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Monday, December 29, 2014 

The worst music of 2014.

This time last year I suggested we might be facing a couple of years where musical innovation (in the "underground" scenes at least) would take a back seat to general consolidation, such had been the breakneck pace of change of the period between 2003-2011.  Now, it could be I haven't listened to as much on Rinse this past 12 months as I have previously, but it really does seem as though we're in the middle of said fallow period.  Coupled with the continuing decline in physical sales, with it becoming ever less clear exactly how musicians are going to be remunerated for their work when streaming services are now the first port of call for so many, with the pittance they offer in royalties, it's often felt this year as though the safest bets have been celebrated and pushed more than ever.

First though, can we have a moment of silence for dubstep, which passed away this year?  Or perhaps some cavernous sub-bass would be more appropriate.  Whole genres of course don't die, and without doubt repetitive beats around the 140bpm mark will come back, as every genre does at some point.  This said, when Youngsta now dedicates almost the entire first hour of his show to that not exactly post-dubstep not exactly tech-house not exactly techno sound others have moved on to, you know dubstep is going through a period of creative crisis.  

This is all the more sad when you consider just a few short years ago the possibilities of the genre seemed endless: "dubstep" was always an elastic signifier, able to encompass Burial at one end of the spectrum and completely deranged tearout by say, Borgore at the other.  Without being confined in the same way as drum and bass is, the likes of Scuba and Joy Orbison could happily sit alongside Coki and 16 Bit.  And now, almost certainly because the bastardised version of dubstep got so popular so quickly among a certain demographic, the genre as a whole has collapsed in on itself.

In what is hopefully a sign of how dubstep can make a resurgence, its sister genre grime has continued its own instrumental revival this year.  Where perhaps the Butterz duo of Elijah and Skilliam can be principally thanked for starting things off, a whole bunch of new labels and producers have emerged this year to drive things further on.  Artists like Slackk, Visionist, Murlo, Kid D, Inkke, and SD Laika have all emerged, while more established people like Mr. Mitch and JT the Goon have pushed on too.  There's also been the revelation of outliers like those mentioned above who had a tenuous connection to dubstep, such as Rabit and Yamaenko, who are sort of making grime, just not the sort you're likely to hear in a club being spat over by an MC.

With 2014 having often felt like a year in a state of flux, not sure whether it wanted to go down as the year when the internet completely took over everything, music in general has often seemed to be mirroring that air of uncertainty.  There hasn't been anything completely irredeemable, just as there hasn't been anything on the scale of say, Get Lucky, conquering all before it.  The closest has been Happy, which in fact came out at the tail end of last year.  To make up for this clearly unacceptable situation, the levels of hype and bullshit surrounding mediocre but successful artists have escalated yet further.  Every female artist on the planet was seemingly asked if they were a feminist, and even if they didn't agree they were lauded as one anyway.  Perhaps Beyonce is a feminist, if getting married to someone who once declared he had 99 problems but a bitch wasn't one can be defined as such, but when Queen B's status as living god has been affirmed over and over no one could possibly demur anyway.

We must then move on to Taylor Swift.  Forget just for a moment the whole removing her music from Spotify thing, the kind of act in 2014 that defines you as a revolutionary, such is the way the industry has gone, and try to remember the music itself.  Can you?  I don't mean the videos, the ones that prompt supposed political commentators to write articles on them, such is their power, but the actual music that goes with them.   I sure as hell can't.  There is literally nothing there, and yet such has been the ephemera of the recent past Swift's music is held up as a kind of triumph.  I'd like to think all those clickbait pieces on Swift and her ilk are written by people no longer ashamed to admit they have horrible taste in music, yet most are clearly just doing what they're told.

Much the same can be said for that other winner against the odds of 2014, Ed Sheeran.  His second album has sold over a million copies, which just proves how massive the market for insipid sort of guitar sort of vaguely urban at times music is.  Sheeran is without question his own man, having gone round the toilet circuit before making it big, but still he seems like the next logical step for the tweenager who's outgrown One Direction or 5 Seconds of Summer.  He's supremely unthreatening but has a sleeve tattoo therefore rebellion, sings a few soppy songs but others have a slightly harsher edge, and if he hadn't arrived fully formed some record company exec would have created him.  That he reminds me and probably only me of Sam Duckworth's Get Cape Wear Cape Fly, except Sheeran is even wetter, fairly sums him up.

Sheeran is at least preferable to the other "big" artists thrust down our throats this year in the shape of Sam Smith and George Ezra, with their faux-soul faux-everything except their voices sound.  James Blake was unfairly described a couple of years back as coffee table dubstep, but that's as nothing to what Smith and Ezra are: they're background noise makers, whether it be to provide a soundtrack to scenes in the Queen Vic or Rovers Return, or to your own dinner party.  To do a couple of obvious jokes, yes, Ezra, you are a Budapest, and will someone please pass me the fucking asparagus.

It also wouldn't be a worst music of the year post if we didn't have a moan about mediocrities getting praise for merely being mediocre, if that hasn't been what the past four paragraphs have been getting at already.  No, this year has seen something far more pernicious: the review that sort of says this album is total cack and then gives it a midrange score regardless.  Chief example being Alexis Petridis' review of Lily Allen's god-awful Sheezus.  Lily Allen has been getting away with releasing sort-of OK pop for years, rewarded at one point with a Novello award no less, only to come rather unstuck following the whole I'm not going to lower myself by shaking my arse in my videos when I've paid a whole load of black women to do it for me controversy.  When the best can be said is that a couple of songs have a couple of decent lines, Petridis quoting the one from URL Badman, just not the "I don't like girls much, they're kinda silly / Unless of course they wanna play with my willy" couplet which rather lets the side down, then giving it three stars is stretching it.  The same goes for Pitchfork's review of Nicki Minaj's opus the Pinkprint, which admits from the outset Minaj is "exhausted", only to then give it a 7.5.  On the Richter scale, presumably.

Ah yes, Ms Minaj.  Anaconda was apparently intended as a novelty, which rather poses the question of whether almost her entire body of previous work should be regarded as such also.  "My anaconda don't want none unless you got buns, hun" is the kind of line you could go to your grave trying to decipher.  Is Minaj deliberately using a double negative to satirise the whole debate over her butt implants?  Despite everyone assuming that anaconda is a euphemism for penis, is she actually warning everyone of a snake targeting only those with large posteriors?  Or is it merely a terrible line written to justify a video where Minaj "plays" another woman's buttocks like the bongos?  Then we also had Meghan Trainor, informing the world it's all about that bass, no treble.  All this discussing in song form of bigger than your average back bottoms meant this was soon taken up as a rallying cry for "loving what you got", which is a fine sentiment.  It just rather ignored the whole "Fuck the skinny bitches in the club" bit at the end of Anaconda.

Finally, and most mystifying of all, is just how many deeply underwhelming albums have been praised to the skies.  The War on Drugs' Lost in the Dream is making a lot of top tens, to which you can only ask: how?  I'm not averse to a bit of Bruce Springsteen, but Bruce Springsteen mixed with David Gray with the other worst bits of 80s rock thrown in?  The 80s is the decade music wants to forget for good reason, with the only comfort coming from the emergence of house, techno and hardcore in both musical senses.  Aphex Twin's comeback Syro also does absolutely nothing for me, the praise it's getting more about Richard D James's past contributions than his latest it seems, Swans' To Be Kind similarly washes over whereas The Seer captivated, and Scott Walker's team-up with Sunn 0))) is memorable only for the "Choo choo mama" chorus of Fetish, which for those like me who come from the internet thought was going to end in a different m word altogether.  Choo choo then, motherfuckers.

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