Best Music of 2003 | Ryan Potts

Ryan Potts

1. The Blood Brothers, Burn Piano Island, Burn (Artist Direct)
Earlier this year, my friend gave me a piece of blank paper with the instructions, "I want to know what you love about music. Write it on here." I should have just given her this album, as Burn Piano Island, Burn is tattooed on the inside of my heart in sound waves and encoded in my brain with neurons of noise. But the thing that I continue to love about Burn Piano Island, Burn is its sheer indescribability -- no matter how many thousands of words I've shed in this album's wake, nothing can capture its destructive, heart-crushing beauty. It's simply inexpressible bliss. Burn Piano Island, Burn leaps so far past mandated musical boundaries that it's setting a learning curve for rock's next millennia; it's accelerating punk rock into a subversive, intelligent future vacant of trends, stereotypes, and sickeningly typical norms. But, even above all of that, the Blood Brothers are the ambulance that's attempting to revive our artistically ill, ignorance-riddled, emotionally impoverished culture with an allegorical lyrical bite. And they've succeeded: Burn Piano Island, Burn is an album that squeezes bits of heaven into your eardrums, overturns our corpse of a culture, begs you to do the same all while shifting paradigms, warping minds, altering lives and now topping my all-time favorite list.

2. Wolf Eyes, Dead Hills (Troubleman Unlimited)
Wolf Eyes, without uttering a word -- at least one that's not indecipherable -- create sound as decay, a lyric-less voice that paints a picture of my rotting Midwestern landscape with broken electronic equipment, homemade noise machines and rewired, fucked up, distorted effects pedals. But, ironically, it's not the eroded walls of my city's downtown, brick-faced buildings that point toward decay. It's the carving of the bluffs and hills with zigzagging segments of pavement, the grotesquely huge houses that slouch into the forested landscape. It's construction as corrosion, the expansion of money-riddled mankind into nature. That's decay. But >Dead Hills isn't destruction; it's simply the sound of things falling apart, being torn to shreds, and crumbling to dust. And Wolf Eyes -- in this record's mere three tracks -- ascend cathartic electronic noise to a new level: a level of menacing brilliance, a level where our cultural decay is appropriately pillaged and plundered.

3. Lightning Bolt, Wonderful Rainbow (Load)
I've always led my little brother on his path to musical taste. I always thought I knew what he liked, too. But the day I excitedly threw some crumpled dollar bills on the local record store's counter and proceeded to have my ear's detonated in my car stereo by Wonderful Rainbow, I was astounded to hear him say, "I fucking love this." Of course, he ensued to steal my Lightning Bolt CDs constantly. But it was -- and still is -- such a pleasure to share the experience of being trapped in the tornado and tangled in the noise of Wonderful Rainbow. Lightning Bolt defy the power that two musicians can propel: Brian Chippendale slams every beat on his drum kit like he's nailing railroad ties, while Brian Gibson pushes his punishing 3800 watt amp to the limit with bass so gnarled and nasty that brain damage is likely to occur. And every time "Assassins" kicks in with its stomach-churning bass and stomping percussion, it'll always remind me of you, Adam.

4. Fennesz, Live in Japan (Headz)
I'm currently listening to Fennesz's recently recorded Live in Japan disc -- as I have countless times prior -- and each and every time I hear it I escape to a different world, a realm where Christian Fennesz carves my mind into music and drowns me in digital noise so beautiful that tears swell and my heart twists. Of Live in Japan's 43 minutes, the majority of it is extracted from one of sound's most beautiful entries into music, Fennesz's Endless Summer. Although here the Austrian native stitches his electronically-stimulated heart-shattering works together with more violent layers of static and brushes them with denser distortion than his previous full-length, Fennesz still illustrates an apex of musical exquisiteness and emotion. Fennesz expels textures that seethe with so much life that it feels as if it's amplified into three dimensions, or at the very least defies the amount of warmth, emotion, vibrancy, and power a sole laptop and guitar can exercise. It's like hearing My Bloody Valentine run through frayed computer cables, Sigur Ros translating Merzbow, pixels spilling over shards of glass and strewn in lace. Just. Fucking. Beautiful.

5. Mogwai, Happy Songs for Happy People (Matador)
Another brilliant release from my favorite Scotsmen. As if that wasn't enough, Happy Songs for Happy People captures a sonic glimpse of Mogwai in the midst of evolution: gone are the climactic peaks of >Young Team's post-rock crescendos as they are replaced with shorter, more succinct songwriting that wrenches your heart and stirs your emotions with different means altogether. Happy Songs envisions Mogwai expanding their delicate sonic masterpieces in order to ascend to new heights: heights where melodies explode with brightness and beauty ("Kids Will Be Skeletons"), pianos shimmer and twinkle ("I Know You Are But What Am I"), and synths buzz and swarm with distorted noise ("Stop Coming to My House"). What I love about Mogwai is that everything they've ever put to tape transcends time, space, and volume with material so moving that minutes seem to shrink to seconds as their music fills what feels like acres of space. Happy Songs is no exception and I'm sure most of their notes and the majority of their subtle noise is still lodged in my brain somewhere.

