Uncommon music criticized by the common man. (Or, exercises in futility masquerading as critical thought.)

Sunday, December 28, 2003

I just discovered that DJ Martian listed Musica Generica and the Top 25 of 2003 list on his website. That was cool. You know, that blog pops up often when I'm doing music related searches, and yet I never thought to add it to the links (on your right...see?). Until now! Huzzah!

Thank you, DJ Martian.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Disclaimer: the following is for entertainment purposes only. Pitchfork: Top 50 Albums of 2003

Also: Travelers Diagram put up their Top 10 of 2003. (You have to scroll down a bit, fool.)

Finally, after getting some free time to do this, I present the Top 25 Albums of 2003. I decided against writing about all of them, and have settled on elaborating only on the top 5. If you need to know what the music is really like, well, that’s what Kazaa is for. (Or whatever the kids are using to steal music these days.)

First, some honorable mentions. These are albums that didn’t make the cut simply because I wanted to keep the list to 25 this year (arbitrarily I admit), but I still want to get in a few quick plugs. They are listed in alphabetical order for your pleasure.

Bardo Pond On The Eclipse (ATP)
The Bug Pressure (Meow)
Cheap Cologne Just a Little Sample (Bomb Hip Hop)
Cradle of Filth Damnation and a Day (Epic/Red Ink)
Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves Drive It Like You Stole It (12XU)
Four Tet Rounds (Domino)
Kevin Blechdom Bitches Without Britches (Chicks on Speed)
Kill Memory Crash When The Blood Turns Black (Ghostly International)
Lightning Bolt Wonderful Rainbow (Load)
Psychonauts Songs for Creatures (Mo’Wax)
Saturday Looks Good To Me All Your Summer Songs (Polyvinyl)
Ulrich Schnauss A Strangely Isolated Place (City Centre Offices)
DJ Scud Ambush (Rephlex)
SubArachnoid Space Also Rising (Strange Attractors)
John Tejada The Toiling of Idle Hands (Immigrant)

And now, the list.

25. Gold Chains Young Miss America (PIAS America)
24. Savas Pascalidis Galactic Gigolo (Gigolo)
23. Voivod s/t (Chophouse)
22. Erik Friedlander Maldoror (Brassland)
21. Manitoba Up In Flames (Domino)
20. Vibracathedral Orchestra Queen of Guess (VHF)
19. Viktor Vaughn Vaudeville Villain (Sound Ink)
18. Mr. Dibbs The 30th Song (Rhymesayers)
17. Dimmu Borgir Death Cult Armageddon (Century Media)
16. Larval Obedience (Cuneiform)
15. Diverse One AM (Chocolate Industries)
14. Clogs Lullabye for Sue (Brassland)
13. Boxhead Ensemble Quartets (Atavistic)
12. Mars Volta De-Loused at the Comatorium (Universal)
11. Pepe Deluxe Beatitude (Emperor Norton)
10. Strapping Young Lad SYL (Century Media)
9. Supersilent 6 (Rune Grammophone)
8. Aerogramme Sleep and Release (Matador)
7. Black Keys thickfreakness (Fat Possum)
6. Carla Bozulich Red Headed Stranger (Dicristina)
5. Giardini Di Miro Punk…Not Diet! (2.nd Rec)
This Italian band crafted one of the most beautiful records of 2003. Layering subtle electronic textures over gentle, chamber pop, with the occasional lapse into Mogwai-esque guitar dynamics (minus that band’s occasional amp damage), the album has a flair for the dramatic without ever devolving into the sappy heavy-handedness that afflicts so many bands working classical-infused rock these days. (I know what will make this sound better! More strings!) Instead, GDM let the music unfold gradually, building tension through subtle changes in the music’s dynamics, rather than putting their eggs into the "quiet-loud-quiet" basket. It works often to beautiful effect, allowing you to get swept away by the music’s power, rather than be trampled by it.

4. New Pornographers Electric Version (Matador)
Every year, in a most predictable fashion, a band or record will be hyped until you just want to punch the next person who says, “you need to check this out.” This year, the three most talked about records (at least in indie circles) were The Wrens Meadowlands, Death Cab For Cutie’s Transatlanticism, and this album. Of those three, only the New Pornographers were worthy of the hype. This is some of the catchiest pop music you’re likely to hear this or any year. It’s so well crafted and bursting with energy that when the album finishes, it feels too soon. The vocals are consistently upbeat with some killer harmonies, while musically, they favor the retro-ish power pop feel that made Carl Newman’s old band Zumpano (an under-appreciated and great band in its own right) so great, piling hook on top of hook, without once sounding saccharine. A must have for pop music fans.

