Notes From The Flip Side: 01.01.2004
"I learned the value of humor during the time of Stalinist terror. I was twenty then. I could always recognize a person who was not a Stalinist, a person whom I needn't fear, by the way he smiled. A sense of humor was a trustworthy sign of recognition. Ever since, I have been terrified by a world that is losing its sense of humor."
Holy Shit, What Happened To PRA?
Several things. About six weeks ago, Josh Campbell came up with some wicked CSS hacking based on my rudimentary draft design to help hammer the site into shape. After that, it was all over but the hours of content migration. And I do mean hours. As I write this, I'm closing in on finishing the migration and it's been nearly a week of 8-10 hour days working on moving existing content and the shit still isn't done.
On the bright side of things, I was able to correct several errors and inconsistencies that I discovered while going through every single page in the site (with as long as I've been doing the site, something was bound to creep in). This reminded me that I still had archival reviews to add, photos to scan ... in short, a metric shitload of content that had been sitting idle on my system. I also talked to the Razorcake folks about adding the reviews I've done for that fine publication and they will be coming online as well.
Does this signal a return to reviewing? It may. I haven't figured out whether I really want to deal with that hassle again. I've spent so long telling people that I don't do reviews anymore that I'm not sure I want to open the floodgates to terrible singles, EPs and albums again because I really don't care about the hottest crust bullshit out of Lompoc or the latest emo-indie-folk fuckheads from Tuscaloosa. (Besides, there are dozens of sites who have larger staffs which are better able to review materials in a timely fashion ... but as the new essay I added suggests, maybe timeliness isn't everything ...)
With that said, I don't hate everything and I do give everything a chance (how much of a chance is inversely related to how many annoying emails or messages I've received about it - the more emails and messages I receive, the less time I spend on it). Some of the random CDs sent to me lately have turned out to be the things that kicked my ass the most this year (like Minmae's "Microcassette Quatrains," a fucking brilliant reissue which, if it had originally been released in 2003, would have been on the following list). If you want to send something and think that it rocks sufficiently to warrant review, visit the Contact page for information about where to send it. And don't come crying to me if you don't like what the review says because I've given you fair warning.
My Favorite Albums Of 2003
Although I don't know that I found as much worth hearing in 2003 as I did in 2002, it was still a great year for music. As usual, I don't try to claim that these are the best albums of the year; music elicits an emotional response and that response varies from person to person, making it impossible to quantify. Since all musical judgments are thus inherently qualitative, I won't pretend to tell anyone that these albums meet some non-existent standard which in turn makes them worthy of owning. They just kicked my ass. A lot. For whatever it's worth, this was what 2003 sounded like for me.
- I have some level of personal involvement with a number of bands on this list. I have either interviewed them, am in the process of interviewing them, am friends with them, talk with them on a regular basis, drink with them or otherwise have a relationship which extends beyond merely hearing the record. There are a substantial number of records which were released in 2003 by bands that I also have some relationship with that do not appear on this list.
- The only albums on this list which I did not pay for are as follows: Black Cross, "Art Offensive"; Elliott, "Song In The Air"; and Jaga Jazzist, "Animal Chin" EP. I purchased every other album on this list. The only album on this list that I would not have purchased (because I didn't know about it at the time) was Black Cross. Having heard the record and seen them live, I would have bought it. Thus, you can read every commentary in this list and know that it's from the perspective of someone who worked to earn money to buy these records and still feels that they're stellar.
- Ryan Adams, "Rock N Roll" / "Love Is Hell, Pt. 1" / "Love Is Hell, Pt. 2" (Lost Highway)
I've heard a handful of stories about "Rock N Roll," including a rumor that the label wanted an album which was more rock in nature. Adams, for his part, says the album came together organically as he and some friends screwed around in a studio and they simply liked the results better than the more reflective material which would become "Love Is Hell." And sure, critics have been dog-piling on each other to name the references and influences here, but who fucking cares? "Rock N Roll" is a soaring, gorgeously crafted rock record - it's grounded in everything from 1970s rock and power pop to records that came out last year (and made this list). What it boils down to is this - despite still being pigeon-holed as an alt-country musician, Adams is consistently making some of the most diverse, engaging and wry albums of this decade. "Rock N Roll" is simply the latest in this succession. "Love Is Hell" falls more along the vein of Adams' earlier music - and really doesn't inspire the same sort of name dropping critical frenzy even though the songs are actually better.
