steering clear of the mainstream
since 2001

june 2010

best of 2003
blankred.jpg (4669 bytes)
blankred.jpg (4669 bytes)
blankred.jpg (4669 bytes)
blankred.jpg (4669 bytes)
the top 20 albums of 2003
Here we are again.  The end of 2003.  It's been another fine year, with many high-profile successes and several hidden gems.  Here's our take on what really stood out during the past twelve months.  Please do tell us about what we forgot about / shouldn't have included.  Also, you can send us your list - we just may like it so much that we post it!

The New Pornographers Electric Version (Mint)

See, the thing about Electric Version is that it sounds just like Mass Romantic. Certainly there are differences - more 'calm' bits, sight melodic nuances - but most of these songs could be interchanged with those on Mass Romantic without anyone really noticing.  And most bands can't get away with that shit.  But, the fact is, The New Pornographers can, and will, and so for that reason you wouldn't be blamed for making Electric Version the soundtrack of your summer.


Rose For Bohdan Decoration Monster (Deathbomb Arc / Imvated / Cephia's Treat / Blackbean and Placenta Tape Club / Nothing Gets Worse Than This)

Rose For Bohdan are mean to their reviewers.  They defy classification.  Every song is a mystery.  Decoration Monster is IDM one minute, noisey ambience the next, and messed up DIY pop the one after.  "Dinosaur Demon Across The World," for example, starts off with some sample surgery of someone's whining little brother, slowly becomes ambient noise, and then moves into outsider pop territory.  "Still a Favorite Among Prom Queens," on the other hand, is one of the most screwed-up pop singles to come out in a long while.  Watch out BeyonceDecoration Monster is indeed a monster of an album.  While it's not for all listeners, those accustomed to the outsider sound will be appropriately pleased.  And hey, it comes with a second disc of remixes.  Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeet.

Tsurubami Gekkyukekkaichi (Strange Attractors Audio House)

It isn't hard to see where Tsurubami is coming from - three of their members have spent time as parts of the Acid Mothers Temple Soul Collective.  But even their respectable credentials don't prepare you for the spacey block of ambient guitar drone that is Gekkyukekkaichi.  Though far less accessible than many of the albums on the list, this disc is equally - if not more - beautiful.  Kawabata Makoto's spacey guitar playing is complemented by Emi Nobuko's scattered percussion and Higashi Hiroshi's jazz-tinged bass.  A fantastic release, but one with a defined niche.

Hella Total Bugs Bunny on Wild Bass (Narnack)

"You will be confused.  You will try your best to understand what's going on but it won't be obvious.  Hella play with such energy, such experimental excitement, that it's often easy to miss what makes their music so listenable.  Buried deep within the obscenely fast-paced beats and the bizarre electronic accompaniment are moments of pure accessibility.  Wicked-cool accessibility.  And the fact that it's all done by two guys - a drummer and a guitarist/computer wizard - just ices the cake.  You gotta dig it."

Parts & Labor / Tyondai Braxton Rise, Rise, Rise (Narnack)

These two bands bring us the best split album to come around in a long while.  The former is the new noisy, math-y rock act on the scene, while the latter is more avant-garde and unusual.  Though relatively obscure to be sitting at number sixteen on the list of 2003's best albums, one listen affirms that both of these bands could be household hipster names in a few months' time.  Rise, Rise, Rise.

Larvae Fashion Victim (Ad Noiseam)

Ad Noiseam brings us another gem with Larvae's terrific Fashion Victim.  Melding the industrial, hardcore techno, and noise genres together seamlessly, Larvae mastermind Matthew Jeanes attacks the listener with an onslaught of gritty, explosive beats and hidden, intermeshed melody.  The dark, powerful nature of these tracks makes Venetian Snares sound like funk.  Those tired of twinkly electro-pop need look no further - Larvae's Fashion Victim will destroy you.

Rusuden Formulae (Sonicterror)

Formulae is one of the most cruelly overlooked electronic albums to come out this year.  Though not all that original or unique, this disc is appealing because it's so bloody listenable.  Too often does techno become boring and inaccessible; it's refreshing when an act like Rusuden comes along, culls the best elements of electronica from a variety of sources (Orbital, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Venetian Snares, the list goes on ...), and then mixes them together into one delicious concoction.  One listen and you'll be hooked. 

