Monday, November 24, 2008

2003: if you hate your friends, you're not alone.

I suppose I should preface this passage by mentioning that I am now much healthier and happier, and it is because of this that I don’t feel sorry for not fully fleshing out the following. That being said, 2003 was the shittiest year of my life. I was really starting to drift away from my band (they wanted to cover Linkin Park; I wanted to cover The Ramones). I hated my best friend for swooping in and snatching up a girl who I was head over heels for, partially because he then proceeded to treat her like shit, partially because he rubbed my face in it, and partially because he openly admitted to me that he only went after her because, in my frequent appraisals of her, I made her sound like the best lady of all ladies. There was more to it than that, but it doesn’t matter now.

The year ended pretty badly. My grandmother had developed Alzheimer’s a few years back, and her slow decline left her angry, vindictive. Old issues that had long since been settled suddenly came to light, forcing me to deal with problems that I really shouldn’t have had any part in. I learned some ugly things about my family. It was weird too; these problems had long ago been resolved How do you react when you learn that a loved one used to be a bad person, but has atoned for his and/or her sins?

Mom-Mom died Dec. 23, 2003. My boss let me go early that day. We buried her Dec. 26, 2003, next to Pop-Pop’s grave in Conshohocken. I was a pallbearer. The idea was to have the eldest grandson from each family carry her. I was to the left of the casket, which went against my left-handedness. I tripped once but I didn’t lose my step or my grip. The moments I remember most vividly are 1) being so freaked out when I walked to Mom-Mom’s open casket; it was her but it wasn’t. And 2) wanting so badly to cry. And I couldn’t.

Being straight edge, I wasn’t in a position to self-medicate. So I turned to music and hoped to a God I no longer believed in that college would be OK, even though I didn’t want to live long enough to find out. I banged my drums and I played my CDs.

Catatonic? I’m bleeding quadraphonic.

Also, I read a lot of Albert Camus and J.D. Salinger.

10. Yellowcard – Ocean Avenue

This is the official pop punk album of summer 2003 between my friends and me. By this point, our musical tastes had splintered off; I was listening to a lot of Mars Volta and Ben Kweller while they were just getting into Yellowcard and Simple Plan. And while I have some pretty shitty memories of being locked in cars with No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls in the stereo, I also have even more fond recollections of Ocean Avenue. Arguably the culmination of whatever Yellowcard was trying to achieve (pop punk + violin, perhaps?), Ocean Avenue is vaguely emotive, but mostly just a super fun pop rock exploration. “View From Heaven” is a touching ode to a deceased lover, “Way Away” is a solid rocker, and “Back Home” is a bummer anthem for those that hate their hometowns. And of course, there’s always that catchy little title track. I still hum a couple of the song's lines whenever I'm on Ocean Avenue or Cherry Street.

9. Cat Power – You Are Free

On You Are Free, Chan Marshall started to break free from her folk-y, Southern Gothic sound in favor of something a lil more twang-y and soulful. Cat Power is probably one of my favorite vocalists of all time; her voice is smooth like gin, capable of sounding mournful and celebratory at the same time. She’s like the Irish wake of singers. Things would get even mellower on her follow-up, The Greatest, but You Are Free catches Marshall at a good crossroads – hints of the her old indie folk style on “Free” mix freely with her sexy new minimalism on “I Don’t Blame You.”

8. Thursday – War All the Time

Am I the only one who thinks Thursday has actually gotten better with each record? Don’t get me wrong; Full Collapse is a great, brutal album. But its style has been so thoroughly co-opted by lesser bands that it sounds kinda dated now. It’s become an album I respect for being innovative more than anything else. War All the Time, though, found the band massively expanding their palette. Oh sure, there’s angst aplenty, but there are also discussions about sexuality (“Signals Over the Air"), pro-gay anthems (“M. Shepard”), and political missives (like half the album). Frontman Geoff Rickley really started to expand his focus here, writing an emo album that harkened back to the D.C. underground, providing an overview of one’s entire life, and not just the way some girls can be bitches.

7. The Sounds – Living in America

¡Viva la Swedish synth rock! Dave Grohl, James Iha, and I agree, The Sounds’ debut, Living in America, was a thrilling Blondie-esque garage rock love affair, an unstoppable pop juggernaut that was punk-y and new wave-y in the old sense, even if I can only count on one hand how many people in America like them. Retro and exciting, the album somehow managed to be a throwback to 1982 while being way catchier than a lot of the albums released in 1982. From “Seven Days a Week” to “S.O.U.N.D.S.”, Living in America is unrelentingly infectious. Well, come on. Come get up and dance with me.

6. Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism

If you live in southeastern Pennsylvania, sooner or later you go through a right of passage: You get lost in Jersey when trying to drive to and/or from Philadelphia. I’m still slowly figuring out my way around the city, and the first place I ever learned how to get to consistently was St. Joe’s University, during my senior year of high school. Two of my older high school friends, Dave Drayton and FITZ!, had a student-run radio show there on WSJR. I listened to it pretty much every week while doing my homework, and eventually they asked me to come over to do the show with them. I got there without a hitch, had a lot of fun, and even learned how to use a soundboard. Then, somehow, I completely fucked up the drive back. I missed the on-ramp to 76-W and, unaware of my mistake, just kinda kept driving straight. For an hour. Freaked out, I kept driving and driving, eventually pulling over and asking for directions. I got home at like 9:30 p.m. that night and proceeded to desperately halfass my math anal homework.

Two things made my stupid, stupid driving experience tolerable: I got some help from my mom, courtesy of my new fangled cell phone. And I was listening to my recently purchased copy of Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism. I listened to the album for the first time on the drive down to the university, and ended up listening to it many, many more times on the way back. Songs like “Title and Registration,” “A Lack of Color,” and especially “Transatlanticism” made me just sane enough to not crash my car. The title track’s slow build from somber piano to chiming guitars made me feel calm as unknown buildings and lines wizzed by. I’ve had a lot of records help me while I felt lost; Transatlanticism is the only one to guide me while I was literally so.

5. Kenna – New Sacred Cow

SCI-FI Channel used to have a late night showcase for independent short films called Exposure, and I seriously miss it. My favorite short was “More” by Mark Osborne, a claymation piece about how materialism doesn’t make us any happier, even if we become bold innovators. Later, on MTV2, I came across a song called “Hell Bent,” which used footage from “More.” The artist was named Kenna. “Hell Bent” tapped right into the intense angst I was going through, aided by some dope-ass beats. I would later learn that Chad Hugo from The Neptunes wrote the music with Kenna, which is weird given how not-mainstream the album sounds. Also worth noting for its oddness is that Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst is who got Kenna signed in the first place.

Anywhoozle, I spent many months trying to hunt down Kenna’s album, New Sacred Cow. Nobody had it. In a random bit of bonding, Eric, the hip-hop-lovin’ African-American DJ and then-assistant manager at my Sam Goody, talked to me about his own frustrations about trying to find the album. The only other time we bonded was when he tried to justify Beast Machines’ ending to me. We both agreed that Dinobot’s death was both fucked up yet brilliant, though.

THAT BEING SAID, one day I did get to buy New Sacred Cow, and it was awesome. Poignant yet danceable, Kenna’s first album moved my three key listening organs: my feet, my head, and my heart. Not everything is as dark and moody as “Hell Bent” (check the smooth jazz solo on “Yenah Ababa (Rose)”), but you can bet it’ll be good.

4. Bear Vs. Shark – Right Now, You’re in the Best of Hands. And If Something Isn't Quite Right, Your Doctor Will Know in a Hurry

Somewhere, Nate Adams is throwing a shit fit.

Sweet merciful Christ how I miss Bear Vs. Shark. Spastic yet muscular, Right Now, You’re in the Best of Hands… is blisteringly brilliant. It’s like XTC meets Hot Water Music, all angular and c-c-c-c-crazy yet very, very hardcore. The record stomps faces right away with the lead track, “Ma Jolie.” The drums could derail at any moment, the guitars are sloppy and crunchy and then, without warning, everything locks into a dancey post-punk beat. And then it all ends in a percussionless campfire singalong, which is funny because the next song is called “Campfire,” and it will fuck your shit up. My favorite song from the album has always been “Second,” if only for the passion behind the lines “And I’ll take what is given to me / and I’ll realize I’m not going home.” It’s kind of became my mantra, even though I refuse to accept my current living status and I do in fact live at home.

3. The Lawrence Arms – The Greatest Story Ever Told

“I’m gonna scream into your telephone!”

