Melancholia and the Infinite Blandness
I can’t really say with certainty what happened this year. Was I depressed because the bulk of music released this year was dreck, or did the music sound bland because I was depressed? Great bands seemed at a loss for ideas, I saw far fewer shows, and white-boy indie dance music made mediocrity en vogue. Even my holy trinity, Yo La Tengo, sounded like they couldn’t find their way in all the Summer Sun. It felt like records took much longer to affect me, but the ones below finally did. And they became more important and worthy with repeated listens, to the extent that I could barely stand to listen to anything else.

David ByrneLead Us Not Into Temptation
Mournful, brooding soundtrack scored with the members of some fine Scottish bands. But you won’t hear much of those bands in this music, or even much of anything Byrne has done before. Hazy, jazz-inflected conversations with Fender Rhodes, brushed drums, walking bass. Strings and metallic atmospherics singing with tension and whispering with haunting phrases. If the Sun Ra Arkestra convened to cover Cocteau Twins’ Victorialand.

The ShinsChutes Too Narrow
From the Philip Guston-like cover to James Mercer’s continually surreal lyrics, I still insist this band is beamed in from some other planet. What was all that talk about Mars in the sky this year? Under cover of reverb guitar and toy piano sounds, the martians are right here, la-dee-da-ing our species to a sweet-slumbered extinction.

Postal ServiceGive Up
For someone so enamored with guitar, I could have considered this a guilty pleasure. But given the general state of plodding in Death Cab, I’m more tuned to Ben’s lyrics – which float here, expertly, to the emotional fore on breezy electronics into a sugar palace, sweet and fragile.

Pernice BrothersYours, Mine & Ours, Australia EP (stateside)
I probably didn’t listen to another record more this year. Joe sings laments like “Sometimes this sweet life feels like it’s never been as bad as it is tomorrow” carried on the wings of preeminent pop music absolutely dripping with beauty. If you have any affinity for that line connecting pretty and sad, look up, and grab for one of the melodies streaming by.

CalexicoFeast of Wire
Slinky jazz, mariachi, “Dub Latina”, desert rock, experimental, Portuguese fado… The sheer variety of sounds and styles on this record is staggering. That Calexico manage to syncretize their wide palette into an interesting, cohesive album is nothing short of mesmerizing.

The New PornographersElectric Version
Mass Romantic was an ice cream headache, full of crunchy pop confections fed at such a furious pace that it was hard to maintain one’s balance. Electric Version is half the calories, same great taste. Soaring vocals, bouncy keyboards, more chord changes than Brahm’s 5th and one choral-tastic “lesbian rage.”

AereogrammeSleep and Release
A unique, enthralling record of orchestral vicissitudes marrying the gentle plaintiveness of Sigur Ros with the precision thunder of Slint and full-throated throttle of Tool.

Carla BozulichRed Headed Stranger
A bonified outlaw country classic reinterpreted by a bunch of outlaw rock musicians from LA as an avant-Eastern sound poem. More metaphysical preaching than pentecostal. While the record shows restraint compared to the live performance, which was out of this fucking world, it is a wonderful document of an album given tribute and metamorphosis.

MogwaiHappy Songs For Happy People
This is not an album that tears at the flesh, nor the eardrums, like Young Team; Happy Songs aims to rive you from the inside out. In somber, but eerily beautiful strokes, the ringing guitar lines, sonorous strings and lonely piano figures carve out a chamber for you to sit and watch your heart beat.

Wig In A BoxSongs from & Inspired by Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Rock and Roll fun inspired by one pissed off tranny. Featuring Sleater-Kinney with Fred Schneider, Yo La Tengo with Yoko Ono, The Minus 5 with Cyndi Lauper, Spoon, Rufus Wainwright, Frank Black, 3 Bens…do I need to say any more?!

Honorable Mentions
Super Furry Animals – Phantom Power
Polyphonic Spree – The Beginning Stages of…
Wrens – Meadowlands
The Minus 5 – Down With Wilco
Belle & Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress

Good Shows (that i can even recall…)
Belle & Sebastian @ The Greek Theatre
Carla Bozulich, Nels Cline @ Great American
Yo La Tengo, The Clean @ The Fillmore
Neko Case @ Bimbo’s
Delgados, Aereogramme @ Bimbo’s

i love you Elliott, you idiot kid.

zdt 2003

 

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