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january 2004

not the best of 2003 (but good)

Making a best-of list is always a tricky thing. A few minutes spent with a calculator in hand, looking over the shoulder of someone with access to SoundScan data, will convince you that so much music is released every year that even if you never listened to the same thing twice, there's no way you could possibly hear all of it. We all have to make educated guesses about what we're most likely to appreciate, and inevitably some things fall through the cracks -- it's easiest to make sure we hear the things that almost everyone says we should hear.

I don't really think that the records from acts like The Postal Service, OutKast, Radiohead, The New Pornographers, Richard Thompson, The Wrens, or Ted Leo really need more year-end best-of votes, as good as they may be. I'm going to assume you've probably heard most of those already, or decided you don't really want to. And instead of trying to make a list of the absolute ten best recordings, I'm picking some that I think deserved much more attention than they got. They're listed in alphabetical order.

The Beatings

The Heart, The Product, the Machine and the Asshole

(EP, Midriff, 2003)

At CMJ in 1986 or so, a panelist gave some advice for the rock'n'roll careerists, and some wag asked if The Replacements did it that way. The panelist got a pained look. "The rules," he said, "don't apply to The Replacements." I don't think they apply to the Beatings, either, otherwise I'd say the songs are too long and the singing is too ragged. I don't think they care, and somehow I don't either. Just don't tell them that they might save rock'n'roll, okay? Or call them the new "Pixies." Just coz the guy's a baritone and the bass player sings now and then. It doesn't need saving. (And anyway, "Transvestite Bar" really does go on too long.)

Beauty Pill

You Are Right to Be Afraid

(EP, Dischord, 2003)

Deceptive simplicity flowers into forms unexpected but appropriate. Strange but pleasing. Are "challenging" and "pretty" antonyms? No.

Black Lipstick

Converted Thieves

(Peek-A-Boo, 3003)

Yelpy, sneery indie rock, performed with more gusto than precision, but also with more verve than just about any other band that might have wanted to be Pavement.


Shine a Light

(Sub Pop, 2003)

Look, when you're from DC, you don't ever, ever compare a punk band with political lyrics to Fugazi. I don't care how how sharp the dynamics, how tight, how interestingly textured the compositions, or how much conviction they play with -- it's just not done. Besides, there's a blues underpinning to Dallas Wehrle's bass lines that's nothing like Joe Lally.

The Deathray Davies

Midnight at the Black Nail Polish Factory

(Glurp, 2003)

Solid songs, creatively arranged, recorded with care. If you told someone this was Chris Stamey fronting The New Pornographers, maybe they'd believe you.

The Dresden Dolls

The Dresden Dolls

(8 ft., 2003)

It's not like you haven't heard dark and moody piano chicks before, I know. But Brian Viglione's drumming blends with Amanda Palmer's piano and voice like Scott Plouf meshed with Rebecca Gates in the Spinanes, and Palmer's a more interesting pianist than (fill in the blank). Better yet, her sense of humor may be twisted, but it's not completely buried in the dark. File under "Unexpectly trancscends its gimmickry."

Heather Hates You

Operation Suckerpunch

(self-released, 2003)

Well executed pop punk with Green Day-ish tenor vocalist. Melodies with way more stick to 'em, and words with way more smarts than usual.

The Heavenly States

The Heavenly States

(Future Farmer, 2003)

On the quieter tunes, the sedate, minor key melodies and male/female harmony interplay evoke comparisons to Ida or Low (not unfavorably), but there are unabashedly catchy pop songs here too.

My Favorite

The Happiest Days of Our Lives

(Double Agent, 2003)

Tbere've been a lot of bands making self-consciously retro new wave/synthy pop over the last few years, but for my money, this one has the highest hit-to-miss ratio. Some of the best songs New Order or The Cure never wrote.

Strike Anywhere

Exit English

(Jade Tree, 2003)

Hardcore too fierce to sit still to, smart enough to make you think, catchy enough to make you want to read the words. I want to burn a million copies and slip 'em in the cases of a million crappy mall-punk discs.


Live at the Old Waldorf

(Rhino Handmade, 2003)

It's shorter than the previously available Television live album, The Blow Up, but all the muck has magically been scraped off, and you can actually hear.

30 jan 2004

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