Part Nineteen: 40-31
When I sat down to begin writing tonight I had no real desire to do so, but I figured I had a few hours to kill so I might as well try and bang out a handful of songs before bed, fully expecting to become distracted along the way. What follows is by far the easiest 10 song stretch I’ve had to write to date. That’s certainly helped by the fact that we are inching ever closer to the top of the countdown and my love for each progressive song is stronger and stronger as we climb. I sometimes wonder if I’m doing any of these songs justice, or if I’m possibly even turning people off from things they might have otherwise liked if I hadn’t so horribly botched the lead-in. I can’t say I’m any more confident about that with the following ten entries, but I know that I had a lot of fun trying, which hasn’t always been the case on the road from 200 to 41.
40. Captain Black Beard – “New York City”
I needled this band of Swedes for sucking up to America with an Old Glory themed t-shirt on an earlier video, and here they double down on the ass kissery with a song named after the biggest city in the country, more flag themed clothing (this time via some horrific stretch pants) and a bunch of stars & stripes themed bandanas tied to the mic stand. You have to admire their commitment to getting over in the States, even if they’re trying to do so with a brand of arena rock that is about 25 years removed from being in style. All of this is courtesy of a live video of the song in question, since a studio one isn’t available on YouTube. The song loses a lot of its bite in this version, but on the plus side you get to see the drummer (Bun E. Carlos, Jr?) do his thing, which is one of the strengths of the tune. Meanwhile it’s a galloping rocker with a killer chorus and a shredding solo from guitarist/vocalists Sakaria Björklund. Put this album (Before Plastic) alongside Maverick’s Quid Pro Quo as my two favorite melodic rock albums of the year.
39. Graffiti6 – “U Got The Sunshine”
British alternative-soul-pop act Graffiti6 came to my attention a couple of years ago courtesy of my friend Mark, who hipped me to their excellent debut album Colours. While not ordinarily my thing, their sound is so light and breezy and effortlessly enjoyable that I latched on to it right away. This debut single from the sophomore effort encapsulates them perfectly, taking a 60’s pop base and mixing in just the tiniest splash of, I’m not ever sure what, indie rock maybe? Whatever it is it is the perfect summer candy for my ears. Sadly they did such a piss poor job of marketing this independent release that their own website had no info on it even after the album had been released (a fact which has been since rectified), meaning damn near nobody heard it. Pity, this feels like it would have been a big radio hit along the lines of last year’s “Wake Me Up” by Avicii (with Aloe Blacc) or pretty much anything by Maroon 5. Oh well. Won’t be the last time something I thought should be a hit wasn’t. It was a hit with me at least.
38. The Pretty Reckless – “Absolution”
Ok, this is the last entry from Taylor Momsen’s little band of band boys, I promise. Thankfully there’s no video featuring her slinking around in a barely fitting leather jumpsuit this time, instead we focus just on the killer tune enclosed. This is another example of a slow train riff, similar to what Godsmack did back at #127 with “Generation Day”, but here Ben Phillips augments things with an acoustic shadow (or maybe it’s Taylor herself, as she IS listed as a rhythm guitarist in some places online) and mini lick before the main guitars kick in. Also at play is one of Momsen’s better vocal performances (on an album full of them), as I simply love what she does with the lighter chorus delivery, going contrary to 99% of rock songs who push things bigger come chorus time. It lends the entire song this unique and really cool dynamic which is what made the song stand out for me as the album got repeat plays early in 2014. Crystal clear production as well, which is another one of the strengths of the album.
37. Band Of Horses – “No One’s Gonna Love You [Live Acoustic]”
Back to the acoustic live album Live At The Ryman for a second dip, this time culling a version of a single from Band Of Horses’ 2007 album Cease To Begin, here stripped back to its simple vocal/guitar basics, with vocalist Ben Bridwell giving one of the most breathtakingly beautiful performances I have ever heard from someone with such an off-kilter voice. I’m drawn so much to the sentiment of the titular chorus that it killed me when I began to listen to the song closely and realized it is actually a break-up song. It seems too pretty to be wasted on something falling apart, but I guess most great art comes from pain, or so they say. I just know that even though it’s a story of a relationship ending, listening to it makes me feel good and makes me think of my current relationship, for which the sentiment that “no one’s gonna love your more than I do” seems to be perfect. (I also recommend checking out a couple of the other live versions of this song where watching Bridwell pull a Joe Cocker in performance is half the fun. I’d also recommend avoiding the CeeLo Green version at all costs.)
36. Dum Dum Girls – “Under These Hands”
For a few weeks during the opening months of 2014 I played the Dum Dum Girls’ album Too True on a daily basis, usually first thing in the morning when I needed something a little less urgent to help me climb out of the mental cobwebs. Their sound reminded me instantly of 90’s female alternative acts like Mazzy Star and The Breeders, although in retrospect they probably owe as much to The Pretenders as to anybody. Also of note is the production, which suits the band’s sound perfectly. Whereas with The Pretty Reckless I loved the clean, tight sound of the recording, with the drums having just the right snap and the acoustic guitars sounding firm and pristine, for a band like the Dum Dum Girls something very different is needed. Here we get a very echoey, loose sound, with the drums hitting with an almost distant thud and the guitars coming fighting up from a watery grave to be heard. It’s all ambience and atmosphere over precision, which is what the material demands. This song keeps me sedated in a pool of light, jangly, alt-rock meditation, and some days that’s just what the doctor ordered.
