Part Thirteen: 100-91
I remember when I was doing my Woof 100 last year that the songs I had in the 90’s were more or less throwaways that I felt like highlighting even though they weren’t necessarily demanding repeated listens at the time. With the expansion to 200 this year, I got those out of the way back in the 175-200 range, and it’s been more or less legit faves ever since. As we round into the lower half, we start finding more and more songs that I have played incessantly this year, which is good, because the writing part of this countdown can be a chore. Hopefully it gets easier as I inch closer to the material that I really love.
100. You Me At Six – “Room To Breathe”
For the longest time (and throughout this countdown) I’ve been trying to come up with a better term than “modern hard rock” to describe bands like this. Nickelback, Three Doors Down, Adelitas Way; there’s a whole genre of radio-friendly, heavier-than-rock, not-quite-metal acts that don’t really qualify as “nu metal” or what have you. This video finally cinched it for me: it’s arena rock. Back in the 80’s you had the likes of Journey, Foreigner, and REO Speedwagon pumping out a kind of widely popular rock that had no real flaws outside of the fact that a lot of people who liked to think of themselves as connoisseurs of music found it too generic and safe, despite the millions of album sales. That’s where these guys are: writing simple songs with hooks and melodies that are perhaps lacking the requisite “edge” to be taken seriously by snobs. “Not gritty enough”, “a bit too cliché”, “too nice”, these are things you hear. Which is a shame, because it’s precisely this type of music that a lot of people are looking for: something with an energetic vibe, respectable musicianship that doesn’t overdo it, and just the right mix of hard edge and pop sensibility to appeal to both halves of that musical coin. I love this tune even if I can’t sit here and point to any one aspect of it that makes it special. That’s music.
99. Imagine Dragons – “Battle Cry”
Even though their sophomore album Smoke + Mirrors wasn’t released until a few weeks ago (well into 2015), Imagine Dragons have been peppering the music scene with random new songs for a while now, mostly for movie soundtracks. This track from the latest Transformers monstrosity is one such song, and it’s fitting, given that it has a very melodramatic, overblown feel to it. Heavy on the percussion (now officially an Imagine Dragons trademark, I guess), it goes for epic right from the get-go and never really stops until it gets there. Which is fine by me, as I love big and bold in my music (though ironically I don’t care for it in film, which is why I never watch this stuff). I have a feeling these guys are going to be around for a while.
98. Ben Howard – “I Forget Where We Were”
All year long I had people telling me I should give Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith a try as I would most likely dig them, only to find I really couldn’t get into either guy. Then along comes Ben Howard, a similar singer/songwriter type, and suddenly there’s a guy I can get behind. I’m not really sure why he works for me when the other two didn’t, but I think it’s probably due to Howard having a darker feel, which always makes that kind of deep introspection more tolerable to me. This song reminds me a bit of The War On Drugs with its atmospheric guitar work and underlying organ. I don’t get the video though. At all.
97. Cold War Kids – “All This Could Be Yours”
I had a friend (eh, let’s be honest, an ex) who tried to get me into two bands a number of years ago: Arctic Monkeys and Cold War Kids. I wrote them both off almost straight away, their heavily British sounds just not working for me at the time, despite my desire to *want* to like them for her sake. So of course as each has released new material in the years since that relationship ended, I find myself drawn – almost against my will – to both. Last year it was the Monkey’s with “Do I Wanna Know?” with it’s amazing bassline, and in 2014 it was the Kids with “All This Could Be Yours”. I have no idea in either case what the difference is between their old and new material. There probably is none. Most likely I just needed to come at them with the ear of someone who wasn’t trying so hard to find something to like about it. As for the song in question, the vocal style isn’t my favorite, but the insistent beat pulls me in and the textured guitar underneath it keeps me sticking around.
