The critics. They have a lot to say. In the music world, they always seem to be clinging to and clamoring for bands, artists, performers and musicians — they shout about them from the rooftop, they supersaturate them on their best of lists. Sometimes they’re tremendously right (e.g. Jon Landau with Bruce Springsteen) or tremendously wrong (remember when Rolling Stone said The Vines were going to help save rock ‘n’ roll?). So on this Mix Tape Monday, some of our writers are going to take on some critical darlings and see if they deserve the press they’ve been getting.
The Decemberists — “The King Is Dead”
I know some people have a problem with The Decemberists. They hate how arcane and pretentious Colin Meloy’s lyrics sometimes seem. They hate his nasally voice. They hate that there’s a rock band called The Decemberists. But Meloy, for all his foppishness, is a master of simple, catchy melodies — with a rare knack of making sad, minor-key songs bouncy and instantly infectious. This song? It doesn’t break new ground — it sounds like a folky R.E.M. tribute — but it’s solid. And it boasts a cameo by the underrated Gillian Welch. So, no, it’s not worthy of crazy hype. But it’s worth a listen.
— Brent Johnson
Kings of Leon — “Radioactive”
When it comes to Kings of Leon, it’s important to note that any “hype” they’ve generated at this point is well-earned. This is not some newfangled, flavor-of-the-month rock group. The Followill boys (three brothers and a first-cousin) have been developing their own southern-fried take on pop-rock over the course of seven years and five albums. Their sound — hallmarked by singer Caleb’s sometimes indecipherable drawl and guitarist Matthew’s expansive lead lines — is immediately recognizable. Whether you love or hate “Use Somebody” — their inescapable single from 2008’s Only By The Night — you damn well know exactly who it is every time it comes on the radio. They make big rock music, and they play big venues. Hype Schmype. They may very well be the American U2. “Radioactive” is another memorable single in the KoL model. But as far as this video is concerned, it’s purely whack. White band hangs out at a picnic with Black people! Pie is served! Caleb sings in a giant barn! Someone bangs on a piano you can’t actually hear! Cue the childrens’ choir! Who’s feeling warm and fuzzy? Duh!
— Jason Kundrath
Wiz Khalifa — “Black and Yellow” (Remix f./Snoop Dogg, Juicy, T-Pain)
Wiz Khalifa released the single “Black and Yellow” this past September, and it seems like nobody can get enough of it. The song has been remixed by everyone, from Fabolous to that twenty-something year old neighbor of yours who still thinks he’ll catch his break as a youtube sensation. The official remix, featuring Snoop Dogg, Juicy J, and T-Pain was released December 12th and has been getting much praise. If you don’t like the original song, you probably won’t like the remix. I thought the original version was extremely catchy and had great production, and the remix stays true to that. Each rapper on the remix sounded pretty great; even T-Pain who I usually despise was able to hold his ground. The repetition of “Black and yellow, black and yellow…” gets a little overwhelming throughout the song. Other than that, I only had one main concern, and that was Snoop Dogg’s verse. Now, I had fairly high expectations when I heard that Snoop and Wiz were collaborating. It’s not that his verse wasn’t good. The real problem is that out of a song that’s almost five minutes long, Snoop Dogg’s verse is barely over twenty seconds long. Because of this, I just feel like having him on the song was a marketing ploy and that was really all. In the overall scheme of things, the song is nothing groundbreaking, but it’s still entertaining. This past year, I’ve loved seeing Wiz Khalifa gain so much popularity; and this remix is a big step in the right direction on his path to stardom.
— Joe Zorzi
Kanye West — “Runaway”
I was skeptical of Kanye West straight from the get go. What I mean by “Kanye West,” however, isn’t the architectural genius behind Jay Z’s Blueprint, but rather the apple who decided to fall farther away from the tree than even the tree had ever intended. And by “skeptical” I mean that I think his shit is weak. Perfect example? Getting murdered on his own track by up-and-comer Nicki Minaj (see: “Monster”). When Kanye debuted his single, “Runaway” at the MTV Video Music Awards in September, I laughed out loud. And then when the audible piece of shit blew up less than a week later, I cried. Only this pretentious, ego-maniacal, sociopathic nut job could write a song about being a douche and have it be a complete hit. I hope when he has someone ghost-write his autobiography for him he titles it, “Here’s a Toast for the Douchebag.”
— Maxwell Barna
LCD Soundsystem — “All I Want”
Pick up The Best of 2010 copy of Spin Magazine and you’ll see a picture of the man who inspired this week’s column: James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. I’ve heard about his group for the past few years, mentioned by friend of the blog DJ Prime as a band that I should be checking out or through various hip music publications like Spin and Paste claiming him to be a musical genius. As I type this out, I’m listening to “All I Want,” the single off LCD Soundsystem’s critically lauded album This is Happening. The track is an amazingly tender combination of sweaty New York by way of Williamsburg indie rock and the new “it’s disco, not disco” style of dance music that people from said section of Brooklyn totally dig. Sure it’s the stuff that critics love — unique, eclectic and smart — but as someone who’s musical life revolves around endless guitar solos and super sonic riffs, I can’t get enough of this track. A brilliant blend of rock guitars mixed with Murphy’s quietly calm and sometimes heartbreaking vocals makes this song and this band, definitely worth all the critical acclaim it has received.
— Bill Bodkin