David's Best of 2003
In no particular order, mainly because it's way too difficult to pit each record's emotional impact in a competition against the rest.
The Top Releases of 2003
KATATONIA -- Viva Emptiness [Peaceville]
A staggering collection of slick, brash and despondent Euro rock, Viva Emptiness is the album that finally exerted the potential previous Katatonia works always threatened with. The opening trio of "Ghost Of The Sun," "Sleeper" and "Criminal" could have led to accusations that the record favoured side A, but the Irish strains of "Omerta" and the cathartic brilliance of "Evidence" made the entire disc a gem.
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE -- You Forgot It In People [Arts & Crafts]
Don't listen to this band because of the hype. Listen because a collection of record geeks finally decided to push pop's boundaries and limits, creating one of the most emotional, genuine albums to come out of Canada over the last decade. The only problem? They call Toronto home. That sin is (somewhat) forgiven by the group's entirely fantastic live display at Montreal's Cabaret Music Hall last September.
DISFEAR -- Misanthropic Generation [Relapse]
Disfear is spastic rawkcore that acts as bottled adrenaline: if Misanthropic Generation was sold by the gram, drug dealers would be out of business. With the addition of Tomas Lindberg (ex-At The Gates, ex-The Crown, The Great Deceiver, Skitsystem) on vocals, Disfear's punked up version of Entombed and metallized jaunt into Discharge was the perfect jolt of engaging ultra-energy.
THE STROKES -- Room On Fire [RCA]
Though definitely not as consistent as Is This It, Room On Fire still presents us with the unequivocated New York cool only the Strokes can exude. Further, the melodies all over "What Ever Happened?," "Reptilia" and "Automatic Stop" make mis-steps "You Talk Way Too Much" and "I Can't Win" tolerable. Other noteworthies "The End Has No End" and the r&b-infused "Under Control" round out a record that is as listenable as it is fashionable.
ENSLAVED -- Below The Lights [The End]
Norway's national idiosyncrasy is a tough spectrum to define, mostly because that country is eclipsed by sun-less days for the majority of the year. It then logically follows that only Norwegians like Enslaved could encapsulate that bitter dearth of light. This band is on a definite roll, as 1999's Mardraum and 2001's Monumension are now joined by Below The Lights, a record that acts as the unifying force in what has become an un-planned trilogy of sorrow and solitude.
JOE STRUMMER AND THE MESCALEROS -- Streetcore [Hellcat]
God takes 'em in the wrong order, methinks: John and George before Ringo and Paul? In The Clash's case, continued heroin addict and ex-drummer Topper Headon has squandered his days, making Strummer's creative resurgence on 2001's Global A Go-Go and Streetcore all the more frustrating. Strummer is most certainly missed; Streetcore had him on a prolific musical trajectory that would have spawned several more excellent collections.
ULVER -- Lyckantropen Themes [Jester]
Technically a (very) late '02 release, Ulver's first foray into cinematic score resulted in the best ambient/electro-minimalist record of the year. A trip into every neuron that never fired in the proper sequence, Lyckantropen Themes dares you to explore the deepest facets of borderline silence/nihilism. Beautiful because of its sparsity, effective because of its paradoxical scope.
THE DATSUNS -- The Datsuns [V2]
The late-'70s inspired cock rockers initially come off as everything wrong with commercial rock during that vaunted period (and, conversely, everything horrid about radio rock circa '80-'91). But, as one begins to live with the record (cowbell and all), its sense of unbridled don't-give-a-fuck-'bout-nothin' rubs off. And, uh, confession time: even this indie snob was an avid Motley Crue fan at one point in time.
THE DEVIN TOWNSEND BAND -- Accelerated Evolution [InsideOut]
British Columbia's resident genius/madman Devin Townsend struck twice in 2003, with separate efforts from Strapping Young Lad and the band that bares his name. Accelerated Evolution is a lesson in reaching adulthood (according to Townsend himself), and the songs on record reflect that theme accordingly. Still, you can't take aggression out of the devil; Accelerated Evolution's atmospheric keys and guitars are always one step behind the jaded distortion pedals.
GEDANKEN -- The Void We Created [Independent]
Originally from Montreal but now operating out of Ottawa, Gedanken is the one man trip-hop project created by the mind of Francesco Costaguta. The Void We Created is a lesson in Fight Club syndrome: reality is abrasive, non-sensical, confrontational and skewed in the most aural of ways. Music this mature, reflective and cutting edge is all the more impressive given its independent nature.
SPITALFIELD -- Remember Right Now [Victory]
An emo effort that makes you wish you had lived in the suburbs growing up (I didn't), if only to experience those lost opportunities at teenage summer house parties and shenanigans at faceless, gigantic malls on lazy July days. When a record has you experiencing nostalgia you weren't even part of, a definite feat has been accomplished.
Top 3 Disappointments
1. Sloan -- Action Pact [BMG]
Pretty Together was the album that finally saw all four members of these Halifax-bred rockers working in unison, producing majestic (yup, majestic!) results that far surpassed any limiting indie-rock scope. On Action Pact, the band retreated back to basic riff-rock reminiscent of Blue Oyster Cult, Foreigner and April Wine. The only saviour tunes on Action Pact were The Smiths-inspired "False Alarm" and the excruciatingly catchy "Hollow Head." Other than that? A huge letdown from veterans who know better than to stagnate.
2. The Dears -- No Cities Left [Maple Music]
The press, the vanity, the ego... it all went to Murray's head, masochistically leaving the smoke-filled cabaret atmosphere of Orchestral Pop Noir Romantique behind.
3. The Hellacopters -- By The Grace Of God (Universal)
It pains me to say it, but Nicke Andersson and his band of MC5-obsessed Swedes have lost the cred and pure rawk fury that classics Payin' The Dues and Supershitty To The Max inherently strutted. Is that what happens when one leaves the garage for classic rock radio?