I am a little behind Gary and Graig with my own group of seven but its finally here.
I wish I could have bought all the stuff this year that I wanted to. I needed The Dirtbombs. I wanted The Thermals. I lusted after the Soul Tribute to the Beatles.
I couldn’t find any of them.
The stuff I list here is what I settled for and it isn’t too shabby.
The Distillers: Coral Fang
There is nothing I love more than good punk that goes all the way around and becomes pop. This is head-to-toe great and I listen to it at least once a week. I love a great female grrrrrowl on top of some frantic drums and mashing guitar.
Cat Power: You Are Free
Chan Marshall could sing pretty much anything and it would make a best of… list with me. This is her sixth album and she made this one a rocker…if you compare it to ninety-nine percent of her past work. She does nearly everything a step or two faster than before and it works more often than not. She still plink plinks her piano and strrrrrrrrums her guitar with little need for urgency but past listeners who weren’t impressed by her delivery will get from Point A to Point B on this album faster than they ever thought a Cat Power album would take them
The Be Good Tanyas: Chinatown
More of the same from one of my favourites. It has beautiful female voice harmonies accompanied by banjos and mandolins and I’m quite the sucker for that combination, I don’t mind saying. It lacks a blow-away song like “The Littlest Birds” from their first album but its hard to match the mystique of a song that I chased across the channels for months until I was able to buy the album. The consistency of Chinatown is there from first track to the last which is something I love to hear. They are truly wonderful yet again and this is my favourite release by a Canadian act in 2003 by far.
Metric: Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?
This was a pleasant surprise I heard one night during latenight CBC radio. I initially heard most of the album online and decided that I needed to get it in legitimate form. Simply put, this rocks! There are a number of songs I would love to put to video…if I knew how to do so. I can see scenes and dancing with song after song. It even made me enjoy the bloopy keyboards that were never really something I enjoyed previously. It is another of those front-to-back listens that I can enjoy all the way thru and that’s something I couldn’t say this year for The New Pornographers’ or The White Stripes’ more heralded 2003 releases.
The Strokes: Room on Fire
I don’t know if this should be considered a guilty pleasure yet or not. They haven’t progressed at all from their debut album. This might as well be called an add-on or patch for their previous album but that doesn’t stop it from being perfectly likeable and listenable.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Fever to Tell
Whatever I thought was missing in their two EPs was included on their debut full-length. I love Karen O’s octave changes in mid-song. I love the abrasiveness of their sound. That’s punk rock.
The Sounds: Living in America
Probably the weakest of my selections although it is a much more interesting sound than The Strokes churned out in 2003. It reminds me a bit of Blondie, a bit of The Slits and probably many more late seventies/early eighties bands led by a clear female voice.
Other Outstanding Purchases in 2003
The Detroit Cobras: Mink, Rabbit or Rat (1998)
The Detroit Cobras: Love, Life and Leaving (2001)
Definitely my favourite find of 2003. The music is so catchy that I can’t help but sing along or do some embarrassing pantomime whenever I play it. Soulful and rocking “garage-rock” is quite possibly my favourite kind of music.
The Langley Schools Music Project: Innocence and Despair (2001)
I think the concept was pure genius and the exectuion was nearly flawless. I can’t really say much more coherently. I did a review of the album earlier in the year that elaborates in greater detail.
I am a little behind Gary and Graig with my own group of seven but its finally here.
2003 was an awesome year for songs, singles or otherwise. as part of the full realization of the online music scene, the ability to now pick and choose which songs to buy without needing the entire album has returned in a big way. it’s almost like the time of the 45’s or the cassingle again. it may have affected the best 2003 albums somewhat, but i think things are working out all right with this level of music selection.
this list of 20 was tough to pare down. originally, it was in the forty-plus range, so i had to make some tough edits. there are 3 caveats at the end since they’re songs from 2002 the missed the cut on last year’s list but became big this year, including one biggie. pitchfork has made their top 50 singles for 2003 available, which covers a lot of what i had to drop from this list, and it’s worth a read to see beyoncé junior senior, manitoba and punjabi mc.
