Hard Rock

Playlist: Best Songs of 2018 So Far…

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Each year I always look forward to what music has in store. Whether it’s discovering a new band or listening to old favorites, there’s always something to look forward to. 2018 isn’t over yet, but there have already been some great songs I’ve kept on repeat. So before we look forward to music coming out this fall, let’s look back at the stellar songs released so far. Here are my picks for the best songs of 2018 so far.

Marmozets – “Lost in Translation”

Marmozets are one of the best rock bands you’re not listening to. They released their second album, Knowing What You Know Now, earlier this year and it’s on my list of top albums of 2018. It was hard to choose just one song, but “Lost In Translation” shows off their energy, hard driving sound, and their growth as a band. It’s pummeling beat and bouncy riff pumps you up and the underlying groove gets you moving. Everything crashes during the hook hitting right in the chest, but you’re too busy headbanging to notice. There’s a great swagger and cockiness to the song that instantly pulls you in. It also shows why Becca Macintyre is a stellar vocalist. She doesn’t just yell and scream. She plays around with her voice manipulating its range depending on the song’s tone. It’s only one of many great songs from an amazing album. I highly recommend it.

Pale Waves – “The Tide”

I like Pale Waves, but even I don’t understand their rabid fanbase. After listening to their debut EP and seeing them live, I really don’t understand what’s got fans so crazy. They’re not really doing anything new; they sound like 1975, who sound like bands from the 80s like INXS. But when I hear the opening riff of this song, I instantly start dancing. It’s so bouncy and upbeat and the hook of “I’ll be the sea honey/always, always/and you’ll be the tide” will be stuck in your head for days. It’s fun to listen to and makes you feel good even though the lyrics are a bit gloomy. It may not be the best song I’ve heard this year, but it’s one I can’t stop singing.

Night Riots – “Colour Morning”

The first new track from Night Riots since Love Gloom falls very much in tune what they dubbed their “gloom pop” sound. There’s a melancholy air to the song mixed with a hint of pop and alt-rock. From the soft plucks of the opening guitar to Travis Hawley proclaiming “Goddamn what a beautiful world” it sounds pretty and mellow even though it’s seemingly about lost love. It has a dreamy, atmospheric mood similar to “Breaking Free,” another stellar song of theirs. It’s not the upbeat, catchy vibe found on their EP that caught my attention, but the atmospheric music and Hawley’s sensual vocals make it one of their prettier compositions.

Dead Sara – “Unamerican”

If you think rock is dead then you obviously haven’t heard this song. Taken from their new EP, Temporary Things Taking Up Space, this is classic Dead Sara all the way. It’s got a searing riff, a dirty tone, Emily Armstrong’s gritty vocals, and an I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. Armstrong even squeezes a nice “Fuck you, Donald Trump” in there, though she claims it’s nothing political. It’s a hard-hitting, raw song that pumps you and makes you want to rage. Surprisingly, the rest of EP finds them moving towards an alt-rock direction, but this song shows they haven’t abandoned their hard rock roots.

Turnstile – “Generator”

Turnstile’s second album Time & Space is another hard one to choose just one great song from. The album is a blistering 25 minutes of raging hardcore that comes at you fast and hard. All of the tracks are thrilling, but the shifting sounds and moods of “Generator” stand out. Opening with a chugging metal riff, singer Brendan Yates comes out the gate swinging screaming at the top of his lungs “I’m hanging on to what I got left/picking up the pieces in the dark.” Everything is really aggressive up until the bridge where things slow down and soft singing replaces Yates’ screams. The dizzy guitar riff and pulsing beats create a trippy vibe before returning to destructive sound. This is only a sample of what Turnstile does. I highly recommend this album if you want to hear more.

Jack White – “Hypermisophoniac”

When Jack White announced his third solo album, I wasn’t very interested especially after hearing “Connected By Love.” But after giving Boarding House Reach a chance, I found it to be pretty great. It has the classic White sound we’re used to, but he fuses it with so many weird, wonderful elements like on this track. It starts with this hypnotic electronic looping. White keeps adding layers as he shows off his guitar skills and attacks the piano like he wants to hurt it. It’s a fusion of jazz, funk, rock, and blues stamped white White’s swagger that makes it an album highlight.

