Bored Of Comparisons

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When The Kays Lavelle’s debut EP ‘I can’t believe you’re here’ was reviewed in Is This Music? The article called the drums which opened the first track ‘Coldplay esque.’  I cannot deny it, they were completely stolen from ‘In My Place’ by Coldplay, or at least the idea was I think.  Not sure that they were identical.  Anyways, my immediate reaction was one of disappointment.   I was not the biggest Coldplay fan (though I did like much of their stuff – see uncool article!) and I certainly did not feel like the band, or the EP sounded in anyway like Coldplay.  I was concerned that that opening remark would set the tone for the rest of the review and also give people a false impression of the Kays as a band. However, the article went on to say that the overall feel of the EP was more akin to that of granddaddy or Mercury Rev and even compared our quieter moments to Neil Young.  My reaction to this was obviously the opposite to the Coldplay remark.  To have a couple of tunes compared to Neil Young left me feeling immensely proud and positive about how people would view the review.  Thing is, none of it was really accurate and it got me thinking about how bands are compared and tagged all the time.  For me, it’s quite often lazy journalism at play.  It’s one thing to name check bands as a reference point for another such as ‘if you like such and such then you’re going to like this’.  However, saying ‘this band sound like,’ whilst it can often be accurate, serves no purpose and is quite simply lazy and wrong.  I cite the example of when Yankee Hotel Foxtrot dropped and it got tagged the American Kid A.  Wilco became the American Radiohead.  What a load of nonsense.  I just cannot stand that kind of throw away remark, which really does no justice to either YHF or Kid A.  It’s a terrible comparison for a start.  What, because they are both quite experimental albums and represent changes in direction for each band they are therefore similar?? 

I recently made a comment on songbytoad about Mumford & Sons sounding a little like Frightened Rabbit.  It really was a throw away remark and was perhaps a little premature based on one song.  But what really fascinated, and I guess surprised, me a little was the reaction to this by some people on the site.  They were not amused.  I guess I can understand why.  I mean, for me, it’s no bad thing to be compared to Frightened Rabbit but I appreciate that the band do not generally sound similar.  It was perhaps an ill thought out comment and I was taken to task for it.  The fact that I hear elements of Frightened Rabbit in the sound of Mumford & Sons really cannot be debated, I do.  But I shouldn’t have tagged them in this way, which I myself find frustrating when others do it in their articles/blogs.  So I understand the issue.  I do think if you like Frightened Rabbit or Meursault you will like Mumford & Sons.  I hope my point is clear.

Anyways, for me, the best review that The Kays Lavelle ever received was from Godisinthetvzine, which commented that we had carved out a niche all of our own.  That felt good.   Real good.  There was no attempt to pigeonhole us.  There was no attempt to say we sounded like another band.  It was just simple and honest and I loved it.   I really don’t mind comments that begin; ‘for fans’ of.  In fact, it’s really nice to hear people say if you like Sigur Ros or if you like Low or if you like Wilco then…..   I just don’t like sentences that start;  ‘this band sound like….’  That really gets my goat.  And ultimately is irrelevant.  Do eagleowl sound like Low?  Yes, of course they do.  Does that make them any less special? No, of course it doesn’t.  Does Debutant sound like Eluvium?  Yes, at times he does.  Does that make him any less special?  No, of course it doesn’t. 

It really is a tricky one though, because at the same time as not liking this type of journalism, I do see how being compared to a particular band would enhance the chances of sales, interest from the public etc.  But at the same time, I think it can act as a turn off.  I don’t want to hear a band who sound like Interpol.  I want to hear a band who if I like Interpol I will like but who retain an identity which is clearly theirs.  I know so many bands who do that and who deserve the attention without any of the name dropping or comparisons.

 So when the Kays album drops, I will be keeping a close eye on reviews and disregarding any reviews that use the words “the Kays Lavelle sound like”.  Grrrr…………….

End of Sermon

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18 thoughts on “Bored Of Comparisons

  1. The one I find funny is the old Arcade Fire comparison. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read that a band sounds like Arcade Fire, they rarely do either.

    Anywhoo, what do I know, my band sound like Foxface 😉

  2. Hahaha. Touche.

    I was actually trying to give a reference point. I do like reference points, I just don’t like to use them where avoidable. I’m sure there are plenty on this site. But I try to suggest that if you like a band you might like another rather than a band sounds exactly like another. In your case I found it difficult to describe the style of your music without a reference point. Not many people probably know who Foxface are anyways though, so not a very good one on my part!

