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Monday, December 28, 2015 

The worst music of 2015.



It's me.

Sorry, who? I don't think I've had the pleasure.

I was wondering if after all these years you'd like to meet.

No, really, who are you? I don't think we've met.

To go over everything.

Can we possibly start by establishing who the hell you are?

They say that time's supposed to heal but I ain't done much healing.

You're going to really need healing if you don't say who you are.

Hello, can you hear me?

Yes, I can hear you.  Now who the fuck are you?

I'm in California dreaming about who we used to be.

OK, we're getting somewhere. Are you genuinely in California or are you referencing the Mamas and the Papas song?

When we were younger and free.

No, wait. Are you listening to me? Will you answer one goddamn question?

I've forgotten how it felt before the world fell at our feet.

Our? Our feet? I work at Greggs, always have?

There's such a difference between us.

Well yeah, I don't phone random strangers and sing nonsense down the phone to them.

And a million miles.

Oh, so you are in California? I hope this is costing you a bomb.


*click, brr*

Culture in general in 2015 has seemed stuck.  Star Wars is the biggest film of the year, with the sort of reboot of Jurassic Park not far behind.  The charts have been stuffed with house music that seems to be directly channelling 1994.  The rest of popular music appears to be following one of three templates: the Adele minimalist template, where understated backing is accompanied by powerful, overwhelming vocal; the Ed Sheeran template, where blandness is king; and the Rihanna template, where when all else fails, just belt it out whether you can stay in tune or not.

A few years back this was rather presciently described by Peter Robinson as the new boring.  Adele is undeniably boring.  Ed Sheeran is unbearably boring.  Rihanna herself might have been relatively absent this year, but we've had Sia instead who somehow turns out to be worse, and is just as dull.  Rather than see a reaction against the new boring, almost any sort of reaction, instead the response has been to double down.  Not sated by Adele's new album?  Well, you can alternate 25 with your Sam Smith Spotify playlist, can't you?  They're practically identical.  Getting a bit tired of Ed Sheeran's unfathomably popular wetness?  Here's Jamie Lawson, James Bay, or you could go all out indie and plump for George Ezra if you're feeling a bit dangerous.  Want some more overbearing, strident and generally insufferable screeching?  There was a new Florence album while Paloma Faith was once again in evidence, to pick on just two.

Essentially what the Great British Album Buying and Film Watching Public have decided is they want the same thing, over and over again, only done very slightly differently.  I might think that 25 is 21 and 19 all over again, mining the exact same production techniques and once again featuring Adele's patented line in really quite creepy self-pitying keening, all shouted from the gob of a multi-millionaire, the kind that would be called out in thinkpieces if it was a bloke singing the same words, but who can argue with its success?  The critics can't, however many hints they drop in their hand-wringing 3 star reviews.  What are Coldplay other than a record selling machine, despite each album in turn being less memorable?  What was Writing's on the Wall but a direct attempt to ape Skyfall, regardless of why anyone would want to?  Rather than tire of Florence's attention seeking flapping around, her insistence on appearing the biggest arse going, she keeps on getting bigger.  Most horrifically of all, some of these people now want to impose tribute acts to themselves on us, as Ed Sheeran has done with Jamie Lawson, he of Wasn't Expecting That notoriety.  You spent the night in my bed / You woke up and you said / Well, I wasn't expecting that.  Why wasn't she?  Did you drug her?  Are you confessing to date rape through song, Jamie?

I could take it a lot easier if, to complain about the same thing for the umpteenth time, these efforts weren't regarded as being the very best that our society has to offer.  The Quietus opens its top albums of the year rundown by setting out the facts: despite ever more music being produced, ever fewer people are paying the creators to do so, and those who are getting paid are getting squeezed ever tighter.  The underground and the mainstream have never seemed further apart, and despite the internet meaning we can all subdivide ourselves into our own little corners where we do become aware of new artists in our preferred genres, the chances of them making the leap from those corners to the centre in turn diminish.  