- The Album Leaf, "Seal Beach" EP (Acuarela)
Soothing, reflective, contemplative - like a fair number of other records on this list, this EP was meant to be heard on headphones. Jimmy LaValle's work with The Album Leaf never fails to amaze, never fails to sound like incidental music for long nights that take their time in getting around to dawn - whether that's a good thing or not is left up to the listener to decide. These five songs are atmospheric - sometimes sounding like the cries of seagulls, sometimes washing over skittering beats like waves rolling onto the shore. There's nothing aggressive about this at all; it's gentle enough for babies and lovers alike.
- Alkaline Trio, "Good Mourning" (Vagrant)
My initial notes about this record, while accurate, really didn't capture the story. This album, in some ways, provided the musical soundtrack to the year for me. This is an album that I will forever associate with moments that I will never erase from my memory - kisses, hugs, phone calls and the like. As a result, I appreciate this album far more than most people would, and perhaps more than it deserves. While it isn't a bad record by any stretch of the imagination, it is also not a great one - we are not, for example, talking about "Sgt. Pepper's" or "Pet Sounds" or even, for that matter, "Walk Among Us," an album referenced in "We've Had Enough." This album just seems to provide the best realization and distillation of Alkaline Trio's musical ideas to date. From start to finish, it is an outstandingly consistent and thoroughly enjoyable disc of blood-soaked love songs, razor blade tenderness and laconic humor which bears massive repeated listening.
- Arab Strap, "Monday At The Hug & Pint" (Matador)
Blatantly, overtly sexual music. Much like all art which catalogs degeneration and sinking to new lows (which isn't necessarily as bad as people seem to think), this album can be uncomfortable to listen to as it details drunken nights of wanton fucking and the subsequent blinking, sun-blind hungover mornings of trying to piece things back together. It's a compelling articulation of giving in to base impulses and realizing that turning over a new leaf is pointless as long as the old one still has some rotting left to do. I really wish this album had been out in 1997 because I don't think I would have listened to anything else.
- Atmosphere, "Seven's Travels" (Rhymesayers)
It's difficult to hear a hip hop track like "Trying To Find A Balance" and not fall in love with the entire album. It's self-effacing ("Atmosphere finally made a good record / Yeah, right, that shit almost sounds convincing"), self-aware ("'Get real' they tell me / If only they knew how real this life really gets") and referential (alluding to "Magnolia," Lifter Puller and a slew of other sources). There's a great deal of lyrical skill here ("In the days of kings and queens / I was a jester") and straight-up determination when he casts a hip hop show like a punk show ("You can't achieve your goals if you don't take that chance / So go pry open that trunk and get those amps"). And how can you not tip your hat to a rap album that takes its cues from watching pets instead of "Scarface"? Let's side-step the independent music issue for a moment (Slug turned down major label deals and instead struck a distribution agreement with Epitaph so he could release his own record on his own label) and just sit quietly in appreciation of a hip hop record that isn't about bling bling or Benjamins, has a lethally wicked sense of humor (Slug cribs from Ice Cube: "Yeah, I got some last words / Fuck all y'all / Stop writing raps / And go play volleyball") and shout-outs to staying where you are - no matter how small or boring it may seem - and making something real happen. In that sense, this album is punk as hell, DIY as fuck and when Slug raps "Follow the dream doesn't mean leave the love / Roam if you must but come home when you've seen enough," it doesn't seem that far away from the bands I've grown up loving.
