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The Unmemorable Year in Music (Mason Jones)

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A brief look back at 2003's musical offerings.

The Unmemorable Year in Music (Mason Jones)

Looking back over the past 12 months, what perhaps strikes me first is just how much decent yet unmemorable music has been released. When I have to really think to come up with my favorite half-dozen albums of the year, let alone produce a top ten, there's something going on. Looking through lists of what did come out this year, I find myself often thinking, "Oh yeah, that album was okay," but rarely feeling more strongly than that.

Let's face it, when what might have been the year's best experimental music comes from hip-hop's mainstream -- Missy Elliott's This is Not a Test -- that means that the underground is slacking. I know, lots of people will point me at Sightings, Wolf Eyes, Animal Collective, and so forth. And sure, Absolutes and Here Comes the Indian were fine albums, but just that -- fine. They're simply not exciting, and they fall squarely into my overall ambivalent feelings about the year's releases. I was hoping to be blown away by the energy of "Absolutes" or the refreshingly different approach of Here Comes the Indian, but it didn't quite happen.

Instead, I found myself compensating by gravitating towards the more approachable side of things this year, in hopes that something would stick. A few did, including Grandaddy's Sumday. It doesn't attempt as much as their previous album, but it succeeds on a more down to earth level. And sure, Radiohead's Hail to the Thief was a welcome album, a nice combination of their history to date thrown in a blender and spat out in a messy but interesting mixture. Oddly enough, some of the heavy rock/pop releases in 2003 qualified as guilty pleasures for me, from the prog-derived Mars Volta Deloused in the Comatorium to the epic guitars of Cave In's Antenna and, I hate to admit, the rather catchy Evanescence Fallen -- and while I'm embarrassing myself, I'll admit that while Permission to Land by The Darkness was overall somewhat disappointing, "Thing Called Love" is a pretty kickass attempt at resurrecting Queen.

Perhaps my most pleasant discovery in 2003 was Aerogramme's Sleep and Release, properly deserving of the term epic. With a somewhat similar feel, Mono's One Step More and You Die was another album that stuck with me this year, and it's always good to have something new from both Bardo Pond (On the Ellipse) and Skullflower (Exquisite Fucking Boredom). But again, other albums that seemed fairly good at the time just didn't last, like Manitoba's Up in Flames and the New Pornographers' Electric Version -- both decent albums in their way, but in the final analysis no more than that.

On another side, I was pretty blown away by Lyrics Born's Later That Day, a truly killer album with smart lyrics and a healthy funk infusion. The aforementioned Missy Elliott album, aside from a couple of deadly and skippable R&B missteps, contains some of the most interesting sonics of the year. And not surprisingly, Aesop Rock's Bazooka Tooth made a lasting impression.

The year's live music came off pretty well by comparison, with memorable shows by Sunburned Hand of the Man, Trad Gras och Stenar, Bardo Pond, Comets on Fire, Mono, Miminokoto, and particularly DMBQ. While on this year's visit to Tokyo, I was blessed by seeing the year's best show, Seiichi Yamamoto (of Boredoms) playing a 90-minute solo guitar set accompanied by mesmerizing video and liquid projections in the tiny basement club 20000V. While most everything else paled by comparison, I also saw fabulous shows by Gaji, Kirihito, and a new synth-driven band called The Warm.

Perhaps I'm being too hard on the year's albums, but then again maybe it's not so bad to expect more from 2004, either. Come on guys, don't drive me to mainstream pop, okay?

By Mason Jones

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