The challenge: listen to the Unwinnable Best Albums of 2015 playlist for the month of January, on random, without skipping a track. Can you hang?
I wasted no time. As soon as I read Gus’ last post, I went through the Best of 2015 playlist and put together one of my own that only had the albums I enjoyed on it – a mere 541 of the full 1,449 songs. The result is so, so much better. I think there is only so much some music can grow on me. A lot of what was on the big playlist floats somebody’s boat, no doubt, but they’re icebergs and anchors for me, to torture the analogy.
Aside of my own picks and stuff I already listen too, I’ve got Best Coast, Blackout, The Bright Light Social Hour, Bully, Czarface, Fuzz, Grimes, Kurt Stenzel’s Jodorosky’s Dune soundtrack, La Luz, Le Butcherettes (technically I already dig them, but I always forget they exist), Leon Bridges (who I know for sure never played once this month and goodness, what a wonderful old school soul album), the Kung Fury soundtrack, Myrkur, Nacho Picasso, Obsequiae, Protomartyr, Royal Headache, Sleater-Kinney, Sufjan Stevens, Sunn O))), Tame Impala, Too Many Zooz, Vince Staples, Youth Code and Zombi. So yea, I don’t know, that still seems like a pretty eclectic mix of new artists.
Progressive black metal band Obsequiae is probably my favorite find – I’ve wanted to dig into the whole album since they started off my playlist back on January 4. I find myself gravitating to Jodorosky’s Dune a lot, too. And Too Many Zooz was a hell of a surprise.
But I feel like all those albums would come across my path eventually. Tame Impala? I doubt I’d ever have listened to them enough for them to grow on me without this little project. I hated that single, “The Less I Know the Better” the first time I heard it and initial exposure to the album didn’t improve my disposition. After a month of having their songs sneak in and be the least aggravating thing I’ve heard in a given hour, though, I kinda like them. They’ve got some super catchy tunes built on some weird ideas (the CD-skipping interlude in the lead track, for instance). I don’t know if Tame Impala will become one of my favorite bands, but I am happy to have them on my radar.
– Stu Horvath
Ok. So I went with Gus’ despicable suggestion of taking on your least favorite artist from the experience and listening to their whole album. Without hesitation I chose Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly.” I did this while at my desk at work, so I grabbed a handful of Ibuprofen, poured a fresh cup of coffee and prepared to live tweet the ordeal. Without word for word reliving the trauma I shared with the twitter-verse, here were my thoughts:
– Two tracks in I began to earnestly question if this was going to be possible for me. Weak in will power as it is, the thought of switching to just about anything other than this was pervasive.
– This is definitely art and there is definitely a craft here… I just can’t relate to it. It’s like going to a great museum and walking into the section that just doesn’t speak to you. I can’t walk out of this section though.
– I’m being yelled at. I don’t like being yelled at. I like listening to people yell and scream sometimes in music, but I literally feel like I’m being bludgeoned by these tracks.
– Sweet gentle Jesus the first 40 seconds of “Hood Justice” was pure, silky wonder… WHY DID IT GO AWAY?!?!
– I need to clarify that I don’t hate hip hop. I just hate whatever this is. “Watch the Throne” was one of my favorite albums the year that came out and I could listen to pretty much any Wu-Tang or MF Doom album right now.
– I think my overall problem with this record is that I cannot relate to a single part of it. When I find something I like (a hook, a backing track, a sample etc.) it’s fleeting. It’s like I’m two-thirds of the way through filling out a survey and I’m now realizing that I grabbed the wrong one.
– The last song was 12 MINUTES LONG. I never wished more that I could drink bourbon at work.
I couldn’t listen to any music for the rest of the day. In fact, I couldn’t listen to anything. I left my headphones in for a couple of hours for some reason before taking them out. This was beyond taxing and I’m glad it’s over. I wish I could say that I took something positive out of this final exercise, but I honestly didn’t.
While the experience as whole was definitely positive ( I walked away with a bunch of new bands and I’m TOTALLY happy about that) if I could go back and not listen to this record, I would.
– Erik Weinbrecht
What a difference a week (and a half) makes!
Two separate events converged to make this last bit of the challenge just a touch more tolerable: Gus’ suggestion that we listen to an entire album or two instead of shuffling around the list and the procurement of a turntable of my very own.