Franz Ferdinand – “Lazy Boy”

Most Franz Ferdinand songs are cheeky, fun, and have a hook you can’t stop singing. “Lazy Boy” from their latest album, Always Ascending, has all of these, which makes it one of the best from the LP. The music is infused with their new disco dance direction, yet still has killer riffs that they’re known for. The lyrics are straightforward and simple, but the playful way Alex Kapranos sings “I’m a lazy boy/yes a lazy boy/lazy in the morning boy” gets stuck in your head for days. It may not be their greatest song; it’s just a lot of fun to sing and dance to and manages to stand out on an album full of dance influenced jams.

The Struts – “Body Talks”

The Struts are all about having a good time and getting back to the basics of rock n roll: partying, money, and hot women. Their songs always sound like a party and it’s no different with their latest. It has everything you want in a Struts song: high energy, big hooks, and a tongue-in-cheek attitude. There’s also a hint of sexy that makes the song so tantalizing. Frontman Luke Spiller sounds seductive and playful as he sings “Oooh your body talks/your body talks.” It’s another let-the-good-times-roll anthem from The Struts that shows the fun, carefree nature of the band. If this is a taste of the new album, then I can’t wait to hear the rest.

Panic! At the Disco – “Roaring 20s”

Even though I love PATD’s debut album, I never got into their later stuff. I started checking out their recent stuff out of curiosity and was surprised how much I enjoyed Pray for the Wicked. The entire record has this celebratory, party vibe to it that’s perfectly captured on “Roaring 20s.” With its slinky rhythm and an infectious hook Urie is known for, it sounds like nothing but a good time. The lyrics suggest something darker at play, but you can’t help but dance to over the top music. Plus, it takes you back to Urie’s baroque pop days, which pleases longtime fans like me. It’s just fun to listen to, while the entire album makes you feel good. If you need a pick me up, then you should check out Pray for the Wicked.

Hit Bargain – “Tourist II”

Hit Bargain’s Potential Maximizer wasn’t on my radar when it came out in May, but when it was recommended to me I was hooked. A playful, yet poignant hardcore record, it’s one of the most thrilling and exciting releases of the year. All the songs grab you by the throat and start pummeling you, but my favorite is “Tourist II.” Singer Nora Singh sounds cocky and playful as she sings and the bouncy opening riff sucks you in. The intense, hard driving music and Singh’s piercing screams sound like chaos incarnate. The song is bursting with energy and attitude, which is all over their debut album. Be sure to check them out if you want a riveting and exciting good time.

The Cure – “Drowning Man (Bright Birds Mix 2018)”

When The Cure announced a reissue of their 1990 remix album Mixed Up along with a disc of new mixes titled Torn Down, I wasn’t expecting much. I’m not a fan of the original album and didn’t have a lot of faith in the new mixes. Surprisingly, I was impressed with the 2018 remixes with this one standing out. Robert Smith messes with the song enough to put a different spin on it without changing it completely. He managed to make this song sound more bleak and depressing and if you’re familiar with the original you didn’t think it could get any darker. The sweeping music and layered vocals that wail like a spirit makes it more somber. He amps up the melancholy and Gothic tone making a chilling and unforgettable experience.

Con Brio – “Heart Shaped Box”

Nirvana songs aren’t sexy, but Con Brio turned this grunge classic into a slow jam. Instead, they turn the song on its head with a healthy dose of funk and soul. Singer Ziek McCarter sounds sensual as he sings, which is weird for a Nirvana song. It’s almost like Michael Jackson decided to cover this Nirvana classic. You wouldn’t expect the soulful rendition to be any good, yet it’s one of the most unique and top-notch covers I’ve heard. And I’m really picky when it comes to Nirvana cover. It may not be for all fans, but at least Con Brio did something unique with the song and managed to really make it their own.