in alphabetical order:
!!!: me and giuliani down by the school yard (a true story).
this epic song goes for nine minutes, over four distinct sections, and it’s a rhapsody for getting down. heavy dub funk with shimmering disco guitars cutting in, this is crack cocaine for your ears. you’ll be doo do doo do doooooooing for days. a highlight.
somewhere in an underground laboratory, an angel is taking notes as a lumbering rocket prepares to carry a satellite into the stars. it’s murky 1960s experimentalism/futurism placed onto a velvet cushion and cooing doves as it hovers. a pop gem of magnitude, so much close to you.
johnny cash: hurt.
i can’t listen to the nine inch nails original anymore as mr. cash’s cover provides the song with an emotional depth not found elsewhere. it’s eerie how it fits in with cash’s entire life on how he became who he was as well as making a fitting obituary for not only he but his wife june carter cash, who died shortly after its release.
the chemical brothers featuring the flaming lips: the golden path.
this is a strange ditty where the flaky earnestness the lips have is placed into the chemical’s smooth machine. as a result, this song about fighting through doubt is given a stately manor to properly preach how faith is fought, wrought, forgiven and thus properly fed, rumbling and whimsical.
clearlake: almost the same.
don’t know much about the band, but the song is a modernday shoegazer revival with menace. over a constant guitar strum, there’s a brooding tension as the vocals realize how different two people are, or how frighteningly similar they’ve become.
The toughest part about choosing the top 20 songs I’ve heard over the past year (that were on 2003 releases) is some cds have so many great songs on them they could take up half the list themselves. But for the sake of fairness and exposure I’ve limited myself to one song from any one album.
Some songs have had the benefit of time, able to further endear themselves to me, while time for others has been cruel. Some songs have had the benefit of preselection, extracted from their homes and put onto one of a dozen mixed cds received from friends this year (and if my friends make their compilations like I do, they select standout tracks from recent cd acquisitions).
My main methodology for selection stems from two factors - catchiness and evokation. If I find myself singing a song after just hearing it, or I just want to listen to it over and over again… well, that’s a good song. On the flipside, if a song can capture a feeling (whether inteded or not) in the listener (ie. me) that’s the power of music. So, without further haste, in somewhat alphabetical order:
!!! - Me And Giuliani Down By The School Yard (A True Story)
This is the epitome of what a single is, 9 minutes of trance-inducing joy. A sliding Fat Albert bassline makes way for a cowbell as !!! (pronouced, generally, asCHKCHKCHK) come in with “uh” and “ah” before making use of their namesake “chkchk” their way until the inconsequential vocals find their way into the song, accompanied by horns before busting into a faux-U2 gutar riff, and spiralling their way back into a “Doo Doo” sing-a-long. So fluid and yet so all over the map. So punk and yet so dancefloor. This is truly the song of the year… the song that trancends genres.
Amon Tobin & Kid Koala - Untitled
The first track of Tobin’s “Verbal ep” (Verbal was one of the best 2002 tracks), here he teams with Kid Koala to produce a a song that I can only think to describe as breakbeat gramophone. Lush and soothing, clicks and glitches give way to samples and scratches, but with none of the usual harshness. A sonic blizzard heard best with the headphones on.
Atom and His Package - Moustache T.V.
Absurdism at its best, Atom on guitar, his sequencer on everything else, we are told that drawing a moustache on the t.v. screen will make you feel better. I havn’t tried it, but this snot-rawk song makes me feel better each time I hear it.
Cex - Earth Shaking Event
From the album “Being Ridden”, this was the first of the difficult choices as the album has so many grab-you-by-the-ears tracks, but I decided for Earth Shaking Event as it’s the first of the songs I learned the lyrics to… you can’t help but sing along as Rjyan Kidwell blasts Ryan Adams, emo and the sort.
