Coming up with lists of awful bands is easy. Literally just reach your hand into a bucket with the names of every band ever written on a piece of paper and work from there. Lists of really good ones slightly less so, but it’s still manageable enough. Just figure out what type of girl you’re trying to sleep with, see what she likes, and then send her the link after you write it.
But what about bands that are simply “pretty good”? That’s an entirely different animal altogether, and not to be confused, we should point out, with bands that are “merely mediocre.” On the contrary, pretty good bands occasionally stumble upon the formula for a great song like a truffle-sniffing pig, but never really elevate themselves to the next level of transcendence. They consistently, and efficiently pump out record after actually-totally-decent-and-in-no-way-bad record, but they aren’t the type of band you’re really going to invest too much in, or to build a personal brand around. For some bands this designation may be seen as a promotion in their general zeitgeisty rung on the ladder. Coldplay, for example, rock-crit snootery aside, are pretty good, right? Beck, on the other hand? Also pretty good. That’s a downgrade from where you might expect to find an “important” artist like him. The rest of the bands that comprise this list here are all bands we quite like, just not, you know, that much. We listen to everything they put out, and we probably even listen all the way through multiple times, then we sort of go back to the business of our lives without thinking about them too much again until the next record and tour cycle where we start the process over.
The Sea and Cake
We probably could’ve named this The Sea Cake Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award in Being “Pretty Good.” The Chicago post-rock/jazz hyrbid trio are about to release their tenth album, Runner, and I’ve been listening to it over and over all morning. Guess what it sounds like? That one band The Sea and Cake. That’s a good thing for the most part, as I’m a fan. Living inside the breezy, breathey vocals and intricate rhythms of Sam Prekop and company feels like being inside your apartment after you’ve just done the laundry and washed the dishes and have nothing left to do but lay down on the couch. Pretty relaxing. Then again, your apartment isn’t really all that big and there’s a stain on the rug, and you’ve still got to work tomorrow. I’ll still go back to their maybe great record Oui pretty consistently, but I’m not going to necessarily cry about it now am I? (I’m not).
Ted Leo is the kale of indie; it tastes pretty good if you prepare it in the right way, but you’d probably just rather eat some french fries and deal with the consequences later, right? The guy most likely to have been heard of but never really listened to that much by your scene friends, Leo is quintessential “obligation rock”, except instead of meaning you have to go stand in an empty room to watch your friends’ band play rock star dress up for the night so they won’t be embarrassed, you literally feel obligated to check in on what the lauded punk troubadour is up to now, because, uh, “important.” Check out this video for “Me and Mia” below (woh, they played Ted Leo on MTV at one point?). Not bad right? Not bad at all. That’s the point.
VHS or Beta
The either/or status of Brooklyn’s 18th most popular dance rock hybrid act is implied in their name — and not in the “actually good” Elliott Smith/Kierkegaard way. Not quite indie, but not quite EDM, VHS Or Beta, who admittedly had a couple of great tracks on on 2004 record Night On Fire, and very few since, are the quintessential compromise band. It’s like when you’re trying to decide on a movie to see with your s.o. — neither of you are ever going to want to see the exact same one at the same time, so you pick something that has a little bit of appeal to both of you. Then leave and go out for dinner at a place you both find acceptable but not exceptionally thrilling, and say “That was pretty good, I don’t know, what did you think?” “I thought it was pretty good.”
Everyone likes Ladytron. And why wouldn’t they? They’re stylish, effortlessly cool, and responsible for some of the best songs in the early years of the indie electro crossover era. But you don’t really see many LADYTRON4LYFE types out there, do you? That’s because Ladytron are the quintessential example of the one night stand act. Always fun at the time, and you’re happy to see them when they show up at the bar, but then you don’t really think about calling them right away the next day. Maybe you’ll shoot them a text next weekend or whatever to see if they ‘want 2 chill.’
In much the same way I’m still going to go see every new Quentin Tarantino movie hoping that he accidents upon his old brilliance again, I’ll still check in with Muse’s new music just in case. Every now and again either one will show flashes of what made me love them in the first place, but they’re both losing a little something off their fast ball. To make matters worse, the plot and layout of your typical Muse song has started to make one of Tarantino’s looping narratives seem like an episode of Three and Half Men. Really, dudes? Four minutes of monotonous, creeping build up just to get to the one part where Matt Bellamy’s yells real pretty? Can we just cut to the chase and get to the melodrama about the apocalypse or chaos and entropy or what-have-you? A lot of the times they earn an A+, but there’s also plenty of stinkers in there too. Average it out to a B.