The Good, The Bad, and The Cliche

The purpose of this post is not to simply trash all pop music, nor is it to make you change your mind about what you like and what you don’t like. The purpose is to point out good aspects of music and bad ones, and ones that are used over and over again (not necessarily bad). That being said, somebody is going to have to be offended.

I wouldn’t recommend listening to “I Gotta Feelin.” You probably already heard it a million times and know all of the words. This song won a Grammy for Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals. This album, which is titles “The E.N.D.” was nominated for record of the year, and won Best Pop Vocal Album.

Those of you who have read all of my previous ramblings until now I applaud you, and I also ask you, what do you think of that? First of all, the same four chords repeat throughout. Second of all, there is hardly any singing in this song, and when there is it is mostly on one note aside from Fergie. Also, this song is literally about hoping to have a good time tonight. Each phrase by itself is simply a feel good cliché saying that your average college student would text to their friend on a Friday night. How did this song get so popular to the point where it got so much acclaim? Its catchy, it’s simple, it’s repetitive, and it’s easy to memorize all the words. For the record, what I’m trying to communicate to you is this is an example of a BAD song. Sorry Will.I.Am, no respect.

Aside from instrumentation, what makes people like Mumford and Sons so much? They follow pop song structure, they often employ 4 or fewer chords in most of their songs, and they repeat lyrics over and over in the chorus’. I think a Mumford and Sons fan will tell you (which I am not) that it’s because they can relate with the lyrics, and the fast rhythmic string sections are full of energy. They mostly sing about heartbreak/love and loss, as do many popular artists today, but it’s their characteristic sound they have that makes them liked by so many. I am not a fan of this band, it isn’t my type of music, but I can safely say this is an example of good music. They don’t stray too far from the norm in terms of themes structure and cadences, but they do it so well.  Now let’s shift to electronic

Again let’s analyze why people like Skrillex, and then we will talk about why people do not like Skrillex. Like Mumford and Sons, Skrillex has a very characteristic sound. Unlike most electronic you can’t mistake his work for someone else’s. He uses many commonly used samples in his songs, but also created his own sound that is easy to recognize. Skrillex fans (which again I am not) like him because of how heavy this sound is. It’s aggressive and dissonant which is uncommon for all types of techno which are in general upbeat with straight minor chords. This leads directly into why people do not like Skrillex. His sound is hardly considered musical, it’s very machine-like and atonal (meaning no tonal center, it’s not a musical note). So what’s my verdict on this polarizing artist? I think he does his own thing and doesn’t care what I think, and he will stick to his style that he has been using since Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. For that I think he should be respected, but on that note…

The singer, recognize his terrible black hair and pale complexion? Yup. Same guy. Is this good music? It’s not fair for me to judge because I feel like I’m outside of the target demographic of pre-teen girls. That’s a joke. The reason so much music targets this demographic is simple: money. By the time most boys (some girls, I’m not THAT sexist just realistic) get of high school age they are full time music downloaders (at least it was in my high school). If you want to make money you target the audience younger than that. Sing about middle school level drama and not fitting in, throw in some electric guitar and you have From First to Last and hundreds of other “pop punk” bands from that era. I find it hard to believe in an artist that can’t relate to their own music, so anything targeting a specific demographic I can’t take seriously. Sorry Sonny.

Let’s listen to some really bad music now

Before we analyze why this sucks so much, there are some thing you probably need to know about what a metal head expects when he presses the play button. He wants to hear some heavy grooves. He wants to hear some angry vocals. He wants some clean technical drumming. We must also make a distinction between metal and alternative. Alternative is, as its name says an alternative to pop. It follows similar structure and tendencies as pop, but it has real instruments and a bit more freedom in songwriting. Alternative started to be a thing around when Pearl Jam and Nirvana were gaining popularity. They are perfect examples of the definition of alternative. They revolutionized the way rock song writing could be done and hundreds of bands have stemmed off of them since then. Now back to the example, I think you can see where I am going with this.

I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of alternative, but there are definitely good alternative bands. This is not one of them. WHAT?! Asking Alexandria is hardcore metal man! They aren’t alternative! I beg to differ. They follow basic pop song structure, throwing in some elements of metal like screaming vocals and rhythmic breakdowns. I am going to tell it like it is AA, screaming and breakdowns do not make you a good metal band. It doesn’t even make you a good alternative band. I will say AA has come a long way since their first album, but they still have a long way to go to get my attention. AA brings nothing new to the world of music; they try and fit into the genre as much as possible. They have no characteristic sound, and they sing about common themes (love/loss, angry at past, bullies, parents). Using this they have become a relatively well known band for their fake metal genre. (If you want some more examples of fake metal to understand better what I’m talking about, Abandon All Ships, Attack Attack, Black Veil Brides, Silverstein, We Came As Romans.)

So what encompasses good alternative then?

Right away the chords they use are for more interesting than anything you heard in the AA song. They are thicker (more notes) and make the song flow smoothly. Notice it still follows pop song structure (verse chorus verse chorus bridge etc). Why is this better than AA? Besides overall song writing skills (oooo burn) it’s distinctly Deftones. Any Deftones fan will recognize the sludgy guitars and long droning vocals right away. The way this is written is so simple, the chords change usually once per phrase, and the dynamics naturally build and resolve. They definitely are influenced by other alternative bands such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana, but they add their own distinct flare to their music. It has character and stands out without throwing the listener too far out of their comfort zone.

Now it’s time for the REALLY heavy stuff.

Yeah now THAT is metal. Even I can make no argument to the contrary. Is this an example of good metal though? Based on the points I have made above, no, it is not. It’s got heavy grooves, fast technical drumming, and angry vocals, but what else does it have? TAIM doesn’t exactly stand out from other death-core metal bands (Whitechapel, Chelsea Grin, Oceano). It definitely encompasses everything that a fan of the genre would expect, but it doesn’t have any character.  Nothing about it stands out, nothing is memorable.

Can you tell the difference between that band and this one unless you are very familiar with both groups previously? Not really. The vocals are a little different, the grooves are a little different, the drums are a little different, but in general it’s all the same.

Is there even such thing as good metal then? It all sounds the same to me anyway!

Ok well… I guess that’s different. Right when the opening riff comes in (at :15) you can tell this is going to be different. Once the groove “drops” at :47, you can identify the characteristic sound of Meshuggah. It’s still a good groove, with angry vocals, and fast technical drumming, but it stands out with its own style. For those of you who have been following along this is also the Finale of the album, notice the aspects of a Finale it has.

Why is it impossible to make a good metal music video? Anyway, again this is still very distinctly metal, but does it have its own character? This is sad for me to admit, but no. I really like periphery, this is right up my ally. The problem is there are songs like this

and this

that produce a very similar overall sound. All of these bands try to play with the metering (time signature) to sound like they are somehow a more intelligent form of metal, without adding the one thing that is most important to me in music: character. It’s not to say every song by all three of these bands sounds the same (this is hardly true for any band) but in the case of these three particular songs, there is nothing that stands out to me. See? I even said some negative things about music I actually like.

The next post will be a bit different. I will talk about the state of the music industry, the”meta” if you will (like before with both popular music and heavy metal), and where I think it is heading.


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