Part Twenty: 30-21
We’re clearly into the golden portion of the countdown as the reviews are becoming easier and more fun to write with each passing song. Every tune from here forward could make a legit claim to being among my top 5 of the year, except of course that there’s still 30 of them left and all my years of math have taught me that thirty is more than five. So even though I’ve tortured myself for the past several months with trying to figure where each of the songs should fall on the countdown, the truth is I have little idea of what I’m actually doing here and all of these tunes kick ass for one reason or another.
30. You Me At Six – “Carpe Diem”
I referred to You Me At Six earlier as modern day arena rock, and this song is about as pure an example of that as I can imagine. Big, clean, bold production, with guitars that ebb and flow as needed so as to let the vocals do their thing, and lyrics that are generically positive, appealing to as wide an audience as they can muster. These guys don’t take many chances with their music, but it’s also pretty clear that they don’t view that as an issue, nor do I. So much of music to me is about capturing an emotion, inspiring a listener. It needn’t always be the most poetic or artistic. Songs like this achieve exactly what they set out to do: they make me get off my ass and get stuff done.
29. Pixies – “Snakes”
If “Greens And Blues” was the song that made me begin to appreciate the Pixies, then this is the one that made me a fan. I love the rhythm guitar sound on this track, particularly the way it drops down right as the first chorus rolls around, as there is this sinister feel to it that I just really dig. Not being familiar with their catalogue I have no idea how this sounds in comparison to most of their other stuff, but this one really jumped out at me when listening to their latest release Indie City as somehow being different. Just an off-kilter vibe given the rest of the album, which is saying something seeing as how they are a band that seems to pride themselves on a being somewhat off-kilter to begin with. The creepy papier-mâché head video is an added bonus, as I didn’t even know it existed until long after I was into the song.
28. Spoon – “Do You”
Spoon, another in a long line of alternative indie rock bands who I had zero idea even existed until the last year or so, despite years of releasing material. I gave They Want My Soul a quick listen one day thinking even as I started that I probably wasn’t going to be a big fan given the write-up I read about them. Thankfully they caught me on a good day and I found I really enjoyed the album despite my preconceived notions. “Do You”, with its ridiculously catchy beat and chorus grabbed me right away, before I even knew it was a single. It just seemed like the kind of song that was destined to be a summer cruisin’ radio hit, with its laidback, toe-tapping shuffle. Britt Daniel has just enough sandpaper grit to his voice to make me overlook the times he goes into whiney college rock mode. Plus the bassline kicks ass. As for the video, I have zero idea what’s going at the end, but it frightens me.
27. The Trews – “Rise In The Wake”
Man, when you open with a guitar lick like that I don’t particularly care WHAT you do after that, you have my attention until the song is over. Thankfully The Trews take that lick and build a foot stomping rocker all around it, reminding me of Collective Soul at their most aggressive. The video of the female boxer training is perfect, as this song is a serious kick in the ass and would totally get me moving out on a treadmill, you know, if I ever took the time to do such things. Just the purest form of guitar rock out there, these Canadians are rapidly becoming one of my go-to listens when I need a pick-me-up that is unencumbered by all the macho posturing that sometimes clouds heavy metal. I mean let’s face it, it’s hard to dress this hipsterish and expect to be seen as badasses, so I just have to assume their intent is to just let the music do the talking and I am A-OK with that.
26. Scarlet White – “Never Met”
Scarlet White is another in a long line of Christian rock bands that have garnered my attention mostly thanks to their energetic, modern hard rock sound and general positive-vibe. I talk a lot about these groups and how I find myself drawn to their music even if not necessarily the specifics of their message. This song however, is hard to avoid when it comes to that second part. A slow-building power ballad, it appears to tackle the issues of abortion and suicide, subjects that are difficult to discuss in any form without stirring up strong opinions on both sides. I admire that they are able to do so in a way that I find is gently pleading as opposed to aggressively admonishing, almost refusing to take a judgmental stance, instead focusing on the positives of what are often brutal situations. Musically I think they capture the emotion of the subject matter pretty well, allowing the song to increase in intensity as the desperation of their message also increases. Maybe not a song for everybody, but I find it very inspiring.
