A little less metal this time around, which is neither by design nor chance. In truth I could probably re-shuffle the songs from 100-200 in any sort of order and walk away content, given that they tend to run the gamut of styles (for me) and it’s always hard to compare across genres. In other news, I have nothing interesting to say about the next 10 songs as a whole, so let’s just get to it.
190. Miggs – “Walls Come Down”
My favorite song of 2012 was from a middle-of-the-road pop rock band I had never heard of called Miggs. They were (and are) essentially a solo act for singer/songwriter Dan Miggs, who came out of California in the early 2000’s and has used a rotating cast of musicians en route to releasing five studio albums (soon to be six). The track, “Stars“, grew on me slowly and eventually became a song I couldn’t stop playing. The problem was that the rest of album from whence it came did absolutely nothing for me. Try as I might I couldn’t get into anything else on it, or anything else from their back catalogue, for that matter. Miggs’ songwriting was too herky-jerky for my taste, which was contrary to how effortlessly smooth “Stars” was. I didn’t figure to care much about a new album, since in my mind they were likely a 1-song band (for me), so I was surprised at how much I liked the first single. I really like the bounce of this track, as the band displays a shiny, somewhat jangly form of pop rock along the lines of Lifehouse or maybe Maroon 5 if they were still trying to be rock band instead of an all-out pop act. At times Miggs sounds like Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum, but smoother, without all the angst and desperation. If nothing else I’m at least glad I gave the band a second chance.
(Note: Just this week the band released a second single from the forthcoming album and I already like it more than this track after only two spins. There’s hope for the album yet.)
189. Fozzy (feat. Michael Starr) – “Tonite”
If you don’t know the story behind the band Fozzy, I’m not gonna rehash the whole thing here, but the short version is that they started as a comedy act with pro wrestler Chris Jericho scratching his rock star itch as frontman for a reconfigured Stuck Mojo that somehow managed to become a legit band. The results over the last 15 years have been mixed, with the guys pumping out several albums of gritty but ultimately derivative modern metal that exposed Jericho’s limited vocal range. The new album Do You Wanna Start A War continued along the same lines, save for this album track, buried in the album’s back half which harkens back to the band’s joke beginning as an 80’s metal cover band. This of course makes perfect sense since it features guest vocals from Michael Starr (aka Ralph Seanez), himself the frontman for nostalgia/parody act Steel Panther. It’s got a very Ugly Kid Joe kind of vibe (the opening riff sounds eerily similar to UKJ’s “Allright”), walking right up to the line of parody before dancing playfully back away. I always find that Jericho’s vocals work best in this environment, rather than when he tries to be a serious metal guy. Keep it fun, Chris, like your wrestling career.
188. Sanctuary – “One Final Day (Sworn To Believe)”
By the time I discovered the band Nevermore a few years ago they were on the verge of a major line-up re-shuffle and temporary-to-permanent hiatus. Which sucks, because once I *did* discover them I was immediately kicking myself for not having done so sooner. Vocalist Warrel Dane had one of the more interesting voices I had ever heard in all my years of listening to metal and I was bummed a band that played it so straight was disappearing. The good news is that as part of their dissolution, Dane went back to his previous band, Sanctuary, for a reunion after 20 years of inactivity. October 2014 finally saw the result of that reunion, the excellent The Year The Sun Died. While I’m still trying to assimilate it completely, this song has risen to the top of the heap for me, as their use of acoustics to create such a sinister sounding piece really intrigues me. Total thinking man’s metal that doesn’t try to get too flashy or in love with its own musicianship yet isn’t just tossed off aggression. Great stuff.
187. Judah & The Lion – “Water”
First off, credit where it is due to my friend Tommy for the heads up on Judah & The Lion. He’s about as big a music nerd as I know, even though our tastes tend to run in different directions. Where I go hard rockin’ and metal, he veers off more towards country and folk. The good news is that he tends to alert me to stuff I’d usually never notice and a lot of the time it’s the perfect antidote to overdosing on macho muscle rock. Judah & The Lion climb into the boat alongside Mumford & Sons, creating a bluegrass tinged rock that really works for me. This song in particular has a classic rock feel to the song-writing (I could totally see a heavier group covering it to great success), the insistent slow train shuffle feel of the first two-and-a-half minutes really whetting my appetite. This is a great album for me when I want something that still moves but without all the noise.
