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.

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Album Review: Alice in Chains- “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.”

Writers tend to used a lot of recycled adjectives when discussing the music of Alice in Chains: grungy, grimy, sludgy, dark, harmonic…etc.  And it’s safe to say that all these overused, yet appropriate words still apply to the band’s newest material (and then some).

The Seattle legends have continued their post-90s “comeback” with a logical and bold next step in “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.”

If 2009’s “Black Gives Way to Blue” was Alice in Chains’ healing process for their tragic past, then consider “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” their first post-therapy breakthrough.  The album is far from nostalgic, but still manages to pay homage to the band’s roots.  Fans will find moments to reminisce the days of “Dirt” and “Facelift.”

New and old fans alike will mutually enjoy the pulsating palm mutes of “Hollow,” the bellowing main riff of “Stone,” and the chaotic arrangement of “Phantom Limb,” among many others.

Content-wise, Jerry Cantrell and company- at times- venture into territory never explored in-depth on past albums.  The best example of this is the album’s  title track, a tell-it-like-it-is evaluation of the overly-religious.   Cantrell’s songwriting also soars on the acoustic/electric balancing act of “Voices,” a song seemingly about helplessness and confusion that plays like “No Excuses” with attitude.

In general, the album succeeds in building an overall sense of thought-provoking emotion and anxiety, all while maintaining a confident, triumphant tone.  No song ever comes off as out-of-place or forced.

“The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” is the quintessential modern Alice in Chains experience: rough, loud, beautiful, and more ambitious than ever.

All in all:

Standout Tracks: “Hollow,” “Stone,” “Voices,” “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,” “Low Ceiling,” “Scalpel,” Phantom Limb”

Alice in Chains- “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here:” 5/5

Song Review: Alice in Chains- “Stone”

Lately, a considerable portion of Alice in Chains’ fans have remained skeptical about the band continuing onward without the late, great Layne Staley.

But if there was ever a time to leave the past in the past, that time is now.  And “Stone” is one of the main reasons why.

The successor to the chart-topping hit, “Hollow,” “Stone” kicks off with a thundering bass line before segueing into one slimy three-ton behemoth of a guitar riff.

The beauty of the song is that while it does evoke fond memories of “Dirt” and “Facelift,” it stands as its own unique piece of Alice in Chains material.  The band’s trademark mucky guitars are complimented with a crisp, modern sound that packs an unbelievable punch.

If “Stone” does not get your blood boiling for Chains’ upcoming album “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,” there is a strong chance you may not have a pulse.

Alice in Chains- “Stone:” 5/5