35. The Wind And The Wave – “Raising Hands Raising Hell Raise ‘Em High”
The third and final entry from The Wind And The Wave (fifth if you count the two honorable mentions) is their most straight rockin’, picking up a rockabilly bassline and blues inspired guitar chug and laying it down for Patricia Lynn to croon all over with her seductively odd cross of beauty and rebellion. I clicked on this album one day completely by chance because the album cover intrigued me and I was hoping they might help fill the void left by the demise of The Civil Wars. While they don’t match that bands deeply satisfying duet vocal approach, the album quickly won me over thanks to Lynn’s vocals and Dwight Baker’s soulful guitar playing. I don’t get out in nature often, but if was ever gonna go hiking up on some mountain I think I’d need this album with me.
34. Theory Of A Deadman – “Drown”
I saw Theory Of A Deadman live before I had ever heard of them, opening for 3 Doors Down back in 2002. They were little more than Nickelback Jr. at the time, but I picked up the album anyway because they had a solid live sound and what the hell, I like Nickelback. Over the years they’ve followed a similar career path as their Canadian brethren, albeit with about 1/5 the success, by lightening up their sound (witness the mixed back rhythm guitar of this track) and going unabashedly for radio play and record sales. I barely recognize them from the crunching marauders I saw 13 years ago. When their new album got released midway through 2014 I gave it a cursory listen to the first couple of pre-release singles, expecting to not give much of a shit. This one caught me off guard on first listen, thanks mostly to Tyler Connolly’s down-tuned vocal delivery throughout, even through the chorus. Yeah, it’s over-produced with all sorts of studio wizardry (most likely a touch of AutoTune), but in this rare case I’m not against it, as there’s this odd synthetic membrane over the whole thing that I kind of dig. I still wish they would have unleashed the guitars more though, as they would have really pushed it to the next level. (BTW, I can’t decide if the preacher in this video reminds more of Dauber from the sitcom “Coach” or the deranged conductor from the movie “The Money Pit”. Yes, these are the things I think of.)
33. Hozier – “Take Me To Church”
Tip of the hat to my friend Nicole for turning me on to this atmospheric track long before it actually became a worldwide hit (including a dominant run atop American rock radio charts). I was initially drawn in by two things, one being the creepy and “controversial” video above, and the second being the weird Imagine Dragons-do-gospel feel of the track itself. Like the Dum Dum Girls track I just covered, the echoey, atmospheric production lends a huge hand here as well, with the haunting backing vocal sections ratcheting up both the spiritual and the spook factors. In the end it’s Hozier’s voice which carries the song though (the instrumentation being as sparse as it is) and he has a truly hypnotic delivery (on the rest of the album as well) that is at both times soothing and unsettling. This is one of those songs that comes along every now and then that is sort of outside the box of what “pop music” is, but when it becomes a hit, you kind of know why. (BTW, I’m cheating a tiny bit here as the single and video were originally released in late 2013, along with Hozier’s debut EP, but since they all got re-released as part of his full length album a year later, I’m counting it as 2014. My rules, and all that.)
32. The Glorious Sons – “Heavy”
From soothing and unsettling to straight up old school rockin’ (and unsettling), Canadian southern rockers (trust me, it makes sense) The Glorious Sons serve up a decidedly kickass three minutes of gritty blues rock. Seriously, this song lives and dies with that fantastic riff, circling back and again for each new onslaught. The lyrics pull no punches either, with singer Brett Emmons getting right up in your face and daring you to bring a knife to his gunfight. His weathered vocals are like the shot of Jack that are needed before throwing down for the kind of dust-up to which the video alludes, all scratchy and strained in just the right ways. This song is so fabulously ‘Merican that is cracks me up that these guys are from north of the border. “Come heavy or don’t come at all”. Indeed.
31. Lonely The Brave – “Victory Line”
And for the third song in a row we have a video which makes some twisted attempt at a morality tale that ends in a most spectacularly violent way, even if this one does do it in animated fashion. This was the song that made me stop and say, “wait a second, who are these guys and why haven’t I heard of them before”, Lonely The Brave having never crossed my path until I stumbled across this video one night last fall. The addiction was immediate, the wall of guitars and surging rhythms reminding me of long-time favorites Buffalo Tom, but then going beyond that into somewhere I hadn’t quite been. There is something about singer David Jakes’ voice that I can’t adequately define. He is not the most gifted vocalist, nor the most soulful, nor even the most impassioned, but what he does, the places he takes his sound and energy, cuts right to me. There’s a heightened sense of, what? Desperation? I just don’t know. He sings like if he doesn’t get the words out something very bad is going to happen. At least that’s my take. This tune also adds an insistent drum beat and again, those guitars. I’m gonna stop now, because clearly I suck at adequately explaining this band.