Part Eighteen: 50-41
Now we’re really starting to cook, as I’m beginning to kick myself for keeping these songs so far down on the countdown. Comparing 2014 to 2013 it’s obvious that in year one I was just scratching together random stuff that I remembered while in year two I was totally on top of songs that I really, REALLY liked. At some point I’m gonna go back and revisit 2013 with an eye towards a lot of the albums that I only glossed over. You know, in my copious free time. Meanwhile, enjoy another ten, as after this we’re officially in Top 40 country! Although, you know, without actual Top 40 songs (okay, maybe a few).
50. Kindred – “Beneath The Surface”
So my general process for writing these little mini-reviews is to go onto YouTube and find a link. If it’s an actual video I’ll usually watch it all the way through once just in case there’s anything of note I want to use, then I’ll listen a second time as I write the actual review. I’m having a hard time doing that for this song because quite frankly, I can’t stop watching the video. There is just something about lead singer Sabrina Toole that is so compellingly sexy that I kinda can’t take my eyes off her (even with the half-shaved head). Her eyes can level buildings. The last time this happened I developed a maddening crush on Cherri Bomb drummer Nia Lovelis (thanks to this fantastic cover of “The Pretender”). Anyway, none of this has anything to do with the song, which is awesome in its own right. The extended drum intro gets me every time (another case of a song coming on my iPod and me going, “killer intro, but what the hell is this?”). In fact the drumming throughout is pretty kickass. I also love the repetitive guitar lick the guy gets into coming into the verses. Love Toole’s voice as well. Yeah, I pretty much love everything about this track, with or without my video crush.
49. Within Temptation – “Whole World Is Watching”
Dutch symphonic metal band Within Temptation is back with the second track off their interesting duets-themed album Hydra, this time featuring Soul Asylum lead vocalist Dave Pirner. Now the idea of matching a quivery-voiced 90’s alternative rocker with a silky smooth operatic metal chick is one that both never occurred to me and struck me as something that was doomed to fail. I was horribly wrong. The pairing works together incredibly here, thanks in no small part to the killer song they get together on (although Pirner is a key, as evidenced by this alternate version that features Polish singer Piotr Rogucki who while not a bad singer, ruins it for me). While never quite reaching the scale of “epic”, it comes damn close with its inspiring message to break down self-imposed barriers and be your own hero.
48. Elbow – “My Sad Captains”
I had never even heard of the band Elbow until a few years ago when my friend Kristen mentioned one day on Facebook that they were her favorite musical act. That kind of thing stuns me, because I figure if they were so good how was it possible they slipped my radar entirely? It’s a question for which I have no answer. Anyway, I sampled some of their stuff, and while I enjoyed it, it wasn’t until the release of their newest album that I really sat down and gave them my full attention. The Take Off And Landing Of Everything was one of my favorite releases from the first half of the year, thanks in large part to the husky strains of vocalist Guy Garvey. I can totally see why Kristen is such a huge fan. He reminds me of a British version of Blue October’s Justin Furstenfeldt, only considerably more mellow. Of all the songs on the album, this one grabbed me the most with its lazy shuffle, the lumbering drum in the background being a key. The horns are also perfectly added. Very much a “first hour at the office” kind of record for me.
47. Big Head Todd & The Monsters – “Josephina”
Big Head Todd delivered one of my all-time favorite songs (seriously, Top 10, no lie) back in 1993 with “Bittersweet”. In fact their entire major label debut album Sister Sweetly was one of my fave’s of that year, and the follow-up, 1995’s Stratagem was also a solid affair. Then I lost track of the band while I drifted into my late 90’s anti-new-music malaise. When I saw they were still kicking around and releasing new music this past spring, I gave them a token listen and am I ever glad I did. This song is roots rock at its finest, with a gritty blues shuffle that gets the toes a tapping with the barest of ease. Add in a little bit of dobro to make me happy and a nice splash of Hammond B3 and you have a recipe for a perfect lazy summer driving song. Yeah, it’s been awhile since I cared about these guys, but Todd Park Mohr’s warm, deep rasp is always a welcome visitor to my ears.
46. The Pretty Reckless – “Follow Me Down”
In retrospect it probably looks like I have some weird thing for Taylor Momsen, given that this is the third Pretty Reckless video I’ve included in the last 21 entries (with a fourth to come later), but in truth I find her kind of creepy. Her voice though, is a different story, as is her band. Guitarist Ben Phillips delivers some of the chunkiest, crunchiest riffs of the year. He also manages to slip acoustic guitar into a lot of their tunes in a way most other rock bands don’t (the staccato picking here being a prime example). This album (Going To Hell) was my leader in the clubhouse for most of the year, and while it eventually go bumped from the top spot, it’s still my favorite pure hard rock album from 2014.