Starting to build a record collection has me focusing on listening to albums in their entirety instead of downloading single tracks at a time. I’ve become much more appreciative of the art of crafting a group of songs or spoken word tracks together. Fear Factory’s Genexus, for example, is much better as the sum of its parts than said parts interspersed with songs from Tame Impala or Courtney Barnett. Would I buy Genexus on vinyl? No, but I didn’t hate the thing when I heard the whole.
“Would I buy <blank> on vinyl?” is a question I’m asking myself all the time, now. And guess what, chicken butt? Some of the records I’ve bought or am going to buy came straight from this challenge: Grimes’ Art Angels, Halsey’s Badlands, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Tame Impala’s Currents (what a great record to put on and just vibe out around), and Leon Bridges’ Coming Home – which, like Stu, I didn’t hear a single track from until I purposefully listened to it this week! Are a good number of these albums I suggested myself for Unwinnable’s Best Music of 2015 list? How’s about you mind your own business?
I’m an old dog, I guess, after all. Still, no regrets. I’ll be keeping my eye on (and ear out for) Kendrick Lamar for a long time.
– Sara Clemens
Well, I’m psyched that I not only finished the challenge, but was able to put together a lengthy list of what I liked in a playlist called Unwinnable Cut. It has a ring to it. It is made up of bands that I heard through my journey that stood out to me, plus a handful of bands that I never got to hear during my randomizing.
I did not include anything that I chose from the list because I wanted to free my ears. I wanted to find music that was similar, but different, and I felt that adding things I already loved would hinder that.
I am grateful for this experience for it reminded me why I love music above all and that there are artists that are still pushing boundaries. Ecstatic Vision could be my favorite takeaway with Tame Impala drawing a close second. Prurient reminded me why I love that militaristic imperial sound of experimental artists of the late 1990s. La Luz and Leon Bridges brought me back to classic rock and soul sounds that I’ve always loved. Holly Herndon, Kurt Stenzel and Czarface solidified my love for weird electronic music and Chelsea Wolfe took me on a roller coaster ride that I won’t soon forget. I hope that all our readers enjoyed our romp through uncharted (in our worlds) musical territory and I hope they give our playlist a listen and try a new flavor.
– Ken Lucas
Like Ken, my biggest discovery during this challenge was Ecstatic Vision. So I guess I should thank Stu for putting it on his list. Not sure how that record escaped my ears this whole year, but when I was listening to the massive, random playlist it kept popping up. And every single time I heard one of the songs I thought to myself, “Damn, who is this? It rips.”
I had hoped that my tastes would expand a teensy bit thanks to this challenge. And I think they did at least a little, thanks to Jay’s picks. We have an overlap in taste where my stoner metal meets his punky garage rock. Fuzz is the perfect embodiment of that overlap.
Other discoveries include: FFS – two great tastes that taste great together and Too Many Zooz, which sounds like a live band doing covers of killer hip hop breaks.
Despite the difficulty of this challenge, I have a feeling I will be coming back to this list for months to come, digging for one or two more gems. I hope everybody found at least one.
– Gus Mastrapa
I had set myself up for a trying week by needlessly subjecting my ears to only my least favorite five bands from the challenge. I listened to each of their albums in their entirety. Unlike the rest of my fellow travelers on this journey, I never really got to enjoy any of it. In retrospect, I can’t be sure if I was trying to show off, or if, deep down, I hate myself. Generally, I think I’m pretty great, though, so let’s assume I was showing off. And let this be lesson to all of us about the perils of showing off for strangers who read articles about music challenges on websites. There may be a broader lesson to be learned, but I am narrowly tailoring this lesson to the harrowing week I just endured.
Here are notes from my five most despised bands of this shit-show of a music challenge:
Gruesome – Savage Land
First up was definitely going to be Gruesome. I only heard one of their songs during this process, but it was enough to know I hated everything about this band. It is impossible to say whether or not this album consists of different songs or one, long, terrible nightmare of sound. There are a few parts where the guitarist does some impressive but utterly soulless super-fast solos. The drums are the same throughout, start to finish. Like, the album starts and the drummer starts drumming one pattern and does not stop until the album, thankfully, ends. The singer is probably the worst person on the planet. His vocals are grating, incomprehensible and are as consistently bland as the drumming. The songs are devoid of melody. A part of me wishes that I was the dismembered corpse being eaten by the cartoon cannibal cavemen on the cover of this album, because I would no longer be living in a world where Gruesome is able to make a living playing this “music.”
Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls
The first track on this album combines several high-pitched squeals and some thunderous growls. This continues for about 10 minutes. The rest of the album is a cavalcade of the most irritating noises you’ve ever come across. Go ahead and think of a sound you hate. Nails on a blackboard? It’s in there. An impossibly high-pitched table saw cutting sheet metal? Check out track two. Distorted vocals of someone simultaneously screaming and swallowing razor blades? I don’t think that’s actually on here, but I hope whoever sings for this band gives it a try. There is literally a high-pitched squeal playing every second throughout this album.
None of it is recognizable as music. None of it is even remotely interesting. One track I hate with particular fervor is “Traditional Snowfall.” This piece of fucking shit combines the kind of music you’d hear while getting a massage with a heavily distorted crunching sound as percussion and that ever-present dog whistle noise. For good measure someone put a microphone in front of an insane person who is screaming through an industrial fan in a language that is unrecognizable to anyone on this planet. I don’t like to live with hate in my heart, but now I’ve heard Prurient and the hate is just there.
Coldplay – A Head Full of Dreams
Wow. I knew I would detest this, but was surprised by how immediately that happened. The first song is some horrible mashup of typical Coldplay and some kind of pop-dance-garbage. What genre is this music? It’s like the worst parts of Maroon 5, U2 and generic pop all tossed together. And who are the musicians in this band? Obviously, this singer is probably playing the piano for the slow generic piano ballads, but several of these songs are just a pigfuck of synths.
I almost stabbed my eyes out due to the repetitive nature of whatever shitty riff plays throughout “Adventure of a Lifetime.” The slow drawl of the vocals on “Army of One” can only be described as embarrassing. This music is like the biggest most over the top bunch of nothing. It wants to be huge and meaningful and deep, but it is simply music to be played in the background at a department store. This album makes me want to marry Chris Martin so I can consciously uncouple his head from the rest of his body while he sleeps.
Imagine Dragons – Smoke + Mirrors
There is no difference between the first song on this album and Coldplay. It’s as generic as can be. At one point, I thought there were some interesting siren sound effects on a song before I realized there was simply a fire truck driving by the building I was in. Again, the only musician of note on these tracks is whoever is programming or playing the synthesizers. Everything is buried under a deep layer of synth.
“I Bet My Life” is some bizarre stompy attempt to copy that “Hey Ho” song from the trailer for “Silver Linings Playbook.” The singer’s overwrought “style” of singing makes me think he did a lot crappy musicals in high school. One song will be “heavy” with extremely distorted guitar, the next will sound like they stole the song from Coldplay. Chris Martin looked at the final track listing for the Coldplay album and was like, “Wait a minute, what happened to that song, ‘It Comes Back To You?'” Little does he know, whatever the jerkoff’s name is who sings for the Drags (that’s what I call them from now on) snuck into the music factory and swiped the track and threw it on his album, laughing all the way to the Bank for Terrible Musicians.
The song “Dream” was commissioned by a car company for a commercial. Or maybe one of those overly dramatic ads that HBO puts together stringing together shots of all their shows to kill time until the top of the hour. This would be perfect for that nonsense. The song “Friction” starts with the worst lyric on the album: “Get down with the victim!” We are all the victims of Imagine Dragons, here.
RP Boo – Fingers, Bank Pads & Shoe Prints
After listening to the complete album by RP Boo, I have reached a level of disgust and contempt that I did not think was possible. This album is truly a remarkable achievement in awfulness. There is absolutely zero musicality to these songs. Everything is disjointed, the beats are terrible, the repetition is migraine inducing. Every song is literally one shitty vocal phrase put through a synth pad and someone just pounding on that button over and over, without regard for anything resembling rhythm.
“Bang’n On King Dr.” can just go fuck itself in the face. Someone in the studio said, “Hey, Mr. Boo, should these drum noises make any sense at all?” And Mr. Boo was like, “No way, I want the opposite of that!” Plus, the drums on the album are mostly comprised of chittering insects. The maximum number of words used in any one song is five. By the time the album reaches the song “I’m Laughing,” which simply repeats “I’m laughing at you” the entire time as if that’s music (with some piercing whistle sounds tossed in because Mr. Boo hates humanity) I do not doubt that RP Boo is in fact laughing at me. As I finished the album, and the end of this long, national nightmare, I became upset that RP Boo will receive $0.0000001 from Spotify thanks to my streaming this fucking garbage. I want Spotify to know that I am willing to pay $10 to make sure my plays of this album do not generate any revenue for RP Boo, no matter how infinitesimal the amount may be.
– Ed Coleman