2003 music wrap-up

Last year I wrote a year-end musical wrap-up, so I figured I might as well continue the tradition, even though I'm almost three weeks late. Last year's review snidely began,

"Here are the albums I've bought this year that I actually gave a shit about. Of the 130+ albums I bought last year, these are the ones that rose above the level of `utterly forgettable.'"

In 2003, I bought somewhere in the neighborhood of 110 albums (down from last year!) However, there are more than twice as many albums on the list this time, and there were even a few so-so albums that I left off the list, in order to limit this to the releases that I loved.

So I'm not feeling so negative this year: in fact, things appear to be looking up! I would not have expected this without having made this list to compare, and I guess that in itself makes it a worthwhile exercise.

It's also extremely gratifying that so many of these bands played at my club last year, and that, in fact, that's how I learned about several of them. Being exposed to new music was part of my motivation for opening the club in the first place, after all...

As last year, a few of these were released earlier than 2003, but that is when I discovered them, so I'm allowing a little slack. In only approximate order of favoriteness, here is my year-end wrap-up.

Barry Andrews - "Haunted Box of Switches"
Stic Basin - "Stic Basin"
Shriekback - "Having a Moment"

    Barry Andrews is the lead singer of Shriekback, one of my favorite bands of all time. Shriekback released a new EP this year, and Andrews released two solo albums: "Haunted Box of Switches" is Barry singing and playing (primarily) acoustic piano, and it's my favorite of the three. This surprised me, because acoustic music is generally not my thing -- but it's just fantastic. It's mostly original material, but he also does a couple of Shriekback covers ("Faded Flowers" and "This Big Hush.")

    Stic Basin is another Andrews solo project, but this one is electronic, and about 2/3rds instrumental. It is very much in the Shriekback vein. In fact, I'd say it sounds more "Shrieky" than the Shriekback EP does -- but both are excellent.

    I got to see Andrews perform some of this material live last year, and it was a fantastic show. I wore a Shriekback t-shirt to the show that I had picked up at the only Shriekback show I've seen, in 1986. Yes, that shirt is old enough to drive.

DJ? Acucrack - "Sorted"
DJ? Acucrack - "The Dope King"

    "Dope King" is from 2003 but "Sorted" is from 2000; that's a big distance, but it makes the list because I love it so much. "So To Speak", the song he did with Toni Halliday from Curve, is incredible. The rest of it is good, too: very fast, noisy, energetic electronic music (Is it drum+bass? Is it acid techno? Whatever.)

Front 242 - "Still & Raw"
Front 242 - "Pulse"
Male Or Female - "Recalled Moments"

    This year saw the first new Front 242 releases in ten years. The EP, "Still & Raw" is fantastic: very powerful without being very loud. They are still so good at making this incredibly dense, layered music that doesn't turn into mush. "7Rain" is my favorite song of the bunch.

    The "Pulse" album doesn't grab me quite as much as the EP did. It's good, don't get me wrong, but I think the EP is better. Pulse starts off rather slowly, and quite a lot of it is very mellow instrumental music: it's very much an "album" rather than a collection of songs. It really takes a few listens to "get it", and that's rare.

    I think my expectations were probably too high for this one, since every previous F242 release (going back to when Official Version came out in 1987) was immediately my Favorite Album Ever, for at least a little while. When "Off" came out, it was my new favorite album before track 2 was half over.

    Male or Female is a Front 242 side project (Daniel B. and Patrick C.) The "Recalled Moments" album is, unsurprisingly, a lot like "Pulse": mellow, heavily layered, and mostly instrumental, though it doesn't have the same "whole album" flow to it.

    Male or Female performed at DNA Lounge in October, and it was a great show: especially in that they are such a very electronic band, and yet, they were actually playing. They even had live guitar, without ever turning into a "rock" band.