Gorillaz – “Humility”

Yacht rock is usually reserved for the lite radio station your parents love and Christopher Cross. But when Gorillaz put their own spin on it, it’s a summer jam. The first offering from The Now Now gives us a different, breezy vibe than what we heard on Humanz. The music is mellow and smooth with a hint of jazz flair thanks to guest collaborator George Benson. Damon Albarn’s soothing vocals complete the relaxing mood. It’s so easy going it sounds like it was made for summer. Imagining listening to this chilling on the beach or out on the road. It makes you feel good, which is what we all need right now.

Which songs have you been jamming to this year? Let me know in the comments!

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Dead to the World – Marilyn Manson

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Release Year: 1996

Rating: 7.5/10

Marilyn Manson’s Dead to the World tour was infamous for its controversial stage antics, anti-Christian rhetoric, and the ire it drew from religious groups. On any given night, fans could expect to see destruction, trashing the Bible, and self-mutilation on stage. Rumors of sacrificing animals and abusing fans spread quickly and helped make Marilyn Manson the most hated band in America. The debauchery, chaos, destruction, sex, and violence was captured on their first video release, Dead to the World. It offers a glimpse into the brutal show, what goes on backstage, and trying to understand who Marilyn Manson is.

The video is a mix of live performances from the Dead to the World tour and weird backstage footage and interviews with the man himself. It opens with various religious groups protesting outside of shows talking about the evil Marilyn Manson will bring. It’s a fascinating spectacle to witness. To think music caused such a strong reaction. These groups thought Manson was so evil their fans clearly needed saving. It’s amazing to see them freak out over one guy in makeup. It’s something we don’t see in current music anymore unless it’s a bunch of people tweeting angry messages. It really shows the power of his music and the effect it can have on people both good and bad.

From there the rest of the exclusive footage is backstage antics and random bits filmed by the band’s cameraman. It ranges from fascinating to incoherent. The candid interviews with Manson offered (at the time) a rare glimpse at the man beneath the makeup. His horror stories about being teased in Catholic school and finding an aborted fetus in a coffee tin when he was young give a bit of insight to the way he is. It’s a way to try and understand his worldview. These stories are well known among fans now, but at a time when we really wondered if he had his ribs removed, it gave us a look at the mysterious artist.

Most of the footage is clearly meant to get a reaction. It’s a collage of random clips thrown together meant to depict tour life for the band. This includes copious amounts of drugs, lots of drinking, and sex. Shots go from women touching themselves to the band doing drugs to being destructive backstage. Sometimes we get shots of fans, like the infamous slashers, which Manson expresses his discomfort for, but a lot of it is weird stuff you can barely make out. Maybe it would’ve been shocking 10 years ago, but it doesn’t have the same effect now. It’s meant to be shocking, yet it’s trying too hard. Most of it makes you roll your eyes with exhaustion. Now, it seems incoherent and confusing made even worse by the poor video quality.

The best bits are the performances. The video includes highlights from the tour like “The Beautiful People,” “1996,” “Lunchbox,” and “Apple of Sodom,” which he rarely performs. This is peak Marilyn Manson. It’s easy to forget what a force he was on stage when you hear about him stumbling around drunk in concert now. The shows were like a chaotic, demented circus with Manson stomping around on stilts for “Kinderfeld,” ripping up the Bible during “Antichrist Superstar,” and cutting himself on stage not even acknowledging his chest covered in blood. It’s exhilarating to watch him unleash his fury. It’s nothing but pure chaos and anger as the band smashes things, shove each other, and, sometimes, simulate oral sex. No wonder parents were afraid of this band.

The video ends with backstage footage of a bloodied Manson fuming over a stage mishap and the band being destructive (and sick) in general. It’s the typical type of debauchery you expect when rock stars have too many drinks. The most disturbing bit comes in the final moments when the screen fades to black and we hear Manson screaming at a young girl to shut up and sit still followed by her blooding curdling screams. This is an excerpt from a short film Manson made called “Groupie.” A film so disturbing and vile, his manager told him it would destroy his career if he ever released it.

Dead to the World is still a fascinating look Marilyn Manson’s most controversial period. Parts of it are weird or try too hard to be shocking, but it gives viewers an inside peek at this chaotic tour. At a time when people thought he was killing animals at his concerts, it’s a way to depict what actually happened. Manson even alluded to this in the video saying he wished more parents would let kids see the show. The performances are top notch and the candid moments with Manson are intriguing. With his latest antics, you forget Marilyn Manson was once the most hated band in America. This video shows why and it’s one hell of a ride. It’s weird, confusing, thrilling, and a little disturbing much like early Marilyn Manson. Let’s just hope it gets an HD re-release soon.

