Jimi Hendrix – Stone Free
I’m generally not the biggest fan of Jimi Hendrix; guitar-led classic rock tends to fall out of my zone. The good thing here is that “Stone Free” is a Hendrix track led more by percussion and a propulsive rhythm. It expertly shifts gears between sections, ending with a climactic guitar solo that doesn’t overstay its welcome before returning to the chorus. It’s definitely a track I’ve overlooked while listening to Are You Experienced in the past, but it is a lot of fun.
Monty Python – Always Look on the Bright Side of Life
It’s hard for me to consider this a good song; it’s pure novelty, and separated from the shocking imagery it’s paired with in its source, it loses most of its impact for me. This song helps give Life of Brian one of the greatest endings in cinema, but it doesn’t do much at all for me outside of context.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – So Good at Being in Trouble
Unknown Mortal Orchestra is one of the grooviest rock bands today, second in the modern psychedelic scene only to Tame Impala. Ruban Nielsen’s vocals are pure ecstasy on their best tracks, such as this one, and the guitar is always rolling along with a pleasant funk. However, unlike their standouts from their next album, “So Good at Being in Trouble” doesn’t really go anywhere. “Multi-Love” and “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” are breathtakingly propulsive, while this is happy to linger in a simple groove. Good, but you can see why it was their next album that broke through.
The Books – Take Time
In the last overlooked songs tournament, I was sad to see only two songs break into what is now my 8/10 range; one was my own nomination and the other was a track by my favorite band. I’m happy to stumble across this monstrosity of sound, by a band I’ve only visited once before with their equally bizarre Thought for Food album. “Take Time” feels like it exists alongside some indeterminate era of Sufjan Stevens, his early experiments juxtaposed with his folky breakthrough albums. Intense acoustic strumming is paired with jarring rhythmic samples, the song eventually descending into a monotonous chant. Yet all these disparate elements are in perfect form, its clashes a pleasurable sensation. The Books are one of the more boundary pushing bands of the early 2000s, and “Take Time” perfectly captures everything that makes them special, a shining blend of experimental electronic and folk.
Arctic Monkeys – 505
“505” is definitely an Arctic Monkeys song, and Arctic Monkeys are definitely a band I like the general sound of enough that I’ll pretty much like any song you throw at me. Like Unknown Mortal Orchestra, they’re another band this week that injects their throwback sound with danceable rhythms. “505” is a slow build to a strong release two and a half minutes in, never losing energy as it pushes forward, climaxing with a guitar solo that isn’t particularly impressive but suits where the song was headed. Like “Stone Free,” it’s a strong backing track off a great (and in this case underrated) album. Not a definitive Arctic Monkeys track, but a reason to hear their albums in full.
16 Horsepower – Haw
“Gothic country” is apparently a thing, and I can dig it. “Haw” doesn’t do much for me as a lone track; I’m taken in by its stylistic vibe, but all it really does is make me want to check out a full album. It’s one of those odd cases where what it’s doing should be unique enough to make it stand out, but it doesn’t quite have the vocal charm of the best gothic music, nor the catchiness of country.
Elliott Smith – Memory Lane
Something about this track just doesn’t work for me. It sounds more like a jingle, its instrumentation like a weak Beatles track and its vocals awkwardly keeping pace with the rhythm throughout. A rare miss for an artist I usually love, it unfortunately crosses the thin line between catchy and annoying.
Cromagnon – Caledonia
This match-up is really coming from all angles. Facing off against Elliott Smith’s overly poppy “Memory Lane” is “Caledonia,” a song that really seems unconcerned with any notion of pleasantness; of course Pitchfork would find this obscure track and claim it as one of the definitive works of the 1960s. So, sure, this song could be a precursor to several bands from the late 70s and early 80s; but had those bands ever heard this? I’m not sure how to rate this; there’s a lot to take in here. I do really like the use of bagpipes, and it’s at least a sound like no other. At least in this specific match-up, it’s an easy choice. As I listen through a second time, I can tell this will grow on me, but it’s already clearly beat out Memory Lane for me.
Michael Jackson – Stranger in Moscow
I’ve never been the biggest fan of even Michael Jackson’s best moments; even his acclaimed work after Thriller does more to get on my nerves than anything. “Stranger in Moscow” is one of Jackson’s more understated tracks, but it also doesn’t go anywhere for me, beside its strong chorus. But, hey; I’d rather take vaguely pleasant than grating!