3. Sleep Dopesmoker (Tee Pee)
Okay, so this may be cheating. Yes, the music is nearly 10 years old. And yes, it was released a few years ago in a shortened, broken apart, differently mixed form. But this is the first time the album was released as it was intended, in all its heavy, epic, stoner glory. The album consists of only two tracks, the hour-plus title track and the live bonus track, "Sonic Titan." And while the bonus cut is a nice little glimpse of the band’s live sound (though, the production sounds a bit too thin, with the bass a bit too low to convey the heaviness of the band), it’s the title track that is truly awe-inspiring. A tale about "the Weedian" and his pilgrimage to the "riff-filled land," the music more than the lyrics (which are few and far between) tells the story. With sludgy low-end guitar licks and a rhythm section that is constantly pushing forward (even if at such a tempo it might be hard to notice), it epitomizes everything great about heavy music. Surprisingly, considering the track’s duration and long instrumental passages, there’s not one instance where it comes off as static or boring, which is a testament to the band’s ability to know when to change the music’s direction, if only slightly. Sure, it’s riff after riff after riff…after riff after riff, and it does require patience, but man, the payoff is amazing. If you like music that you can feel (and this is like being pressed under a boulder until your brain shoots out of the top of your head) and you like heavy music in general, your collection is incomplete without this classic.

2. The Black Dahlia Murder Unhallowed (Metal Blade)
And on the other side of the metal spectrum is this band. Where Sleep destroys you with one big clubbing blow, The Black Dahlia Murder eviscerate you with cut after cut, leaving you a big pile of hamburger meat when it’s all done. With ten tracks clocking in at about half the time of Dopesmoker, the band is all speed from the get-go. This death metal outfit (from Detroit!) plays it fierce, combining blastbeats and some incredibly fast, dual guitar riffs into a ferocious package. The vocals move between the typical low death snarl and a more high-pitched, "this guy is getting his fingernails pulled off with rusty pliers, but fuck you he still ain’t gonna talk" shriek. And while this combination might sound a little too relentless and monochromatic, it helps itself by injecting the guitar lines with a healthy dose of melody. We’re talking air-guitar inspiring riffage here. If loud, fast and out-of-control metal is your thing, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not picking this album up.

And at number 1…

Explosions in the Sky The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place (Temporary Residence)
Okay, it’s unavoidable, so I’ll get it out of the way. Explosions in the Sky do borrow from godspeed you! black emperor and Mogwai. Those bands wind up in every review for an Explosions in the Sky record, and it’s not without merit. But it also does a disservice to Explosions in the Sky, especially on this new album. While their first album Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever, was a bit more derivative of those bands (particular Mogwai, as EitS often injected that album with some heavy, distorted guitar riffs), this one takes a similar starting point, but goes in other directions. The guitars are more languid, with clean tones throughout. The dynamics are also much more subtle. Like Giardini Di Miro, it’s the slight changes in the music that make it move. Despite the more restrained approach, the music never loses its momentum and often builds to beautiful climaxes without resorting to obvious bombast. It’s hard to do this album justice. While the music is good enough that it reveals itself on first listen, it’s on repeated listens that the greatness of the album shines through, with something new making its way to the fore with each listen. Absolutely necessary.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Jason Gross's Favourite Scribings for 2003: Pretty self-explanatory. There's some good stuff in here people. Check it out. (link via Rock Critics Daily)

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Watch this space for the Top 25 Albums of 2003. Should be up in the next day or two, as I have finally hammered down the choices, and just have to write small blurbs about each one. As a teaser, I will reveal the #18 album of the year. And that album is Vaudeville Villain by Viktor Vaughn (aka MF Doom). Now, doesn't that make you want to see the rest of the list? Oh yeah? Well, I'm posting it anyway.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Not much to say, really. Just got some more CDs the last couple of days. They are:

Spiritualized The Complete Works Volume 1
The Mad Capsule Markets OSC-DIS (Oscillator in Distortion)
High Rise Live
Voivod s/t
Cradle of Filth Damnation and a Day

Some preliminary notes:

The Spiritualized disc is a collection of alternate takes, B-sides, and singles released around the time of their first two albums, Laser Guided Melodies and Pure Phase. Lots of good stuff here that was only available in limited quantities before, as well as some interesting version of album tracks. Probably not the best place to start for people unfamiliar with Spiritualized, but nearly essential for fans.

The Mad Capsule Markets are a Japanese band who get compared (not unfairly) to Atari Teenage Riot and the Digital Hardcore bands. (Remember them?) I was never a big fan of ATR, but I do like this. This is very aggro-industrial techno. Solid.

The live High Rise disc is great. Not the best fidelity, but a good document of this bands heavy-psych chaos. Blazing stuff here, with Narita's guitar destroying everything in sight. Fans of Blue Cheer or Hendrix would do well to check out this band, though, this probably isn't the place to start. I say pick up Disallow.

