Our resident skeptic goes 1v1 with some albums he thinks got too much love.
MANO: We live in a time where it is almost impossible to find and read multiple different opinions on art, especially art that We’re Supposed To Like. Blame a crumbling media landscape where it’s hard to even get criticism published, blame stans dunking on critics with the might of guerrilla forces, blame journalists’ desire for access via positive coverage. Whatever the reason is, we hope to correct this slightly with a new, hopefully semi-regular column from Eli Schoop called Constantly Hating. Take it away Eli.
ELI: 2023 was an excellent year for music, despite what this list may profess (Peep game here). The following aren’t the worst albums of the year, but what fun would it be if I put Ed Sheeran and Kim Petras on it, artists who are virtually guaranteed to get bad reviews from critics? I’m going after the releases I think are truly shit and no one is acknowledging that fact, the musicians who have a shield of cultural and critical cool. Sidenote: Taylor Swift’s re-releases are not on here by virtue of not actually being “new”, but make no mistake, they’re both straight basura.
Slowthai – Ugly: I joke that a Deftones/Carti hybrid band would make a label billions but Slowthai made me rethink that concept.
Roisin Murphy – Hit Parade: See: That! Feels Good! but made by a TERF.
Chappell Roan – The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess: Being fucking annoying is not an aesthetic one should aspire for, insufferable Tumblr lesbian does not good pop make.
Jeff Rosenstock – HELLMODE: Jeff man I love you but WOW the solo stuff is getting worse and worse, might be a side effect of writing music for kids’ shows but really feels like he’s doing baby’s first punk here.
10. Jessie Ware – That! Feels Good!
The nu-disco revival movement is still on a stunning .000 batting average. Roisin Murphy, Dua Lipa, Kylie Minogue, Beyonce—you name a pop star, you’ll get a limp attempt at a disco album. With pop flailing for different sounds than those of Jack Antonoff, disco keeps being mined by vultures who’re trying to ape Paradise Garage. That! Feels Good! is just the latest in a line of releases that lacks the enormity of disco’s arrangements, its masterful verve, its pitch-perfect vocal matching, instead opting for hamfisted nostalgia retread, buoyed by Ware’s wholly unconvincing diva turn. You’re not Loleatta Holloway or Jocelyn Brown, stop trying to be.
9. Tim Hecker – No Highs
Fitting title for such a flaccid record. You’re telling me this is the same guy that did Haunt Me, Haunt Me and Harmony in Ultraviolet?. All the worst parts of the recent Oneohtrix stuff packed into one LP: the listless Casio presets, the meandering chords and ambient tones invading your eardrums. Very funny there’s a song called “Total Garbage” too. What did he know?
8. Navy Blue – Ways of Knowing
I like Sage Elsesser a lot; he’s a prototypical polymath. Dude can skate, act, model, and rap with little perceived effort. His run from 2020-2022 was genuinely great, a string of brilliant albums navigating the loss and trauma that’s haunted him, coalesced by an interiority and wisdom far beyond his years. This is what makes Ways of Knowing such a disappointment. The whole thing has a J. Cole type malaise, from its pedantic rapping to glossy, true-school production, bemusing considering his previous denser works that contain multitudes. On one hand it feels like a natural direction for the new Def Jam signee, but on the other, bragging about hanging out with Dave Chappelle is the most devastating self-own I’ve heard in a while. We can only hope bro does not continue down this path.
7. Janelle Monae – The Age of Pleasure
Look past all the glamorous features (Grace Jones! Sister Nancy!) and the copious amount of T&A and you will find music hopping on Afrobeats in a wholly milquetoast manner, profoundly unsexy despite what the branding would have you believe. I was a huge fan of Janelle, especially TheArchandroid in high school, but I’ve been souring on her more and more as the years go by–what was once to me a cool, self-assured swag has become a labored image, coolness packaged straight from Atlantic Records. The Age of Pleasure is music played at overpriced brunches for laptop job people.
6. Blondshell – Blondshell
ANONYMOUS HATER: Blondshell, née Sabrina Mae Teitelbaum, is the epitome of everything that is wrong with “indie” music right now. It’s a rich kid who bought their career by hiring an ex Spotify employee as their manager, who wrote an insufferable piece on how she “broke” her. She went from playing her first shows to Jimmy Fallon in less than a year. Everyone should be asking questions. Sabrina makes ‘90s girlboss rock that tries to sound like The Cranberries meets Boygenius. This music itself sounds like what a 13 year old would write at rock camp, as basic and boring as all the dollar bin records of shitty bandwagon artists majors signed in the alternative boom when there was actually more money in music.