96. Ace Frehley – “Inside The Vortex”
It’s been a long time since I gave ol’ Ace any attention. He was gone from Kiss before I even knew who they were, though I grew to love his brief outfit with Frehley’s Comet in the late 80’s. Since then? Nuttin’. But he was back in 2014 with a surprisingly potent album of guitar rock that far and away exceeded my meager expectations of him. The guitar riff on this track is simply delicious, bathed in a layer of funk such as it is, and the multi-tiered solo is gold. I even kind of dig his vocal work here, which is not something I would always say about Mr. Frehley. Yeah, just a good old fashioned guitar song from one of the early masters of the 70’s style. Rock on, Ace.
95. Little Eye – “Fighting The Future”
My friend Mark described this video as “political pop” back when I first shared it with him last spring, and he’s not really wrong, even if the band in question isn’t quite either. I was first drawn to Little Eye at the end of 2012 when I became absolutely hypnotized by Allan Sieczkowski’s vocal (and visual) performance and thick Scottish accent on their debut single “Choked Up”. They popped up on the 2013 countdown with a second song, “Better Than This”, but it took until the summer of 2014 for a full album to emerge. This song is a prime example of their high energy rock and it really got me pumped for the album (which I loved upon release but haven’t really gone back to since). These guys really have a knack for writing crowd pleasing anthems. Here’s hoping they can get some exposure outside of their home country.
94. Young The Giant – “Anagram”
Young The Giant return to the countdown with a quirky little pop ditty that bounces right into my head and doesn’t go away easily. I compared vocalist Sameer Gadhia to Simon & Garfunkel on an earlier song and I can hear the Garfunkel stuff again here, although you’d be hard pressed to ever hear S&G being this outwardly Top 40 sounding. Once again a song and band that I turn to when I’m not in the mood for the heavy crunch of guitars while still needing something with some pep.
93. 21Octayne – “Me Myself And I”
Entry #3 on the Woof 200 for this band of German hard rockers (plus one in the honorable mentions section), this is the track that first popped my attention when I was spinning the album for the first time, the chorus (isn’t it always that way with me) grabbing my ear instantly. I’ve sung the praises of vocalist Hagen Grohe in the previous entries and once again he’s front and center here, driving the song with muscle and grit while maintaining a great melodic touch. Meanwhile, guitarist Marco Wriedt really brings the goods on this one, keeping things rightly restrained in the beginning while drummer Alex Landenburg lays down a peppered beat and bassist Andrew Lauer toys with some interesting textures during the long intro. But come the 1:50 mark, Wriedt lashes out with a gnarly little lick heading into the chorus, before eventually delivering a staccato-like solo coming down the song’s homestretch. These guys are easily my favorite new band of 2014.
92. The Hold Steady – “Spinners”
Very straight-forward roots rock in the vein of Counting Crows or Blues Traveler but with a bit more of an indie rock vibe (am I crazy or do I hear a bit of Pixies in this? Help me out here, Mark). Lots of jangly guitar over a bed of acoustics, call it rock without the sharp edges, barreling forward with energy and fury but somehow not managing to hurt anyone. They remind a bit of Drive-By Truckers, who appeared back at #152, but with less of the pure throwback 60’s sound. There’s an earthy integrity here, but stripped of the pretension of posing that you get from say, Kings Of Leon. I bet these guys sound killer in a club, with a sound that is full and rich yet not quite big enough for an arena. Definitely an act I can play when I wanna rock but I need a little less aggression.
91. Voyager – “Hyperventilating”
It seems I can’t go more than 15 slots or so before needing to slip in some prog metal, this time courtesy of Perth, Australia’s Voyager. If you’ve liked any of the previous stuff I posted (Anubis Gate, Aeon Zen, Terramaze), then you’ll probably like this as well. This has all the requisite progisms that those other acts have had with the added benefit (to my ears at least) of having an ever-so-slightly more radio friendly songwriting style. Here they use the keyboards for a little techno-ish intro before dropping a meaty riff on top of it and then backsliding into a quieter backing for the verse work, where vocalist Daniel Estrin (not to be confused with Hoobastank guitarist Dan Estrin – a mistake I might be the only person to actually make) goes to work with a pop friendly croon. Of course come chorus time all bets are off, the band kicking into high gear with sudden ferocity, the vocal refrain grabbing me instantly. Man, I wish I could hit those kind of notes so smoothly.