The Voivod disc is really, really good. Jason Newsted definitely traded up when he dumped Metallica for these legendary Canadian thrashers. Though I haven't heard the early stuff, I can definitely say this isn't anywhere near thrash. It's just kick-you-in-your-sorry-ass metal that is solid from start to finish. If you need to sample the wares, track down "The Multiverse."

Cradle of Filth is very much like the Dimmu Borgir disc (Death Cult Armageddon). Actually, I guess I should say the Dimmu Borgir disc is very much like this Cradle of Filth disc, since the CoF came out first. Symphonic black metal that is borderline over the top in its epicness. (Is that a word? Probably not.) I actually like the Dimmu Borgir disc better, but this is still pretty good.

A good haul, I'd say.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Some more year-end Best of Lists, this time from Art Forum (link found via Fimoculous). I like the variety among the different contributors; lists this diverse are great starting points for my musical adventuring. Much better than another list telling me how great Death Cab For Cutie is. (I still don't get it.)

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Well, it's almost that time of year again. That's right, with the year winding down, the Best of 2003 lists have started to surface. Now, the first one I ran across was over at Bagatellen (a great site, btw) back in October, but recently, they've been springing up like American flags at a Toby Keith show. For instance, hump it over to Travelers Diagram and you'll see links to a few of the more indiecentric (and, not surprisingly, predictable) ones. I'll probably put one together, because let's face it, deep down, I'm as much for exercises in futility as the next guy. Might as well champion the bands/artists who got me off the most this year while I'm at it. I can say one thing, this year's list will probably be drastically different from last year's, when I was still in the clutches of indiedom. I know I sound really down on indie rock lately, and I am in some ways. The primary reason is that so much of it lacks a visceral rush. Believe me, I don't mind subtlety in music, but fer chrissakes, couldn't we have a little bit of energy now and then? It seems like indiedom for the most part has been thrust into perpetual navel gazing while everybody tries to give their album "depth." Is it a natural reaction to pop music's (generalizing for your pleasure, mind you) lack of intellectualism and permanence? Or is it that too many younger artists are emulating the "mature," more "crafted" sound of their influences? That might not be too far off. I bet many bands that are coming around now are more influenced by say, latter day Superchunk or Yo La Tengo or even Sonic Youth than by those groups' more vital (sounding) earlier work. It's bound to bleed the new crop of bands of at least some of the youthful fire that their heroes once possessed. And that's not a knock on any of those groups, mind you. But let's face it, nobody is going to confuse Murray Street (one hell of an album) with Confusion is Sex. Bands who came of age with the former are less likely to be raging noise addicts as someone who learned their craft while listening to "Shaking Hell" over and over again.

But, that's just one theory. I'd chalk it up to age and the onset of a crotchety demeanor, if not for the fact that I am getting my ass handed to me by metal on a fairly regular basis these days. I guess the question is, why doesn't anybody just want to rock any more?

Anyway, as I've said previously, I really do think the Explosions in the Sky album might be my favorite this year, but we'll see.

Those curious as to what I thought were tops in 2002, here is my top 30 list (I have no idea why I picked 30, so shut up):

1. godspeed you! black emperor - yanqui uxo
2. Acid Mothers Temple - Electric Heavyland
3. Acid Mothers Temple - In C
4. Neko Case - Blacklisted
5. Polyphonic Spree - The Beginning Sounds of...
6. Sonic Youth - Murray Street
7. Sleater Kinney - One Beat
8. Lambchop - Is A Woman
9. Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It In People
10. El-P - Fantastic Damage
11. Wilco - Yankee Foxtrot Hotel
12. Mr. Lif - I Phantom
13. ...Trail of Dead - Source Tags and Codes
14. Radar Bros. - And the Surrounding Mountains
15. Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
16. Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights
17. The Notwist - Neon Golden
18. Yo La Tengo - The Sounds of the Sounds of Science
19. Nina Nastasia - The Blackened Air
20. Sigur Ros - ( )
21. 90 Day Men - To Everybody
22. Bellini - Snowing Sun
23. Wolf Colonel - Something/Everything
24. Non Phixion - The Future is Now
25. French Kicks - One Time Bells
26. Isis - Oceanic
27. 2 Many DJs - As Heard on the Radio
28. Arlo - Stab the Unstoppable Hero
29. Bigger Lovers - Honey in the Hive
30. The Black Heart Procession - Amore Del Tropico

See? Isn't the indie mind a predictable thing? If I had to make one change, I'd probably move the El-P album up to #2 or 3, and would probably replace the Bigger Lovers, Arlo, and Interpol albums. (With what, I have no idea.)