by Seth Graves
The very essence of musical snobbery relies almost solely in not what the listener thinks, but within the context of the perception of other listeners. Yes, in most cases this is just plain elitism. However, when a great album is played one too many times at a party, a magnificent song is placed on repeat ad nauseum, or a good band is proclaimed “the greatest” yet again, the magic is depleted with every blow. This is when the legacies of some of the greatest bands ever known can, have and will be ruined by people who simply won’t shut the fuck up about them.
I’ve long been a fan of the theory that every song has its threshold. That is, every song holds a certain number of times one can hear it before it can longer be heard with pleasure. The same goes for records, even bands. There’s only so many times I can hear someone praised as “genius” before that statement seems to become less and less true. Since we are speaking in matters of taste, these things are almost impossible to quantify in finite measurements, and they vary between persons based on any number of variables — age, race, gender, sexual orientation and religious affiliation, to name a few. In fact, they mostly stay relegated to the concepts of: underrated, overrated and simply rated in general.
You’ll notice these are almost always a band with only one or two albums who broke up early in their career, thus leaving the world wanting more — perhaps too much. The worth of their meager output is compounded with influence and adoration. Oh, but sometimes that influence and adoration creates a monster, prompting me to beg of the world, "Please shut the fuck up about these bands.”
1. Neutral Milk Hotel
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea holds a solid spot in any given Top 100 Albums of the '90s list — and with good reason. It’s nearly flawless. It’s a homespun, whimsical, poetic, melodic labor of love that demands to be heard from beginning to end. Not long after its release, principle member, singer and songwriter Jeff Mangum became the J.D. Salinger of indie rock, propelling his legacy into the stuff of legend — or at least urban legend. His perceived genius took on a James Dean effect, inflated beyond all reason and ruptured once he resurfaced to rehash his old jams to a new generation, still clinging to one of the last slabs of substance put to tape since the early Aughts.
As we speak, Mangum has resuscitated an incarnation of a proper Neutral Milk Hotel band, embarked on a tour, rekindled the hype and inspired this whole goddamn diatribe you’re reading now. If the shortage of NMH material has you starving, I encourage you to explore the depths of the Elephant 6 Collective, where you'll actually find even better stuff than Aeroplane.
2. The Postal Service
Creeping up on 10 years since the release of their one and only Give Up, the blips, clicks, pops and dings that back The Postal Service's 10 near-perfect electro-pop jams have gone from spinning in heavy rotation on my college radio show to causing my eardrums to shrivel and recede into my skull. Maybe it’s because this one-off collab between Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and synth wiz Jimmy Tamborello spawned an entire genre of emo-tronica, culminating in a No. 1 hit by the band’s most successful impersonator Owl City. Maybe it’s because I personally reached my threshold months after ripping the promo copy to my iPod and months before every girlfriend I would have in college would insist on playing it on every ride in the car.
At a recent dinner party, a friend of mine played a mix CD of no less than 10 cover versions of “Such Great Heights.” A little research shows that folks are to this day clamoring for a sophomore effort. The only way I can support this is if it means that I never hear the intro to “Such Great Heights” again.
3. Sex Pistols
Had Sex Pistols crashed and burned in the approximate two years in which they were intended to exist, Nevermind the Bollocks ... would still at least live on in my brain's junior-high nostalgia compartment, and for the rest of the world, the band itself would take both claim and blame for reducing punk rock to a singular dimension by breaking new ground in the art of trying too hard. Sex Pistols aren’t currently reunited, but that doesn’t mean they won’t again. The original or “studio lineup” has reconvened in 1996, 2002, 2003, 2007 and 2008 to feign whatever topics of angst 50-year-old men can find to muster after 30 solid years of mailbox money. Even the money-grubbing, fame-whoring Malcolm McClaren knew when to call it quits. Recently, a full-fledged box set was released containing every scrap of demos, videos, interviews, photos, etc. that allegedly exist of the band — including a sonic overhaul of the record itself for anyone who, for some reason, after all this time, needs to hear “God Save the Queen” a millionth time with full digital clarity. Can this please be the final nail in their coffin?
4. Joy Division
Joy Division pioneered gloomy, doomy goth rock for future generations of black-clad teens. Singer Ian Curtis sealed the deal by doing the most goth thing a dude can do: hanging himself. There you go, Joy Division 4ever. Their two-album discography is no doubt substantial and worth a listen on those not-so-fresh-feeling days, but c'mon: They're not that great and would have certainly been overshadowed by the more competent explorations the band would have given us after or instead of reforming as New Order — that is, without Curtis’ corpse swinging above them at all times.
You will never not see the iconic pulsar diagram on the T-shirt of an indie film’s archetypal sad/angry teenager character. You will never be able to mention the band at a party without someone in your vicinity making orgasmic noises as if they’d just tasted the finest chocolate truffle on Earth while clutching their chest as if you’ve broken their heart all over by speaking their very name. And even though the extent of your Joy Division experience starts and stops with “Love Will Tear Us Apart” on that worn-out mix CD-R somewhere in your collection, you too will never shut the fuck up about Joy Division.
Surely you’ve had enough conversations about Weezer in the past 10+ years to know where I’m going with this. I get it. You get it. We ALL get it. The first two albums are great, and everything else is shit — enter the Weezer apologist defending the listenability of select newer cuts and the Weezer purist dismissing them with all his might. Is there any way I can never engage or have to listen to this conversation again? Am I making it all the worse by writing this?
While both “Blue” and Pinkerton are easily in my own personal Top 10 of the '90s and Top 20 of all time, every spanking-new lump of shit the band releases inspires even more nostalgic gushing over those same two records to which fans will cling until their dying breath. Even these two choice cuts of near pop perfection can be ruined by enthusiasts who rant, rave, gush and blush in an effort to make them better than they are for the sake of their own personal brand, or moreover, extrapolating some sort of substance in an age when even the best ideas are rehashed, recycled or mashed-up versions of things most everyone else is already sick of.