Heaven Upside Down – Marilyn Manson

 

Release Year: 2017

Rating: 8.5/10

When Marilyn Manson announced his new album Say10 last year, I was pretty excited. His last albums were great and I was itching to hear new music from him. But when the album didn’t show up on Valentine’s Day I slowly grew disinterested. My expectations got lower after hearing the first two singles. But once I got my hands on Heaven Upside Down, I found myself faced with the old Manson that scared and fascinated me as a teen. While there are some definite nods to some of his greatest albums it doesn’t feel like a rehash of what he’s already done. Rather it’s biting, violent, brutal, and mean just how we like it.

The album opens with the banger “Revelation #12.” If you thought Manson was washed up this song makes you think differently. The music is hard-hitting and gritty while the guitar riff snarls and growls. Manson sounds brutal as he screams “We’ll paint the town red/with the blood of the tourists.” It sounds like the old angry Manson that grabbed us by our throats in the 90s. It’s a killer way to kick off the album and lays down the groundwork for what comes next.

“Tattooed in Reverse” has to be my favorite song from the album. The way it starts with a pounding march and how Manson comes out the gate swinging with “So fuck your bible and your babel” is so badass. It has this undeniable swagger to it as if Manson already knows the song is a hit. The music crushes you with its heavy sound and intense atmosphere. It’s a stellar track with Manson displaying his unapologetic nature and biting commentary.

Say10” caught me off guard with the muted opening beat – it sounds like something from a hip-hop song, but it works. Manson’s sinister growl and the music sets up this dangerous lurking vibe. Everything explodes during the hook with Manson screaming “You say God/I say Say10” with dirty riffs that are both brutal and sexy. Though the title isn’t as clever as Manson hopes it is, it’s a standout song. It has the same fire as his best work and holds you in its grasp.

In press interviews, Manson said one of the central pieces of the LP was “Saturnalia” and I can see why. It is a beast of a song. It starts with an eerie “This is Saturnalia” mumbled backwards followed by the thick grooving bass line. The music rumbles building up to a bigger sound in the first couple of minutes. It’s actually reminiscent of something like “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” with the dark music and slow build up. Even the riff during the verse is similar. The way everything creeps along, how the music hits you during the hook, and Manson’s singing makes it sound dangerous, yet alluring. Clocking in over seven minutes, the song never grows dull. There are so many elements and layers and different sounds happening it always keeps you on edge. It’s the highlight of the album and one of his strongest songs in years.

I didn’t really like lead single “We Know Where You Fucking Live” when I first heard it. While it’s brash and perfectly fits in with the aggressive, violent tone of the album, it feels like Manson trying too hard to be shocking. It grows on you after a while and there is the clever lyric “So what’s a nice place like this, doing round people like us,” but it’s far from the best song on the album. Same goes for “Kill4Me.” Taking a departure from the intense sound of the rest of the record, this one has an electropop beat that’s upbeat and kind of catchy. Again, not a terrible song, but it’s one of the weakest the album has to offer. These songs don’t have that same drive and punch of the others. They’re easy to gloss over when listening to the LP.

The songs that close out the album aren’t all that memorable either. “Blood Honey” plays out like an eerie Gothic ballad that still manages to be intense. Compared to the other tracks, it doesn’t grab your attention all that much. Some of the imagery is great like “dripping blood honey” and Manson sounds properly creepy when singing, but it doesn’t hit you the same way as the others. What does stand out is the dark tone matching the violent atmosphere of the album.

The title track switches up the mood with lighter, more rock-oriented. It’s not as heavy or brutal as the other songs. It’s not bad, but isn’t all that memorable and sounds pretty generic. Closing track “Threats of Romance” returns to the aggressive sound, yet has this downtrodden bluesy tone to it. He sounds like he’s bearing his soul in a dirty blues club as he sings “Things that are pretty/are always kept behind glass/someone like me can’t make it last.” As he talks about crumbling relationships it becomes clear this seems like an oddly personal song for the rocker. It ends with him shouting “I like you damaged” not holding anything back and lets out one last bloodcurdling scream before the album ends.

