Part Twelve: 110-101
Well I made it to the halfway point, although it took longer than I had hoped. Thanks to those who have given me feedback so far, as knowing that there’s at least a few of you out there reading is a necessary boost.
110. In This Moment – “The Fighter”
Maria Brink’s cracking, sexualized vocal delivery isn’t often referred to as “beautiful”, but in this particular instance I think it’s an apt description. There is just something strangely elegant about this tortured power ballad that makes me want to cry at the same time I’m punching somebody in the face. If you need more description than that, I have nothing for you.
109. Framing Hanley – “Crooked Smiles”
This is one of those songs that benefitted greatly from an early-year playlist of just random stuff that I threw together. For some reason whenever it came up it always seemed to jump out at me among the other stuff I had included, even though Framing Hanley had always just been sort of a generic modern hard rock band to me. Sometimes all it takes is a really catchy chorus to jump into my path of consciousness, even if the rest of the song doesn’t offer anything else of major note. Case in point, it’s crying out for a frenzied guitar solo coming out of the screaming bridge at 2:25. Oh well. I like it anyway.
108. Elbow – “The Take Off And Landing Of Everything”
This song has an aura about it that I can’t quite define. It creates this almost elevated feel, as if the music is floating just above the surface but is moving fast enough to keep from falling, like a cartoon character racing across a body of water so quickly that they never sink. What’s weird to me it that it is able to maintain that feeling for its entire 7:14 duration without losing steam and yet without necessarily picking up any more momentum. I keep waiting for the bottom to fall out and it never does.
107. Live – “The Way Around Is Through”
I was curious to hear what Live would sound like with new singer Chris Shinn, particularly given I enjoyed their ex-vocalist Ed Kowalczyk’s solo album last year. Since I wasn’t a massive fan of the band before (I only ever really knew the one album – Throwing Copper), I figured they might lose something with the change, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Shinn sounds very close to Kowalczyk, so the band’s sound remains intact. This first single from their album The Turn has a nice build, as I like the spooky little guitar part in the opening and I feel like it really sets up the rest of the song. The bridge at about 2:15 is where the Shinn/Kowalczyk similarity really hits. I wasn’t even sure they had changed singers when I first heard it. And is it just me, or is this video trying too hard to make the band feel like U2?
106. Civil Twilight – “The Courage Or The Fall”
Civil Twilight is a South African band that is signed to the Wind-up label, known for mainstream rock acts like Creed, Evanescence, and Seether, yet who musically have drawn comparisons to (and I quote Wikipedia here) “U2, Muse, Jeff Buckley, and Radiohead”, which basically means it’s my friend Mark’s favorite band that he’s most likely never heard of. Their first two albums are pleasant enough listens, even though they haven’t stuck with me, and their third is scheduled for summer 2015. Meanwhile there’s this haunting piano ballad they released in conjunction with the TV show Arrow (unseen by me), where the Buckley/Radiohead comparisons come front and center. A haunting and starkly beautiful song.
105. “Weird Al” Yankovic – “Word Crimes”
“Weird Al” delivered his first ever Billboard #1 album this year thanks in part to a saturated marketing blitz that produced a video a day for a week straight over multiple comedy websites, and in part thanks to the fact that full album sales don’t quite mean what they used to. Which isn’t meant to disparage the man, because I loved the album and enjoyed seeing him prove himself relevant once again (which he seems to do every third album or so). This parody of Robin Thicke’s loathsome (and yet guilty-pleasure-catchy) “Blurred Lines” is generally considered by “Weird Al” aficionados (okay, my friend Fish) as the best song on the album, thanks to his clever lyrical takedown of bad grammar, and I’d be hard pressed to disagree (even though I have a second Al song later on down the countdown). He absolutely CRUSHES the subject matter here, and as always his band delivers a spot-on imitation of the original. At some point they’ve got to get into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, don’t they?
104. MotorPsycho – “Cloudwalker (A Darker Blue)”
A Norwegian psychedelic/prog rock band with Beatle-esque tendencies hanging out in a mid-90’s indie rock club. Seriously, that’s about the best I can come up with, as this song is so quirky I’m not even sure where else to go with it. I’ll try though. First off, it’s got all the requisite time changes of classic prog (which is how I think I was first led to it), but without all the posturing musicianship. The intro is a bit trippy before things kick into gear, although again not really wanking off, rather just building a solid bass/acoustic guitar base with a little indie guitar shading. The vocals are way thinner than most prog and they do a layered harmony thing which is where the Beatles comp happens (I hear John Lennon at times, but I could be insane). From there it just kind of goes all over the place, with an almost out-of-tune chorus followed by a vocal bridge and then an extended acid flashback mellow instrumental section before ramping back towards the initial verse structure. I dunno, this is just a weird little song that for some reason I couldn’t get out of my head for a while. Do with it what you will.
103. Opeth – “Cusp Of Eternity”
I’m not sure there’s a band in existence who has gone through a more dramatic transformation in sound over a long period as Opeth. They started out in 1990 as a typical Swedish death metal band (although admittedly they had more musical chops in their early days than most of their brethren), replete with growled vocals and ridiculous OTT blast beat drumming and wall-of-noise guitars. By the time of 2011’s masterful Heritage album they left all that behind and become one of the finest purveyors of thoughtful prog rock currently going. It truly is a stunning change when you compare the old to the new. Band leader and vocalist/guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt revealed himself to be a very talented singer once he shed all the chord-shredding gruntwork and actually started to – *gasp* – sing! Meanwhile the guitarwork just got tastier and more elegant as time went on. With the release of Pale Communion they have continued even further into the melodic prog forest, delivering some truly elegant work, this track being a fine example.
102. Rise Against – “I Don’t Want To Be Here Anymore”
File alongside the Goo Goo Dolls and AFI as formerly indie rock/punk bands that polished up their sound *just enough* to warrant my attention (as the noisy “pure” punk sound just ain’t my thing). The attitude and energy remain, but the musicianship shows a little more care and there’s hints of a pop sensibility in the songwriting. The lyrics are crying out to stick it to the man, but musically the song is asking “but play us on your radio, won’t you please?” (which they did, the song landing at #25 on the year-end mainstream rock radio chart). Angsty guitar rock, for those like me who like a bit of skill mixed in with their rebellion.
101. Nasty Habit – “Heartless”
Nasty Habit put out a video a few years back that was so shamelessly an homage to 80’s hair bands (“Hip Shakin’ Fox”) that I thought it might actually be a parody when I first saw it. But here they are in 2014 with a follow-up EP that continues down the same path with no hint of a joke, which is actually a relief, as this Syracuse four-piece is one of the few American bands I’ve seen still doing this stuff. I initially had 3 songs from this record on the countdown, before ditching one in the name of balance (“Don’t Bring Me Down” just missed the cut). This would be the mid-paced ballad portion of the throwback tribute, a ridiculously catchy ode to love gone bad that would have fit beautifully on MTV (albeit with a more overblown video) back in 1989. I mean, if you don’t find yourself singing along with the chorus by the time the song ends then I’m not sure you have much of a soul. This kind of simple rock warms my heart in ways I can’t even articulate. Bring on the clichés!