal Flatts, Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney
Good country: Limbeck, Old 97’s, Neko Case
Great country: Early Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, Hank Williams

Here’s help for the K-102/We-Fest crowd. It should be painfully obvious that a pudgy and hair-gelled band who found success with “Fast Cars and Freedom” is terrible; alas, people still seem to like Rascal Flatts. A lot.

To combat this, bracket two contains alt-country acts with bouncy tempos and similar hackneyed “Americana” lyrical themes. They’re all decent though, and make for solid road trip music. In the final bracket, there’s the highly regarded musicianship and song writing of two Jeff Tweedy acts (paired up with eventual rival and equally skilled songwriter Jay Farrar in UT) and the legendry and short-lived father of country, Hank Williams.

Bad hard rock: Linkin Park, Nickelback, Seether
Good hard rock: The Blood Brothers, At the Drive-In, Mastodon
Great hard rock: Refused, Fugazi, Converge

Fans of the first bracket are a peculiar breed. Rock music is inherently wonderful, but when executed poorly, it can be more unbearable than cancer of the inner ear (i.e. Buckcherry).

The second step shies away from the contrived, macho and wallet-chain yielding style of the first bracket and features three extremely aggressive bands that are also familiar with tact and artfulness.

In the final bracket are three groups who manage to not only shred impossibly hard, but also boast socially conscious lyrics and are regarded as demigods in the rock realms.

Bad hip-hop: T-Pain, Flo-rida, Hurricane Chris
Good hip-hop: Lil Wayne, Lupe Fiasco, Ghostface Killah
Great hip-hop: Mr. Lif, The Streets, M.F. Doom

The first three acts have as much lasting value as the ringtones they’ve spawned. You can almost picture the fat-cat record executive drool over his cigar as he watches the monotonous stream of acts like these recycling the same lyrics over the same beats.

Luckily, the mainstream acts in bracket two all have redeemable qualities. In fact, Lil Wayne is arguably the most popular rapper alive and achieved that status without compromising much at all.

Once you venture out of the mainstream and into bracket three, there are three emcees with the creativity to match their impressive flows.

Bad punk: Fallout Boy, Panic at the Disco, Simple Plan
Good punk: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, The Thermals, Black Lips
Great Punk: Iggy & the Stooges, The Replacements, MC5

This one is the most sorrowful yet. Punk was created to destroy disco and decadence, and now we have a multi-platinum act that has managed to not only turn dissent into a fashion statement, but also to include the very word “disco” in their name. In this bracket the baby-steps acts have the same energy and furor of their forefathers, but despite attempts to remain contemporary, it was impossible to ignore the three punk rock Gods found in the final bracket.

Bad alternative: The Fray, Maroon 5, Coldplay
Good alternative: The Shins, Spoon, TV on the Radio
Great alternative: Of Montreal, Animal Collective, Deerhoof

This will possibly be the easiest transition. While the first three artists are not outlandishly awful, they are excruciatingly boring and uninspired. The catchy groups in bracket two will serve as an easy leap-frog into the weird, experimental and inspired acts of group three.

Bad solo: Jason Mraz, Dave Matthews, Sheryl Crow
Good solo: Bright Eyes, Mason Jennings, Feist
Great solo: Devendra Banhart, The Mountain Goats, Cat Power

KS95 listeners appreciate earthy, organic and emotive songwriting. That’s a good thing. The bad part is they realize this via listening to obnoxious shallowness that is bracket one. The three singer/songwriters in group two have the depth group one so sorely lacks, and in group three things get LSD’y, Wordy and Soul’y (respectively).

Bad pop: Chris Brown, Britney Spears, Sean Kingston
Good pop: M.I.A., Rilo Kiley, Postal Service
Great pop: Ratatat, Robyn, LCD Soundsystem

1 = Danceable and mind-numbing, 2 = Danceable and write their own songs, 3 = Less catchy, but thankfully, still danceable. To make devotees of bracket one feel a tad more at home, bracket three dweller Robyn has actually performed at KDWB’s Last Chance Summer Dance. Then she stopped sucking. If you fancy any of the acts found in bracket one, follow suit! And in turn, you’ll lead a less miserable and pointless life.