- Azure Ray, "Hold On Love" (Saddle Creek)
"Hold On Love" finds Azure Ray in a slightly more experimental mode than the previous two full-lengths. This time around, Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink, certainly two of the most gifted songwriters currently working, add electronics - programmed beats, mostly - to the mix. This tinkering, while not a huge departure, yields mixed results. On the songs which diverge most widely from the band's previous marks (such as "New Resolution"), the electronics are more of a distraction from Azure Ray's musicianship and melodies. By contrast, "The Devil's Feet" features electronic textures which add depth to the already moody atmosphere. However, as much as I dislike bands that record the same album repeatedly and people who only appreciate a band's music when it repeats itself, it's when Azure Ray returns to material closer to the preceding EP that this album truly shines. "The Drinks We Drank Last Night" is vintage Azure Ray - all harmonies and strings, gentle guitar plucking and delicate vocals - and the rest of the album falls into a similar vein. Although most albums which seem to stumble at the outset don't belong on a list like this, there is such a wealth of outstanding songwriting here that even the rough sketches of what may turn out to be Azure Ray's future musical direction can't spend it all.
- Belle And Sebastian, "Dear Catastrophe Waitress" (Matador)
If the rest of this lilting, brilliant pop album didn't exist, "Piazza, New York Catcher" would still have landed it on this list. However, the elements which make "Piazza" such a great song - an insanely catchy melody, clever lyrics questioning the sexuality of baseball players while referring to catchers and pitchers - are present on every track. While this isn't necessarily an album which will change anyone's life, it is an incredibly well-crafted collection of pop songs which is likely to stay in your head long after you've put something else in the CD player.
- Black Cross, "Art Offensive" (Equal Vision)
Angular, dissonant, edgy, bludgeoning power. This reminds me of the rock churned out by D.C. in the late 1980s and San Diego in the early 1990s in the form - pounding tempos, hammering away at the music like a prole with a nine-pound sledge. Grinding, furious guitar riffs with melody lines like fragmentation grenades with the pins pulled, ready to blow. Perhaps the thing I most appreciate about this record is how it abstracts politics - it seems inherently and innately political, yet this album's politics are oblique, approaching topics from previously unimagined - yet still emotionally expressive and affecting - angles. Read into it what you will - it's opaque enough to lend itself to a few slightly different interpretations but it's also clear enough that carefully reading the lyrics should expose any remaining cyphers.
- The Blood Brothers, "Burn, Piano Island, Burn!" (Artist Direct)
This album is less like music and more like aggravated assault with guitars. There is nothing gentle or delicate about it. There is nothing subtle about it. It is a baseball bat of noise and dissonance applied liberally to the head. It's a straight-up musical ass-whipping. Forget trying to decipher the lyrics; they seem to rely on imagery more than concrete details and you'll need a sheet to actually understand what Jordan and Johnny are howling; as a result, reaching any understanding of this album is going to require a lot of analysis and breaking this code is going to take a lot of work.
- Communiqué, "A Crescent Honeymoon" EP (Lookout!)
After "Jagged Thoughts" came out, it was clear that American Steel was expanding its sonic palette with hues that were increasingly more subtle, shades that were likely to escape the notice of people who thought the band's first album was all that they should ever strive to achieve. I suppose it was a foregone conclusion at that point that American Steel - at least in that incarnation - wasn't long for the world and in 2002, the band called it a day. All of this ancient history is, for once, tremendously relevant to the discussion of Communiqué's debut EP because Ryan, John and Rory continued playing music together and one of the songs that American Steel played on its final tours ("Love Unconditional") appears here. Essentially, "A Crescent Honeymoon" seems like an extension of "Jagged Thoughts"; there's less of a reggae influence here, but more of the 80s pop feel (including some piano and organ work) contained in American Steel songs like "Two Crooks" (which echoed the Pretenders). This EP is a soaring, ringing, glorious guitar-driven rock record which seems to take a fair number of cues from days when playing pop music required an actual band. I can't wait to hear the Communiqué full-length, supposedly due in the first half of 2004.
