2014 has, frankly, been a fairly crap year for me, with bad things outweighing the good and what has felt like a constant battle with depression and my mental health. So, I set out recently to search out positive “alternative” songs, ones that belie the stereotype of us all moping around. And with thanks to many friends who got involved on a Facebook thread a few weeks ago for their various suggestions, not all of which could be used – but all were considered. I did stretch this to twelve rather than the usual ten, mind.
One last thing – this will be the last Tuesday Ten of 2014, as I will begin the usual review of the year in a few weeks, and I need some time to get that written. This series will return in early 2015. For now, though, there is no time to lose – on with the music.
Ian MacKaye was never one for looking backwards or indeed negativity, something that has held for his entire musical career – Minor Threat railed against the violence inherent in hardcore in the eighties in particular (as well as spawning Straight Edge), and Fugazi took those ideas further while widening the sonic template enormously, not to mention Dischord Records and their spirit of independence and fairness, ensuring that both CDs and gigs were always affordable to ensure that anyone who wanted to could have their chance to watch, enjoy and get involved. As a statement of positivity, though, pretty much Fugazi’s first released song sums up the whole philosophy nicely – Waiting Room is a visceral, sub-three minute masterpiece that is an ode to doing your own thing, to learning from past mistakes and making your own future. It has been a mantra of mine of late, reminding me to push forward and make things better.
From my favourite period of the Cabs’ output (brilliantly compiled in the #8385 box set last year), this is where their older, harsher proto-industrial sound began to be fleshed out with dance rhythms and Stephen Mallinder’s vocals pushed to the fore – and this song is a incessant demand to do more. Imploring the listener to not waste any more time, to not miss that chance, to not be held back by indecision. A concept we should all get behind.
After The Eulogy
After The Eulogy
It is perhaps no great surprise to find a few hardcore songs making it into this list, as at its best, it is one of those genres where the whole idea is personal betterment, of positive thoughts even as the music sounds like a riot is erupting from your speakers. This is the less destructive side of punk, at least mentally, perhaps, and Boy Sets Fire’s finest moment starts with a protest crowd chanting before the band rip through it with the roar of “RISE! RISE! RISE” and the unmistakable staccato riff-and-drum intro that unleashes the song proper. This is song of despair at the lack of political involvement of their peers, questioning the lack of protest, the lack of questioning of authority, the lack of a desire for change. That fourteen years on, these themes ring even more clearly is perhaps a little depressing.
This Is The Time
We were joking in the original thread that a number of the entries in this list came from that there are no positive Mesh tracks, but actually…there is. Their 2013 album Automation Baby – an album that I’ve grown to love so much that I’m now convinced is their best album to date – is an album of introspection and despair, in the main, so nothing new for Mesh. With the exception of this wonderful song, a mid-paced burst of electronic power that rails against a dead-end country, economy, and small-towns that sap your resolve – and offers a blistering burst of energy in the chorus that calls for change and improvement right now.
Christ, I’d not heard this in a long, long time until it was suggested on the thread. A short, sharp hit of power-pop celebrating a lover and life. None of the bad things of relationships, just all of the awesome stuff that keeps life exciting, the joys of a relationship that just keeps you happy and in love. I know that feeling, ‘cos I have one.
Thunder and Consolation
NMA have always been one of those bands that have railed against injustice and been what would be termed a “political” band. And why not? That they continue to do so is a good thing in a time where many artists have begun to shrink away from revealing such viewpoints – maybe out of fear for what the press might make of them, but also maybe a sense of “what’s the point?”. This song, for me, though, takes a more inclusive, more positive spin on the issues many face. A rousing, fist-pumping anthem that calls all – young, old, anyone inbetween – to come together and help to forge a better future, not looking back at what might have been, but instead looking at the better times to come.
The Sound of McAlmont and Butler
After he left Suede, Bernard Butler joined forces briefly with the astonishingly talented vocalist David McAlmont, and their by-many-accounts tempestuous partnership resulted in an impressive album, but frankly memory of the whole thing is coloured singly by this glorious four minutes of string-drenched soulful rock. It is all about getting over the past, moving on and coming to terms that the end of whatever happened was a Good Thing. And with music as joyous and memorable as this, McAlmont was absolutely onto a good thing here. Of particular note – the frankly amazing switch from the bridge into the latter section of the song, which is probably the single most uplifting section of music I’ve ever heard.
I Will Be Heard
Despite sounding at points like an East Coast Slayer with their adherence to heavy riffs and slamming breakdowns, Hatebreed are a surprisingly upbeat band in thematic turns. They almost make it like a list of hardcore cliches at times, but having now seen them live it is difficult not to get swept along in a wave of good feeling and positive thoughts. There were two songs from this album that could have been considered, really – the title track and this. The bruising power of this song won in the end – the age-old tale of a protagonist knocked down repeatedly, and then getting back to their feet, dusting themselves down and fighting back to make their own life a better place.
Yep, more hardcore, but there was no way this wasn’t making it in. Another anthem of empowerment, this is the hurricane that is Henry Rollins lighting fires under those that are happy with the status quo, grabbing listeners by the lapels and roaring “We are born with a chance / I am gonna have my chance” into their faces. The song also took on a new lease of life, twenty-plus years after release, when it became the lead track on the (frankly astounding) album and tour that revisited Black Flag’s best moments with a whole host of friends and guests to raise money for the notorious miscarriage of justice that was the West Memphis Three case – and Rollins’ work was an important part of the fundraising and raising of awareness that eventually resulted in a happy ending of sorts.
You Can’t Bring Me Down
The thing is, this wasn’t going to miss out either. Mike Muir gives the world the middle finger over a sound rather more thrash-based than older material, but the themes are still the same. This is Mike Muir against the world, simply daring everyone to take him on, making it fairly fucking clear that no-one is going to win except him – as he is in control.
Mr E’s Beautiful Blues
Daisies of the Galaxy
“Goddamned right it’s a beautiful day” are not words I’d expect to hear from Mark Everett, particularly after the gruelling themes of Electro-Shock Blues (written in the aftermath of family deaths and suicides). But this track was tacked onto the next album, and is almost gleefully happy, a bright sunny melody bursts through a song that is trying to keep a frown but almost entirely fails (Mark Everett apparently fought his record label, and lost, to keep this off the album – the right decision was made). Daisy notes also that her mother likes to dance around the house to this song to cheer her up: I can see why.
Let’s finish with something to bring people together. One of the most life-affirming songs I’ve ever heard, the initial stately pace belies the huge, sing-a-long feel of the track and the sheer joy of that wordless chorus. All of Funeral, as with a lot of Arcade Fire’s output since, was preoccupied with the mistakes of the past, and how we grow and learn from them – and this song is the most pure distillation of that. But on record is only half the story for this song – live this turns into an awe-inspiring anthem for the ages, where the whole crowd sing their hearts out with the band and sing of their joy through the tears of adversity.