Sunshine Blind - "I Carry U"

    Their first new album in seven years! They are, at last count, tied with Halou for the title of "band who has played at DNA most often." This album starts off more mellow than their previous releases, but rocks out more on the second half. Good stuff. I don't know what else to say here because it's really awkward writing a review of your friends' album.

Halou - "Wholeness E.P."

    Six new tracks from locals Halou (tied for first place in DNA shows, as I mentioned.) Their music is drum+bass-ish electronics with ethereal female vocals, in the vein of Cocteau Twins and Portishead. In their live show, they have a lot of live instrumentation: cello, bass, drums, etc. It's really great seeing music that you might expect to be mostly sequenced being played live.

Interpol - "Turn on the Bright Lights"

    Andy Kellman began his review of this band like this:

    "One might go into a review like this one wondering how many words will pass before Joy Division is brought up. In this case, the answer is 16."

    Yes, they are reminiscent of Joy Division, but in a good way. Let's say, Interpol is to Joy Division as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are to The Jesus and Mary Chain. Anyway, it's a great album.

Ministry - "Animositisomina"

    Until this one, the last Ministry album I liked was "Psalm 69" in 1992 (though I must admit, I didn't pay much attention to their releases after "Filth Pig", because I hated that album so much.) But "Animositisomina" is a really good album: much more in the vein of "Land of Rape and Honey" and "The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste" than their later stuff.

Pigface - "Easy Listening... For Difficult Fuckheads"

    This is a great album not only because most of the songs are really good, but also because there's so much variety. Pigface contains members of most of the bands on the Invisible label, and they manage to combine the best aspects under the Pigface banner. "Insect Suspect" is probably my favorite track, since I can't get enough of Chris Connelly when he's in full-on "rock" mode. (Thankfully, Pigface also played DNA Lounge in April!)

Hanzel und Gretyl - "Über Alles"

    Ah, Hanzel und Gretyl, everyone's favorite sci-fi-nazi-parody band. This is an ass-kicking album: much more metal-oriented than their previous releases, and extremely melodramatic. They played at DNA in July and November, and have a very theatrical and entertaining live show.

Liars - "They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument On Top"

    I read someone describe this type of music as "garage rock", and I don't think they were joking. Doesn't all rock come from garages? Anyway, these guys are the bastard children of Gang of Four and The Fall. We used to call that "post-punk", which was also arguably a pretty stupid name. This is good stuff regardless.

Railer - "Frame of Mind"

    I really like these guys: they're an energetic rock band, leaning perhaps a bit in the "electroclash" direction (though they're not overly electronic, their sound reminds me a bit of Adult.) They put on a great show at DNA in November: their singer is totally manic.

Rasputina - "The Lost & Found"

    Rasputina's 2003 release is an album of covers of 70s rock songs, and it works really well, because they're good at taking a song and really making it their own. Being a "ladies' cello society" does make that a bit easier for them than most bands, granted.

St. Vitus Dance - "The Feeling of Absence"
St. Vitus Dance - "Hope"

    "Absence" is from 2001 and "Hope" is from 2003. Hard, stompy, metal-influenced industrial (which has, of course been sorely lacking in the world of late.) The singer mostly whispers his vocals, and the effect is good. Both albums are good, though I think I prefer the earlier one. They played at DNA in September.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Fever To Tell"

    I could have sworn this came out more than a year ago, but apparently not! This album is a big old frenetic, punked-out rockabilly album. You've probably heard "Date With The Night", and the rest of the album is also in that vein. Though they don't have a lot of range, it's a good old fashioned booze-soaked kick to the head, and we need more of that.

High Blue Star - "High Blue Star"

    A gothy/triphoppy band with a girl singer and a combo of electronics and guitars. Mostly dark and spooky, and quite good. They opened for Railer at DNA in November.

CEOXiME - "Vibrant Grey"

    Another electronic band with ethereal female vocals, though with more traditionally "industrial" or EBM rhythms than High Blue Star.