Explosions In The Sky The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place (Temporary Residence)

Explosions In The Sky have been rather quiet since the whole fiasco following the pre-Sept. 11 release of their debut, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever.  While some may attribute that to the whole controversy itself, The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place instead affirms that the band were quite busy during those two years.  With Earth, the band is much more joyful and lush.  Comparisons to Mogwai and GYBE are inevitable, although this disc's almost cheery blend of post-rock is uniquely the band's own.  Though different from Those Who Tell The Truth, The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place is not at all a disappointment. 

Pascal Hello My Name Is Pascal (Uvulittle)

It figures.  One of the year's best albums and you've never even heard of it.  Hello My Name Is Pascal, the work of some pop folk singer / songwriter with a knack for musical storytelling, is a beautiful, eerie - sometimes enchanting - collection of songs.  Frequently disjointed and oftentimes simply strident, Hello carries the listener through dozens of pop hooks, using only acoustic guitar and Pascal's imperfect, alluringly discordant vocals as the primary instruments.  The intensely beautiful "Halfway Dead" is one of the year's revelations in pop music.

Calvin, Don't Jump! A Way With Birds (Happy Happy Birthday To Me)

J. Kirk Pleasant, an occasional contributor to Olivia Tremor Control, is the mastermind behind indie pop act Calvin, Don't Jump!, and this, his sophomore album, is a very beautiful release.  A Way With Birds is very much concerned with the birth of Pleasant's son, Julian, and this lends the record a positive, uplifting mood.  Though at times surprisingly eerie (particularly in the many instrumental interludes that buffer the disc's song songs), Birds is still an amazing, very emotional indie pop release that deserves a spot among the year's best.

Skywave Synthstatic (Allison / Blisscent)

Representing the noisier side of dream pop, Skywave are more like dream punk than anything else.  Messy, fuzzy, and yet wonderfully melodic, this well-known trio are no strangers to feedback.  Which is why they named this album Synthstatic.  Shoegazer fans will be very pleased [this is one of the genre's best albums this year,] but those not acquainted with the genre may be turned off by its unconventional atmosphere.  Nonetheless, Skywave have crafted a melodic, memorable album with Synthstatic, the type of which shoegazer fans have been dreaming about for years.

True Swamp Neglect Sleep Function Lost (Superglider)

Referred to by critics as the 'British Pavement,' True Swamp Neglect don't disappoint.  They certainly carry that easygoing, carefree charm that characterized early Malkmus-and-co. recordings.  Oh yeah, and their songs are amazing.  It's one hit after another on Sleep Function Lost - these tunes will be engrained in your memory for weeks.  "Victory Cigarettes" is pure Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, "Year of the Chimp" recalls the quieter Terror Twilight moments, and "Son of Shake" could fit in among Slanted & Enchanted's many tracks.  And that isn't to mention the album's real gem, "Dear Fingerprint," which you'd have to be a boulder not to appreciate.  Sleep Function Lost is easy to miss but impossible to ignore.

Young and Sexy Life Through One Speaker (Mint)

Life Through One Speaker has pop so pretty it makes Mercury Rev sound like Bad Company.  The songs on Young and Sexy's widely-anticipated sophomore album are so close to being perfect it burns.  "In This Atmosphere" is one of the year's best pop songs, and is worth the price of admission alone.  In short, Life Through One Speaker is an utterly beautiful and monumental pop album.

Surface of Eceyon Dragyyn (Strange Attractors Audio House)

After a minor name change, Surface of Eceyon (formerly Surface of Eceon) offers us another fine taste of mystical, spacey drone rock with Dragyyn, much like Landing and Yume Bitsu material before it.  But this time around, they're more avant-garde, more spaced-out.  Guitar ripples rise to the surface, fuzz thickens...  Dragyyn is at once captivating and relaxing.  Epic "Over Land, Over Ice" is a drone rock masterpiece...  Chill.  Just chill.


The Meeting Places Find Yourself Along the Way (Words on Music)

Debut album.  New band.  Beautiful, beautiful music.  If shoegazer is your game - heck, even if it isn't - Find Yourself Along the Way needs to be in your music collection.  The band's fresh, melodic sound is reminiscent of early Yo La Tengo material.  Classics include the "Stockholm Syndrome"-esque "See Through You" and the disc's classic, "Same Lies as Yesterday."  Not just another My Bloody Valentine clone, The Meeting Places have breathed live into an old genre.  I can't way to see what comes next.