186. Hurtsmile – “Good-Bye”
Gary Cherone has lead a pretty interesting life in music, from pretty sizeable success as the lead singer of Extreme to an ill-fated (though not horrible) one-album stint as Sammy Hagar’s replacement in Van Halen, to a number of assorted off-the-radar projects in the new millennium. One such project is Hurtsmile, a quirky yet rockin’ act that is his most recent endeavor. While the debut in 2011 played things pretty close to the vest (not quite Extreme but not too far away either), the band’s 2014 follow-up, Retrogrenade, boasted a more eclectic mix of styles, bouncing from straight-up arena rock, to the funk metal of Extreme, to a little Beatles-esque pop, all the way to this track, which sounds like it fell off the back of an old Crosby, Still & Nash album. Just a simple little acoustic number that skips along effortlessly, in no hurry to get anywhere but perfectly pleased to be going nonetheless.
185. Neon Trees – “I Love You (But I Hate Your Friends)”
As the music year rolls along I put together monthly playlists of songs that I’m into at the time, often throwing in new singles from bands I might not otherwise give the time of day to in order to force myself into their exposure. As I listen to these playlists there are invariably songs that pop out at me, in large part because they fall outside my normal listening patterns. Neon Trees is one such act, what with their retro-80’s quirky pop sound. Like the 80’s, I find myself latching to a handful of these pop nuggets every year, even when attempts to listen to full albums leave me feeling starved for power and running to something heavier in the immediate aftermath. Still, when something is this catchy and polished I have to take notice, and the occasional break from wall-to-wall guitar riffs is usually welcome.
184. Vandenberg’s MoonKings – “Lust And Lies”
For the uninitiated, Adrian Vandenberg is a European guitarist from back in the day who has served for stretches alongside David Coverdale in Whitesnake, yet for a variety of unlucky reasons (timing, injury) never got to record with them during their hairband peak of the late 80’s (even though appearing in most of their hit videos). He’s stayed mostly under the radar in the past couple of decades, before finally resurfacing in a substantial way this year with his own project called MoonKings. What you get is what you would expect, a grooving, blues influenced form of 70’s rock played with a bit of 80’s attitude. Solid rhythm section, tasty guitar work, and a vocalist who sounds like Ronnie James Dio trying to sing like Coverdale himself. Reminds me a lot of last year’s Black Star Riders project, which attempted to capture the spirit of Thin Lizzy, except of course that the MoonKings set up their speakers inside the temple of Deep Purple. I like that guys of this era are making comebacks on their own terms, producing records they want instead of trying to update their sound for an audience that doesn’t exist. They may not sell millions of records ever again, but playing what you love has got to be its own reward at some point.
183. Dynazty – “Divine Comedy”
Most Swedish bands these days are either running deep into the forest of black metal or glamming it up like it’s 1987 all over again. Dynazty was apparently among the latter until the release of their fourth album Renatus back in March, wherein they turned out a surprisingly heavy power metal record that still held on to their melodic roots. This track is three-and-a-half minutes of tremendous machine gun riffing with a bruising bass smoldering underneath. This is the kind of sound people thought of when you said “heavy metal” back before Pantera changed the game sometime in 1990. As always I need to thank the Europeans for attempting to keep it alive while metal as we know it in America continues its slow death spiral.
182. Royal Blood – “Figure It Out”
Desperately retro fuzz rock along the lines of the White Stripes, Royal Blood has riffs for days on their debut album, which is weird when you consider they don’t actually employ a guitarist. I guess you don’t know what you can do with a heavily distorted bass until you try. Otherwise it’s all decidedly British sounding (they’re actually from Wales), vocalist Mike Kerr employing that occasional falsetto that tends to be big across the pond, although I think they tend to give it all a little more muscle than a lot of their UK counterparts. Meanwhile their songwriting is quirky, using the two instrument dynamic to create some really interesting interplay without coming across as needlessly experimental or showy. Oh, and the video is some creepy-ass, mall zombie shit. Dig it.
181. Big Head Todd & The Monsters – “We Won’t Go Back”
Big Head Todd’s “Bittersweet” remains one of my favorite songs of all-time, and their mid-90’s output of blues-jammy, radio friendly, roots rock still sits fondly in my summer driving rotation. I lost touch with them musically over the past 20 years even though they continued to produce new stuff, which is a shame because upon being reintroduced to them via their latest release, Black Beehive, I discovered not much has changed, and that’s a good thing in this case. Witness the above, where they take a basic blues structure, distort it up just a touch, and deliver a simple yet badass stomper. I present a live version here because it sounds just like the studio take and it’s always fun to see Todd Park Mohr’s Urkel-meets-Greg Gumble look.