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There's No Such Thing as a Musical Guilty Pleasure

Posted: 05/04/2013 1:05 am

Having done my fair share of interviews over the years, there are three questions I can't stand:

  1. How do you guys write your songs?
  2. Do you like playing festivals more or clubs more?
  3. Do you have any guilty pleasures?

The first two questions are benign queries usually employed by music journalists to conceal their lack of research, lack of interest or lack of interview skill. Either way, it's not too troublesome. I always answer politely and get ready for the next set of vapid questions. I'm fully aware how much a privilege it is to have someone take time out of their own life to ask questions, insipid or not, about you and your life. I know I could be doing a lot worse and never take it for granted, but it's the third question that has me biting my tongue and holding my breath in order to keep from lashing out.

I detest the term "guilty pleasure."

"Guilty pleasure," when applied to music, means there's something you can only listen to in secret because is hasn't been deemed "cool" enough by self-appointed music gate-keepers. It's a term most likely coined by A&R reps at major label companies because they've always been the ones at the club who constantly look around, particularly at other A&R reps, to see if they too should like whatever's being watched. Sadly, this habit has now been adopted and embraced by scores of wannabe aficionados too spineless to stand by their own musical convictions.

When a music is tagged as a "guilty pleasure," it's viewed as socially unacceptable. It also happens to bring down the pastime of music listening to a ninth grade high school cliquish level, except it involves supposedly grown adults. People who actually feel guilty listening to certain music are the same people who picked on you in high school, screw in the missionary position with a three stroke maximum and need a laugh track when watching comedy to prompt them to guffaw. They also don't know what "guffaw" means.

Many people use one's musical tastes as a sieve for finding like-minded individuals and harshly judging others whose tastes don't correspond. It's a practice that assumes the direction in which one's ear bends is in direct correlation with one's quality of character. Of course, it only takes two minutes to realize that these rationalizations are based on some set of juvenile, made-up rules that are truthfully completely pointless.

And who is making up these rules for discerning taste? From my observations, just like in high school, style-bullies preside over what gets deemed "cool." And in the weirdest Twilight Zone episode ever, the same kind of people who used to wear varsity letterman jackets, throw footballs around and wear lacrosse shirts have now traded it all in for pork pie hats, ironic Rollie Fingers/Mr. Monopoly moustaches and calabash pipes in a desperate bid to look distinguished, but have only succeeded in looking like assholes.

You like Justin Timberlake and Kanye West while the rest of your friends listen to The Lumineers or The Yeah Yeah Yeahs? You like Nachtmystium and Watain but your buddies like The Black Keys and Fun.? You like AC/DC and Katy Perry but your co-workers like Wolf Eyes and NOFX?

Who gives a shit?

Rock 'n' roll, or whatever you want to call it, to me, has always hinged on deviance. When I start to detect a set of rules being implemented by these numbskull moderators, I knee-jerk into my true asshole self and thumb my nose at their stipulations. Over the years, our band has paid dearly for stubbornly sticking to our hard rock stylings amidst transitory musical tides, enduring the slings of johnny cum-lately hepcats everywhere. It's been a small price to pay to be able to look at yourself in the mirror each morning.

So exactly what music has been accepted in the inner sanctum du jour? It all depends on what circle you want to join. These types of condescending overlords exist in every scene, office space and social clique. You should never feel guilty about the music you like. The only people who should feel guilty are these tastemaking, gate-keeping bullies and their need to cover up their own self-doubt.

Danko Jones is a proud fan of Billy Joel, Danzig, Polvo, The Scorpions, Kylie Minogue, Ice-T, The Gories, George Michael, The Doomriders, Fugazi, Wu-Tang Clan, Manowar and Bruno Mars.

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  • 10. Patrick Watson, "Lighthouse"

    Delicate and mildly eccentric pianist Patrick Watson has built his reputation on gauzy, beautiful and slightly cracked compositions, and "Lighthouse" from his Adventures in Your Own Backyard album is probably the most perfect realization of this. There's a cinematic, magical realist tone to Watson and his band guiding us through the dark of night on a search for a lighthouse in the woods. You'll know when they find it. That's when the trumpets, strings and drums blind you with their light. — Aaron Brophy

  • 9. A Tribe Called Red "Look At This"

    A Tribe Called Red's story is worth merit on its own -- the Native Canadian DJ trio has matched traditional powwow drumming and chants with various EDM sub-genres to create some new and unique. None of which would matter it the experiment sucked — but it doesn't and "Look At This" best exemplifies Tribe's signature sound. Though they're connected to the Mad Decent crew, this isn't something trendy for hipster idiots walking around Coachella in headdresses. What Tribe are doing is tapping into a thousand years worth of primal beatmaking and the resulting music is something worthy of that heritage. — Aaron Brophy