The star of the show is supposed to be Blondshell’s voice and lyrics, both of which have absolutely no personality though she BADLY wants you to think she’s clever with her slice of life, plain-spoken words. They come across as what you’d write in ChatGPT for “strong female lead of an indie band,” vapid, shallow and trying to seem smart. Sabrina, you are no David Berman. “I think my kink is when you tell me that you think I’m pretty” is maybe the most vanilla use of the word “kink” of all time, but it tells you all you need to know about her music: There is ZERO danger. But none of this should be a surprise, most rich kids whose Dads are anti-BDS e-cig executives make bad music. There is no vision here, just Spotify algorithm playlist fodder. I feel like Frank Ocean was talking about people like Sabrina in “Super Rich Kids.” At the end of the day, all the press, late night appearances, reviews, will amount to nothing, she will be forgotten about sooner rather than later cuz she makes trash for the heap. Hope she pays her backing band well though.
5. 100 gecs – 10000 gecs
The pinnacle of lolrandom music back at it again! I wasn’t a huge fan of 1000 gecs but on some of the tracks, like “800db cloud,” you can actually see their wonky sound coming together in a cool way. Here, there is this baked-in self-consciousness of going more and more over the top that renders the music insufferable, playing on a razor’s edge of irony/sincerity. Resurrecting oft-ridiculed genres in order to exculpate their perceived positive qualities and making this the core of the music is a remarkably barren way to create art and ensures it has no lasting merit. Every generation gets their own novelty act I suppose.
4. Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want To Turn Into You
One of the chief tricks of “alternative pop” is how it wields its inherent elevated status, stemming from a perceived superiority to mainstream pop, allowing the songwriting to take a backseat. This is something that Caroline Polachek has taken advantage of to pull the wool over the eyes of countless stans. Polachek’s music is endlessly theoretical, taking pop and infusing it with the politics of desire. It’s full of lines like “Headless angel / Body upgraded / But it’s dead on arrival” and “These days, I wear my body like an uninvited guest,” technically brilliant and thoroughly sexless. Polachek goes to great lengths to create these grandiose compositions that ascertain beauty but lack any eroticism that distinguishes great pop. If OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES is alt-pop’s zenith, this is its nadir.
3. Noname – Sundial
Noname’s transition to a committed communist and her founding of her Book Club deserve major props, but I have no clue how Sundial isn’t regarded in the same way as her fellow Chicagoan’s flop The Big Day. She rhymes librarian and contrarian in the first verse of the album, keeps using the stolid jazz beats that were played out on Telefone and Room 25, and has the most boilerplate “I just discovered Frantz Fanon two years ago” bars I have ever heard. The Coup, Sister Souljah and KMD prove that intensely political rap does not have to feel like assigned listening. It’s very funny that she and J. Cole beefed considering they both have the same boring cadences and yawn-inducing songwriting on their projects. Telling that the most interesting part of the album was the backlash she got for featuring Jay Electronica, whose hotep raps on his last records are far more interesting than any Mic.com lyrics Noname gives us on Sundial.
2. Boygenius – the Record
Still as bad if not worse than when I reviewed it 8 months ago. A truly miserable record.
1. Travis Scott – UTOPIA
On musical merit, the Record would’ve been #1 easily. It is absolutely horrendous music. However, UTOPIA tops this list because of one glaring circumstance: the Astroworld disaster. For Travis to have 10 people die and hundreds more injured under his watch and then disappear into the shadows with no personal culpability, only to come back and make a faux-Yeezus with almost no reference to a devastating tragedy is sociopathic shit. A fan was paralyzed at one of his shows in 2017 and dude didn’t learn anything!
I don’t think there’s ever been a mainstream album that’s this dark-sided, a capsule of Scott’s apathy toward everything that happened and his desire to simply rage, man. UTOPIA is an unfeeling husk of an album, testifying to how he was just pleading to his audience at-large to ignore anything unsavory or grisly he might have been involved with. UTOPIA is the equivalent of damage control from Shell or Exxon after an oil spill, a big-tent record that implores you to ignore all the dead bodies behind the curtain.