Otis Hart offers his opinions on the second year of the 21st century, including 20 decent albums, some cool songs, and a few labels and albums to look for in 2003.
Finalize Disc? (Otis Hart)
These are the words, but not the truth / God bless them all if they speak to you. - Sonic Youth's “The Empty Page”
While I didn’t love Murray Street, the preceding has to be one of my favorite album intros ever. I cannot think of a more poetic, simplistic way to translate music’s inherent subjectivity. The same can be said for music criticism. In this season of list-making, it’s important to maintain perspective and realize that our words are not the truth – there are no “best” albums of 2003. Every sound has the potential to speak as song and every song has the potential to speak to someone. Blessed is the bloke who knows how to listen. Here's some of what I overheard:
Every music critic has committed this cardinal sin at least once, (myself, I’ve done it dozens), and looked back on it in shame. If I ever sink to this LCD again, please call me on it.
- Post Can-Ox – Hip hop hardly sucked in 2002, but a vacuum existed for me nonetheless. Ever since I first experienced Cannibal Ox’s Cold Vein last year, the rest of hip hop has had a tough time keeping my attention. Artists like Sage Francis, Alias and Themselves churned out some interesting and intelligent soliloquies, but the duo of Vast Aire and Vordul Megilah (along with El-P on the decks) created such a viscous/vicious brew of stone cold colloquialism, it’s been 18 months since The Vein’s release and I’m still digesting it. Missy Elliott’s hip hop combo of cleverness and pop appeal may be the smoothest since A Tribe Called Quest, but as Q-Tip so ironically put it on Low End Theory, “rap is not pop, if you call it that then stop.”
My unending obsession with Can Ox is funny, considering it wasn’t until 2002 that Def Jux really took over. RJD2, El-P, and Mr. Lif all released well-received records this year, resulting in a ridiculous amount of “hits” for dustedmagazine.com, but after listening to each album a couple times through, I still “heard” The Cold Vein. I’m sure some people felt the same way after Company Flow dropped their first bomb, so hopefully I’ll snap out of this phase in the near future. It’s a shame, though, that Can Ox had to ruin hip hop for me in 2002. ed. - Antipop Consortium’s Arrhythmia is making some serious headway.
- ‘ROCK IS BACK’ – Vines – never heard them. Datsuns – never heard them. Hives – never heard them. Sometimes living in Vermont is truly a blessing.
- Year-end lists – I must have missed the memo on limiting the criteria. As Charlie Wilmoth once said, it’s like people have 30 records to fill 20 spots. Records like Turn on the Bright Lights, Yoshimi Battles…, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Kill the Moonlight, Sea Change, Original Pirate Material, etc. pop up on every other list I see, and I can’t help but think that these music fans didn’t actually listen to much music in 2002. Folks, these may be great records, but just realize that you’re limiting yourself if two or more of these showed up on your list.
- “It’s been a good year, not a great year” – This line particularly bugs me. Sure, if you’re depending on newsstand magazines for an opinion, some years may seem better than others, but if you’re unhappy with what you’ve heard this year, keep searching, because you’ve heard less than one percent of what’s out there.
- Transcend – The word “transcend” is the fail-safe choice for any impressed music reviewer, myself included. Whenever we cannot actually describe the music, this often occurs:
(Said band and/or album) transcends
- a. the genre in question
- b. the sum of its parts
- c. the meaning of (noun/adjective)
Highlights of Ought-Two
20 LPs of ’02:
- Black Dice – Beaches & Canyons (DFA)
- Out Hud – S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. (Kranky)
- The Notwist – Neon Golden (City Slang)
- Six Organs of Admittance – Dark Noontide (Holy Mountain)
- Bohren und Club of Gore – Black Earth (Wonder)
- Comets on Fire – Field Recordings from the Sun (Ba Da Bing)
- DJ/rupture – Minesweeper Suite (Tigerbeat6)
- Sunn 0))) – Flight of the Behemoth (Southern Lord)
- Circle – Sunrise (Ektro)
- The Snares – Something Happened on the way to Heaven… (Horrible)
- Sunburned Hand of the Man – Head Dress (Records)
- Mike Adcock and Clive Bell – Sleep It Off (Emanem)
- Antonelli Electr. – Love and Other Solutions (Italic)
- Isis – Oceanic (Ipecac)
- GoGoGo Airheart – Exitheuxa (GSL)
- Major Stars – Distant Effects (Squealer)
- Plush – Fed (After Hours)
- Laura Cantrell – When the Roses Bloom Again (Diesel Only)
- Antipop Consortium – Arrhythmia (Warp)
- Youngsbower – Relayer (VHF)
10 EPs of ’02
- Ekkehard Ehlers – Play Series (Bottrop Boy & Staubgold)
- Kid606 – Why I Love Life (Tigerbeat6)
- Jean-Francois Laporte – Mantra (Metamkine)
- Mansion – Wolfschool (Overcoat)
- Interpol – s/t (Matador)
- Nettle – Build a Fort, Set That On Fire (The Agriculture)
- Gold Chains – Straight From Your Radio (Tigerbeat6)
- No-Neck Blues Band – Re: Mr. A Fan (…)
- Deep Puddle Dynamics/Anticon – We Ain’t Fessin’ (Double Quotes) (Anticon)
- Yo La Tengo – Nuclear War (Matador)
- M.Mayer: “Falling Hands” – On the Total 4 comp, best techno ditty I’ve heard in years.
