Rock & Pop Critiques For Geeks

“I have no idea what aeolian cadences are........they sound like exotic birds”    John Lennon


1. Doom And Gloom - The Rolling Stones (GRRR!)

Just when it looked like nothing was going to push The Subways off the top spot, along come a bunch of ageing rockers to remind everyone what rock ‘n’ roll is all about.

OK, so ‘latter-day Stones classic’ is almost a contradiction in terms with only a handful of numbers in the last 30 years hitting the heights of their heyday: Rock And A Hard Place and Rough Justice are among the few exceptions.

Doom And Gloom eclipses these - and everything else in 2012 - with topical lyrics and a sublimely simple musical structure.

After an opening lick that’s the missing link between Satisfaction and Deep Purple’s My Woman From Tokyo, the chords milk the Double Plagal cadence for all it’s worth.

An essential Stones building block since the Midnight Rambler era, here it’s heard first as a D-C-G-D verse cycle which then cuts to the chase in the chorus with an instantly identifiable bVII-IV-I punchline. It’s arguably the best example since Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Paradise City (Oh, won’t you please take me home?..)

Melodically, the chorus’ opening “all”, held for a full bar, is reminiscent of the very same word in Jumpin’ Jack Flash, while the icing on the cake is the elision that blends the last line of the verse into the first bar of the chorus for added urgency.

A shining beacon amid the 2012 doom and gloom.

2. It’s A Party - The Subways (Money And Celebrity)

Evocative octave riffing, rousing Aeolian Rock Runs and licentious lyrics

combine what was for the first stunning single of 2012.

Yes, Subways stalwarts know that the track was available via the internet even before opening last September’s terrific third album. But, knowing it was also scheduled for single release on January 2nd, we deliberately held it over from last year’s hot list.

It certainly blew away the New Year hangover in style, fuelled by great chord progressions, cool dynamics and beautifully banal lyrics.

Harmonically, the song embellishes two well-worn formulas, starting with with a familar I-bIII-IV ascending intro that cleverly returns via bVII (F-Ab-C-Eb-F). The pre-chorus then hangs on a moody bVI (Db) for two bars (at 0.38) to disguise the Aeolian Rock ascents and descents that follow as we move to the chorus itself.

“D’you wanna join me now?” We did for the raucous May 10th gig at Shepherd’s Bush when Billy leapt alarmingly from the Level 1 balcony to be caught by the throng before crowd-surfing back to the stage and resuming the number without missing a beat. Pure theatre.

3. Only Friend - The Temperance Movement (Pride EP)

The band’s name would appear to refer to the social movement for alcoholic abstinence. And if you keep off the hard stuff for at least the first 30 seconds you’ll appreciate better the textbook build-up of minimalist musical textures on this beautifully understated gem.

The perfect antidote to so much bombastic production elsewhere in 2012, the song kicks off with a solitary rhythm guitar cycling though a gentle groove with I, bIII and bVII chords in the key of A. The lone force is then joined by the Only Friend in the form of a lead guitar picking-out suitably back-to-basics licks around A minor pentatonic.

An occasional sub-dominant D chord is about the only other harmony, especially well used to create the uplifting tension in the chorus and solo sections before the singer retreats to the sanctity of his original self-loathing chord cycle. Shades of Free and Cry Of Love.

4. Amy - Green Day (Dos)

The power trio are famous for interspersing their punk pop fare with some perfect ballads and here is another gem, this time hiding forlornly at the end of the second of three album trilogy: Uno, Dos, Tre.

If it sounds rather Beatle-esque that’s probably due to same vi-I seesawing that defined many early Fab Four songs. Most notably All I’ve Got To Do, with Amy even sharing the line “I want you around” from that With The Beatles album track.

There’s also a textbook Aeolian cadence - perhaps inspired by Not A Second Time (it’s on the same album, after all). Here it’s cleverly delivered at 0.57 (C#-D#m is the relevant V-vi in the key of F#): a rug-pulling alternative to the Perfect Cadence already heard at 0.53 (C#-F#).

Still, as ear-catching moments go, it’s nothing compared to the ambitious key change attempted at 1.54 when Billie Joe plucks a startling E major chord out of the ether for his stunningly novel bridge.

