Best of 2013 (Part 1): Top 15 Rock Singles

I understand that this blog has been inactive for some time now.  Between various life events, finals, and a crashing hard drive, remaining consistent to my writing has been next to impossible, until now.  Unfortunately, a lot of great material from noteworthy artists has come out (and ultimately gone unrecognized by the blog) since my last post.

In an attempt to compensate for this matter, I have decided to bring the blog back into action with a three-part retrospective on 2013.  This year was a really good one where rock music was concerned, and it’s important that we look back on the songs, albums, and artists that helped define it.

Expect parts 2 and 3 between now and New Year’s Day.  As always, I greatly appreciate your interest and feedback.

Now then, let’s kick things off with my top 15 rock singles of the year:

1. Alice in Chains- “Stone”          

Alice in Chains’ “Stone” is one of those rock songs that makes you remember where you were when you first heard it.  This is mainly a result of its bellowing, ferocious guitar riff- one of the best Jerry Cantrell has ever penned.  The song exemplifies AiC’s talent for innovating their sound, all while keeping in contact with the kinds of evocative blunt force that has kept their work so powerful to this day.

2. Black Sabbath- “God is Dead?”        

The first indicator that Black Sabbath was BACK, “God is Dead” quickly exceeded any expectations fans had about the band’s comeback effort, “13.” The song dances over a haunting guitar arpeggio, periodically exploding into madness before finally climaxing with a classic Toni Iommi guitar solo.

3. Pearl Jam- “Sirens”      

If “Mind Your Manners” was a reminder of Pearl Jam’s angst and aggression, then “Sirens” was a testament to their mastery of sensitive emotion.  “Sirens,” a ballad of uncertainty and loyalty, is a moving accomplishment that could only be topped off by the wavering, cathartic voice of Eddie Vedder.

4. Volbeat- “Lola Montez”      

“Lola Montez” stands as a defining moment on Volbeat’s “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies, drawing strength from a catchy chorus and a collection of upbeat lead runs from new member, Rob Caggiano.  The song boasts a made-for-radio sound that juxtaposes its clear sense of creative pride.

5. Paul McCartney/Dave Grohl- “Cut me Some Slack”      

First debuted during last year’s iconic “12/12/12” benefit concert, “Cut me Some Slack” finds Paul McCartney teaming up with the remaining members of Nirvana to deliver a jam reminiscent of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.”  Collaborations don’t get much better than this.

6. Queens of the Stone Age- “If I Had a Tail”

It’s hard to pick one track to represent Queens of the Stone Age’s splendid “…Like Clockwork,” one of the year’s standout rock albums.  However, “If I Had a Tail” is simply too infectious to deny.  The song grooves along at a steady pace and benefits from a strong, moody vocal performance from Josh Homme.

7. Nine Inch Nails- “Came Back Haunted”      

Where good Nine Inch Nails songs are concerned, “Came Back Haunted” does it all:  swirling layers of chirping synthesizers and crunching guitars, battered, anxiety-tinted vocals, and a collection of dark themes.  The song draws from a lot of NIN’s notable past works.

8. Korn- “Love and Meth”      

After Korn re-united with former guitarist, Brian “Head” Welch, fans were initially put off by “Never, Never,” a song that favored electronic mixing over guitar work.  “Love and Meth,” the band’s follow-up single, quickly eased these anxieties.  The song features the kind of groaning, pulsating riffs and breakdowns that helped define the popularity of Korn’s late 90’s releases.

9. Ghost- “Secular Haze”      

Ghost are a band based heavily on spectacle, and this spectacle is what fuels “Secular Haze,” one of 2013’s most mesmerizing rock songs.  The track is a slow-paced death waltz centered on a haunting blend of organs, guitars, and the band’s signature tongue-in-cheek satanic imagery.

10. A Perfect Circle- “By and Down”      

They finally did it:  A Perfect Circle unveiled new material in 2013, much to the joy of the band’s eager fanbase (who had been waiting since the release of 2004’s “Passive”).  “By and Down,” an eerie trip through the darkest confines of Maynard James Keenan’s brain, is not a new song per say; it had been performed live for years prior to its studio release in October.  Still, APC’s presence on the charts was refreshing, and continued to fuel hope for a new album.