45. Vitne – “Winter Love Song”
First things first, go listen to this track: “Destroyer”. I had that track at #58 on my 2013 countdown thanks to its weird Billy Idol-on-acid vibe (I’m not sure it would crack the top 150 this year, which goes to show how much more thought I put into 2014). Anyway, now that you’ve listened to that weirdness go back and click on the main link. Now try and wrap your head around the fact that this is the same band (dude, really, as it’s essentially a one-man act). This track took me totally by surprise, sounding as it does like some early 90’s college rock number. The guitar sound reminds of The Sundays, for crying out loud, which is not what I would expect from a guy that gave me a wonky hairdband rocker a scant 11 months before. Anyway, I love the way this one builds, and the vocal performance, while unexceptional, fits the songs perfectly (although in truth it’s mixed back a tiny bit too far). Man, I love it when music surprises me.
44. The Decemberists – “Lake Song”
The first of two songs (I think) to appear on the 2014 countdown which come from albums which weren’t released until early 2015. But since the songs in question were pimped out in late ’14 and immediately attached themselves to me in ways I couldn’t even comprehend, I had to put them on the ’14 countdown. Rules? There are no rules! Like Elbow before them, The Decemberists are a generally mellow songwriters band that was introduced to me by a friend and to whom I didn’t quite latch on until their latest releases (the album from which this comes – What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World – was my first “must listen” of 2015). This song is beautifully written and constructed, even if it’s the most aggressively “lyrical” song I’ve heard in ages (Colin Meloy loves his words, folks). Basically, this is the greatest song Van Morrison never wrote, if you catch my drift. And drift it does, effortlessly, pleasantly down a chilled mountain stream with nowhere to go but where the world sees fit to take you.
43. Rival Sons – “Open My Eyes”
Discovering the Rival Sons two years ago stands as one of greatest moments of my musical listening life. I can’t recall ever falling so completely head over heels for a band upon first listen as I did when I first tripped upon them while tooling around YouTube one night. So you can imagine my excitement when I first heard they were releasing a new album in 2014. Thankfully, they more than lived up to my lofty expectations and delivered one of the top albums of the year, even if it did land just a *notch* below their 2012 masterpiece Head Down. The first single off of The Great Western Valkyrie was this thunderous rocker which finds a groove from the opening snare and then sits in it for the duration. Scott Holiday’s fuzzed out riff is rock n’ roll nirvana and he remains the coolest motherfucker in music today. Killer solo too, because of course.
42. Emerson Hart – “The Best That I Can Give”
We begin with a tangent: two weeks ago while out strutting my karaoke stuff I was accosted by some guy at the bar who apparently knew the drummer from Tonic, and who was WAY too surprised to hear me singing one of their songs (they were a major label act, dude). He also blamed the band’s break-up on the fact that the lead singer, one Emerson Heart, was, and I quote “kind of effeminate”. Well, thanks for sharing random drunk dude at a bar. Glad you cleared that up. I have no real desire to discuss Mr. Hart’s masculinity with anybody, especially when he’s delivering great music like he did in 2014 with Beauty In Disrepair. This was the main single off the album and another prime example of Hart’s mastery of adult contemporary rock, this time sounding a lot like Train (somewhat ironic given that the dude in this video looks kinda like their singer). “I gave you sometimes, you needed always” is a bloody brilliant lyric, BTW.
41. Hearts Like Lions – “I’m Not Running Away From This”
This song has a hypnotic quality not unlike Lonely The Brave, although without the same level of guitar density, and a vocalist who I was convinced was Aaron Gillespie of The Almost until I started doing some research. This is not surprising given the two bands share a label, Christian alternative rock label Tooth & Nail (also home to Anberlin). As a non-religious guy I’m finding it hard to get my head around the fact that I keep crashing headlong into these acts that declare themselves Christian Rock, and, you know, really enjoying it. Thankfully, they dial back the preaching, instead focusing their lyrics on more of a general positivity and spirituality, which I can get behind. Musically though, they hit my modern day wheelhouse, what with the soaring vocals and the atmospheric guitar work. This is where I was hoping we’d get to once all the 90’s angst was wrung out of the alternative movement and they started mixing melodies back into the stew. Oh, and cleaner production. That helps too.