- DFA Compilation #1 (DFA)
I usually don't include compilations in my favorite albums lists, but this one is simply too good to pass up. Collecting a handful of songs previously released on 12" and 7" vinyl, this compilation provides an outstanding overview of whatever the fuck people are calling this no-wave dance-punk style. Four acts (The Juan Maclean, LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture and Black Dice), two songs from each - including Black Dice's soon-to-be-legendary "Cone Toaster."
- Elliott, "Song In The Air" (Revelation)
"False Cathedrals" was a stunning artistic achievement - "Song In The Air" is better. It's soothing, gentle, drifting - it's like the best elements of shoegaze (see Slowdive's first album, only with more sonic layering and textures) combined with stately, elegiac strings (provided by members of The Rachel's) and lush guitar tones that wash over the album like the ebb and flow of an ocean tide. Chris Higdon's voice is as delicate as ever, floating above these musical structures, seemingly drifting on air. Unlike "False Cathedrals," There are very few expressions of power or dynamics on this album ("Drag Like Pull" and "Away We Drift" stand out all the more because of this); this record seems to explore more tender, reflective space. In some ways, it doesn't sound like an Elliott album at all - it doesn't resemble an extension of the first two albums unless you focus solely on Elliott's more atmospheric work - yet it's also the most logical end point based on the directions that "False Cathedrals" suggested. And since this is Elliott's last album, that seems to fit perfectly.
- The Explosion, "Sick Of Modern Art" EP (Tarantulas)
Ringing chords, inspired passion and a healthy sense of tradition. I can't count how many times I've listened to The Explosion now (or, for that matter, how many times I've seen them). While this EP doesn't present much in the way of stylistic advancements for them (just their own label), its sloganeering assaults on conformity, a lack of questioning and how we simply give up make it one of the best punk records of the year.
- Fairweather, "Lusitania" (Equal Vision)
I doubt Fairweather could release a bad album if they tried. I wrote about this album in great detail when it came out, and my opinions about this record have only grown stronger. It's a gorgeous piece of shoegaze-inflected hardcore, echoing the early 90's Scene That Celebrated Itself (see: My Bloody Valentine, Pale Saints, Chapterhouse, Ride) in its sound while still building on hardcore and punk traditions (including what sounds like a musical tip of the hat to Sonic Youth's "Titanium Expose" in "Silent Jury"). Sadly, Fairweather called it quits recently so this is - barring anything unforeseen - the last release. Most bands should be so lucky as to call it a day and leave an album which is this good as their farewell.
- Give Up The Ghost, "We're Down 'Til We're Underground" (Equal Vision)
Call this a sea change record. If, as some critics and pundits claimed, "Background Music" redefined hardcore, then this album is the equivalent of dynamiting the canon. We aren't talking about a revision here - this is a revolution. While it still sounds like a hardcore record and it's easy to draw a line between the debut and sophomore efforts and hear the progression of ideas, this musical younger brother is noisier and more angular - the experimentation hinted at on the last album is fleshed out here, fully realized but still only suggesting where this band is headed in the long run. I knew when I first heard it that this album was going to be flipping my lid for a long time. After seven or eight months, it hasn't stopped yet.
- Gunmoll "Board Of Rejection" (No Idea)
Complexity is forbidden; sincerity, a severe case of honesty and galloping tempos driving three chords are our current and abiding heroes. There's nothing earth-shaking about this album - it doesn't identify previously hidden paths of musical exploration. In fact, it echoes bands like Leatherface and Hot Water Music with its growling, shouted vocals, ringing guitar riffs and complicated bass lines, but there's nothing necessarily wrong with that because Gunmoll executes these musical ideas flawlessly. Sometimes, heart-felt simplicity is required to achieve greatness. In this case, it's the only thing necessary.