  3. Nah, I’m just winding you up mate.

    I do agree with you on this one, a “like that try this” style comparison is far more likely to get me interested than “sound like joy division” or the worst one “like nick cave… on acid”. No no no.

  4. Err, I don’t actually have an answer to that. I just hate it when someone compares a band to another band but… on acid.

  5. I agree there’s not much point just comparing two different bands to each other, particularly when they’re two new(ish) bands who – as you pointed out yourself a little while ago – were unlikely to be aware of each other while they were writing and arranging their first batch of material and honing their sound.

    I think there can, however, be value for a reviewer in speculating where a band might have gathered their influences by relating their sound to established bands the reader might be familiar with, just to give the reader an idea of what to expect.

  6. See, I disagree with you Dylan. I think there is benefit from saying ” if you like frightened rabbit or meursault then you might like Mumford & Sons”. Speculating about a bands influences is about is pointless and irrelevant as saying “they sound like”. It’s lazy, it’s not important and at the end of the day it’s probably wrong.

    Name the Kays influences? Without knowing who they are. You’d get them wrong – well not you cause you know – but you know what I mean.

    I think the same applies to most bands. It’s far easier, and more apprporiate in my opinion to be able to say that if you like one thing there’s a chance you’ll like the other.

  7. Direct comparisons are dangerous but potentially very useful, because they act like key words with dozens or even hundreds of known and unknown connotations.

    For example, Euan with your above example of Coldplay, what it reads like to me is that you were unhappy with the Coldplay comparison because a lot of people dislike Coldplay. They’re uncool. You weren’t unhappy with it because it was unfair – in fact you admit that the drums WERE borrowed from Coldplay. Yet it still annoyed you. Coldplay is only eight letters but the word carries with it A LOT of baggage, so (I hope this is fair to say) you were hoping that readers would take the precise drums comparison at face value and forget about all the other stuff. Which they might, if they are attentive readers, or might not, if they’re not.

    Then again, what did the reviewer MEAN by comparing you to grandaddy, Mercury Rev and Neil Young? If you know all three of those bands you can probably pick out some common threads, but what if you don’t? Or what if you pick out the wrong threads? Then the comparison is meaningless and it would be better to explain in more precise terms.

    So, comparisons are sometimes lazy, but one man’s “lazy” is another man’s “efficient”. If the reviewer can assume that the reader will know and understand what a comparison to Coldplay or whoever MEANS, then it’s much quicker and easier to just drop that C-bomb than it is to explain it in other terms.

  8. Thanks Ally. I think that’s a really interesting point.

    I guess you’re right. But I didn’t dislike Coldplay at the time. I don’t really think they are uncool either – I’m not fussed by them. But possibly they are to the people who read that magazine?? I don’t know. If I’m honest I really didn’t like the first song on that EP anywasy. It shouldn’t be on there and was not how the EP was meant to start – so I may have had difficulty with it before it was even out there. But I also knew before we released it that the big C word would be used.

    And I appreciated what you’re saying about ‘what do they mean?’ by a comparison. I totally understand why people do it, but again – “if you like this then you might like this” is just as easy no?

  9. >The Kays Lavelle sound like Girls Aloud.

    I was told I was joining Girls Aloud, just under a pseudonym. I feel cheated.

    We don’t even have a Ginger One now.

  10. My beard is fairly ginger. Arguably not just a tinge. The other Michael might not even have a beard for all I know.

    The first time I heard Mumford and Sons I thought they sounded a bit Frightened Rabbit. I was aware it wasn’t FR, but vocally it sounded, to me, like them.

    Realistically, like Ally says, comparisons are only useful if you’re aware of the references and if the similarities are explained. Like if you were to say ‘Mumford and Sons vocally sound a bit like Frightened Rabbit’. But even then that’s just my opinion.

    Cancel The Astronauts have been compared to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah in several reviews now. I don’t see it, it’s never explained why, and ultimately I don’t mind. Mainly because I like CYHSY.

    I also quite like Coldplay (sort of(he qualified)), but I’d hate to be compared to them, because we’re uncool enough as it is.

    The Kays Lavelle sound like Neil Young and Mogwai in a blender.

  11. Totally see your point and agree with Ally that references are only useful if people know who the references are.

    I don’t really know the work of CYHSY.

    Our Michael does not have a beard currently and I doubt there would be much ginger in it if he grew one. But you never can tell now can you?

    I’d like to say that our uncool levels dropped when the C word was used. but we’re so uncool anyways that I think they may actually have risen slightly!

    Neil Young and Mogwai in a blender. Now that’s something I’d like to hear! Still want to hear what Mogwai and Sigur Ros did together.

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