Part Five: 180-171
It’s been a week since my last installment, which I prefer to think is a testament to the fact that I actually have a social life, despite what this ridiculous countdown might lead you to believe. We keep things rocking pretty hard for the next ten, so if you came here looking for pop nuggets or soulful balladeering, you might want to wait until I get further down the line.
180. Kyng – “Electric Halo”
I’m sure if you asked them, these guys would probably say that they were heavily inspired by the early-90’s Seattle sound, most notably Soundgarden (or perhaps the first STP record). I’m sure Shinedown would say the same thing, but since THEY did it 10 years ago I’m now forced to say things like, “Kyng sounds like Shinedown”. Kyng vocalist Eddie Veliz sounds at times like a dead ringer for Brent Smith, whereas he’s only got traces of Chris Cornell nestled in his pipes, but it still feels weird to say “sounds like Shinedown”, given that it feels like Shinedown just got here. All of that aside, this is a nice crunch rocker that plays things pretty close to the mainstream rock line, making the band either post-grunge alternative or heavy metal, depending on which side you fall.
179. The Trews – “Age Of Miracles”
The first of multiple appearances on the countdown for this Canadian four-piece who have very quickly filled the whole in my musical heart left by the dissolution/inactivity of the band Tonic (although to be fair Tonic’s Emerson Hart appears all over this countdown as well and his solo material sounds just like his former band). This one’s got jangly guitar and a bright disposition, even as the lyrics poke fun at unfulfilled potential. Something about the song-writing also reminds me of Jude Cole, himself mostly MIA since the turn of the millennium (he apparently manages Lifehouse now). Musical trends ebb and flow and certain sounds may never be widely popular ever again, but rock music remains alive and well if you’re willing to look for it.
178. Cage9 – “Game Of Thrones (Theme)”
I’ve read the first book in the A Song Of Fire And Ice series and I’ve been sl-o-o-o-o-wly working my way through the Game Of Thrones TV series, none of which is particularly relevant at the moment. But beyond that I don’t really have anything of note to say about this. Panamanian alternative rockers Cage9 first hit my radar in 2012 with their album How To Shoot Lasers From Your Eyes, and here they deliver a pretty straight-up yet rockin’ version of the G.O.T. theme song. I like it. It’s a cool take on a cool theme. Let’s move on.
177. Sixx:A.M. – “Stars”
I hadn’t bothered to follow Nikki Sixx’s post-Mötley Crüe career with Sixx:A.M. outside of maybe a cursory listen or two over the past couple of years. They certainly never did anything to make me take notice musically, even though they may have been receiving plenty of rock radio airplay. That changed with the release this year of Modern Vintage, which jumped out at me at first listen for two reasons. Unfortunately one of those reasons was their horrendously over-produced and soul-sucking version of The Cars’ “Drive”, which is an abomination to the ears to be avoided at all costs. On the flip side was this track, which begins with a fun digitized riff and soon breaks into a surprisingly upbeat and polished stomper of a song, something I didn’t expect given Nikki’s usually grimy style. Vocalist James Michael has a decent set of pipes that makes me want to revisit their back catalogue. In the meantime this number gets repeated listens on my late-year playlist.
176. The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus – “You’re The Mocking Jay”
If I close my eyes and simply listen, I convince myself that this is really a Hoobastank song, so similar is the sound and vocal work, which means your appreciation for this will probably hinge on your whether or not you like the aforementioned band. I happen to be a big fan, so this totally works for me. I could never really get into punk rock, even when the likes of Green Day and The Offspring took it more mainstream, but the one element I always appreciated was the unrestrained energy of it all. It was always the musicianship (and the snotty vocals) of punk that left me cold, so bands like this who take the drive of punk and filter it through an actual willingness to give a shit how they sound have my undying gratitude. The lyrics here are obviously wrapped around the Hunger Games trilogy, which neither enhances nor detracts from my enjoyment of it as a tune. Instead I just sit back and bask in the 3-minute blast of unbridled passion with a pop sheen. What can I say, I’m a simple creature.