Most ingenious is how, after alternating E simply with its V (B), he’s able to return to base effortlessly with B now reconceived as the subdominant of F# in a perfectly standard IV-V-I. Bet he can’t beat that on Tre.

5. Not Supposed To Sing The Blues - Europe (Bag Of Bones)

The atmospheric first single from the band’s ninth studio album is a slow burning classic that combines measured devil riffing with the subtlest of ballad touches. The muso highlight is the sublime deceptive cadence at the end of the chorus where a bold major subdominant A chord looks, for all the world, headed for its Em home on the conclusion of the payoff line (“where you come from”). But with the most delicate sting-in-the-tail, the expected resolution to tonic is deferred by means of a detour first to C7-B7 in what is a subtle take on what we call The Thrill Is Gone Cadence (bVI7-V7-i) after the BB King classic.

Particularly novel is the way these two chords are implied by gentle guitar arpeggios picking out the 3rd, b7th and 5th. Truly delicious dynamics.

6. Dream On - Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

Noel’s songs have always known for their occasional muso touches alongside characteristically flowing melodies and cool chord progressions.

The tradition continues in the High Flying Birds with what we’ve called the smooth ‘soul sucking cadence’ of The Death Of You And Me and the defining bVI-iv-i cadence in the otherwise largely harmonically static a.k.a. What A Life.

Here the ear-catching interest comes early with the opening Em enjoying a tritone embellishment as the 5th gives way to a devilish b5 as the guitar traces a line B-Bb-A that cues a further whole step descent to G.

The same open-string shapes of Em, G, Cadd 9 and even A7sus4 have been staple Gallagher fare since Wonderwall. Special mention, though, for the fleeting B7 that Noel deliberately inserts (first at 0.51).

It’s a reminder that Noel knows various ways to maintain interest in the crucial task of ‘returning to tonic’. In this case, B7 is the conventional dominant V7 that rings the changes from his other favoured bVII-i (D-Em) rock cadences and (elsewhere) Lennon-esque Plagal cadences.

7. Can’t Believe It’s Not Love - The Darkness (Hot Cakes)

Along with ballsy riffs and side-splitting lyrics, The Darkness have always had an ear for melody and an ability to pluck a pop chorus out of the air.

Following in the tradition of Friday Night, Can’t Believe It’s Not Love delivers an accessible sing-a-long chorus with a brilliant twist on the Doo Wop Four Chord Turnaround it seems destined to follow.

But instead of the expected I-vi-ii-V, the final chord sees the dominant (G#7 in the key of C#) replaced by a touching minor subdominant F#m7 with Justin’s vocal melody reinforcing the defining b7 and b3 notes and adding the 6 for good measure (“been[b7] mis[6[-ta[5]-ken[b3]”).

Meanwhile, semantics freaks will notice the ethereal effect of the high capo (I make it the 6th fret: playing G-Em-Am7-Cm7 shapes for the chorus) over which the very first word heard is “angel”.

The clip features the solo which, for its spontaneous sense of melodic development, we’ve made our solo of the year.

8. I Wish I Was A Girl - The Vaccines (Come Of Age)

The Vaccines are best known for their youthful exuberance with the three major triads, but here they truly come of age with this moody minor-key paen to feminine beauty.

There’s some surprisingly subtle semantics going on here as the subject herself sashays along her social catwalk to a suitably linear bassline (a sequential1-2-b3-4 that occasionally rises to 5). Meanwhile, her admirer is depicted with more jarring 4th interval, double-stops from the C# minor pentatonic.

In this way the song delivers a type of male-female/ying-yang energy that effectively plays out the yearning envy of the theme.

Bonus points, too, for rhyming “open door” with “haute couture” ahead of the name-checking of a handful of leading fashion houses.

Other brands also available.

9. New Coat Of Paint - Joe Bonamassa (Driving Through Daylight)

The uber-prolific master bluesman returns with another brilliant album showcasing as much his versatile songwriting as his virtuosic guitar playing.

You always can rely on Joe for a couple of atmospheric minor blues numbers (see 2011‘s amazing Last Matador of Bayonne), and New Coat Of Paint is another fine offering in this category. Simpler in structure to last year’s classic, it centers on just four chords (i-iv-bVI-V in Bm), with strength of the song hinging on the powerful VI-V-i return that we call The Thrill Is Gone Cadence, after the BB King favourite (incidentally in the same key).

