Dusted's Sam Hunt goes on and on about the (musical) things that he loved in 2003, of which there were many.
Tomorrow Right Now (Sam Hunt)
1. Sufjan Stevens - Michigan (Asthmatic Kitty / Soundsfamilyre)
Every year there is at least one album that comes from out of nowhere to totally blow me away; to make me rethink the way I listen to and digest music. Last year it was Plush's Fed and Black Dice's Beaches and Canyons. This year, without a doubt, this album was the one that transcended its influences and its peers. Some of Stevens' influences, however, ring through quite clearly: Nick Drake, The Flaming Lips, Stereolab, etc. However, those that are less apparent, or are only detectable at all from interviews or previous albums (and which include things like Oval, Mouse on Mars and other less likely candidates), help to explain why this member of the extended Danielson Famile is able to craft pop songs with such emotional intensity, such catchiness, and such confusing originality. I admit that I thought I hated this album the first time I heard it. Now, six months after purchasing it, I feel like I have a particular memory, association, or otherwise glowing opinion about every song on the album. I have even been to Michigan twice since it came out, and while I enjoy the state and its people plenty, each trip made me a bit more impressed that Stevens emerged as the Brooklynite that he currently is.
2. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Master and Everyone (Drag City)
Were I not already a huge fan of the guy, this would also count as one of my 2003 revelations. However, being that I was already expecting this album to be good, imagine my surprise when I heard it and realized that it was actually totally amazing. Using little more than whispers and guitars, Will Oldham crafted the ultimate breakup album; an album that reflects such sincere heartache and confusion that the love upon which it reminisces is stronger than any present tense love I've heard in a song, or on an album. It's an unintentional fuck you/in your face to Beck and all those (myself included) who thought that Sea Change did the same thing, but the payoff is great enough that I'm happy to overlook the correction in my own judgment. The skill with which Oldham turns simplicity into sincerity is breathtaking, and a seemingly simple line like "You tell me you don't love me / Well, I don't love you" can be heart-wrenching 100 times out of 100. His “Mountains and Deserts” tour brought him to such indie-rock strongholds as Walla Walla, Washington and Point Reyes, California and encouraged fans (like me) to visit towns and regions that they would probably otherwise ignore, packing podunk bars full of road-weary Oldham fanatics.
3. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Pig Lib (Matador)
Malkmus didn't just dig up a single grave with this album; he unearthed the whole entire cemetary of ’70s psych and folksters. Dudes like Burt Jansch, Steeleye Span, Trad Gras Och Stenar and even The Zephyr (?!), who Jim O'Rourke and Thurston Moore have been passively championing for years, all of a sudden found themselves with an entire album in tribute. Clearly the Wowee Zowee of Malkmus solo albums, Pig Lib really feels like the album that Malkmus has been sitting on for a decade or so. "1%" is like 10 minutes long, "Craw Song" sounds exactly like "Waterloo Sunset," and "Us" is the Grateful Dead bedtime ballad that we all knew Malkmus had in him all along. I'm a blind sucker for anything Malkmus-related, but c'mon...anyone could like this album!
4. Deerhoof - Apple O' (5RC)
I'm starting to sound like a real indie-rock stereotype here, but I guess that's the way this year has gone. This band took the intricate rhythms and guitar interplay of the Math Rock Greats of the late ’90s and made them catchy, and poppy, and punky, and fun. The live shows are explosions of fun, but you'd never know it from the demeanor of the dudes onstage. I've never seen such a quirky, funny band who made less eye contact with each other or who acted more like they were At Work than Deerhoof. But something about the general awkwardness of it all – of the tiny drum kit, the miniature singer, and the zaniness of the songs – make it all so much fun. Revielle is probably just as good as Apple O', if not better, but that came out in 2002.
5) Neil Michael Hagerty - The Howling Hex (Drag City)
This is a sort of strange choice, being that I didn't actually listen to this album ALL that much. However, I did think it was great, and am always impressed to see a former band-member emerge and refine himself as a solo artist, and few have done as well at this as Hagerty. The album is not quite as grimey or as murkey as the pits of the Royal Trux, but it's still a catchy fuzz fest of stone cold psych-out rock. His live show earlier this year (I caught him at the Empty Bottle w/Josh Abrams on bass) was one of the best shows that I saw all year long.
6. Adventures in Modern Music - The Wire Festival at the Empty Bottle
While there has never been an All Tomorrow's Parties held in the Midwest, this was probably as good or better than anyone could have hoped for. Empty Bottle regulars like Wolf Eyes, Califone, and Fred Anderson dug deep to deliver the sets of their lives, while others who are normally shrouded in mystery and secrecy came out with equally powerful shows. Slo-mo metal scaries Sunn0))) played one of the most intensely captivating sets that I saw all year, lining the entire stage with gigantic amplifiers and smoke machines and generally freaking out all of the pretties who had come to see !!! (who played right after Sunn0))). The odd combinations of acts were often a hilarious highlight (i.e. Lightning Bolt's set in between Alan Licht and Califone's), but also created some exciting tension (i.e. Michael Gira's screaming tirade versus a chatty Adult. fan in the front row).
7. Prefuse73 - One Word Extinguisher / Extinguished (Warp)
For an artist like Prefuse73, a sophomore slump was so predictable that it almost would’ve been forgivable. His 2001 debut had such a specifically unique sound that it would’ve been no problem for Scott Herren to take a load off and record another album of more or less the same tunes. It worked for Boards of Canada! Instead, Herren took his specialized skills and tones and pushed them even farther into unheard regions of electronic music, fusing dance, techno, hip hop, and DJ sounds into a mash-up (so to speak) of tunes that are as captivatingly catchy and stunning as anything from his debut. It’s 2004 and the world has generally let me down as far as producing futuristic things that actually seem futuristic (flying cars, self-drying jackets, hoverboards, etc.), but Prefuse73 truly is the music of the future.
8. The Internet
Have you seen this thing?! It's great! Seriously, filesharing, mp3s, blah blah blah...I could care less about that stuff. I think what really gets discounted in every "the Internet is changing the music business" article/discussion is the fact that it is easier to hear about music from other people – peers, celebrities, critics, etc. – than EVER before. Webzines are just the beginning. Every trend, every brand, and every band has a discussion group or a message board, and every one of those has a legion of fans referring each other every which way. The copy and opinions may not all be of the highest quality, but the sheer amount of information, freelance research, organized referral, and general dissemination of information is staggering. In the best possible way. 90% of the music that I buy now comes from offhanded remarks made on e-mail lists and in music forums. If you believe that all you really need to know about a critic is that he/she has good taste, then you have come to the right place. Mp3s are fine, too, I suppose, but you've got to figure out what to download somewhere. I realize that these things have all been around for quite some time, but it seemed to me that they were of particular importance and scale in the past year.
There were 1,000,000 other things that got me excited this year, among them: Songs: Ohia, Beans, Woven Hand, The Magic Band, The Books, All Tomorrow’s Parties, TV on the Radio, Beans, Drag City, Breaker! Breaker!, Parts & Labor, Jackie O Motherfucker, A Grape Dope, Califone, Lungfish, Belle & Sebastian, Ulrich Schnauss, Soft Pink Truth, Cass McCombs, The Fruit Bats, The Empty Bottle, The Shins, Alasdair Roberts, The Kingsbury Manx – feel free to e-mail me for personalized annotations…
By Sam Hunt