- The Hidden Cameras, "The Smell Of Our Own" (Rough Trade)
There's something deliciously suggestive about this overtly gay band releasing this album on a label called Rough Trade. Some of you may think about that for a moment and snicker. This album is explicit in nearly every way in which it is possible for an album to be explicit (it's about as thematically subtle as Pansy Division), yet somehow manages to sound tender, delicate, gentle and beautiful. It's as if Jon Ginoli wrote lyrics for Stephin Merritt to set to music, resulting in songs which sound like direction for a gay porn movie with a score that could have provided a backdrop for The Supremes.
- Himsa, "Courting Tragedy And Disaster" (Prosthetic)
If Slayer wound up fighting In Flames on-stage in a bar owned by Iron Maiden, you might well wind up with this record. Scorching metallic guitar work combines with blazing speed and incinerating musicianship to yield a pulverizing metal album. This is simply stunning, crushing shit. Simply put, this album fucking rules.
- Jaga Jazzist, "Animal Chin" EP / "The Stix" (Gold Standard Laboratories / Ninja Tune)
Hyperactive, skittering, drum-and-bass-inflected jazzcore. It's dreamy, soothing and ethereal - when it doesn't sound like incidental music for a grand mal seizure. It's hard for instrumental pieces to get much better - or more interesting and explorative - than this.
- The Jealous Sound, "Kill Them With Kindness" (Better Looking)
The Jealous Sound's introductory EP followed squarely in the footsteps of Knapsack and Sunday's Best, bands which Blair Shehan and Pedro Benito were formerly members of and which seem to have steered the sound of those five songs. Almost two years of industry drama later, The Jealous Sound has finally released their debut full-length and it's a ringing, hook-laden juggernaut of a pop record. From his days in Knapsack, Shehan has always shown a knack for writing emotional songs which tell a story or describe a situation without resorting to mawkish sentimentality; in short, without putting on a tight sweater and holding a campfire sing-along. Instead, these songs dramatize moments in sharply drawn outlines of times and places, situations and people. They allow room for interpretation, of molding and applying these songs and sentiments to fit your own life. They are simply great.
- JR Ewing, "Ride Paranoia" (Gold Standard Laboratories)
Chaotic, raucous, destructive rock 'n' roll. It's angular, edgy and bludgeoning as hell, cutting off excess musical fat while tenderizing everything else. This is not gentle music by any stretch of the imagination. This is music for footage of huge bails - like missing the gap between two rooftops. And yes, it really does sound that big and yes, it really is that intense.
- Ted Leo / Pharmacists, "Hearts Of Oak" (Lookout!)
Very few albums this year featured lyrics that are the equal of anything on this record (The Weakerthans' "Reconstruction Site" is the only one that springs to mind at this moment). Even fewer managed to blend lyrics which are this insightful, political and literary with music which inspires as much ass-shaking as this record does. With minimal decoding, it's easy to read this album as a critique of politics at the beginning of the millennium, but I honestly wish Ted Leo had footnoted this record or provided a reading list somewhere. I know there are references to external sources here (including what seem like comments about the lasting detrimental effects of colonialism by checking T.E. Lawrence and Percival C. Wren's "Beau Geste," as well as what seems like a rebuke to Francis Fukuyama for claiming that the end of the Cold War and the ostensible victory of capitalism - and the corresponding lack of competing ideologies - constituted the end of history) but this album is so loaded with details that it seems pregnant with referentiality, a treasure map for those willing to follow where it leads. That alone makes it a singular artistic achievement.
- Lightning Bolt, "Wonderful Rainbow" (Load)
Think of this as musical trepanation gone too far - it's the guitar rock equivalent of getting a Black And Decker lobotomy in a suburban garage. The external surroundings may appear normal but there's a small temporary autonomous zone of largely instrumental chaos. The drums stutter and chatter, effectively forming a percussive solo which frequently replaces any semblance of a typical rhythm. The melodies - such as they are - seem to be carried by bass guitar and electronics. They're dissonant and disjoined, screaming and howling, jittery and twitching. They're like residents at an institution before the orderly passes out the Haldol. After a while, this album is simply so ear and mind-numbing that it results in what amounts to a trance-like state ... and that's when it really gets good.