With the b6 note (G in the key B) present in both the iv and bVI chords, it’s a perfect vehicle for soloing on the natural minor scale/Aeolian mode. Joe duly obliges, repeatedly stressing the b6-5 relationships on the way.

10. Toccata & Fugue - Paul Bielatowicz (Guitar Techniques Feb ‘12)

Some the of the most satisfying new music can found in the CDs accompanying Future Publishing’s trio of monthly guitar titles.

Home of jaw-dropping chops over many years, Guitar Techniques upped the guitar bar a little further in 2012 with the gobsmacking 6-string arrangements of classical covers by Paul Bielatowicz.

His recent series of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was only topped by a truly terrifying take on J.S. Bach’s (or is it?!) Toccata in the February issue.

All 100 bars transcribed and recorded with just the aid of an Electro Harmonix Octave pedal, a volume pedal and a large helping of talent and patience.

Along with some delicious voice-leading chords and harmonic minor runs, this is a two-hand tapping extravaganza to die for (and you probably will trying). Beyond superlatives.

The Anorak Awards - The Top 20 Tracks Of 2012   (scroll down for the gongs!)

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The Anorak Awards 2012...and the winners are:-

Best Track: Doom And Gloom - The Rolling Stones

Best Album: Driving Towards The Daylight - Joe Bonamassa

Best Guitar Album: Best Moments - Bireli Lagrene & Sylvain Luc

Best Live Album: Celebration Day - Led Zeppelin (Live At The O2 Arena, London)

Best Guitar Solo: Can’t Believe It’s Not Love - The Darkness

Best Cover: Hanuman - Rodrigo y Gabriella (Area 52)

Best Lyrics: I Wish I Was A Girl - The Vaccines (Come Of Age)

Best Vocal: Gonna Make My Own Money - Lindsey Troy (Deap Vally)

Best Jazz Track: Made In France - Bireli Lagrene & Sylvain Luc

Best DVD: Celebration Day - Led Zeppelin

Best Blues album: Indigenous - Indigenous featuring Mato Nanji

Best Jazz album: Moments - Bireli Lagrene & Sylvain Luc

Best Instrumental: Toccata & Fugue - Paul Bielatowicz (Guitar Techniques, Feb 2012)

Best New Band: The Strypes (lookout for Blue Collar Jane in 2013)

Best Gig: The Subways at The 02 Empire Shepherd’s Bush (May 10th 2012)

Best Book: Punk: An Aesthetic Edited by Johan Kugleberg and Jon Savage

And finally.... (at the extremes!)

Best Fall track:  Victrola (Night Of The Humerons single)

Best UK Number 1 single: Troublemaker - Olly Murs (featuring Flo Rida)

And another 10 essential tracks from 2012…..

11. Gonna Make My Own Money - Deap Vally (single)

Janis Joplin meets The Black Keys for a barrage of true girl power

12. Hanuman - Rodgrio y Gabriella (Area 52)

The duo are joined by crack Cuban musicians for an ethereal ensemble arrangement

13. Glitters Like Gold - The Cribs (In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull)

No Johnny Marr this time but another fine attempt at post-Smiths jangly power pop

14. If I Had A Cent - The Hives (Lex Hives)

The highlight from the sharp dressed Swedes’ latest punk-infused album

15. Your Sister - Findlay (Single)

Raw talent gives Deap Vally a run for their money, reworking Bowie’s Jean Jeanie riff

16. Right Now - The Bermondsey Joyriders (Noise & Revolution)

Gary Lammin’s raucous, retro-fuelled workout name-checks a dozen rock ‘n’ roll classics

17. Final Call - The Noisettes (Contact)

After last year’s Let’s Play, another great descending bass theme (this time 8-6-b6-5)

18. Last Of A Dyin’ Breed - Lynyrd Skynyrd

As the title suggests, the swamp-rockers defy the odds with another classic riff

  1. 19.Burn That Candle Down - Richie Sambora (Aftermath Of A Lowdown)

The powerful blues-rock opener from the Bon Jovi axeman’s latest eclectic solo outing

20. Little Black Submarines - The Black Keys (2012 single from El Camino)

Acoustic/electric amalgam made for a worthy new single from our favourite 2011 album