Part Nine: 140-131
The heavier stuff is starting to really thin out now as we get into more of the albums that will produce multiple song entries to this countdown.
140. The War On Drugs – “Under The Pressure”
If you told me going in that the two artists that would spring first to mind when I listened to a particular track were going to be Bob Dylan and the Pet Shop Boys, I would probably never click the link. Dylan’s vocal style is an acquired taste that I never quite acquired and War On Drugs’ vocalist Adam Granduciel is very much in that vein, aping Dylan’s delivery if not exactly his vocal quality (thank goodness). The Pet Shop Boys thing is more of an overall song-writing feel than actual musicianship, as there is plenty of tasty and atmospheric guitar work in this track, particularly during the 3 minute coda which drifts off into space like the end of some sci-fi movie where the secrets of the universe are revealed to be some trippy mix of colors and lights (a thought which I had before seeing the video, which does some of the same). Tip of the hat to my friend Adam, who brought these guys to my attention earlier in the year. It took a couple of listens to appreciate it, but once I got there I found myself going back for more.
139. Young The Giant – “Firelight”
Young The Giant is one of those overtly poppy indie rock bands that I initially push off as being not my thing then find myself inexplicably drawing back around to without the benefit of any real push. Their 2014 release Mind Over Matter was an early year repeater for me. This gentle acoustic ballad is not quite their usual sound, although it’s not something I’d call out of character either. There’s very much a Simon & Garfunkel feel to it (at one point I thought it might have been an obscure S&G cover), as vocalist Sameer Gadhia takes his voice to all sorts of airy places throughout the piece. Though unintentional, this is actually a great song to play coming out of the trippy end to The War On Drugs song at #140.
138. The Wind And The Wave – “The Heart It Beats, The Thunder Rolls”
One of my favorite albums of 2013 was what proved to be the final full-length release from the folk/country duo The Civil Wars, who split midway through 2014 to much consternation to me and some friends. At the same time that was happening I discovered this simple release from a similar duo who billed themselves as The Wind And The Wave. While they lack the Wars’ harmonies (TWATW’s male half, guitarist Dwight Baker, only sparingly joins in vocally), singer Patricia Lynn Drew has a similar quality to Joy Williams and as an act they muddle around in the same folky playground. The Wave do more with the blues though, as evidenced by the main recurring lick on this track, which has an almost southern rock feel to it. I played the ever loving crap out of this album this year, easily putting it into my top 5 of most-played, using it to fill the gap that The Civil Wars’ demise was creating. This is just the first of a number of Wave tracks which will hit this countdown.
137. Strand Of Oaks – “Goshen ’97”
I tend to think of this band (actually it’s pretty much a one man project) as the unkempt other half of The War On Drugs, their songwriting following a similar path but with a slightly noisier backing track. Timothy Showalter grew up in Goshen, Indiana (hence the song title) and he works as an indie rock version of fellow Indianan John Mellencamp, here singing about killing time as a teenager listening to his dad’s old cassette tapes, a subject I’m sure Mellencamp would have tackled if he wasn’t, you know, old to enough to BE the father. Meanwhile I find I really dig the squealing guitar effect Showalter manages, at least in small doses. He rips off an incredible solo on another track that will surface further along the countdown.
136. Dead Man Fall – “Bang Your Drum”
I’m pretty sure I came to this song through Grantland music critic Steve Hyden, a writer whose work I very much enjoy despite often leaning in different directions in terms of taste. Once again the term “indie rock” comes to mind (I’m on a run apparently), though this time it’s from across the pond, courtesy of yet another Scottish band. I’ve only ever actually heard this song for some reason, but it’s a warm and catchy little number with a cool rolling bassline and of course, some prominent drumming. This song just makes me feel good.
135. Anubis Gate – “Never Like This (A Dream)”
The indie rock run comes to a screeching halt with a return to prog metalers Anubis Gate, who checked in at #143 and are now back with another dose of complex yet surprisingly pop friendly thought-rock. The guitars are scaled way back here, pushing vocalist Henrik Fevre more to the front, a fact which led me to keep going back to this album when it was first released back in April (by which I mean prog is usually so dense I don’t get into frequent repeat listens). There’s something very Toto-ish about this song (though obviously heavier at times) as they display obvious musicianship and yet don’t seem to succumb to it. I love the keyboard breakdown at about the 3 minute mark, as it adds a spacey interlude without breaking up the song. Great stuff from an album that is well worth checking out if you’ve got the headspace to take it all in.
134. Switchfoot – “Love Alone Is Worth The Fight”
When I first joined the online streaming site Rdio back in 2011 there were two bands that I immediately “discovered” that had been around a long time but which I had never heard of: Band Of Horses and Switchfoot. I’ll get to the former a little farther down the line, but as for the latter, I latched onto their sound immediately and picked a couple of their albums out of the used bin of my local record store soon after. Their earlier days had a harder, slightly more rocking sound than their 2014 release Fading West, which was a bit of a disappointment to me outside of this lead single. The guitars have been pulled back in the mix and they’ve definitely gone for a more pop friendly take here, more like The Fray than I’d prefer, but the chorus really carries things. Plus, as always is this case with this band, singer Jon Foreman is the reason I come to the party, his scratchy pipes drawing me in completely.
133. Panic Room – “Into Temptation”
Is there such a thing as ambient progressive pop rock? There must be, because that’s what I think of when I listen to the Welsh band Panic Room. Singer Anne-Marie Helder has one of those effortlessly smooth voices that calls to mind Natalie Merchant or the Cowboy Junkies’ Margot Timmins, with maybe even a hint of Enya in the mix. As a band though, Panic Room delivers up a more progressive sound, using more complex structures than the aforementioned acts while still playing it close to the vest. This song is an elongated dreamscape (it runs almost 8 minutes) that just floats beautifully down a stream of light keyboards that is accented with some delicate guitar work that reminds of me John Levanthal (of Shawn Colvin/Marc Cohn fame, among others). It’s refreshing to hear a band that at once reminds me of so many other acts while still sounding like a completely new thing.
132. Brimstone Coven – “The Grave”
Even as my love of out-and-out heavy metal has waned a little in recent years, my interest in Ozzy-era Sabbath style doom metal has increased, thanks in large part to a number of new acts like Witchcraft and now Brimstone Coven (straight outta Wheeling, WV, dontchaknow). This is a thoroughly retro sound, pounding away with early metal swing as if the last 35 years never happened and Tony Iommi is the leader of the free world. If you told me this had been a B-side to “War Pigs” I would totally believe you, which is about as clear as I can make it in terms of what you’re hearing here. Tremendous guitar solo to boot.
131. Black Stone Cherry – “Me And Mary Jane”
Black Stone Cherry are often referred to as modern Southern rock (they do after all namedrop Skynyrd in this song), although if that’s true it came rumbling down from the mountains on the back of and out-of-control flatbed truck, because Southern rock was never quite this ornery. Let’s be honest here, of all the songs ever written and performed about the joys of smoking pot, how many ever sounded this full throttle? Alright, maybe Phil Anselmo and Down did it first (and a fuckload darker to boot), but you get the point. Big, crunching guitars, haggard vocals, reckless pounding of the skins, all slathered with a twangy southern sensibility that is really hard to fake if you didn’t live it. This is trucker music, boys and girls, and sometimes the world is better off for it.