When this is the case, why would record companies spend what money they do have to promote new signings on an artist that could well fail?  Why not just market a gay bloke who can sing about essentially the same things as Adele?  Why do something other than throw a drippy guy with an acoustic guitar and a line in bland lyricism that still somehow appeals across the board out onto the world?  As alluded to above, and bearing in mind music critics are rarely as acerbic or scathing as their film reviewing colleagues, there's little they can do other than doll out mediocre reviews to music which is mediocre, but which sells by the million.  Indeed, perhaps it sells so well precisely because of its very mediocre quality.  Adele isn't even Taylor Swift, for pity's sake, and yet to believe the hype she may as well be Christ Jesus Herself returned to Earth.

Nor is this water treading confined just to the pop side of things.  After a period where house seemed revitalised, it has once again returned to the groove it routinely gets stuck in.  The pinnacle of house to many is Robin S's Show Me Love, or more precisely, the Stonebridge remix.  Other names from the period, like MK, have made a comeback through producing mixes that sound almost the same as the ones they were making 20 years ago.  For those like me who were so excited a few years back by dubstep and its evolutions and mutations, only for them to collapse in on themselves and for grime to retake the mantle it held first, it's disconcerting to read the yoof declaring they got into clubbing courtesy of Disclosure, they of ever diminishing returns on the tropes of UK garage and 90s house.  Little wonder that someone like Jess Glynne, vocalising over the top of arid, empty, vacuous, meek EDM soundscapes can have one of the most successful albums of the year.

2015 also saw the return of another group with much to answer for, no one's friends, the Libertines.  Their success can probably best be measured by how I got a gig round-up email which had Sleaford Mods in the title, only for the body to reveal they were ahem, supporting the world's most overrated group.  Landfill indie may have come and gone, but in its place is what exactly?  SlavesWolf Alice, whose album must be one of the most epically overpraised of the year?  The only indie rock of any note this year has been American, as indeed has been the case for the last few years.  When probably the most anticipated album of the new year is the fifth from a revitalised Bloc Party, complete with new drummer and bassist, and it's up to the Sleaford Mods to try and bridge the gap between two worlds, something has gone very wrong.

As have the critical faculties of more than a few people, and to a far greater extent than in rating Wolf Alice.  Yes, finally, we come to the great Jamie xx album debacle.  Never the best source for informed news 'n views on the bass music side of things, as proved by how highly they've rated Disclosure, Pitchfork gave Jamie xx's debut album as a solo producer a quite incredible 9.3 (although it's worth stating how odd it is that we react differently to a 9.3 score than we would to say, a score of 93% or 5 stars).  It's second on their best of the year list.  Not that it was just Pitchfork: In Colour was supposed favourite for the Mercury, it's 3rd on the NME's list (yes, I know), and ends up 14th on Album of the Year's aggregated list.  Boomkat meanwhile, which does know just a little about the music it sells, slaughtered it in a mere 177 words.  Key parts: "safe raving", "pre-eminent posh soul boy", "The putative "soul" of rare groove, boogie, hardcore and early jungle is sucked out and spliced with vocals in feathered arrangements ripened up for students and yummy mummys alike", and best of all, "it's as seductive as a Waitrose fridge on a warm day".  For good measure, the Quietus and Resident Advisor also joined in on the act.

And the latter reviews are all correct.  In Colour is no bloody good whatsoever.  It's bland background music as far removed from a club like FWD as it's possible to imagine.  This is all the more mysterious because, unlike some of those reviewers who hated Jamie xx from the moment he started delving outright into solo production, I really liked Far Nearer.  I liked All Under One Roof Raving.  In Colour's problem is that it's not a dance record, it's a bad xx record, an xx album like the one the band's detractors hear.  There's no emotion, no depth.  It's all surface.  You forget it the moment it finishes, and have no inclination whatsoever to listen to it again.  I've made this comparison before, but James Blake's first album was sneered at as coffee table dubstep, when it was nothing of the sort, a lazy insult.  In Colour is coffee table, dinner table, cocaine cutting table music, and unlike say the intro to the first xx album, which for a time was ubiquitous as a background to anything and everything on television, it's where it deserves to be.

In Colour isn't terrible, mind.  It's not David Guetta.  It's not Avicii.  It's mediocre.  How lovely it would be if the other mediocrities lauded and treated as superstars were as reviewed and rated as honestly.  If they were, we could still be saved from our broken record culture.  And that would never do.

P.S. Expect the 15 best albums run down to probably follow on Thursday, as I've still a few albums I'm yet to get to and some others I want to listen to again.  It won't be worth the wait, I promise.

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