- Mos Def, Diverse & Prefuse73: “Wylin’ Out” (RJD2 Remix) – A summer anthem of sorts.
- Liars: “This Dust Makes That Mud” – this only qualifies because the amazing 20-minute tape job was not released on the original Gern Blandsten version of They Threw Us…
- Mendoza Line: “We’re All In This Alone” – especially affecting given my recluse positioning in Vermont
- The Mountain Goats: “No Children” – Shivers every time. I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a gallant song with such morbid lyrics
- LCD Soundsystem: “Losing My Edge” – Probably my favourite song of the 2002.
- Fog: “Pneumonia” – This came out in January and Andrew Broder’s turntable catharsis has yet to diminish in effect.
- MRI: “Disco Discovery” – Guiltier than O.J.
- Black Dice: “Things Will Never Be the Same” – Undermines beauty's dependence on the serene.
- The Notwist: “One with the Freaks” – IDM trickey combined with soft-LOUD breakdown, plus a chorus for the sap in all of us.
- Smog: “I Break Horses” – One of Callahan’s greatest songs and another example of Smog’s ability to warp misogyny into a thing of beauty.
- Rolo Tomase: “Struggle” – The crest of this song is one of my favorite moments of the year.
- Out Hud: “Dad, There’s A Little Thing Called Too Much Information” – If you ever have some old speakers you want to destroy, remember this track.
- Kylie Minogue: “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” – The actual singing I can do without, but this is my favorite mainstream hit of 2002.
10 Albums I’m really pissed I missed as of press time:
- Deerhoof – Reveille (KRS)
- Ruins – Tzomborgha (Ipecac)
- Spring Heel Jack – Amassed (Thirsty Ear)
- Philip Jeck – Stoke (Touch)
- Mick Turner – Moth (Drag City)
- Lawrence – s/t (Ladomat)
- Marz – Love Streams (Karaoke Kalk)
- Radian – Rec.Extern (Thrill Jockey)
- Vajra – Mandala Cat Last (PSF)
- Young People – s/t (5RC)
And a special shout-out to the FLUX Quartet and their 6 hour, 7 minute, & 7 second recording of Morton Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2 (on Mode DVD). You’ve officially achieved hero status.
Looking ahead to 2003:
Prediction: Berlin techno will slither into the U.S. mainstream. Artists like Antonelli Ectr. and M.Mayer will make serious dough producing yet-to-be-determined female pop stars, creating campy sugar-coated gems to help revitalize a medium overly-dependent on R&B (i.e. Timbaland).
Prediction: CD-R labels will continue to flourish and namechecking John Olson will become a mandatory prerequisite at college radio stations across the continent.
Prediction: Load Records will clean up, with its everpresent janitor Ben at the helm. Records by Lightning Bolt, Neon Hunk and Noxagt, all within three months? Some guys get all the chicks.
Prediction: Kevin Shields discovers his checks bouncing, releases shitty album.
Prediction: Post-punk has had its fun. Time to recycle Big Black and the old Touch and Go catalog.
Smaller labels I’ll pay strict attention to:
2003 Albums I’ll buy immediately upon release:
Haley Bonar (Chairkickers)
!!! (Touch and Go)
Black Eyes comp (American Tapes)
Grand Ulena (Family Vineyard)
The Snares (Horrible)
Tumult's picture disc series featuring L/R, Reynols, and Circle.
By Otis Hart