Best Music of 2002: Ryan Potts

[16 December 2002]

By Ryan Potts

1. Liars, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top (Mute/Blast First)
Yeah, so this record was technically released last year on Gern Blandsten. So what? Finally people are taking notice after Mute adopted it and gave it a wide indie release earlier this year. The truth is, They Threw Us is one of the best things to fall from the Indie Rock Heaven of Mangled and Deconstructed Noise in a very long while. But you couldn’t tell from the band whose hacked this album of death disco beating, post-punk clashing and wild-eyed sincerity far, far away from the hoards of pretentious, high “intellect” indie rockers. No, Liars are about as common-man as rock ‘n’ roll can get. But in this average-dude-makin’-noise technique and deep inside their high-tension post-punk explosions lies some of the most exciting, most exhilarating and most challenging music in this age or any bygone era. Behold my favorite album in years—and that ain’t no lie.

2. Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights (Matador)
So they’ve been labeled Joy Division: Version 2.0 and placed in the mecca of hype in New York City. But forget all that. Turn on the Bright Lights may recall Ian Curtis and Co. (which could never be a bad thing, anyway), but Interpol warp Joy Division’s patented despondency into dark romanticism that’s lush and epical instead of sharp and distressed. Hypnotizing guitar figures and impassioned vocals abound, Interpol’s spellbinding black-clad indie rock doesn’t merely dawdle in the shadow of past touchstones, but instead blinds with a neoteric light all its own. Properly deemed my soundtrack to late night walks through the whitewashed winter months of Wisconsin, this album sleeps in my dreams and rescues me from my nightmares. Twenty years from now I’ll still be hanging on every jagged syllable spilling from Paul Banks’ mouth. A modern classic.

3. Sigur Rós, ( ) (MCA/Fat Cat)
The title rests as a pair of parenthesis, the album is vacant of song titles and lyrics are sung in a language foreign to this drab world. These are the things we know. But the things we don’t know, the things we fail to comprehend and the things that remain held under a veil of secrecy is what captures the potentially life altering magic on Sigur Rós’ second opus of heart melting, beautifully fragile art. ( ) holds music so breathtaking, so hauntingly gorgeous that it cannot be explained in any coherent, rational form. Perhaps this is why vocalist Jon Thor Birgisson scrapes our earth’s atmosphere with falsetto so heavenly it simply cannot take on any known language. ( ) is the sound of beauty taking its first breath in a fragile, reborn body. Truly from a realm far, far away.

4. The Blood Brothers, March on Electric Children (Three One G)
Premise: a novel of societal destruction and fictional protagonists disguised as a post-hardcore album. Raising the bar of the hardcore genre from inane and moronic to articulate and visionary, March on Electric Children stakes its territory out on a heavy music plane in dire need of an antidote to itself - and the Blood Brothers just may be hold the cure. With dual art-school screamers spitting venom, slash-and-burn guitars and writhing rhythms; this ultimately is a plotline of demoralized characters and corrupted societies constructed as a wake up call to a nation lulling itself into an ignorant slumber.

5. Liars, We No Longer Knew Who We Were (Hand Held Heart/Sound Virus)
This mere seven-minutes portrays why they’re musical saviors. I know it, you know it; yet they have no clue. But that’s the beauty of it.

6. Liars/Oneida, Atheists, Reconsider (Arena Rock Recording Co.)
How could I resist this? A recording between two of Brooklyn, New York’s most oblique noisemakers gather for 25-minutes of insanity crinkled post-punk experiments served up in irresistible split EP form. By each band covering one of the other’s tracks, Liars chop “Rose and Licorice” up into tiny bits and stitch it back together as a synth-punk track that thinks drum machines are a form of audio napalm and feedback is as essential as vocals. But that new sonic route is soon obliterated by the utter dementia that is “Dorothy Taps the Toe of the Tinman.” Yes, as in The Wizard of Oz. Liars score a scene from the infamous film to stoutly arrive at the conclusion that, yes, they are insane and, yes, they are brilliant. But is there even a difference?

7. Liars, Fins to Make Us More Fish-Like (Mute/Blast First)
Honing their distinct experimental edge, Liars carve these three spankin’ new songs of searing hot death disco with a newfound sense of spastic freedom and freeform experimentation. But this EP is even more than the dozen minutes its glorious music allocates; Fins is the sound of a band unaffected and utterly uncaring of anyone’s expectations that it appears as close to aural intuition as possible. This highly evolved state and surprising venture into the electronics of broken children’s toys and saxophones is natural, primal, honest, evolutionary, noisy, precise, jagged, exciting, riotous, experimental, modern, classic and just plain great simultaneously. As if there’s any surprise, I have found my new musical savoir: join me in my rejoicing. You’ll love it… but probably not as much as I do.

8. Radio 4, Gotham (Gern Blandsten)
So they’ve been pegged for aping Gang of Four and raping Public Image Limited. Despite their commonality with those two original post-punkers, Radio 4 are bringing sweat and energy to a dusty rock dancefloor. With chunks of white noise, an infiltration of keyboards and samplers and worldly hints of bongos, Gotham is the sound of an accelerated, funked up garage band clashing with the club scene of tomorrow. Replete with social outcries and snotty vocals, Radio 4 embody the proper evolution of punk dynamism and dancefloor nihilism.

9. ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Source Tags & Codes (Interscope)
Somehow this indie rock maelstrom of power has channeled its route from underground obscurity to major label standout. Regardless of what popularity level these four Texan noisemakers operate on, Source Tags & Codes is equal parts indie rock mayhem, punk dissonance and sublime melodicism. For every avalanche of noise, there is an immaculate harmony lurking in the background luring you deeper into the tangled web of mutilated guitars and visceral strength. But even the most minute of details scatter themselves throughout this album to equate power and finesse into a binding unit of indie rock goodness to… wait, they’re on the same label as Limp Bizkit?

10. Black Dice, Beaches & Canyons (DFA)
Yes, yet another hoard of New York noise-mongers finding their way onto my list. But this album is different—in all sense of the word. Black Dice, once acclaimed for their earthquakes of incoherent and insensible power-noise, have churned out ambient music for the Merzbow minded. Almost unspeakably different than their past works, this hour-long session of five tracks illustrates a band obsessed with the opportunity of redefining their sonic parameters and experimenting with themselves. They might be pretentious (they are), they might be full of themselves (they are), but they also might be great (they are).

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