The Dears - We Can Have It
The first time I heard this song I melted into it. I continue to do so every time I hear it. The first track on the cinematic “No Cities Left”, Murry Lightburn’s voice takes you on a tense, frustrating, tear-inducing journey, a journey not to find love or companionship, but to lose loneliness. It’s a rock-operatic restructuring of an untold fairy tale, more on the Bros. Grimm side than Walt Disney.
the bulk of this year’s musical output came to me in individual songs, rather than in the album format. some of the factors contributing to this change in emphasis were the absence of the bulk of my cd collection, various hardware failures with cd players, both computer and stereo-related and a stronger dependence on individual tracks. usually mp3s, the songs were found online through websites official, fannish or otherwise and eventually culled together for patterns. eventually, what i liked was investigated further and then purchased outright, for that is the beauty of the music and the internet. how else would i find out about this music? mainstrem radio and tv rarely give much guidance these days, and words don’t have much sound when they’re printed.
but anyways. in order of importance, my essential albums from 2003 are:
- tv on the radio: young liars ep.
point blank, the best release this year. sure, you could consider this part of my currrent fragmentary listening style, but no. i’ve always preferred shorter albums over longer ones, mostly due to mystery. over the span of five songs, this brooklyn trio present a sinister digital tone that suggests modern day decay. their production work with other new yorks bands such as the liars and the yeah yeah yeahs (more later) never suggested the mournful soul shown here. four originals and an a capella pixies cover. brilliant.
- ugly duckling: taste the secret.
one night, brave new waves opened the radio show with a bizarre commercial jingle promoting a carnivorous fastfood franchise, which later turned into a nasally monotone rap covering the ingredients. after a quick identification of the band, a californian trio, the album was located and i was pulled into one of the strangest yet hilarious concept rap albums of all time. sure, it feels like 1991 all over again, but that was a golden time and the fact that ugly duckling’s able to recall that time of promise, optimism and humour with today’s production skills marks a massive contrast with the current game.
- yeah yeah yeahs: fever to tell.
the two EP’s released prior to their debut album highlighted this trio’s commitment to spunky raw balls-out rock, but nothing prepared me for three things: 1) the sinister polish that makes the sound more angular and provides sheen to the point your eyes squint from the glare, 2) the full range of karen o’s flexible voice, from coy yelping to moaning temptress, and most importantly, 3) their heart on full display as the album starts from raging punk-blues and fully forms into a wistful melancholy. imagine the jon spencer blues explosion with an estrogen imbalance and buckle your seatbelt as you’re launched into the darkened sky. you’ve just ended up on a date with the night.
- goldfrapp: black cherry.
this one sorta snuck up on me. i had heard the main single and seen the video a few times, but without any idenitification of who or what it was. all i know was that there was a german cabaret overrun by a grinding disco beat and it was narcotic. by some fluke, i managed to catch reference to goldfrapp, a british duo known earlier for their understated chanteuse pop. this time around, the chanteuse has turned into a sex kitten and we’re out of the smoky clubs and into the dirty discotheques. when my ipod’s on shuffle and any of this album’s tracks sneaks in, it feels like the door to my head’s getting kicked in and everyone’s blushing.
- massive attack: 100th window.
even though this album is probably the least publicized of massive attack’s career, it doesn’t mean that this is the shoddiest. however, the dubby bass and heavy percussion have alleviated into a highly crystalline and sparse sound. with one member leaving for good and another on hiatus, everything is left in 3D’s capable hands along with the assembled cast of guest vocals. it’s still sinister and moody, but the sound shimmers and sparkles brighter.
- the rapture: echoes.
prior to house of jealous lovers, the rapture was a loose punk-funk band that kept the groove but often drowned in loose production. thanks to the production duo death from above, because of that single, they’ve since turned into the mutant disco template every copycat steals from. after a long delay, their first album was released and managed to codify the underground sound further, mixing no wave and early house to their original concoction. it’s a strange dichotomy: they manage to fill the dance floor by attempting to clear it, and then they go trying to break your heart. unreal.
- the high dials: a new devotion.
this was a late-breaker for me since i acquired the cd only last week. however, i had up to 5 mp3’s of theirs already and was impressed by their retrofresh feel. the whole album feels like it leapt out from 1967, the year when the world expo visited the quartet’s hometown of montréal and made it feel cutting edge. a new devotion is a mod revival with spy guitars, rolling tympanis and groovy cool vibrations.
