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A Thousand Points Of Light (Stephen Sowley)

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Stephen Sowley takes a look at a few of the things that made 2003 worthwhile.

A Thousand Points Of Light (Stephen Sowley)

In considering what I could have possibly compiled into 365 days of sheer-utter disappointment (a year that saw a complete lack of humanity, the dumbing down of an already daft culture, a completely pointless war, and an unapologetic deterioration of political structure) I considered several options for how I could sum up the year, the first being addressing the crippling depression brought on by stress, work and general malaise that kept me from writing for most of the year. Then I considered a bitchy diatribe about my love/hate relationship with Chicago. Then I was going to write about my "old lady" and how she was the only good thing about this year, and some how directly correlate my relationship to the greatest moments of the first five ZZ Top albums. But these are all too self-involved and pointless. Who cares really? Instead, I’ll give you ten things that happened this year (musically) that kept me from throwing my entire record collection out a second story window. (Some of these made my personal top 20, which can be found via www.reckless.com in the near future; in the meantime, I’d like to share some more personal accounts.)

1. The Whip — "Freelance Liason" 7" (Wantage) - In barely ten minutes, this two song act of brilliance was a fuckin’ godsend to all those that felt cheated by anything "heavy" this year. As apocalyptic as it was harmonic, this manic fury that (birthed from a Melvins and Karp bloodline) was an incendiary blast of manic rhythmic chug, snarly guitar solos, and vocals that resembled two insane carnival barkers calling for attack. Sadly, drummer Scott Jerigen was killed in a terrible boating accident. The band - like Jerigan — was too good for this world.

2. MF Doom — Everything (King Gedorah, Viktor Vaughn, Madvillain 12", "Ye Haw 12") - It couldn’t have come at a better time; while everyone was shaking like Polaroid pictures over the Loveboxxx hype, and the Neptunes brought every indie-white-boy to the yard, DOOM really showed he’s better than y’alls. Now, far be it from me to expect every MC to step up to the level of this felonious monk, but with two full lengths and two EPs sprinkled over the course of six months (not to mention various "special herbs" here and there) Doom truly owned it this year.

Do we all know the story? Doom was in KMD; after getting dropped from Elektra in 1992 over the Black Bastards record, his brother and band mate Subroc was killed, forcing Doom (then Zev Love X) to go underground. Six years later (a timespan in hip-hop terms equaling Rumplestiltskin’s winks) he resurfaced at open mic nights throughout New York, which led to the now legendary Operation Doomsday album.

Now we have two full lengths; the first, King Gedorah, focused on Doom’s wise and organic production skills, while calling attention to the bleak status of Urban American life through the eyes of a three headed monster. Viktor Vaughn aligned him with various producers (Namely RJD2, and King Honey), thus freeing him to focus on his furious mic skills (naming a graphic throat gurgler after Basketball Jones’ daughter, working in an oblique references to "Waynes World," Bob Dylan’s hair, unkempt truck drivers and Gong Show contestants) under the guise of a other-worldly MC who comes to earth, fucks up a relationship, literally kills an open-mic night, and gets his just deserts before going back to parts unknown . While some would be content to lay up on those laurels alone, Doom hooked up with Chicago’s Molemen for some old school Braggadocio on "Ye Haw," and then closed out the year by yanking Madlib out of the Jazz mart and back to Bomb Shelter to cook up his best production since Quasimoto’s "Unseen" for the "Madvillain" EP. With four full albums slated for 2004, the future of hip-hop never looked so bright.

