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Most Overrated Albums of 2013

John Darr | Sunday, November 10, 2013

2013 was a year of disappointments for me – I love every band mentioned below but think their albums this year, for some reason or another, received undeserved acclaim. May the unhappy reader have mercy.
5. “Tomorrow’s Harvest” – Boards of Canada
Before the release of “Tomorrow’s Harvest,” many critics claimed every record in Boards of Canada’s discography was a classic. The duo of electronic producers pioneered a singular sound with debut “Music Has the Right to Children” – atmospheric, lushly textured synths over vocal samples and drifting hip-hop drum beats. Sophomore album “Geogaddi” polished that sound to create a confounding work of equal eeriness and beauty, and of complex and engaging emotional duality. “The Campfire Headphase” used acoustic instruments to push Boards of Canada’s sonic textures to the next level. “Headphase” also shifted the tone to a brighter, friendlier realm the B.O.C. hadn’t yet experimented with.
“Tomorrow’s Harvest,” released a full eight years after “Campfire,” breaks the pattern. Stepping into a near-emotionless space and failing to introduce anything new to the duo’s sound, “Harvest” boasts the same amazingly layered atmospheres of its predecessors but lacks any sort of differentiating aspect. It’s a highly interesting, pleasurable listen, but it doesn’t deserve the same accolades of the duo’s other albums. “Harvest” is a gorgeous and well-built record. But in today’s electronic music scene, those are a dime a dozen; if B.O.C. wants to continue making classics, they need to bring something new to the table.
4. “Monomania” – Deerhunter
For some inexplicable reason, Deerhunter decided to take their excellent-as-always songs and cover them in a cloying layer of fuzz. The many melodic layers and awesome bass lines in this record are suppressed to a fatal point – there are so many missed opportunities to grab the listener on this record. It’s the sort of record that could have been huge, that could have spawned a plethora of anthems or summer jams. Instead, it’s a frustratingly flat listen that is content to sit in the background. Critics called the sound an interesting step for Deerhunter and universally stamped it with glowing reviews. The problem is “Monomania” just doesn’t glow that much.
3. “Uncanney Valley” – The Dismemberment Plan
“You hit the spacebar enough and cocaine comes out/I really like this computer/I’m like a fat man on drugs/Drowning in hugs/You know, that I love the lovin’/Because of something/Some people saw what they saw/And now, no one is saying nothing.”
Yes, these are the first lyrics on “Uncanney Valley,” and no, they do not get better.
The Dismemberment Plan used to say something with their lyrics, something that offset their ever-quirky vocals and challenging song structures. “Uncanney Valley” sees the disappearance of relevance from the D-Plan’s lyrics and the innovation from their music. If it’s on the album, it’s in 4/4 time, and it has a generic verse-chorus song structure. There will be no crazy riffs, there will be no cathartic moments and there will be no unexpected twists or turns.
Every song on “Uncanney Valley” is essentially a rather average pop song with nonsense lyrics. Critics didn’t go far enough in declaring this album a mediocre disappointment in The Dismemberment Plan’s catalog – it’s just bad.
2. “Reflektor” – Arcade Fire
A too-long LCD Soundsytem record with a few more instruments, different vocalists, and predictable buildups – which still isn’t bad. Oh, and the lyrics aren’t nearly as good. I mean, I’ll follow lead vocalist Win Butler through “It’s just a reflection of a reflection/Of a reflection of a reflection/But I see you on the other side,” but why would you follow that with an irrelevant platitude like “we all got things to hide?”
WARNING: SASS UPCOMING
How about Win Butler asking us “Is anyone as cruel as a normal person?” Well, yes, Win, I would think that cruel people are. And then this chorus: “Here comes the night time/Coming on slow/Here comes the night time/I know that you know.” Doesn’t everyone know when night time is coming? What, exactly, is the value of a lyric like that?
The fact is, Arcade Fire’s lyrics are really lazy on this record. And the sound they’ve crafted – dance-rock with a driving beat – has already been done by LCD Soundsystem, and done better with less clutter over less time. “Reflektor” isn’t the top-five, best-album-of-the-year material it’s chalked up to be. It’s merely a decent reflection of records that have come before.
1. “Bitter Rivals” – Sleigh Bells
“Bitter Rivals” is a mess. The sound effects scattered throughout the record are unnecessary, distracting and even annoying. The guitar riffs are less original, less catchy, less grabbing and often don’t add anything to their respective songs. And then there are the bloodcurdlingly too-high vocal notes.
Sometimes the songs seem as if the choruses and verses are actually from different songs and have been smashed together unnecessarily (“Sing Like a Wire,” “Bitter Rivals”). “Bitter Rivals” loses control of everything at Sleigh Bells disposal – huge hip-hop beats, killer guitar riffs and a fierce female singer. The clutter created by forced-sounding elements like sound effects and additional synthesizers drags the duo’s entrancing sound into a ghastly pit.
All the Sleigh Bells fans I know have also felt betrayed and saddened by the release of “Bitter Rivals.” It’s safe to say that this album, granted consistently positive reviews by critics, is the most overrated album of the year.
Contact John Darr at jdarr@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.