Collide - "Some Kind of Strange"

My Scarlet Life - "Buzzbomb"

Luxt - "American Beast"

    Luxt are very much a metal band now. Though I preferred their older industrial stuff, this is a pretty decent album too.
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18 Responses:

  1. tkil says:

    Thanks for the great reviews. Once again, your club alone is almost enough to get me to move up to San Francisco. Almost.

  2. So is the under-representation of RIAA labels a conscious decision on your part, or is your goodness metric inversely proportional to that of RIAA labels?

  3. forthdude says:

    Amazingly, I found more of these than I thought I would on the iTunes store. I know I could hop around to all the various web sites you posted to get the stuff or actually hoof it down to a decent music store somewhere in the Bay area, but I'm a lazy bastard. Here's what I was able to buy from iTunes in the last 15 minutes:

    Shreikback - Oil and Gold
    Front 242 - Official Version 1986-1987
    Sunshine Blind - single track "Under the Neon"
    Halou - Wiser
    Interpol - Turn On the Bright Lights
    Ministry - Animositisomnia
    Raspuntina - The Lost and Found, 2nd Ed.
    Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever to Tell
    Ceoxime - single track "Horror Inside"
    My Scarlet Life - Buzzbomb

    A lot of those aren't the albums you mentioned, but, what the hell, it'll give me a feel for the bands.

    Can anyone recommend anything similar to Elliot Smith?

  4. haran says:

    100+ albums an year.

    You certainly buy a lot of CDs.

    FWIW, how many CDs do you have in your collection?

  5. mykwud says:

    Barry Andrews rocks-on-the-grill. I didn't know about that solo-piano album at all; *grabbing off soulseek right now*

    One lunchhour, on a local radiostation's all-request 80's hour, some teenage-sounding girl called in to request the song "SHRIEKBACK by NEMESIS". I was all like "hmm, you've got a cute voice. Too bad you're a FUCKING MORON." =D

  6. In 2003, I bought somewhere in the neighborhood of 110 albums (down from last year!)

    Clearly, music piracy is to blame for this slump in CD sales.

    [j]

  7. shayel says:

    It seems that odd years are better for music: which is, as I'm told, the direct opposite of good years for wine, which are usually even.

    However, I'm amazed you didn't include the following albums:

    • The Bug - Pressure: dancehall fucked up to the max. Kevin Martin (God, Techno Animal) makes ragga sound like EBM. In fact, better than most EBM records that came out in the last years.

    • !!! - Me and Giuliani Down By the Schoolyard: this EP got so much press, that I almost consider it overrated. But it is a good post-punk-revival music with the dance-y touch.
    • Laibach - Wat: This album is so good, it makes me forget about almost everything else they released since "Kapital". Technoidsh, and shows all those silly German guys with pleather pants and shiny sequencers what music should sound like. Too bad the words are a bit silly (but you won't notice that, unless you speak German).
    • Killing Joke - s/t: Another comeback, this time from the band that tought Steve Albini everything he knows. This one rocks just like their previous self titled record. Quote Graeme Rowland: "No longer can any man look me in the eye and call himself a rock fan until he has heard this masterpiece of magical changes. This is no mere rock performance, but a curse upon the Bush clan and their corporate cronies, a fiery invocation to hasten the inevitable fall of the US Empire."
    • Wire - Send: the post-punk group reformed in 1999, and still makes as good music as they used to (as good as the new post-punk bands are, the original is better). This collects two EPs released in 2002 together with four new tracks.
    • i was going to mention the killing joke. that and the new ohGr seemed notably missing from that list. there were a couple of things on there that i haven't heard that sound good too.

    • jwz says:

      I haven't heard the new Killing Joke yet, but I've been meaning to.

      I totally can't stand Laibach. Or ragga/reggae/dancehall/anything-even-close.

  8. idcmp says:

    I've only heard My Day from Pzycho Bitch, but she sounds like a digitized version of the singer from Whale. Is there method to this madness?