Nick Forté Pasted Lakes (Schematic)

"Corrupted melody, beats, and ambiance are cut and pasted and disintegrated to create short, messy tracks of sonic carnage that range from noisy and unmelodic to subdued and accessible. ... This is experimental electronic music that dares to experiment."  Busy with his job as one half of Christmas Decorations, it took awhile for Nick Forté to come out with a solo album - but Pasted Lakes was well worth the wait.  A must for fans of daring electronic music.


Ashley Park The Secretariat Motor Hotel (Darling / Happy Happy Birthday To Me)

No other pop album this year was as warm and cozy as Ashley Park's The Secretariat Motor Hotel.  Though very much a country-based release, this disc has that rare, infectious sensibility that will garner appeal from pretty much every ear it gets to.  If equal parts Mercury Rev, Sparklehorse, and Garth Brooks (but in a good way!) combined sounds good to you - even if it doesn't - you're urged to check this record out.  With a little more exposure, The Secretariat Motor Hotel would have made every Best of 2003 list on the planet - just ask Rocco the Policeman.

Sofus Forsberg NO/1 (Jenka Music)

It's tough to do click and cut music well nowadays.  There's just far too much of it already out there - everything new comes off sounding bland and contrived.  But Sofus Forsberg... well, he's an exception.  His debut album, simply entitled NO/1, is like a breath of fresh air.  The songs are composed mainly of complex, clicky rhythms and short snippets of melody - the results are profoundly beautiful.  But the album's best moments occur when Forsberg utilizes the magnificent, Bjork-esque vocals of Henriette Sennenvaldt.  "So Alone" is a whimsical dissection of her voice, focusing on every minor nuance of her lush singing.  "Convertible Love," meanwhile, is one of the best pieces of music I've heard all year.  Think Bjork but more avant-garde... and better.  Don't miss out.


The Forms Icarus (Threespheres)

Indie rock hasn't sounded this fresh in years.  There's something so utterly amazing about the way The Forms make every single note - no matter how angular or discordant - work perfectly.  Sometimes just one well-placed guitar chord can be so beautiful it brings you close to tears.  The listener can't help but hang on to every moment of each song.  The stop/start-isms of "Classical," the buried melodies in "Stravinsky"... every listen enriches, rather than diminishes, your appreciation of Icarus.  The only problem with this album is its brevity, but that could be considered a good thing in itself.


Kammerflimmer Kollektief Cicadidae (Temporary Residence)

Cicadidae could be the Kammenflimmer Kollektief's best album yet.  Largely based on improvisation and yet still magnificently accessible (often due to sheer atmosphere,) this disc is a triumph in contemporary electro-jazz.  Every track is a fresh slice of warped jazz - free improv squall, swing rhythms, flowing electronics... on this album, the Kollektief sound like a Ennio Morricone / John Zorn / Medeski Martin and Wood hybrid.  Though often abstract and unusual, Cicadidae's ten tracks comprise some of the most beautiful music to come out this year. 

honourable mentions
Clown Down's Living Alone (terrifically catchy indie rock)

Words For Snow / Tristan Da Cunha split album (insane math rock chaos)

And Academy's Love and Africa, Love and Academy (unconventional indie pop)

Elekibass / Quinka With A Yawn split album (bouncy Japanese indie pop that's impossible not to love)

Good For You's Neurotic Showering Habits (after a short hiatus, these eclectic indie rockers are back!)

Pedal Steel Transmission's The Angel of the Squared Circle (wonderfully country-tinged indie pop)

the top five reissues and box sets of 2003
Various Artists Love, Peace & Poetry: Brazilian Psychedelic Music (QDK Media)

Brazilian Psychedelic Music is the sixth release in QDK's impressive series, and it's certainly one of the most exotic.  The underground Brazilian music scene in the late sixties was largely a political one, and was characterized by government censorship and oppression.  This comp collects nineteen of the scene's best songs, including many tracks from obscure and coveted records that are now very rare.  Extensive liner notes are also included - a bonus to diehard fans.  Not as accessible as some of the other comps in the trilogy, this Brazilian collection still proves to be another solid collection of obscure tunes.  So what could be next?