  • 8. The Weeknd "The Fall"

    In 2011, Abel Tesfaye announced himself as one of the era's most exciting artists via three online mixtapes, capped off with the late-December release of <em>Echoes Of Silence</em>, which included this typically dark-hued rumination on his sudden success. Like an avant-R&B Icarus, The Weeknd's voice soars high, dodging dubby handclaps and druggy sonics as he tries to prepare himself for the inevitable collapse. Oh, and even if his narrator sounds unreliable, claiming "I ain't scared of the fall," Abel won't be facing it anytime soon considering his major-label re-release <em>Trilogy</em> went Top Five despite having already been doled out for free. — Joshua Ostroff

  • 7. Neil Young "Walk Like A Giant"

    While much of Neil Young and Crazy Horse's <em>Psychedelic Pill</em> album is made up of simple jams designed to please the wake 'n' bake crowd, the 16-plus minute confessional "Walk Like A Giant" is much more. Outwardly disguised as yet another Neil guitar epic, he uses the song to evaluate the hippie dream and his contribution to it. The uncomfortable conclusion that Young comes to — as the song slowly fades out with four minutes of noisy globs — is that he hasn't done nearly as much for the world as he'd hoped. — Aaron Brophy

  • 6. D-Sisive "When We Die Together"

    Rap's mope king D-Sisive has capped his appropriately cult-worshipped <em>Jonestown</em> album trilogy with "When We Die We Die Together," which might be his most moving song in a discography full of them. This narrative tale of helpless children and lonely widows subverts the uplifting la-la-las found in Of Monsters and Men's "From Finner" and uses them to create the ultimate lost-hope singalong. D-Sisive lays it out plain — it sucks for all of us — but for four and a half minutes we can at least share each other's pain. — Aaron Brophy

  • 5. deadmau5 "the veldt"

    Deadmau5 has often been accused of phoning it in, something he's encouraged with his just-press-play interviews and <em>>album title goes here<</em> album titles. The Ray Bradbury-inspired single could best be described as livestreaming it in — he broadcasted the 22-hour creation of "The Vedlt" online and then found its vocalist/lyricist Chris James on Twitter. More pop structured than his usual EDM dancefloor jams, "The Veldt" is an ambient number held aloft on a bed of late-'90s trance synths to deliver an unexpected emotional payload. It must've launched countless e-puddles this year. — Joshua Ostroff

  • 4. Metric "Dreams So Real"

    Metric are known for either soaring electro-pop, stadium rock or a combination thereof — which is why <em>Synthetica</em> centerpiece "Dreams So Real" stands out so starkly. Riding a distorted modulating synth line, Emily Haines reveals a rare vulnerability, questioning her achievements this far: "Thought I made a stand," she sings, sadly. "Only made a scene." But then Jimmy Shaw's guitar chimes out and you realize that her worry that "the scream becomes a yawn" is unfounded. Her scream became a whisper, one that simply pulled us in closer to hear. — Joshua Ostroff

  • 3. Carly Rae Jepsen "Call Me Maybe"

    When people defend pop as a genre, this is a masterclass in why. The failed "Canadian Idol" contestant certainly benefited from boarding the Bieber express, but Jepsen's already-released, pretty-much-perfect song was what got her the ticket — and it won Team Biebs over the same way it won over the rest of us. Its cotton-candy lightness is given substance with violin stabs, subtle beats and an all-time-classic hook, earworming its way onto the playlists of every archetypal "Breakfast Club" clique, even the too-cool Judd Nelson one. — Joshua Ostroff

  • 2. Rufus Wainwright, "Out Of The Game"

    Rufus spent several years delving ever deeper into the first half of his baroque-pop one-man-genre, but on this title track he finally gets back to the pop part. This is not to say that you'll be confusing Wainwright with Rihanna — in fact, tsk-tsk lyrics like, "does your mama know what you're doing?" could very well be referencing pop's current queens. But producer Mark Ronson, well-schooled in working with retro-infused artists, imposes a pop structure upon Rufus that, ironically, makes him feel perfectly contemporary. — Joshua Ostroff

  • 1. Grimes "Oblivion"

    "Oblivion" is one of those songs with lyrics completely removed from the music itself. Montreal avant-pop auteur Grimes' vocal chirps are a perfect match for the bubbly electro beats. That is, until you realize that she's chirping about breaking your neck (or perhaps having her own broken) and that the beats are way weirder than you first realized. Though the guerilla video of her dancing at a football game helped the song go viral, "Oblivion" was simply the purest distillation of her ability to turn some of the year's strangest music into some of its most accessible. — Joshua Ostroff

 

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