- Lucero, "That Much Further West" (Tiger Style)
At first listen, this album is nowhere near as immediately gripping as "Tennessee," and, at least on its surface, doesn't seem to approach that record's collection of perfect country-rock songs. However, after several dozen spins, its qualities become more apparent, the musical and stylistic progress more evident. While it's true that very few of the tracks on this record pack as hard of a punch as "Sweet Little Thing" and it's equally true that there are some seeming missteps here (particularly the grinding guitars on "Hate And Jealousy"), there are still dozens of tear-worthy chords here, solos which hurt and mournful organs that sound like some poor lonesome son of a bitch sat down with a bottle of whiskey and started trying to play the blues on the only instrument around. This album requires an investment of time to yield an appreciation; in some respects, dealing with it is like coming to terms with the complicated early stage of a relationship - flirting, misdirection, missed cues and mixed messages which eventually give way to something good and true which was well worth the effort to develop.
- Melt-Banana, "cell-scape" (A-Zap)
First of all, A-Zap only seems to release Melt-Banana albums and if you'd like to order them, you're probably better off ordering through Midheaven, Melt-Banana's North American distributor's retail store. And with that said, this is an album that will polarize listeners into groups of people who love its noise, abrasion and spasms of riffs and those who run screaming. There simply is no middle ground. This album is really an unrelenting assault on the senses. Think Napalm Death, Black Dice, The Boredoms, Zeni Geva, John Zorn's art-core - think extreme ... not in the sense of rollerblading fuckups or stoned high school dropouts on 20" BMX bikes, but in the sense of music which galvanizes an intense opinion immediately. It's tough to describe what this is - in fact, it's far easier to describe what it isn't and that is poppy. If you're in the mood for a challenging record which will likely alter the way you think of music, consider this. Just wear a diaper because you are entirely likely to shit yourself.
- Prefuse 73, "One Word Extinguisher" / "Extinguished: Outtakes" (Warp)
I'm not much of a hip hop head, but that's okay because this doesn't seem like much of a hip hop album (which probably means that it's going to be a seminal album that determines the shape of hip hop to come), despite the presence of Mr. Lif and a handful of other rappers. Like DJ Shadow, Scott Herren, the mastermind behind this, seems fixated on taking a hammer to beats and breaking 1970s West Coast jazz into chunks that he can reassemble for his diabolical purposes. He also seems fascinated by brutalizing his compositions with electronics. Like Nobukazu Takemura's works from 2003, nearly the entire album sounds like it's skipping with barely enough continuity to keep a listener from returning it as defective. However, that's what makes it interesting - these created errors have a logic all their own, stuttering and stumbling through song structures which might otherwise sound soothing and etheral but, in this framework, sound like spasmodic musical revolutions. What it all comes down to is that these songs seem like they're staggering home from the studio, loaded with possibility and drunk on their own inventiveness. "Extinguished: Outtakes" collects the cast-away bits from "One Word Extinguisher," often offering even more interesting snippets of music.
- The Rachel's "Systems / Layers" (Quarterstick)
If The Rachel's release an album, it should be on any list which purports to collect the best or favorite albums of the year. This is modernized classical music in a non-traditional mode and while it makes extensive use of traditional classical instruments (piano parts which would only have sounded out of place in an Erik Satie or Arvo Part composition because they're played more rapidly, viola, cello and the like), it also uses field recordings, drum sets, keyboards, bass, guitar and other instruments more suited for a rock ensemble ... or The Weakerthans. You may like genres of music (be they punk, indie, emo, noise, hip hop, folk - whatever) but if these compositions don't send chills up your spine, it's quite likely that, regardless of what you may think to the contrary, you really don't like music.
