Sunday, December 14, 2003

Lend me some sugar,

I am yo neighbour!

Breakin Down the Music of 2003

And so another year has come and gone (well, almost) and it's time for me to indulge myself in telling you what I thought of the year. This year saw huge changes in my musical tastes, and while I tried to stay relatively on top of certain areas of music, I found my tastes constantly moving backwards, more in the direction of soul, 60s rock, early hip hop and recently, reggae. It's been an expensive year, but highly enjoyable as well.
I should devote a future entry to all of the older stuff I found this year. But for now, I'll try to keep the focus on the last 12 months. And so, this is 2003 in review as I saw it.

D-D-Don't stop the beat
Thanks to this thread, I read about, downloaded and quickly fell in love with the Junior Senior album. My love for this album led me to search out more music that my previous interests seemed to lack: fun. I'm not suggesting that there isn't a lot of fun in indie music, but this album is a party (not a party record, but a party ON record). From the opening track "Go Junior, Go Senior" to my personal favourite "Chicks and Dicks" all the way to the final track, Junior Senior's music ranges from club tracks to garage-y flavoured rock songs, all the while maintaining exciting beats, lots of nergy and fun. I find it impossible not to smile when listening to this album.
After listening to this album constantly, I was more interested in lively, often tongue-in-cheek, but well thought out music. In this category I would include Fallacy's Blackmarket Boy, parts of the Outkast album ("Hey Ya!" is an insanely fun party song) and the Basement Jaxx album.
It seemed that as the year progressed (and since my vehicle, until late August, didn't have a CD player or working tape player) I listened to the radio quite a bit. In doing so, I was blown away by a number of singles that were coming out, both for the production of the songs, the lyrical quality, and often, the infectious rhythms and beats.
As a daily reader of I Love Music, it's impossible not to learn about new and interesting singles, many of which are featured below as my favourite songs of the year. ILM also pointed me in the direction of numerous albums that I now consider classics, which means that I'll continue reading different boards every single day for many years to come.
As you will also see from my singles and albums list, hip hop played a serious role in my listening this year, and I'm grateful for it.

It's mine, all mine!!! Give it to me!
Sales-wise, 2003 was ruled by a handful of artists, but you'll have to watch the Billboard awards to learn more about that. Here, I list artists that I was interested in that seemed to really shine this year. These are not all of the artists, but some that come to mind.

MF Doom - I never knew what prolific artist meant until this year. MF Doom put out four albums this year. These were as follows: Monsta Island Czars - Escape From Monster Island, King Geedorah - Take Me To Your Leader, MF Doom is Viktor Vaughn - Vaudeville Villain, and finally, a fourth edition of the Special Herbs series was released this year. Add to this the fact that his collaboration with Madlib, titled The Mad Villain, leaked to the internet in June, and the Special Herbs Vol. 5 and 6 are already set for release on vinyl at the end of the year, due out on CD next year, and this leaves me asking, what the hell did I do with my year? Despite falling madly in love with the King Geedorah, Mad Villian and Viktor Vaughn albums, I admit to not having enough time to get around to the Monsta Island Czars (Special Herbs 4 is great, but most of the music comes from other releases). In fact, two of Doom's albums made my top ten this year, with his song, "Let Me Watch" topping my favourite songs of the year. Hopefully his onslaught of releases this year will make him more than just an underground star.
Dizzee Rascal - Dizzee Rascal already proved his worth with "I Luv U" in 2002, but it was hard to imagine that his album Boy in Da Corner, which showed off incredible vocal talents and mature lyrics, could be as good as it was. Though he didn't really get great chart action in the UK, his name certainly carried across the pond when he won the Mercury Prize, and hopefully his new deal with Matador (releasing his album next year) will help get his name out even more. Making it onto Spin magazine's top 40 is certainly a huge step in the right direction for this 18 year old 2-step MC. His song, "Lucky Star" on the Basement Jaxx album is a killer club track, but also cool in that he is given a chance to celebrate his new success in a song at the same time he's enjoying it.
Sean Paul - Granted that Dutty Rock was released in 2002, but "Get Busy" didn't have it's impact until this year, and man, what a killer track. After buying the release, I realized that aside from the skits, Sean Paul has left us with an album of killer tunes throughout. It's a bit long, but I couldn't imagine dropping a single song from the set. Such great dancehall anthems!!! Add to that the fact many other artists benefitted from having Paul guest on their tracks: Blu Cantrell's "Breathe", Beyonce's "Baby Boy" and De La Soul's "Shoomp" were all great songs turned classics with his vocals.
White Stripes - I found that my desire to listen to them decreased over the course of the year, but every time I heard the album I enjoyed it. Maybe I just got sick of reading about them, because these two seemed to be covered EVERYWHERE! Regardless, this is a really great rock album, and deserves all of the accolades it'll receive at the end of the year. Having seen them live, I don't question Jack White's talent for a second: the guy could blow a room apart with just a guitar and an amp.
DFA / Disco Punk - If you didn't hear about the Rapture or !!! this year, then it's time to crawl out of your cave. Though not madly in love with the scene (yet, at least), Rapture released a screaming, guitar-wailing rampage that captured the excitment that producers DFA are putting forth in their work. Zongamin's instrumental workout also highlight's the genre's highlights. But it's !!!'s EP Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard that really showed off the post-punk influences, but also sounded very modern, exciting, and danceable. With a new album set to be released in the new year, I'm confident this band's profile will continue to grow in the next twelve months.
Canadian music - I agree, crap heading, but whatever. And no, this is not referring to the more mainstream artists, like Sum 41, Avril or Nickelback, who are all enjoying a considerable amount of success worldwide. On a smaller scale, many Canadian bands seemed to generate interest outside of our borders. Broken Social Scene's album, You Forgot It In People, fared quite well in 2002's year end charts on numerous Canadian magazines, but there was this itching suspician that most of the journalists gushing over the album knew the members personally. But in February, Pitchforkmedia posted this and you can't turn around without seeing their name. And it's great, because it's an excellent album deserving of the acclaim. The Constantines deal with Sub Pop has clearly given them the exposure they deserved. And as a result, they've released a great album that is far more enjoyable than most of the bands they are constantly compared to. Royal City and the Hidden Cameras attracted the attention of UK indie label Rough Trade, which helped give them a bit of UK exposure, both in the indie shops and magazines. On a local level, I would like to say that Newfoundland's Jenny Gear blew me away with her voice, which many Canadians heard week after week on Canadian Idol. With an album due out very soon, hopefully her Norah Jones/Nina Simone vocals and passion for singing will come through on the recording, and if her profile grows as a result, then Canadians can see her for the folk/jazz singer she really is.

