Dear Saddle Creek Records,
I have been a big fan of your label for some years now. Bright Eyes was my first exposure to the label and I think that Connor Oberst, although at times too hyped, is an amazing force in indie rock. Also, I have never danced so much as when I first heard The Faint. I mean they are a seriously macabre band that can make me move my indie-rock ass. And don’t get me started on Cursive. Can emo be so deafeningly honest without a hint of crybaby sentiment? Tim Kasher writes emo songs for intelligent, but still relationship doomed kids. Amazing.
The reason that I am writing you is that there seems to be some mistake. I recently got the album Prevent the World by Criteria, the band lead by a former Cursive member and, although it has the classic Saddle Creek stamp on the back, it has none of the intelligent and musically advanced musings of a normal Saddle Creek record. In fact it’s pretty plain and uninspiring.
I got the disk, immediately ripped it onto my iPod, hopped on the A train to NYU and, in the five-minute ride from West 14th Street down and across town to 4th street, I was put into a shocked state of horror. I looked down at my iPod as the train pulled to a stop just to check and make sure I hadn’t accidentally put on Taking Back Sunday or even worse some darker emo version of a grunge band. But alas it was Criteria that was playing. And I was sorely disappointed.
What happened guys? Usually if I hear a band out by Saddle Creek that I don’t like they are at least tragically bad. But this record is, well, it’s just typical. The chord changes and structure are repeated throughout the album. The lyrics sound more like Nickleback than the literary styling of most Saddle Creek bands. Also, I asked my roommate Steve, “Who does this singer sound like?” And he replied, “He sounds like someone. Of course it could be everyone.” I let out a laugh. Then I realized that this is serious. Typical is worse than awful. At least a truly awful band leaves some sort of emotional mark. There is no reaction to typical. Nothing happens.
For example, when I first put the disk on the first song, “Prevent the World” ended and the second one, “Dripped in the Blood” started and I didn’t even realize it. There was virtually no difference in vocals or guitar riff. In fact, despite some interesting time changes in some of the guitar parts, almost every song has the same chugging and pinging riff.
Perhaps the only saving grace for this album is that, despite is mediocrity, the vocals aren’t bad and the music isn’t bad. Your average, mindless pop listener will probably enjoy the tight, though entirely unoriginal, songs. The guitars, drums and bass are pretty well produced. And the vocals and harmonies are all on pitch and crystal clear.
But, as I said before, the record is completely unoriginal both musically and lyrically. It is very tough to review individual tracks because I pretty much have the same thing to say about all of them. This isn’t the case of a few good cuts and a bunch of bad ones. It is minute after minute of mediocrity. And that is probably a way worse sin than being truly bad. I don’t know what happened to Stephen Pedersen (leader of Criteria) between his stint with Cursive, his time at Duke Law School and this new project Criteria, but it seems there was a steep regression. Everything has become watered down in the world of the Criteria front man.