25. Gun – “Beautiful Smile”
Like The Trews, Gun opens this shitkicker with a riff to die for and then just builds and builds on top of it, creating a sound that I still can’t get out of my head to this day, a good four months after it first came out. This rehearsal version of a song off their just released (last week in fact) new album is rawer and a touch more powerful than the version that wound up on the album, and it’s that slight difference that makes me prefer this one. Dante Gizzi’s leap from bass to lead vocals in the wake of former vocalist Mark Rankin’s departure was kind of shocking to me, but his Axl Rose ala-Mr. Brownstone vocal style on this song works amazingly well (and he shows excellent range on the album). Meanwhile big brother Jools just crushes the main riff over and over, while new guitarist Johnny McGlynn chips in a with furiously wicked solo. When this bitch comes on my iPod while driving down the highway it gets repeat listens every time. Every. Time.
24. Rival Sons – “Electric Man”
This must be the Most Massive Riff portion of the countdown, because on the heels of the Gun masterpiece we get this stunning gem from the modern day rock riff master, Scott Holiday. When I saw the Sons live last fall they opened the show with this song and the power of that opening chord blew my fucking mind. Jay Buchanan’s crazed vocal performance then took over and the band had the audience eating out of their hand within seconds. I remember really enjoying the opening act (Monster Truck, for those that care) and their thick, heavy blues sound, but the moment that Holiday riff hit I thought to myself, “holy shit, this show just went LIVE”. It was absolutely incredible. Meanwhile the rhythm section is pounding and stomping down a beat with serious authority. This track just sprays attitude and testosterone all over the stage. If you can’t feel this deep down in your balls then you have zero appreciation for what rock music is supposed to be. That goes for the ladies too.
23. John Legend – “All Of Me”
After all that guitar goodness I need to cool down a bit, and what better way to do that than with one of the most popular pop songs of the year, a tender piano ballad from the apparent master of them (I dunno, I’m not overly familiar with his other stuff), John Legend. Despite the fact that there have literally been millions of songs written over the years expounding the virtues of love, every now and then one comes along that just hits me right where it matters and stuns me with how perfectly it captures a feeling. Just when you think it’s all been said before somebody drops a lyric like “I love your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections” and I’m reminded that there will forever be new things to say. Add to that the fact that the vocal performance given by Legend is virtually flawless, somehow managing to be passionate, gentle, intense, and whimsical all at once, and it’s no wonder it became the smash it did.
22. Cold War Kids – “Hotel Anywhere”
Back at entry #97 I admitted to finally getting on board the Cold War Kids bandwagon courtesy of their pre-release single “All This Could Be Yours”. That in term got me to listening to their latest album, Hold My Home, and halfway into the experience I was stopped in my tracks by the stunning bassline of “Hotel Anywhere”. So much so that I played the song three consecutive times and immediately searched out a YouTube version to throw up on Facebook for my friend Mark to chime in on, before continuing on with the rest of the album. That is how strongly I reacted to what I was hearing. I mean, I’m pretty sure I could just listen to the isolated track of the bassline for three minutes and be completely satisfied, but as it turns out there is some other interesting stuff going on around it. The urgency of Nathan Willett’s vocals somehow manage to maintain this elevated level and at the song’s end I feel completely spent yet ready for another spin. Thankfully somebody listened to me for once and they’re pushing this song, at least enough to give it this pseudo-video, released a couple of weeks back. If there is truly a radio God left, this song will be a big, fat hit.
21. Nico & Vinz – “Am I Wrong”
A handful of times over the course of the year I click on the Billboard Hot 100 playlist on Rdio and give a listen to what pop music has to say at the moment. Mostly that consists of me skipping over a whole bunch of hip-hop songs after 30 seconds of not getting it, bouncing embarrassingly to the beat of whatever the latest girl-pop flavor of the month is, and wondering why there’s almost nothing with a guitar that can crack the once balanced halls of Top 40. Invariably I will also stumble upon one or two songs that don’t really seem to fit the mold of what I consider throwaway pop songs (which isn’t really meant as a judgement; I like throwaway music). In 2013 it was Avicii’s “Wake Me Up”, while last year it was this quirky little R&B number, with its repeating guitar twink and tribal rhythm. First time I heard it I thought, “that’s cool; that song has something”. Then I just kept returning to it on occasion for repeat listens, enjoying it fully in the moment even though it invoked no inspiration in me to seek out any of Nico & Vinz’s other work. As usual, modern pop isn’t my normal thing, but there are times when it sneaks into my consciousness and won’t go away. I’m thankful that I love music enough not to kick it out on principle alone, because having tunes like this in my head is never a bad thing.