175. Maverick – “Paint By Numbers”
If you know me at all then you know that my love of 80’s hair metal has never waned even as flannel took over the world and melodic macho rock went underground. So it should come as no surprise that this countdown is littered with a number of songs which harken straight back to those long lost days of my youth. Usually it’s the Scandinavians who grab my attention, but this time it’s a group of Irish lads who deliver a thoroughly kickass old school sound. I’m still trying to place who vocalist David Balfour reminds me of (there’s a bit of Sean Harris from Diamond Head, but that’s sort of a weird comp), but the band itself lands somewhere in between early Skid Row and perhaps Tyketto. I root through a LOT of bands like this these days and many of them quickly hit the listening scrap heap, but Maverick went into the repeat listens bucket after my first spin. I got to it late in the year, but it was enough to thrust and a second track (“Shackled”) onto the countdown.
174. Highway Saints – “In My Dreams”
How indie is this band? I can’t even find an online version of this song to link to (you can get a snippet at Googleplay or iTunes). They have no dedicated website and their Facebook page doesn’t offer much. None of which is super surprising given that their sound is a pretty derivative take on mainstream rock. The song in question is, as is often the case with me and bands of this type, an acoustically-driven ballad. I’d say more, but without a link it’s all just wasted breath.
173. Our Lady Peace – “Won’t Turn Back (Now You Know)”
What I remember about Our Lady Peace from back in the mid-90’s was that they were marketed as Canada’s answer to Pearl Jam even though they sounded much more like Live to me. They had a few radio hits during the height of the era before drifting back over the border where they’ve carried on as a steady act in their homeland. Their sound has kind of ebbed and flowed with the times, although they stayed pretty rockin’. All that seems to have changed, at least with this new single, which is stripped bare of any real guitar outside of a little jangly rhythm playing. This is a much more pop sounding song, upbeat and bouncy, both in sound and in lyric. I’m not sure I could handle an entire album of something this bubbly, but then again I’ve said that before and often end up enjoying this kind of stuff just fine. Guess it’s all about my mood. Meanwhile their hardcore fans seem to HATE this song, so they must be doing something right.
172. Zodiac – “A Penny And A Dead Horse”
I first discovered the German retro-rockers Zodiac by accident, stumbling across their debut video “A Bit Of Devil” in the fall of 2012. I became obsessed with the video, then the song, and ultimately their entire debut album, ultimately landing it at #3 of my list of faves from 2012. They delivered a gritty kind of 70’s rock that had a bit more muscle and grime, almost like the Black Crowes if they’d spent their time getting into bar fights rather than just getting stoned all the time. They followed that album up in quick fashion with the release of record number two 12 months later. While it wasn’t quite up to the debut’s standards, it was still a worthy disc and a number of songs made my Top 100 last year. Well in 2014 they were at again, releasing a third full-length less than a year after their last. As expected it was a case of diminishing returns, the band sounding weary and less inspired. This was really the only song on the album to make me sit up and take notice, in part thanks to its use of dobro (long a personal and underutilized favorite). It’s a slow burning number that picks up a little steam midway through, galloping into some tasty guitar soloing along the way. Still love the band’s sound, though I wish they’d pump the breaks on the recording schedule and put a little more thought into the next one.
171. Teramaze – “Line Of Symmetry”
It took a while to get to my first straight-up prog metal song on the countdown, but there will be more to come. This was a year in which I found myself veering more and more away from the traditional heavy metal that I grew up on and loved for so long and moving instead towards a more technical and less pummeling sound. I’ve long loved prog metal, but it was an affair with the above-ground bands like Queensrÿche, Fates Warning, and of course, Dream Theater, one of my two or three favorite bands of all time. Digging deeper into the genre I discovered a number of new acts this year, Teramaze being one of them. The musicianship here is incredible, with the band hitting all the usual prog touchstones: exotic time changes, complex fills, soaring vocals (though not in the usual “air raid siren” vein), and of course dexterous guitar work. I know a lot of people find the whole style to be a total wankfest, and I get that, but man, when it’s done right, it’s some of the most enjoyable straight-up listening music to me as there is so much to sink your ears into, as it were. As for the video, I have no idea what the X-Men connection is (if any). Probably just made by a fan of both the band and the comic.