The following cds may not indeed be essential for everyone, but having had much time to digest the music purchase, donated and downloaded over the past 11 1/2 months (and I’m really not expecting much from any December releases) these are the albums I cannot live without.
1) The New Pornographers - Electric Version
It seems to be the only album on everyone’s list… an album that all parties can agree on. Because it’s brilliantine. There’s absolutely no reason for anyone on this planet to not own this album.
2) The Parkas - Now This Is Fighting
The Parkas remind me a little of the fictitional band from Cameron Crowe’s film “Almost Famous”, the only difference, time will indeed tell, is the “almost” part. These guys are taking melody, harmony, chord changes and rhythm structures to a whole new level. The Allman Brothers meet Sloan is a start but still not enough to describe the pop-rock-blues sound infections that these lads produce.
3) Cex - Being Ridden
Former electronica wonderkid Ryan Kidwell has strayed from the footsteps of Richard D. James (his early releases had critics hailing him as the next Aphex Twin) tossing into his act some hip-hop flow. Unlike, say, a Prefuse 73, Kidwell writes his own lyrics and dishes his own rhymes, backed with beats and clicks of his own styling, plus instrumentation from friends including Shudder To Think’s Craig Wedren. It’s not a complicated album but it’s totally something different on both the rap and electronica spectrums. (An instrumental version of the album is also available but not quite as good.)
4) The Planet Smashers - Mighty
It seems like the Planet Smashers have been around forever, now almost godfathers of the ska genre. This, their 5th album, brings together what they’ve been trying to do for over a decade, bridge the divide between ska and pop. And it’s completely successful. This album is tight, catchy, entertaining and fun. It’s a shake-your-ass-and-move-your-feet summer party album that will last you through the winter and back to summer again.
5) Lifesavas - Spirit In Stone
The Quannum label is returning hip-hop to the New School way of things, looking fondly back to the days of Tribe and De La but also sensing the movement forward in bridging turntables and harmony. Lifesavas are definitely feeling that vibe and they put together a solid debut that really puts back out there the true sensibilities of rap: introspection and storytelling. Members of the band are community leaders and gospel singers, so there’s not a bling or a thug (barring the “thug” parody skit in the middle of the album) to be heard.
6) The Dears - No Cities Left
The Dears are mere centimeters away from crafting a modern-day rock opera. There is a drama in their songs that you can’t find anywhere else, and accompanied by a near-orchestra sized band, singer Murray Lightburn’s evocative voice carries more emotion than the cast of Les Miserables.
It’s 66 minutes of pain, heartache and redemption, yet it’s never overwhelming (well, not in a bad way, at least).
7)Stars - Heart
Stars are like the antidote to the Dears. Light and sensual melodies lend way to romanticism and a no-denying-it sense of falling in love. It’s not about sex, there’s nothing dirty involved, it’s very warm and pure, full of charm and sweetness. So close to fey, but with such a strong pop sensibility it never sinks into a lullaby.
As a follow-up to Gary’s Top 20 list, which itself was a follow-up to his Seven Essential Albums of 02 (for which I also did a follow up of my own Essential 7.. what can I say, monkey see, monkey do) I present to you my 20 fav songs of the year that was 2002, in alphabetical order:
amon tobin - verbal (feat. mc decimal r: what can I say, I’ve never quite heard a hip-hop song this hyperkinetic. jaw-dropping and bouncy
atom and his package - i’m downright amazed at what i can destroy with just a hammer: a rediculously catchy song, Atom never ceases to amaze me with what he can do with a guitar and a sequencer
badly drawn boy - donna and blitzen: a feel-good christmas song for the entire year
blackalicious - make you feel that way: luscious, sweet, and relaxing, this song is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, if not make you feel tingly good all over
clinic - the bridge: it’s start with a cowbell, what’s not to like. akin to neil diamond on speed
following up on my essential 7 albums, here are twenty tunes that took two thousand and two’s version of my head and kicked it around (ask your local P2P client for a demonstration), in alphabetical order:
[2003.01.02 update: added links where necessary.]