11. Avenged Sevenfold- “Hail to the King”      

Avenged Sevenfold’s “Hail to the King” takes a modern approach to classic Maiden-style metal and sprinkles it over top themes of medieval war.  Many viewed the song as an acquired taste, but its fresh, catchy impact on 2013’s rock charts proved to be more than evident over time.

12. Arctic Monkeys- “Do I Wanna Know”      

The Arctic Monkeys are a band that deserves more recognition.  “Do I Wanna Know,” may be the major segue track they have been looking for; Alex Turner plays off the song’s defining dirty, bluesy riff with a series of smooth alliterations that are comfortable on the ears and rough on the soul.

13. Rob Zombie- “We’re an American Band”      

When you take the mind of a brilliant modern metal act and apply it to a vintage rock favorite, great things are bound to happen.  Rob Zombie achieved success in putting a fun, gritty twist on a Grand Funk Railroad classic.

14. Filter- “What Do You Say”      

Filter made an unexpected comeback in 2013, blazing a trail for themselves with “What Do You Say.” The hard-hitting track that could easily be viewed as a sequel to the band’s mid-90s classic, “Hey Man, Nice Shot.”

15. Deftones- “Swerve City”      

On “Swerve City,” Deftones stay true to their method of layering entrancing vocals atop a brutally heavy guitar section.  The song is a great cut from “Koi No Yokan”- which received high amounts of praise upon its release in 2012.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Chi Cheng, Lou Reed, Jeff Hanneman, and all the other wonderful and irreplaceable rock musicians we lost during 2013.

Song Review: Nine Inch Nails- “Came Back Haunted”

Lately, Trent Reznor has been up to a lot of different things:  strengthening his career as a composer by scoring the very successful “The Social Network” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” forming the side project, How to Destroy Angels, contributing to Dave Grohl’s “Sound City” project, and even winning an Academy Award.

But Reznor’s musical claim to fame, Nine Inch Nails, has remained untouched since 2008’s “The Slip.”

Not anymore.

Nine Inch Nails have returned with “Came Back Haunted,” the first single off the forthcoming and newly announced “Hesitation Marks” (or “HALO 28”).

The song- a partial hybrid of “Pretty Hate Machine” and “Year Zero-” buzzes with twisting synth beats and is driven by a creeping undertone. Reznor’s voice is, for lack of a better word, haunting and eerily calm in melody.  A churning guitar breakdown echoes “The Downward Spiral” and tops the song off in a powerful way.

It’s clear that Reznor’s success in his other musical endeavors has maximized his confidence and ambition as an artist.  He has poured this newfound creative energy into Nine Inch Nails in a very logical manner.  The result is a song that respects the past, but is not afraid to take a big experimental step into the unknown.

“Came Back Haunted” is no “Head Like a Hole,” but it’s pretty close.

Nine Inch Nails- “Came Back Haunted:” 4.5/5

Listen to “Came Back Haunted” here:

Song Review: Dave Grohl Ft. Corey Taylor, Scott Reeder, and Rick Neilsen: “From Can to Can’t”

Rock collaborations are interesting, mainly because the genre’s variety of sub-genres and artists.  When artists of different styles come together, the result is generally a memorable syncing of different creative approaches.

One artist who has dabbled quite a bit in collaboration is the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, who has played with everyone from Queens of the Stone Age, to Tom Petty, to The Prodigy.

“From Can to Can’t,” a song that will be featured on Grohl’s upcoming rock documentary, “Sound City,” is no different. The song features Grohl on drums, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen on guitar, Kyuss’s Scott Reeder on bass, and, most notably, Slipknot’s Corey Taylor on lead vocals.  This collaboration’s unconventional nature could be compared to that of fantasy sports, but it results in surprising chemistry.  Particularly, Nielson’s dark riffs blend very nicely with the angry undercurrent of Taylor’s vocals.

Strictly as a song and nothing more, “From Can to Can’t” comes up just short of being as memorable as the actual grouping of talented artists at hand.  Nevertheless, it is a solid song that stands as a testament to Grohl’s versatility.

Dave Grohl ft. Corey Taylor, Rick Nielsen, and Scott Reeder- “From Can to Can’t:” 4.5/5