- Rainer Maria, "Long Knives Drawn" (Polyvinyl)
Beginning with a ringing, droning, guitar-driven introductory riff backed by a fair bit of syncopated tom work and periodic cymbal crashes, this album quickly storms into "Mystery And Misery," a song which seems to be about misjudging relationships. Frankly, the entire album seems to focus on dysfunctional and disintegrating relationships and, frequently, the sexual ways in which those flaws are expressed. The outstanding hooks and melodies - mixed with the soaring, emotionally expressive vocals - make these themes and ideas easier to hear and absorb. Is this a break-up record? It may well be, but what it expresses even more poignantly is longing tinged with fears of starting over and a reluctance to give up just yet.
- Strike Anywhere, "Exit English" (Jade Tree)
Since the entire concept of punk rock being inherently political seems to have been lost in the midst of marketable boy bands playing three chords, Strike Anywhere - a band that would be essential in any era - seems all the more vital and crucial by comparison. Every album is a fully realized and clearly articulated assault on complacency, power structures and how people seem to acquiesce without any struggle at all. "Exit English" is the latest salvo - it isn't political in the sense of early 80's hardcore bands writing songs about Reagan and impending nuclear war brought on by brinksmanship games; rather, it's political in the sense of pointing out how dulled and desensitized we all are. It's political in that it's outraged by the state of our lives and even more pissed that we aren't just as angry about what we've allowed to happen to ourselves.
- The Weakerthans, "Reconstruction Site" (Epitaph)
I'm not sure there's been a year since Brent introduced me to The Weakerthans that they haven't made my year-end list and "Reconstruction Site" is no different in that regard. It's only different in the sense that it is not as immediately accessible than previous records - the album seems to be far more influenced by roots, folk and country music than previous efforts have and there is nothing here which is as immediately gripping as a song like "Aside." Despite this, it's easy to argue that "Reconstruction Site" is a better album than its predecessors. It tells stories which are as riddled with details as victims of gangland hits are riddled by bullets from a Thompson gun - stories that are gentle, poignant and hopeful, despite a pervasive sense of melancholy which cloaks nearly every song on this record. These tales document small failures and defeats, depressions and losses - as one example, "One Great City!" paints several people - a driver, a clerk - struggling with what their lives have become while the refrain weaves in and out - "I hate Winnipeg." It's a tender album, offering solace and a brief respite from struggle while illustrating the personal effects of politics. In that sense, it may well be more political than the Strike Anywhere album on this list. And what it all boils down to is that "Reconstruction Site" is one of the best albums of this or any other year.
- Gary Wilson, "Forgotten Lovers" (Motel)
I can be excused for, as my good friend Bart used to put it, sleeping on Gary Wilson's first album. It was released in 1977; at the time, I was more concerned with "Star Wars" than record reviews. Luckily, I get a chance to put that right with this sophomore release. It isn't a proper album - it wasn't recorded in a rough sequence with the relative intention of being released as a single body of work. Instead, it's a collection of unreleased material, rarities and out-of-print songs. To understand where this album is coming from, think about a fusion of 1970's cool jazz with James Chance's skronk-funk with The Contortions, then temper that with several dashes of new wave synth-pop. If you arrived at something that musically resembles incidental music for "The Love Boat" or low-budget teen movies from the 1980s, then you're on the right target. Where the songs really shine is in Wilson's lyrical expression - when the songs have lyrics, they resemble outbursts from someone suffering from Tourette's as much as an actual song, all about sickness and chrome and red lipstick and making out with tones most reminiscent of Casio synthesizers that were state-of-the-art hardware when these songs were recorded ... but not for very much longer. As a result, these songs both sound dated and eerily timeless - it sounds like the late 1970s and early 1980s, but so many bands seem to be taking every play in their book from Wilson that it also sounds like now. To get directly to the point, it's unlikely that you'll find an album which is as engrossing and fascinating as this one ... unless it's Wilson's debut.
Goodbye, Dude. You were a good dog and a better friend. I'll never forget those weekend afternoons when you categorically agreed with my drowsy assessment that there was nothing better to do at 2 p.m. than take a long nap.
Goodbye, tornado warning makeout sessions. Goodbye, drive-in movies and longer drives home. Goodbye, cocoa made from powdered white chocolate.
I had a feeling this year was for me and you. It just came with a higher price tag than I had feared.
