Part Six: 170-161
While there’s still plenty of hard rockin’ tunes in the next batch of 10, we also slow things down a bit with a couple of more laid back tracks. While cobbling this list together I never really gave any thought to grouping like songs together, instead just trying to honestly assess “do I like song A or song B more?” before moving on to the next song. As a result it tends to jump genres pretty readily, for whatever that’s worth.
170. Lenny Kravitz – “Strut”
The last time I paid attention to Lenny Kravitz was about ten years ago when he released the album Lenny. It was a solid effort, but a bit of a letdown coming off his masterwork, the imaginatively titled 5. I tend to drift away from established names for periods at a time, usually just because I feel like I’ve heard enough of what they have to offer. Eventually I come back around though, and this year Lenny climbed back onto my radar with the debut single for the Strut album, “The Chamber”. Once I was in, I was in, and that meant giving the full album some attention. The next song that really popped for me was the title track, with its wicked funk stomp. I mean, I’m not *sure* that when he wrote this one he was setting out to make the ultimate stripper song, destined to be played in sleazy “gentleman’s clubs” all across the country, but I have a hard time believing it happened by accident.
169. Like A Storm – “I Love The Way You Hate Me”
For the first two minutes this thing is a perfectly serviceable rock radio number that gathers up all the post-teen angst it can muster and tries to deliver something along the lines of Drowning Pool or maybe later years Filter (the rhythm guitar seems eerily similar to “Hey Man Nice Shot”). What happens at the two minute mark is the boys from New Zealand tap into their homeland by introducing a didgeridoo to the mix, which is a pretty wild addition and the main reason this climbs onto the countdown. Yeah, sometimes that’s all it takes with me: take an otherwise unremarkable song, add in an odd instrument or a weird time change, and suddenly I’m on board. Annoying as it may have been during the World Cup a few years back, in the context of an emo-metal song, the didgeridoo really works, adding a creepy vibe to the whole thing. I haven’t heard a full album from these guys yet (Awaken The Fire, from which this comes, isn’t due until sometime in 2015), so I’m not sure if the rest of their stuff will hold up, but for now one tune is good enough.
168. Black Trip – “Radar”
Some bands call themselves “retro” even though all they’ve really done is write in the style of a bygone age while musically beefing up for the new millennium. Not Black Trip. This song sounds straight out of the dawning age of heavy metal. We’re talking pre-Bruce Dickinson era Iron Maiden or really ragged UFO. They pull way back on the modern day distortion and crunch for a more melodic yet dirty feel, and vocalist Joseph Tholl is very much from the Lemmy/Paul Di’Anno school or razorblade gargling. Just a quick blast of throwback metal goodness.
167. Midnight Cinema – “Edge Of The Earth”
Starting life as the band Thriving Ivory, Midnight Cinema is currently regarded as a “side project” even though it’s the same musicians minus the bassist (who quit Thriving Ivory outright anyway). I have no history with their first incarnation, so I can’t say what difference, if any, exists, though I can’t imagine them doing anything too far outside of what Midnight Cinema sounds like. What is that sound, might you ask? A radio friendly pop rock that climbs into bed with the likes of The Fray, Switchfoot or maybe OneRepublic when they’re feeling a little more organic. Guitars are there, but not prominent, with vocalist Clayton Stroope being the band’s real signature. He’s got a very unique sound that grows a little weary after repeated listens (too high for my regular tastes), but not before it really grabs you out of the shoot. This song isn’t particularly urgent, but that’s part of what I like about it. Just a very impassioned, mid-tempo number that lifts as it goes.
166. Faith No More – “Motherfucker”
If I was going to pick a band that might kick off a long awaited comeback with a song called “Motherfucker”, Faith No More would probably be in my first five choices. Let’s face it, these guys have never given a fuck about the rules, coming together as a hodge-podge of musical influences back in the mid-80’s and delivering offbeat and unique albums for the next decade plus. After close to 20 years of inactivity they’ve returned, picking right up where they left off, which is to say, nowhere in particular. This is classic FNM, toying with the idea of what a “single” is supposed to sound like, messing with structure and just daring radio to find a way to play them. Mike Patton’s pipes sound fantastic, and once again he’s all over the map here. Look, you either like FNM or you don’t, and about the only thing else I can say about this song is that no matter which side of that fence you fall on, this song will not change your mind. Embrace it or walk on by. Me, I embrace it, motherfucker.