Static Taxi Closer 2 Normal (Birdman)

Replacements guitarist Bob Stinson was a famous man for a variety of reasons - many of which we will not go into - but most importantly, for his musical talent.  His raucous, irresponsible behavior aside, he was an immensely talented songwriter.  Though he had ties to many side-projects, one of the most notable was Static Taxi, which produced a number of demos in 1989 and 1990 before disbanding in '91.  These demos have now become Closer 2 Normal, a fantastic collection of previously unreleased bluesy rock gems.  They're fun, immensely listenable, and as catchy as heck... hearing these songs makes you wonder how they could have remained on a dusty shelf for so long.  But now - thankfully, now - these songs are out there and being heard; it's fortunate the miracle workers at Birdman got to them before they turned to dust themselves.

The Last L.A. Explosion (Bomp!) [1979]

Boasting a ludicrous seven bonus tracks, Bomp!'s reissue of The Last's debut album, L.A. Explosion, was lapped up by collectors and fans alike on the occasion of its early-2003 release.  The band, one of the flurry of early pop/punk bands to come around (think The Undertones, The Buzzcocks, etc.,) is still regarded by diehards as one of the best.  This album, often billed as their most successful release, is loaded with infectious nuggets of pure pop accessibility.  You will have "She Don't Know Why I'm Here" and "Someone's Laughing" stuck in your head for weeks.  The fuss is justified; buy L.A. Explosion before it goes out of print again.

Mendelbaum Mendelbaum (Shadoks Music)

Mendelbaum consists of two discs: a collection of 1970 demos on one, and two sets of live concert recordings on the other.  Since none of their music was officially released, these songs remain considerably obscure and very sought-after by collectors.  All the more reason to thank German label Shadoks Music for this release.  These recordings, a far cry from any other psych-rock outfit popular at the time, are frequently unusual, oftentimes heavy, and yet always loose and fun.  Though quite uncommon, Mendelbaum is a must for any serious collector.


Evergreen Evergreen (Temporary Residence) [1995]

Evergreen is the Slint side-project nobody ever remembers, and this reissue of the band's 1995 self-titled Hi-Ball record does not disappoint.  Whatever strings Temporary Residence had to pull to get the rights to this release were well worth it.  Evergreen simply rock.  This disc is fun, raucous dance-punk that's completely timeless.  Without a frame of reference, Evergreen sounds just as seventies as it does nineties.  It's as primitively enjoyable as an album can be, and though a far cry from Slint, its brilliant energy and intensity is now as relevant as ever, offering some real rock to those who've been enforced into White Stripes infatuation.  Evergreen remains one of the few true rock albums to come out this year - how can it not be number one?

neat finds
Black Nasty's Aids Can't Stop Me turned a few heads with its nasty combination of violence, deviant sex, and offensive historical references.  Its self-aware humour is what ices the cake, and the surprisingly solid songwriting certainly helps... but stay away if you're offended by bestiality, as it's only the tip of the iceberg.  bengeorge7's duct-tape packaged Sing along w/ the windchimes w/ bengeorge7 (Breaking World Records), meanwhile, is a lesson on how to do lo-fi experimental pop right... it's frequently funny, often avant-garde, and yet always intriguing.  Steve Zultanski's Ghost Hole (Breaking World Records) is another lo-fi disc, except it's more melodic, filled with minor-key acoustic pop ditties and the like.  A must for fans of the DIY ethic.

We must also mention Woody Whatever's When I Lost I Left album, released in a handmade edition of 50 copies on Blod Records.  Indie pop this catchy doesn't come around all that often, especially for three bucks a pop.  And the We're Twins 2003 Sampler, available for free from the We're Twins label, also reminds us why this year has been so great... for the low, low price of nothing, you could get nearly 30 tracks of anti-folk, experimental, and electronic music.  Similarly, the Flitwick label continues to give its releases away for free, and has put out a very enjoyable sampler this year, featuring an abundance of tunes from relatively unknown artists.

Finally, we come to the Tokyo Rose label, which continues to put out left-of-centre books and albums, including some especially kooky stuff from professional shit-disturbers (and awful grammar students) Fudgie & Fufu.  Those no stranger to radical nudism and offensive randomness will find themselves amused, entertained, and bewildered.


Funniest Band Name: Noose Ensures Survival Wants And Needs

all content copyright 2004