Hype Goggles

What will the beloved bands of '05 look like when the buzz wears off?

Like most rockers, most rock critics drink. At night, they get dopey on the tonsil polish, but during the day, journalists get smashed on hype. And everyone -- from writers to readers, musicians to fans -- knows that hype, like hooch, has the unfortunate tendency to make you fall in love with someone you shouldn't. Sauced, you hop into the sack with Scarlett Johansson only to wake up with Darth Sidious. Likewise, with a pair of buzz-goggles, you fall for a "playful, post-modern pastiche," then learn in the morning that you got double-teamed by the Darkness and Har Mar Superstar. When their senses clear, critics strike out at their former beaus with a passion. You can call it backlash, but it's really a hype hangover.

Who are we going to be ashamed of in '06? Who will be our Streets, our Hives? Let's try to sober up and figure it out. With shaky hands and some black coffee, let's take a look at six of the hype bands of the moment, drop the buzz blinders, and see the musicians for what they are. Don't forget to drink lots of water.

Album: Arular

Ethan Wenberg

With the hype goggles on: "The one key definite about M.I.A.'s Arular is that it's the best kind of pop album imaginable. It can be enjoyed on a purely physical level, and it also carries the potential to adjust your worldview." -- Allmusic.com

How to tell you're buzzed: No matter what they are, an artist's politics do not make music better.

In the morning: Like the formerly overhyped Streets, M.I.A.'s worldly roots (Sri Lankan descent, London address) mask a far more normal talent than critics give her credit for. While mildly enjoyable when not actively irritating, Arular is unlikely to leave a lasting impression on dance music, much less world politics. Nothing to be ashamed of, but probably not the marrying type.

Album: LCD Soundsystem

With the hype goggles on: "'Never As Tired As When I'm Waking Up' is a near-brilliant pastiche of both White Album Beatles and Dark Side Floyd, with only its telegraphed George Harrison lead-guitar riff at the end and chord progression ripped from 'Dear Prudence' keeping it from making as grand an emotional impact as it might." -- PitchforkMedia.com

How to tell you're buzzed: Sober critics do not make Beatles references lightly, even if a band is ripping them off.

In the morning: The dance punk-meets-Daft Punk style keeps your Saturday nights grooving for now, but chances are these beats will age like warm milk.

Album: Silent Alarm

With the hype goggles on: "The Clash. Joy Division. The Smiths. Talking Heads. Rock bands all that just happened to infuse their respective music with elements of disco and funk. Fab British foursome Bloc Party has the same rhythmic sensibility." -- Billboard

How to tell you're buzzed: Using four kings of underground rock (and a needless Beatles reference!) to make a point about "rhythmic sensibility" is the worst type of hype-mongering.

In the morning: When Bloc Party isn't able to stand under the weight of these monstrous expectations, a totally undeserved backlash will come, leaving another good band splayed by hype.

Album: Mezmerize

With the hype goggles on: "But at its reckless best, which is a lot, Mezmerize is a thrilling confrontation, a graphic reflection of a nation tearing itself apart in anger, rage and guilt." -- Rolling Stone

How to tell you're buzzed: Any description of an album that could also be used to describe a Michael Moore film doesn't have anything to do with how good an album is.

In the morning: Left-wing lyrics in rock are just about as common as guitars in rock. That leaves SOAD's off-kilter metal to set them apart, and it's really pretty middle-of-the-road.

Album: Blueberry Boat and EP

With the hype goggles on: "If you don't like Blueberry Boat, I don't like you. It's no longer a matter of taste, other than the fact that I have good taste, whereas you, Fiery Furnaces-hater, do not. Don't have time to take in the full sweeping grandeur of Blueberry Boat's 80 minutes? I have no respect for your calendar priorities." -- PitchforkMedia.com

How to tell you're buzzed: Well, come on, you read that. When Pitchfork gets snarky, it's time to move on.

In the morning: Too ambitious by half, the Fiery Furnaces have the goods but need to catch their breath and write a few more songs. If liking your music makes people think they're smart, it's a problem. Album: Funeral

With the hype goggles on: "They are broken, beaten and ferociously romantic, reveling in the brutal beauty of their surroundings like a heathen Adam & Eve... 'Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)' [is] the first of four metaphorical forays into the geography of the soul... These are songs that pump blood back into the heart as fast and furiously as it's draining from the sleeve on which it beats... Funeral's singular thread is finally revealed; love does conquer all, especially love for the cathartic power of music." -- Allmusic.com

How to tell you're buzzed: When a critic mistakes a rock record for the salvation of mankind.

In the morning: The album rocks. It's pretty in parts, maybe even gorgeous. But it's just some arty dance stuff, old Talking Heads parts with a new coat of paint. It will not redeem your soul. Now take some Advil and go back to bed.

 
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