Fastball – The Way
Well this was a nostalgia trip; I don’t think I’ve heard this song since it was on the billboard charts. It’s from that awkward period of rock in the late 90s, after all the best bands suddenly dissolved and no one knew where to go. It’s one of the more pleasant pieces from the era, carrying a strong sense of rhythm especially during its chorus, but I can also see why it’s completely faded as time goes by. It hits just the right notes to be a perfect pop rock hit in an era starved for something even decent.
Sleigh Bells – Crown on the Ground
Crown on the Ground, i.e. that track that will have an absurdly high score compared to the others due to being my own nomination. Treats has made regular appearances in my top 100 albums ever, and it’s always felt like one of those albums where the critics really missed the standout moments. “Crown on the Ground” is the definitive track to me, and one of the most unique of its decade; whichever one it belongs to (a demo version was released in 2009, but the album dropped in 2010, and I feel like part of its missing acclaim could be due to that decade split). “Crown on the Ground” starts with a striking guitar riff left to play four bars on its own, before a propulsive bass and grunting adds a rhythmic element. The whole song then shifts gears into a mess of distortion and noise, but never loses its sense of rhythm. Derek Miller’s screeching guitar is honed in by Alexis Krauss’s cheerleader-esque vocals, creating a sound like no other. This is the theme song for the greatest high school football game ever.
Dubstar – Stars
A shame a song like this has to face off against my favorite for the week. Dream pop is one of those genres with many great acts that simply get overshadowed by one big name. This is just such an easy listen, in a way I’m not finding myself able to describe. “Dream pop” is one of those perfectly descriptive genres; this song simply floats along, a pleasant moment that is never too invasive.
Steely Dan – Aja
Steely Dan as a whole has just never clicked with me. Their music has always put an emphasis on technical precision, and that’s just never been my style (see the rather messy Crown on the Ground above). “Aja” is so clear, so crisp, so perfectly designed for people who aren’t me. It’s an eight minute epic that I’m sure would be engaging if I was any other person. It’s a band and sound I can respect, and I can see what they’re doing here; it just isn’t for me. And, like many tracks here, I see this working better on the album than as its own work.
I think part of the problem is that I feel simply overwhelmed by how much classic rock I’m exposed to by all these lists. I feel just on the edge of ‘getting’ Steely Dan, but I never feel particularly inclined to try.
Heavenly – C is the Heavenly Option
Now this is a pop rock track I can get behind. It starts with a propulsive rhythm and simply builds upon it, and I’m always a fan of dueling vocals. I’m actually surprised this is from 1992; I would have guessed the early 1980s. Perhaps it came out at the wrong time to gain the attention it deserves (and music like this rarely gets the attention it deserves even in the right era…). I’m not quite sure how to explain it, but this works for me. It’s short, sweet, to the point, and always adds an extra element at just the right time. Another 8+ track in this section of the bracket!
Grimes – California
I can’t be the only one surprised to see “California” bubbling while “Venus Fly” isn’t even mentioned, right? Oh well; at least in my opinion, Art Angels is one of those albums that could have half of its tracks featured on acclaimed music and I wouldn’t bat an eye. It essentially kicks off what is (obviously) one of my favorite albums, perhaps the most poppy of its tracks. Grimes has a perfect sense of rhythm, and she pulls back at just the right moments to keep the song constantly refreshing itself.
The Joubert Singers – Stand on the Word
This is a song that really packs a lot in. A mix of gospel and disco, “Stand on the Word” has a consistently pleasant sound throughout. The vocal harmonies are on point, even if the subject matter is one I’d rather avoid. Gospel and disco seems like one of those blatantly obvious combinations, but I can’t actually think of other examples. The way both genres tend to slowly build toward a dense climax works perfectly here, and each moment leaves me in anticipation of the next.
Sleigh Bells - Crown on the Ground (9.3)
The Books - Take Time (8.3)
Heavenly - C is the Heavenly Option (8.0)
The Joubert Singers - Stand on the Word (7.75)
Dubstar - Stars (7.5)
Arctic Monkeys - 505 (7.5)
Jimi Hendrix - Stone Free (7.5)
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - So Good at Being in Trouble (7.25)
Cromagnon - Caledonia (7.25)
Fastball - The Way (7.25)
Steely Dan - Aja (7.0)
Michael Jackson - Stranger in Moscow (6.75)
16 Horsepower - Haw (6.75)
Monty Python - Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (6.0)
Elliott Smith - Memory Lane (4.5)