Chicago’s Larry Arms emerged from the shadow of their buddies Alkaline Trio in the new millennium, first with Apathy and Exhaustion and then with their 2003 magnum opus, The Greatest Story Ever Told. Everything you could love about the band was cranked up a couple extra notches – dueling vocals, high and low cultural references, and pop punk guitarmegeddon. The album opens on a solemn, almost gothic note with “The Raw and Searing Flesh” before kicking into full-on Chi-town punk rock. A pseudo-concept album about the band’s influences, The Greatest Story Ever Told strives to take in every book, film, and TV show ever made. Faust, Catcher in the Rye, and Hot Shots! Part Deux all collide into one another, with the point being that, like your food, it’s OK to switch up your diet. The whole dang record is great throughout, but for me it’s the ending that goes over best. Just nine seconds short of the four-minute mark, “The Disaster March” careens through rhythms, winding itself into a fury, declaring itself relevant and alive, before ultimately telling listeners to, “Shout me in the streets and parks / scrape your voices on the stars.”

2. Dresden Dolls – Dresden Dolls

Punk rock cabaret they tells me. It’s a hyper-specific genre, and no one does it nearly as well as Dresden Dolls (although you could probably make a successful argument that World/Inferno Friendship Society belongs in that style too). The band’s been experiencing some diminished returns lately, but I can remember being freaked out by the mix of influences present during my first trip to Otakon. I was drawn to the punk fervor of single “Girl Anarchonism,” and while nothing else on the album comes close to conjuring up that kind of insanity, there’s still plenty to love about a band that blends equal parts Black Sabbath, Tori Amos, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “Half Jack” is the slow-to-rise stomper, monolithic in its destruction and female angst. “Coin-Operated Boy” and “Missed Me” are the kitschy cabaret tunes that blend Berlin with overwhelming sexuality. Frontwoman Amanda Palmer even manages to craft a perfect pop song about a lost love with “Jeep Song.” Dresden Dolls was made by a band brimming with ideas, and I hope that the duo will reconvene for a proper third LP to show us what else they can do.

1. Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros – Streetcore

Joe Strummer died way too soon. Sure, he had enough fun to last several lifetimes, and he gave the world at least nine incredible albums of music (I still haven’t heard his soundtracks or 101ers material, so I might need to upgrade that number). But if Streetcore is any indication, the guy was just warming up for his second wind with The Mescaleros. The album comes off more focused than Rock Art and the X-Ray Style or Global A Go-Go, perhaps due to Strummer’s premature death. The finished tracks, like “Coma Girl” and “Get Down Moses,” are still firmly planted in world music, but a clearer pop focus. “Coma Girl” is easily one of the catchiest songs Strummer ever wrote, and it’s arguably my favorite. Streetcore is rounded out by demos Joe left behind, such as covers of “Redemption Song,” “Long Shadow,” and “Silver and Gold,” as well as a mix of segments from Joe’s radio show entitled “Midnight Jam.” “Silver and Gold” in particular is affecting for the line “I’m gonna do everything silver and gold / but I have to hurry up before I grow too old.” At 51, Saint Joe Strummer still had a lot to do.

I got into The Ramones’ after Joey Ramone died, and the same happened with The Clash and The Mescaleros when Joe passed on. The Singles Collection taught me about ’77 British punk, but it wasn’t until Streetcore came out the year after Strummer’s death that I really learned to love the man. I’ve become a huge fan since then. I make it a point to spin Streetcore every time I go to the beach. The album’s mix of raga and pop seems appropriate. Plus, Joe was a big fan of staying in touch with nature. But man do I wish he had stuck around to write more.

NEXT WEEK: first wave intact, pointy fucking shoes, lovers underneath the covers, 2004.


Paul Tsikitas said...

Wow. 2003 was an epic year for records. That was probably my favorite year for my radio show. The Shins "Chutes Too Narrow", Malkmus' "Pig Lib", and the ones you mentioned here are all pretty great. I remember snatching the Dresden Dolls CD from the station and copying it after hearing "Coin-Operated Boy" and immediately knowing that it was something special. "Streetcore" is fitfully brilliant. "Transatlanticism" is the last truly great Death Cab album, perfect from start to finish.

I can't till yer 2004 list, the best year of my life and your entrance into the grand ol place called La Salle.

Mr. Dogg said...

4! 3! 1! ALL OF THEM ARE GREAT!!!!



Coooooooohma girl! of the excitement gang!