3. GrowingSky’s Run Into The Sea (Kranky)

4. TV On The Radio - In what could have been the easiest card to pull this year, Brooklyn’s TV On The Radio shied away from their Brooklyn bedfellows and left the disco to die on its own self-involved coke-binge. With a demo alone, the group got signed to Touch & Go, and released the incredible Young Liars EP. A dense amalgamation of Maxinquaye era Tricky production, Radiohead atmospherics and a soft pull of vocals resembling that of (yes) Peter Gabriel and Talk Talk, the group won critics and fans over virtually overnight. July saw them (then a trio) make their Chicago debut opening up for The Fall. Three months later the group came back, this time expanded to a five-piece rock ensemble, leaving very little room for the bed of samples that made Young Liars so engaging. However, while some bands would have fallen flat on their face, the group soared to levels higher than any one could have imagined. This is the sign of a promising band; release an EP to do a complete musical 180 within five months, and still have the skills to knock everyone flat. Expect a full length in March.

5. Sunn O)))Adventures In Modern Music Festival, Empty Bottle 9/26/03 - with a packed house of avant-garde beard scratchers, indie-snobs, and hipster artfuxx ready to get their dance on (!!! up next), SUNN O))) took to the crowd like Lester Burnham at a Realtor’s social function. Amidst a endless sea of dry-ice, the druid looking duo (accompanied by Fontanelle’s Rex Ray) emptied the intestines of their audience with their maximum low-end drone fest; these brown-sound hashers have carved their own niche of true doom soundscapes. Spinal and cortex massages never sounded as good as they did this night.

6. Black Eyes — Swayze Compound 5/13/03 - Going to a show at 6pm never seems like a good idea to me. Unless its outside, the thought of going into a dark, cavernous hall while the sun is still out makes my stomach churn. But after all was said and done, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Heartattack/Punk Planet writer Vincent Chung went DIY on Chicago’s painted ass and put together a show featuring four completely original bands, with DC’s critic’s darlings Black Eyes headlining. Anticipation is an understatement; after releasing their self-titled debut—a ferocious approach to the post-punk aesthetic recalling the bright moments of The Ex, Fugazi, Pop Group and The Minutemen, but with a serrated DC political edge considered unseen in today’s current death disco revival (too hard to dance and think I suppose). What made this so compelling for me was it took me back to being 16, living in the sticks and seeing my favorite punk bands playing in a dank sweaty basement of some trust-fund hippies apartment. Times like this, it doesn’t matter who’s opening, or whose going to be there, or whether or not I’ll gain points for being there. It comes down to music when you’re on the floor, circling the bands that are playing around you; it’s why Otis and Sam started Dusted, it’s why they have great writers. Hey I may bitch about every thing in the indie scene, but it can take a special 25-minute set and make a nothing year seem worthwhile.

7. Prefuse73One Word Extinguisher (Warp) - March 25th: O’Hare Airport, Chicago. I have less than 90 minutes to get off my plane, get my luggage, get on the blue line, get to my girls house, and get to a Shellac show. The plane is taxiing; "Ahhhhhah…" says the rousing chorus in my headphones. A slow-snippet of ESG’s "UFO" follows, glitches upon glitches of bitches screaming drowns out the Captain green lighting cattle. Step off the plane "If you see a sucker cut him, don’t like perpetrators!" Wrong turn, wrong midway, damn ended up through metal detectors again! The luggage is being dropped off at the other end of the airport. Everything moves five times faster than normal (or maybe its me…long distance love pounding in my heart, while my love affair with rap booms in my brain) while Diverse tells me that "predetermined top tens are plastic." Seconds later, a cut up Earl Davidson break reminds me that all Rhodes lead to fender. This album doesn’t hit the apex of genius until you awash in the endless hell that is O’Hare International Airport. Location, Location, Location…

8. CoachwhipsGet Your Body Next To Mine (Narnack)

9. Express Rising — S/T (Memphix) - I’ll let Otis’ review speak for itself…All I can say is that its music is amazing as the cover is haunting.

10. Oh yeah weren’t these albums great?! Oh wait, NO! - Gold Chains - Young Miss America, Andrew WK - The Wolf, The Wrens - Meadowlands, Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It In People, Enon - Hocus Pocus, Missy Elliott - This Is Not A Test, Jaylib - Champion Sound, David Byrne - Lead Us Not Into Temptation, The Rapture - Echoes.

By Stephen Sowley

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