165. Asia – “Valkyrie”
Asia has been pumping out new studio albums pretty much ever since they debuted in the early 80’s, except no one in America has cared much since about 1986, myself included. Every now and then I take a token listen to their newer stuff, but I always find myself walking away bored by the lack of imagination or dynamic in what they are offering up. The sound is just so musically thin. So it’s with that in mind that I sit here trying to offer why I like this song so much, given that it doesn’t really solve any of the problems I just outlined. It’s a steady, mid-paced number with a rhythm track that seems about as remedial as it can get. And yet… something about it just works for me, most likely the smooth vocal performance of John Wetton. His delivery of the chorus is somehow hypnotic to me and for whatever reason that proves to be enough. The underlying string portion (cello maybe? I’m not really knowledgeable about these things) also helps add a layer of interest to my ears, and I think this is just a rare case of simplicity working in spite of itself.
164. 21Octayne – “Dear Friend”
At 164 we get our first repeater of the countdown, as German rockers 21Octayne have previously checked in at 195 with the power ballad “Into The Open”. Here we get a taste of their more progressive leanings, what with the stop/go time changes in the verse sections, along with some very Dream Theater-like drum work. Meanwhile singer Hagen Grohe continues to be the main draw for me, his slightly husky, confident baritone moving effortlessly between gentle crooning and impassioned belting. It’s a shame that a band like this will likely never see much airplay in the States thanks to their label being mostly an overseas outfit with little pull in the US market, because these guys produce a radio friendly product that is original and dynamic at the same time. This won’t be the last time they’re on this countdown.
163. Langhoff – “We Made Our Mistakes”
I make no effort to hide my love of melodic rock and that love pretty much extends to all corners of that musical umbrella. One of the few exceptions is the pure AOR or “Westcoast” sound, which I’ve always found to be *too* smooth, *too* soft, even while it was displaying quality craftsmanship. Danish singer Bjarne Langhoff is very much part of that scene, so his debut album while pleasant, didn’t get much (i.e. any) repeat listening from me, save for this one simple number. It reminds me very much of early 80’s Toto, a band and sound that is about as far into that AOR realm as I like to go (though they tend to rock more often than people give them credit for). Yeah, I can totally see this song playing in a dentist’s office somewhere and there’s certainly no room for it in the current mainstream musical climate, but every now and then it’s nice to just sit back and enjoy something that’s this well crafted.
162. Motion Device – “Drama Queen”
Time to kick things up a notch with one of my absolute favorite riffs of the year while trying to ignore the fact that the mastermind behind it is a kid. Seriously, this entire band is made up of teenagers, with the singer being something like 11 at the time this was recorded. But rock n’ roll knows no age boundary, so let ’em at it, I say. She’s got a tremendous set of pipes for such a young thing, confident and powerful in a way that just shouldn’t be possible. The rest of the band rocks it out alongside, showing no overt signs of inexperience (love the guitar solo). Yeah, their sound is a little raw, but in this day and age of autotune and over-production, it’s kind of nice to hear a new generation who just tackles thing the old school way. (On that note, if you wanna get caught in a YouTube wormhole, check out the mass quantity of cover song videos they’ve uploaded. They’ve done their homework. So. Much. Potential.)
161. Guano Apes – “Numen”
My friend Steve tried getting me into the Guano Apes years ago, back when they were essentially still a skatepunk band, so naturally it didn’t take (outside of the killer “Lords Of The Boards”). Like a lot of bands of that start out snarling and raw (Goo Goo Dolls being my most referenced comp), they’ve polished up their act over the years to the point where they hardly resemble the same band. This is where I get on board, as I generally prefer musicianship and production quality over enthusiasm and angst. The Apes now fall much closer to Paramore or Flyleaf in the female-fronted rock spectrum than their punkish routes would lead you to believe, and this second single off their latest album Offline is a prime example. I love the jangly guitar intro and the build into the explosive chorus. When this band is at their best is with stuff like this that seems to be fighting restraint before finally giving in and letting loose and taking off without ever losing the atmosphere they created at the outset. Gorgeous vocal performance on this one (as well as their later appearance way, WAY up the countdown).