Off The Top Of My Head ...
- The most important thing that I've taken away from my most recent viewing of "The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen" is simply that magic occurs, that reason must sometimes give way to hope and awe. It is that bureaucrats and pedants can and will eventually be swept aside by dreamers. In the meantime, keep your head down and try not to get hit by shrapnel.
- It's 2004. That means it's time for George W. Bush to reserve a few U-haul trailers and start boxing things up. Hell, I'll even help that malicious fucker pack on my own dime and time, but he'd better buy the beer and vegetarian pizza.
- Since it's 2004, isn't it about time that we pull our collective heads out of our collective asses and stop killing each other over whose imaginary friend is better? I don't much care what you do or do not believe, nor should you pay any attention to what I do or do not believe because I'm pretty sure we can all agree that everybody deserves to have food in their stomachs, clothes on their back and a roof over their heads, as well as unpolluted drinking water, non-genetically modified food and seeds to sow crops that aren't patented by Monsanto. These are things which should extend beyond religion, so unless people of faith are ready to pitch in on that debate and stop shooting doctors, bombing clinics and public transportation, launching missile strikes which are intended to murder murderers, and destroying symbols of other faiths' faith, don't let the door hit your ass as you exit relevance, stage right.
- Ten years for the zine. Five years for the site. If this site were a baseball player, it would now be able to reject trades to teams that it doesn't like. And yes, this makes me feel a little on the old side. Not that the grey hairs didn't.
- I recently finished up another article for Clamor. As always, it will be available on this site once it has been published, but why don't you go buy a subscription and support that fine magazine in the meantime?
- In 2003, I spent roughly 350 hours on redesigning, transcribing, adding archival content, writing and the like for this site. That's almost nine full unpaid work weeks - in addition to my day job, in addition to reviewing for Razorcake, and proofing and writing for Clamor.
- There are a number of fine books in the Store which I highly recommend. All of them are discounted and include shipping in the U.S. In addition, purchasing one of these books will help out with covering hosting costs for the site.
- A new t-shirt design is coming soon, including girlie tanks, hoodies and more. Buying an article of clothing will also help cover hosting costs.
- I'm not sure when this Dillinger Four live album came out, but the witty stage banter between the songs is the best thing since Bill Hicks.
- While Pacific U.V. didn't make my favorite albums of the year list, there's something quite stunning about this collection of breathy, atmospheric songs (featuring a member of Azure Ray on two songs and released on that band's previous label). It's reminiscent of other moody pop records released by Saddle Creek and Warm, like Now It's Overhead or early Azure Ray records.
A note on the redesign - old Notes From The Flip Side and news updates were previously separated. They have now been combined into a single file. The old news files have been deleted. You may note that some pages no longer seem to be around. The only files that were removed were the old news updates. Other old files are exactly where they originally were on the off chance that you need to access them.
Added more archival reviews.
Added an essay on the nature of reviewing.
Added a piece by Pierre on being French in America during the second Gulf War.
Ryan Adams. The Weakerthans. The Hidden Cameras. Black Cross. The Jealous Sound. Strike Anywhere. Arab Strap. Belle And Sebastian. Rainer Maria. Coheed And Cambria. The Jayhawks. The Swords Project.
"Bulletproof Monk," "The Transporter," "Serendipity," "Scarface," "Run Ronnie, Run," "Old School," "The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen," "Punch-Drunk Love," "Life Or Something Like It," "Down With Love"
Naomi Klein, "Fences And Windows"
Paul Avrich, "Anarchist Portraits"; Umberto Eco, "Island Of The Day Before"; Alan Lomax, "The Land Where The Blues Began"; Peter Guralnick, "Lost Highway" and "Sweet Soul Music"; Thomas Wolfe, "You Can't Go Home Again"; Steven Heller, "Graphic Design History" (edited with Georgette Ballance); Gunnar Swanson, ed., "Graphic Design And Reading"; Daniel Guerin, "No Gods No Masters"