Heaven Upside Down is another great Marilyn Manson album that was well worth the wait. It really took me by surprise with just how good it is. While there are moments where it sounds like he’s being shocking for the sake of it, the rest of his commentary is as biting and damning as ever. There are a lot of moments that harken back to Antichrist Superstar or Mechanical Animals, but it doesn’t sound like he’s repeating himself. It’s classic Manson where he seethes at the world and ripples with anger. And even though not every song is notable, there isn’t one I would call bad. Personally, I enjoyed this more than The Pale Emperor. This album is more in your face, aggressive, and kick ass than the last record. And it shows Manson still has it in him.

 

Add Violence – Nine Inch Nails

Release Year: 2017

Rating: 8.5/10

Nine Inch Nails’ Not the Actual Events EP, the first in a trilogy, wasn’t the fury and fire we expected. While it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t all that memorable. The songs were decent and the mood was forced aggression. But with Add Violence, the second EP, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross hit their stride. They give us a record that successfully mixes new NIN ventures with the challenging and often chilling songs they’re known for. The result is ugly, unpleasant, and unfriendly, something Reznor actually wanted. But this doesn’t mean the EP is bad; it may be the best they’ve given us since their return.

Reznor lulls you into a safe space with opening track “Less Than.” Not as compelling as other songs, it’s the most accessible. It has catchy synth heavy music reminiscent of old school video games that makes you dance. The memorable hook doesn’t hurt either. The song gets a kick to the gut during the chorus when the music explodes in distortion. It’s reminiscent of Hesitation Marks sound and while it may not grab you at first, it grows on you over time. The mood shifts when we get to “The Lovers.” The music starts out quiet with an atmospheric air that slowly builds up around Reznor’s unnerving muted vocals. There’s a sense of unease with this song – the music creeps along as if waiting for something bad to happen. And lyrics like “Please don’t leave me here/I could stop it/Maybe I could stop it (if I wanted to)/But I’m not the one driving anymore” are haunting. It sounds like someone trying to regain control as they’re slowly losing it. It’s a great song that sets up the EP’s uneasy mood.

The stand out track on this EP is the chilling “This Isn’t the Place.” It opens on a fragile, haunting note with an eerie piano and synth that’s constantly swelling. It keeps you on edge letting you wonder where the song is headed next. It finally breaks when we get to Reznor’s fragile, broken falsetto vocals. He sounds scared as he sings “I thought we had more time” a harrowing reminder that life is short. Soon, the music swells once again drowning out Reznor and leaving you shaken. It’s a track that’s uncomfortable and unnerving, something NIN excels at.

Not Anymore” breaks up the atmospheric mood and gets back to the rougher side of NIN. The music starts out fuzzy and rough sounding before everything explodes and speeds up during the hook. This is more akin to their typical sound since it’s bursting with energy and aggression. While it’s not as unnerving as some of the other tracks, it’s the hardest one on the EP. It’s a frantic track that gets your heart pumping and your fists in the air like every good NIN song should.

The final track “The Background World” gets into the ugliness Reznor wanted to tap into. Clocking in at 11 minutes, the first half of the track has an electronic soundscape steadily building up to something heavier and darker. The last seven minutes are filled with an electronic loop that gets more distorted and garbled as time goes on. Everything gets more broken up until you can’t recognize the music anymore. It’s a compelling, yet uncomfortable experience. It’s easy to stop the song before it reaches this part, but it’d sound incomplete without it. Somehow Reznor managed to make this wall of noise an integral part of the song rather than unnecessary garbage to fill up the record.

Add Violence is a moody, atmospheric experience that shows Reznor can still make compelling music this late in his career. Whereas the previous EP sounded like blind fury and aggression that didn’t leave a lasting impression, this EP successfully mixes the old and the new. It’s a record to get lost in and once you come out, you’re left shaken. Reznor succeeds in giving us music that’s uncomfortable, which is where NIN shines. It’s clear that NIN is working up to something bigger and with this release. We’ll be waiting eagerly to see what it is.

