Of MySpace and Mediocrity

MySpace is a popular platform of free self-promotion for the unsigned musician, but how many of these bands are even worth your attention? Apparently very few. Resident sweater model Jeff Merrion embarks on an epic quest to find good music on MySpace.

In the movie Ratatouille, a food critic says, “The artist is the one who gives up part of himself in a selfless act of creation. All the critic does is tear down another person, at virtually no risk to himself.” The animated man makes a good point: having been on both sides of the relationship, it is worlds easier to be a critic than an artist. As the appreciation of all art is subjective, so is all criticism. This simple fact challenges the validity of criticism.

Having said that, I don’t think all art is good qua art. Just because someone has a copy of Garageband doesn’t put him or her in some glorified pantheon of artists. The internet is a vast repository of mediocre and just plain bad music.

Wanting to buoy my opinion regarding the music-making everyman, I entered the vast canyons of MySpace, looking for a band that I could get behind. It was a long and arduous journey, one that, in the end, only fueled my cynicism.

I started out optimistic. MySpace has tens of thousands of bands, listed in almost every imaginable genre. I clicked on the “folk” link, thinking that, while it is difficult to make great folk music, it is also fairly difficult to make shitty folk music.

I was wrong.

The first band that came up was listed as a “Folk/Metal” hybrid. I won’t lie; it piqued my interest. However, like the racehorse that has potential but stumbles out of the gate, the band was flawed from the get-go.

First, their name was Battleheart, which sounds like the name of a Saturday morning cartoon show featuring dragons and swords and whatnot.

Then, there were the band photos. Worryingly, a keytar was present in every shot. For those of you who don’t know, this unfortunate instrument is a keyboard worn like a guitar. It was pioneered by such rock gods as Air Supply. Any band that uses a keytar in a non-ironic way loses some points in my book.

The guillotine, however, came down when the music started. A Poison-style guitar riff began, accompanied by cheesy synth blasts. Naturally, guitar shredding took the fore. Then the lead singer started singing about pirates and plundering, booty (in the non-hip-hop sense) and buccaneers. The lyrics were most likely written by a ten year old daydreaming in class after having seen Pirates of the Caribbean. And, good Lord, the singing. It could be most closely likened to someone starting a car with a broken alternator with a kitten sleeping beneath the manifold.

Okay, so my first foray into MySpace music didn’t yield great results. Discouraged but still hopeful, I checked out what the “Experimental” section had to offer.

It became immediately clear to me that the “experimental” label was a misnomer. The first band that popped up was called In Fear and Faith, and claimed that having two vocalists counted as experimental. If this is so, then Crosby Stills Nash & Young were an avant-garde powerhouse.

The music itself sounded distressingly similar to Evanescence: toned-down guitars crunching against pristine, overwrought vocals. At first, the band was generic but not particularly offensive. Then the second vocalist entered. He’s a “screamer,” a singer whose sole purpose is to screech, howl and shriek to punctuate melodies.

A lot of people think that being a screamer is easy–just howl in anguish and you’re gold. But this isn’t the case. There’s actually a surprising amount of technique involved. The screamer for In Fear and Faith was not well-versed in these techniques.

There were two problems with his screaming. First, it sounded like he was hawking a loogie. Maybe we could buy him some Sudafed for that. Second, the band put a ton of reverb on the scream. If there’s one thing a screamer with a mucus problem doesn’t need, it’s having his scream echoing into an infinite chamber of loogies.

I found sweet reprieve in the back button, eager to discover a band that would be at least agreeable.

Luckily, I stumbled onto a good band that rekindled some of my hope in the masses of unsigned acts on MySpace. The band was called New Cassettes. They are most closely likened to the Futureheads or Bloc Party because of their dancy drums and frenetic, sharp guitar riffs.

Among the winning traits of the band were their well-done harmonies and catchy melodies. What set them apart from most bands in this vein were their melancholic, atmospheric interludes that were actually reminiscent of Mogwai and other post-rockers. The instrumental breaks added a lot of heft to the faster sections of the songs.

Finding a good band on Myspace brought some levity to my spirit, so I decided to take one more chance to find another.

Instead, I found Pretty Willie. Pretty Willie is a rapper from St. Louis, who, judging by his photographs, can most frequently often be spotted about town wearing a five-gallon cowboy hat. He set up his MySpace to promote his new album, P-Thurro…Session Two. I don’t know what a Thurro is, but prefacing it with the letter P does not make it sound more appealing.

Anyway, Pretty Willie was listed as a Christian rapper. I think this could be a mistake, as he raps about his desires to become a gigolo and pick up bitches at stoplights. I browsed the Bible, but couldn’t find any passages in which Jesus the Christ extolled the virtues of gigolos and the picking up of bitches.

The music itself was generic Southern rap; slow, syrupy (sizurupy?) beats, mixed with various samples. However, one song caught my attention because of its extensive sampling of a classical harpsichord. I‘m sure the pioneers of the harpsichord would love this. I can see Bach right now, leaning over his instrument, wishing that someday his music would be used as a canvas for a rapper with a cowboy hat to sing about the glories of fucking bitches.

So, my attempt to find good music on MySpace was a mostly disappointing; the site is filled with mislabeled bands, poor production, and bizarre pirate fantasies of men who probably work at Walgreens. Still, based on the one good band I stumbled upon, there must be some potential there, if you can wade through the Pretty Willies, Battlehearts, and mediocre screamo bands. (Full disclosure: For more fantasy folk-metal-rap about pirates, see my side project, Jeff and the Buck-a-neer$).

While he excels in most other areas, Jeff Merrion’s spatial logic falls within the lower third percentile of United States citizens. He is a Religious Studies major and, as such, has a long life of administrative assistantship awaiting him. To potential employers: Jeff makes a mean cup of coffee.