Albums of the Year
This is the first year I've attempted to make a top list higher than 15, but this is also the first year when so many albums grabbed my attention, that I truly believe that the albums in the 20s or in the "Honourable Mentions" portion of my lists are still really great, it's just that other albums blew my mind a little bit more.

30. Ulrich Schnauss - A Strangely Isolated Place
29. Alicia Keys - Diary
28. Diverse - One A.M.
27. Sk/um - Pagu Fallsins
Iceland brought us Sigur Ros, Bjork and Mum, so when I read about Sk/um with comparisons to Mum, Isan and Arovane, I was intrigued. This release seems to be straightforward IDM, but wish gorgeous/addictive melodies that prove to be more thought out than first impressions may suggest.
26. The Constantines - Shine a Light
25. Josh Rouse - 1972
24. Bonnie Prince Billy - Master and Everyone
23. Explosions In The Sky - The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place
22. Richard X - Presents His X Factor
21. M83 - Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts
20. Black Box Recorder - Passionoia
19. Bubba Sparxxx - Deliverance
18. Barzin - Barzin
An online friend from Texas told me to download this album from him. Turns out Barzin is from Toronto, yet no one I knew had heard of the album. A cross between Mojave 3 and Red House Painters, this album may not grab your attention on first listen, but with continual listens, it becomes very infectious. I’m very excited to see where he goes from here.
17. White Stripes - Elephant
16. DM & Jemini - Ghetto Pop Life
15. Howard Tate - Rediscovered
A criminally underrated and unpromoted release, this classic 60s soul artist, who retired from recording music 30 years ago returned to the studio with forrmer collaborator Jerry Ragovoy and created a gorgeous and powerful soul release. At the time of its release, many suggested it was this year’s Don’t Give Up On Me, which came out last year by Solomon Burke. Sadly, this one seemed to fall by the wayside, though it’s superior to Burke’s album.
14. Mogwai - Happy Songs For Happy People
13. Belle and Sebastian - Dear Catastrophe Waitress
12. Buck 65 - Talkin’ Honky Blues
11. Prefuse 73 - One Word Extinguisher
10. Jay-Z - The Black Album
9. Pernice Brothers - Yours, Mine, Ours
8. Fallacy - Blackmarket Boy
With this release, many magazines discussed the possibility of the UK finally having a successful hip hop artist. Sadly, this album didn’t seem to catch on with the masses as hoped, which is unfortunate, because it’s filled with such a diverse selection of music, and Fallacy proves to be one of the better MCs in the game in both the UK and the US.
7. Radiohead - Hail To The Theif
6. Junior Senior - D’D’Don’t Stop the Beat
5. King Geedorah - Take Me To Your Leader / MF Doom is Viktor Vaughn - Vaudeville Villain
4. Dizzee Rascal - Boy In Da Corner
3. Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts of the Great Highway
2. Outkast - Speakerboxxx / The Love Below
1. Basement Jaxx - Kish Kash
The best album Basement Jaxx has made to date. Solid songs, with vocalists/MCs giving impressive performances. Despite slowing down near the end, the quality of the songs never suffers.