Condolences – Wednesday 13

 

Release Year: 2017

Rating: 7.5/10

When Wednesday 13 revealed his next album, I didn’t have high hopes. I knew I was going to give it a listen, but I didn’t expect to like it aside from maybe one song. His last record, Monsters of the Universe: Come Out and Plague, was forgettable and found him talking about the same things he has been years, but in a boring way. The album didn’t grip me like some of his others. After listening to Condolences, I was surprised at just how much I liked it. Yes, he’s still singing about dead girls and spooky things, but he takes on a dark theme that makes the music fresh and exciting.

Rather than singing about horror movies and spooky themes in general, this album is drenched in death. The brief intro, “Eulogy XIII” brings in the dark tones and more serious matter of the album. Things properly kick off with “What the Night Brings.” It’s typical 13 affair with music suited for a black and white horror film that’s hard hitting and exciting. “Blood Sick” is another rager with 13 playing the bad guy once again, something he’s good at. Not only do these songs stand out, they show off the heavier tone of the album.

Wednesday 13 takes things up a notch by gearing towards a heavy metal sound. Not that he hasn’t played with this in the past, but his songs usually fall somewhere between punk rock and hard rock. Here, everything is cranked up leaving you with memorable songs. The heavy music really draws you in and keeps your attention, whereas previous efforts lose you after a few songs.

“Cadaverous,” the strongest song the album, finds 13 returning to his favorite topic: necrophilia. It’s heavy and is brutal as hell. He sounds sinister as he sings “Full moon tonight alright/I’ve got some sick thoughts on my mind/On to your grave site/I’m digging in to see what I can find.” The trudging riffs and intense nature give the whole thing this vicious vibe as if 13 is in a rage with nothing safe in his path.

“You Breathe, I Kill” and “Prey for Me” are violent rampages written from the point of view of a serial killer. They have a similar aggressive, brutal vibe as the rest of the album, but still kicks major ass. “Good Riddance” is more personal being about the death of a relationship, while “Omen Amen” is a throwback to when the religious right feared heavy metal was the devil’s music. Death looms in all these songs making for a slightly more serious endeavor. They also scratch that heavy metal itch when you just want music that’s unapologetic and loud as hell.

Because of the coherent theme, it seems 13 held back on the campy aspect for this album. Normally, his records are filled with over-the-top songs that are fun but can cross the line into downright cheesy. There’s little of that here. While I wouldn’t call his lyrics deep, they are a bit more serious and focused here. It’s a nice change of pace from overt campiness that makes your eyes rolls. Normally, I can’t stand to listen to his albums in full. This time I gladly listened to the whole thing on repeat.

There are a few low points here with one being “Cruel to You.” This sounds like classic Wednesday 13 all the way right down to the music, but it’s so boring. Once again, he spouts about being the boogeyman and stalking a young woman, a topic he’s very familiar with. This song so tiring because it sounds exactly like what he’s done in the past. Everything from the music to the melody sounds like a better 13 song you’ve heard before. Plus, it really doesn’t fit the dark tone of the album.

As always, 13 shows off his sentimental side with a few ballads. “Condolences” has awesome music that sounds like a funeral march, which is very fitting for the gloomy vibe. But weaknesses start to show in the verses, which are half-whispered, half-sung. They’re just not that interesting. The hook is strong and makes the track bearable. Otherwise, it’s okay at best. The closing track “Death Infinity” suffers the same problems as his other ballads. He lays it on real thick and before we get to the second verse, you’re ready to move on. It’s over the top and dull like his other slow songs. Then again, I’ve never been a fan of these types of songs.

Condolences is a solid record. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. I didn’t even plan on reviewing it. Wednesday 13 finds a good balance between moving towards a darker, heavier sound while keeping his classic vibe. Not every song is great, but the album is a lot of fun, even though it’s about death. Many of the songs are memorable, unlike his last effort. For once I found I could sit through the entire album, multiple times without getting sick of it. 13 steps up his game for this release proving the old ghoul still has some spooky tricks up his sleeve.