badly drawn boy - silent sigh: this piano-led song creeped in from the about a boy soundtrack like a millipede on a feather.
blackalicious - make you feel that way: this is your summertime checklist, reminiscing about what makes you feel good.
cassetteboy - fly me to new york: frank sinatra’s word twisted into a september 11 analysis. freakishly funny and jawdropping scary at the same time.
the chemical brothers featuring beth orton - the state we’re in: although star guitar is more indicative of this year’s model, the state we’re in is like toffee melting in your mouth.
clinic - walking with thee: the sinister title track, with insistent organ, lock groove and plaintive yelps. i r rumblor.
extrapolated from the spider, post 189
To follow in Gary’s lead (see previous post… no I’m not linking it you lazy bastich), the tops in the anti-pops as accordion to me… according, according to me. There’s no accordion. None at all.
Maybe a little…
1)DJ Shadow: The Private Press - what can I say, but the album flowes (not just regular flows, but flows with “es”)… it sweeps you up, shakes your ass, nods your head, makes you smile, and sometimes even drool in awe… and when it’s all over, all you want to do is live it again.
2)White Star Line: White Star Line - Sometimes your local scene - whether it be New York, Frisco, Winnepeg or Thunder Bay - sometimes your local scene produces something so fresh, invigorating, and catchy as hell that you feel completely ashamed because you hope they don’t become all successful and not show their face round here no more. It’s their talent that makes them good, it’s that little bit of secrecy that makes them great.
3) Blackalicious: Blazing Arrow - going from the best underground act to the best major label act without sacrificing one iota of quality or integrity is a difficult difficult charge, but that’s exactly what the ‘licious did… and damn did they do it well.
4) Lederhosen Lucil: Hosemusic - despite the silly titles and decidedly Bavarian looking lass on the cover, Lederhosen Lucil isn’t just another kitsch performer like Weird Al, there’s craft, humour, style and ingenuity in these songs, and you have to be in utter awe of her range and diversity. A mindbending work.
5) Future Bible Heroes: Eternal Youth - Some people are just brilliant, no matter what they do. That’s not to say that Stephin Merritt has never faultered (the last Sixths album was a little… difficult) but I have yet to find a song that SM has penned that is not witty, poetic or genious. Add those lyrics with some of his best crafted sounds and the soothing voice of Claudia Gonson, and it ranks up there with his 69 Love Songs.
6) Badly Drawn Boy: About A Boy soundtrack - Such promise as what Damon Gough could do with a budget and a studio to aide in his music creation. Half of the songs are equal or greater to those on Hour of the Bewilderbeest, the other half are soothing instrumentals for the score from the movie.
not to get all listy here, but since this is an easy way for people to glean music they might otherwise not know of, here are my considerations for the seven essential albums for the year 2002:
- interpol: turn on the bright lights. haunting new wave explorations of a shellshocked city, this quartet channels excellent atmospherics with a sparse drive. eerie joy division comparison, but don’t let that scare you.
- dj shadow: the private press. the dj saviour is back, weaving dense textures and brilliant programming to produce some of the most driving yet melancholic sounds of the year.
- blackalicious: blazing arrow. stunning rap that goes out of its way to show the sunniness that’s often missing in the urban world. beatflow and rhyming that knocks every other mc on their collective ass.
- tom waits: blood money. released at the same time as alice, i found the more jangly discordant rhythms here more captivating, like a junkyard mobile. this is the true americana.
- rjd2: deadringer. similar to dj shadow, rjd2 sculpts sonic landscapes except with a showy feel. works well with rappers overtop or just the straight sound.
- clinic: walking with thee. sinister minimal garage rock, with a gorgeous drone and lonely guitar sound. well off the beaten path, but in a territory that’s been worn in.
- múm: finally we are no one. delicate yet precise techno pop that goes like a music box, covering a normal childhood base that trips over every obstacle. it sounds like you’re underwater but you can breathe normally, making the muddled sounds all sparkly.