Other great releases worth mentioning: Erykah Badu - WorldWide Underground EP, Christ - Metamorphic Reproduction Miracle LP, Daedelus - Rethinking the Weather, The Decemberists - Her Majesty, Forss - Soulhack, Four Tet - Rounds, Grandaddy - Sumday, Junior Boys - Birthday EP, Damien Jurado - Where Shall You Take Me?, The Mars Volta - De-loused in the Comatorium, The Rapture - Echoes, Super Furry Animals - Phantom Planet

Songs of the year
To begin, some rules that I followed for this list. These songs are songs that either came out this year as singles, or came out this year as album tracks. If a song was released in a previous year as a single, like Fallacy and Fusion's "Groundbreaker" then I didn't consider it for my list (though it's a killer track that I first heard this year). However, a song like Avril Lavigne's "I'm With You", which was released on album last year but as a single this year, qualifies. Geek? Moi? No!

30. Sk/um - "Tota"
29. King Geedorah - "I Wonder" feat. Hassan Chop
Not only displaying Doom's incredibly writing skills, but also showing how his choice of guests seems based on the sincerity in their voice. The string-laden backing suits this confession of drugs, jail and death. I can only hope that Hassan Chop will release a solo album with Doom producing. Thoughts of what these two could do together is too exciting for words.
28. M83 - "Unrecorded"
27. Radiohead - "Where I End and You Begin"
26. !!! - "Me And Giuliani Down By The School Yard (A True Story)"
25. Blu Cantrell feat. Sean Paul - "Breathe"
24. Fountains of Wayne - "Stacy's Mom"
23. Richard X - "Being Nobody" (Richard X vs. Liberty X)
22. DM and Jemini - "Ghetto Pop Life"
21. Constantines - "On To You"
20. Fallacy - "Big 'N Bashy" feat. Tubby T
19. Bubba Sparxxx - "Nowhere"
18. Clearlake - "Wonder If The Snow Will Settle"
I have listened to this song every day for about three weeks, and if there were a few more months left in the year, this would definitely break the top 10. Great lyrics, vocals and music.
17. Beyonce feat. Jay-Z - "Crazy in Love"
16. Buck 65 - "Wicked and Weird"
15. The White Stripes - "Seven Nation Army"
14. REM - "Bad Day"
13. Mad Anju - "Cellular Minutes"
I am only guessing that this song came out this year. It's a hilarious reggae track considering one man's inability to have enough cell minutes to talk to his friends, often forcing him to request they "Cawl me bawk." Makes me smile every time I hear this line.
12. R. Kelly - "Ignition" (remix) / Fiddy Ce - "In Da Club"
Two songs that were totally overplayed on the radio this year, but I never got sick of hearing them.
11. Ludacris feat. Shawnna - "Stand Up"
10. Outkast - "Unhappy"
9. Kelis - "Milkshake"
Having now heard the album, it seems like Kelis kind of blew her load on this track, which is a killer dance track with more energy than everything else on the album put together. The album stands as a great r 'n b album, but it's too bad she didn't put a couple of other storming tracks on there like this one.
8. Sean Paul - "Get Busy"
7. Kardinal Offishall w/ Neptunes - "Belly Dancer"
6. Radiohead - "Wolf At The Door"
5. Avril Lavigne - "I'm With You"
4. Basement Jaxx - "Good Luck" (feat. Lisa Kekaula) / Basement Jaxx - "Lucky Star" (feat. Dizzee Rascal)
I flip flop between the two of these as my favourites from the album, so they might as well share the same spot on my list.
3. Junior Senior - "Chicks and Dicks"
2. Outkast - "Hey Ya!"
1. (tied) Dizzee Rascal - "I Luv U" / MF Doom as Viktor Vaughn - "Let Me Watch" feat. Apani B
MF Doom won me over long before I heard "Let Me Watch", but this song really captures his abilities to create characters that are very real, living through experiences that we have all felt on some level, and both he and Apani B execute the words in such a way that the character's personalities come out realistically. Apani's transformation from young woman madly in love with an older man to a pissed off woman who doesn't have the time for an immature prick is the magic behind this song. If there ever was a girl power movement in music, this should be its theme song. Brilliant.

And that's pretty much it. I could have gone on to talk about the best reissues of the year, but I'd say that depending on ones musical interest, any artist with an SACD reissue this year will likely head the top of these lists (see Dylan and Sam Cooke as two GREAT reissues this year).
I'll try to update the blog a bit more. No promises, though.

posted by Jonathan


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