6. The Rapture, Echoes (DFA/Universal)
Delays, label changes, and turmoil with their producers all hinted at a collapse of what the Rapture have grown to do best: making great dance-digi-funk-synth-art-post-punk-with-a-squealin'-saxophone tunes. But Echoes is anything but a failure -- even more than that, it captures the Rapture reinventing their dancefloor-ready formula to include riffs Ziggy Stardust could only dream and ballads that could make Cure aficionados weep. But how can an album that's part Ziggy Stardust, part teary balladry, and two parts dance-punk equal a cohesive album, let alone a great one? I don't know, but in the case of the Rapture's Echoes, hearing is believing.

7. Saturday Looks Good To Me, All Our Summer Songs (Polyvinyl)
Saturday Looks Good To Me may resurrect all the common classics: from the Beach Boys to Motown to Phil Spector, but no matter how predictable that may seem, All Our Summer Songs explores something that's been vacant from the musical radar recently: beautiful pop songs. All Our Summer Songs, at its heart, is carelessly fun, invigorating, exuberant, and packed with so much life that every sonic inch is saturated with chiming bells, buzzing guitar, swelling strings, squawking saxophones, mellow acoustics, dance-y keyboards, and, of course, pop melodies that swirl around in your mind for weeks. While other neo-pop outfits have annexed thousands of pages of press (Polyphonic Spree, the Shins, New Pornographers), Saturday Looks Good To Me have been criminally overlooked and vastly underappreciated. Still, All Our Summers Songs resurrects only smiles, never disdain, as Saturday Looks Good To Me recalls and effectively reintroduces the timeless pop formula.

8. Ex Models, Zoo Psychology (Frenchkiss)
Start. Noise. Spastic. Burst. Sharp. Panic. Stop. Repeat. Read those last eight words ten times fast while on acid and only then might you begin to get the sensation of what it feels like to be in the grips of Zoo Psychology. Yeah, it's completely crazy, eccentric, and fucked up music, but that's exactly what makes the Ex Models sound so amazingly good on this record. It's dance music made by A.D.D.-addled freaks who would rather burst your eardrums than move your feet. It's the sound of noise being run through numerous mental illnesses while being addicted to caffeine. It's rock music dancing at a demented disco as it decomposes into a fit of racket and a tantrum of noise. It's also the sound of neurotic genius.

9. M83, Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts (Gooom)
Ever since I discovered My Bloody Valentine's illustrious Loveless album in my adolescence, it has altered my musical taste, perspective, and outlook forever. Since then I've been searching for its successor -- and I've never found it. While I wait for Kevin Shields to mend a follow-up, M83 has carved its unique niche into shoegaze's canon. However, Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts is an album that, contrary to many of their shoegaze peers, is largely electronically based -- its instrumental passages build synthesizer textures layer upon layer to create a euphoric blend of noise that swirls with shades of distortion and tints of icy warmth. It's not exactly synthetic, not quite organic, but absolutely beautiful.

10. Wire, Send (Pink Flag)
With Send, 1977's punk valedictorians are still more adamant than ever about hating nostalgia, incessantly pushing towards a brighter future, and never once looking back with regret. Phrases like "artistically aggressive" and "creatively ambitious" don't even begin to describe. After all, this is the band that hired an opening act to play their entire Pink Flag album in 1978 so they wouldn't be bothered with its so-called "dated" material. Send's eleven tracks, on the other hand, are the most distorted 3-D shapes I've heard a record spew since Primal Scream's XTRMNTR as Wire produces a menacing, ominous sound that buries their past post-punk aesthetic beneath shards of serrated feedback and distorted vocals. This time around, Send shreds guitars that saw through stereos and drums that fracture bones and beats inside an industrial-punk blender. However, it remains to be seen if Send will cast the perpetually looming shadow that Wire-s two introductory albums have, but if history's any indicator, Wire will be too busy breaking new ground to care.

Top 5 Songs of the Year

Due to the unbearable personal heaviness with which my top album in this year's favorites list weighs in, the following tracks are songs that cannot be found on the above list of selections.

The Martini Henry Rifles, "God Make Me Destroy Those Infidels"
Finally. I've been waiting for something like this since I discovered the Stooges: something that injects so much rock 'n' roll excitement into my soul that I can't help but yelp along, move my feet every which way, and beg for more. It's a brilliant mixture of psychosis, McLusky, amphetamines, violence, and the Jesus Lizard that would be propelled onto the above list if I could actually track down their album.

Daughters, "My Stereo Has Mono and So Does My Girlfriend"
Their follow-up full-length was great, but Daughters' debut 7" was an even more dangerously chaotic blend of atom-splitting noisecore. So what if it sounds like the vocalist is gargling shards of broken glass, the guitars sound more like knives stabbing your ears than mere notes being plucked, and it all implodes in just over a minute?

Radiohead, "The Gloaming"
A bit of Kid A genius seeping through a muddled mess of mediocrity that is Hail to the Thief. On an album that I was extremely disappointed by, "The Gloaming" protruded with the appropriately oblique bleeps and blips, haunting vocal whispers, and emotional catharsis I was looking for when Thief dropped this past June.

!!!, "Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story)" (Touch & Go)
2003's track most likely to get the wallflowers moving, the hipsters talking, and my hips shaking.

Rjd2, "Good Times Roll Pt. 1" (Def Jux)
Rjd2's "The Horror" single may have been basically an ill-conceived follow-up of extras and b-sides to one of my favorite albums, his 2002 debut, Deadringer, but "Good Times Roll Pt. 1" proves that Rj still has the skill to seamlessly blend about every genre imaginable into a delicious, bluesy instrumental hip-hop track that sounds like a party exploding in my stereo.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.