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Albums of 2003

Records records records records records. It’s what it’s all about, no? Well, records and CDs, if you really want to get pedantic about it. Recent statistics show that 75% of records released within a single year are worthless pieces of crap, and so how do you – the shopper – know what to choose when investing in your next chunk of musical wonder?

You’d do well to start here: peruse the following list of the best albums of 2003, and ingest the wise comments from diskant staff members. These are our Best Records Ever If 2003 Was The Only Year In Which Records Got Released. The list was compiled with a proper mathematical, statistical, logical process, and is based on top ten lists supplied by staff members and contributors. As far as we know none of them received any bribes or, er, ‘encouragement’ from any sources. Your panel of commentators is Chris Haikney, Hugues Mouton, Marceline Smith, Ollie Simpson, Dave Stockwell, John Coburn, Chris Summerlin, Stuart Fowkes and Simon Minter.

* * *

Cat on Form – Structure and Fear

CH: I thought I wouldn’t get viscerally hooked by guitar music again until I saw Cat on Form play live. The album didn’t instantaneously grab me like the live show but it’s grown on me like er… a tender angry flower. It’s got edges and energy and great lyrics and all the stuff I’ve found missing from most other guitar bands for the last couple of years. It’s the only such album to make an emotional connection to me anyway.

HM: I’m afraid of structure, so that one hits the nerve I think. Are they any good? Should I listen to them?

MS: This was definitely my favourite album of the year. Yes, Steve has been involved with diskant since the beginning of time but we don’t let a little nepotism get in the way of shouting about great music. Cat on Form remind me at times of Huggy Bear and of Fugazi, two of my favouritest bands ever so in some ways they couldn’t fail to appeal. Add the vibrant runaway train zip of the Oedipus and you’ve got me, sold. It even manages to capture the urgency of the COF live show as the songs switch from gleeful simplicity to epic dirge to ravaging havoc and all shot through with a clear intelligence that makes most political bands sound like Some People Shouting About Stuff.

* * *

Lightning Bolt – Wonderful Rainbow

HM: Has anyone seen the live video? What a crazy video… amazing record, anyway.

OS: Very nearly almost as good as Ride The Skies.

DS: Their third album sees them edge closer to creating a record that is comparable to their legendary live show (their documentary film The Power of Salad blows away almost all of their recorded output), and thankfully abandon most of the nursery rhyme melodies nonsense that occasionally clouded Ride The Skies. I love the way that it seems to shed more and more melody as it progresses, eventually descending into some pretty demonic whirling dervishes near the end. One of my highlights of 2003 was dancing like a crazed gibbon on a boat in Bristol whilst Chris Clark mixed a Daniel Johnston song into Assassin – easily LB’s greatest dancefloor-filling moment yet. Watch out, because they’re finally hitting these shores for a week at Easter…

MS: RAAAAAAARGH!! I was astounded when I first heard this and started enthusing dumbly to everyone in capitals with multiple exclamation marks. In real life when I talked about it zigzagged speech bubbles appeared above my head and my eyes grew manga sized. Possibly. The biggest, loudest, dayglo mentalist record you were likely to hear this year. It made me want to wear orange trousers.

JC: On the The Power of Salad DVD (the band’s outstanding tour documentary that was also released last year), the drummer of this band attempts to argue that his music has more in common with no frills classic rock than with the artsy pretensions of groups such as Black Dice. Perhaps a slightly tongue-in-cheek attempt to play down the band’s unusual and rather ambitious set-up (one bass guitar, one battered drum, one distorted voice box encased in a ski mask), but he does drive home a clear message- Lightning Bolt are a rock band. And in Wonderful Rainbow, they’ve probably released the best rock record of 2003. Beneath the squall of thundering guitar, there are actual tunes and they ARE catchy. And despite the relentless drum battering, every song on this album is a definite foot-tapper. Might I even go as far to suggest this is also a contender for ‘Party Album of 2003’?

* * *

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Master and Everyone

CS: I read some reviews where this got run down a bit. It does lack some of the bite of other Will Oldham records but to criticize it for this would be missing the point. It’s supposed to be quiet and hushed, the tones are supposed to be this warm. I got a CDR from the internet of some of this before it was released and on my birthday last year it came on my stereo at 5am as my timer went off. It was the first time I’d heard the record and I’ll never forget the moment. Later that day I pooed myself but at least it started well.

DS: If you listen to this album with headphones on at full volume, you can hear
dear Will’s feet tapping on the floor, keeping himself in time.

MS: I almost forgot this came out last year. It was such an understated record it rarely makes any impression on my everyday thoughts. But sometimes I’ll spot it on my work playlists and fall for it over again. It just the thing for gloomy mornings at work when everything just makes you feel tired. It’s an understanding kind of record.

* * *

Khanate – Things Viral

OS: This album is the aural equivalent of being slowly and repeatedly hit in the face with a very blunt axe for an hour. This album almost reaches the point where it can no longer be classified as music, or even sound. This album is pure, white, unadulterated hatred, more bleak, hollow and terrible than anything previously captured in the history of humanity. This album is an awesome achievement.

DS: Unadulterated black-hearted g(l)ory.

JC: The one time I listened to this album in its entirety was on a gruelling coach journey through the stark Swedish countryside in the middle of winter. The gut-wrenching desolation of Things Viral drew innumerable parallels with the bleak, frozen wilderness that lay beyond the condensation-covered windows of the overcrowded bus. Four tracks and sixty minutes long, this record perfectly soundtracked these barren and uninhabitable landscapes. It’s difficult to describe how an album that is so slow (the rhythm section amounts to little more than a very occasionally struck snare and a random burst of cymbal) and so sparse (the guitar work rarely exceeds sluggish, reverberating noise) can provide such an intensely claustrophobic experience. Undoubtedly, it’s the frenetic vocal work of Alan Dubin that steers this brooding body of music into such unsettling territory. ‘Outside: ugly things viral/Stay inside, stay inside’, he warns as the album reaches its final quarter. It seemed only right that I should accidentally leave it on the bus when I finally reached the welcoming glow of my destination.

* * *

Animal Collective – Here Comes the Indian

SM: Ah, considering the fact that I bought very few new albums in 2003, you may think that it wouldn’t take much to impress me. However, this album did genuinely impress me, because it was like nothing I’d heard before – such a rare thing these days. Creepy woodland chants, strange cultish goings-on, a general sense of hallucinogen-fuelled derangement, you gotta love it! Backed up by an outstanding live performance in Oxford – which seemed to split the audience into two camps (“are they kidding?” and “this is wonderful”), Animal Collective, if nothing else, proved that bands can still be original in a day an age when originality seems almost frowned upon.

SF: I heard this coming out of your esteemed column editor’s bedroom just before we went to see them live, and it sounded like the cast of Cannibal Holocaust dropping acid and playing on dustbins – frightening, tribal noise. I’m pleased to report it was more of the same live, and wonderful in its refusal to be classfied as, well, anything really.

* * *

Rachel’s – Systems/layers

CH: I might only have bought it because of residual guilt over insulting their roadie at ATP 2002 but I’m very glad I did. It’s lovely from start to finish and seems to come from a parallel universe where classically trained musicians play beautiful new pieces instead of 300 year old works in stuffy concert halls. Plus the photos are nice too.

MS: I haven’t heard this yet despite having had many e-mails from Southern asking what I think of the copy they sent me. I hate you Royal Mail! Should really get round to replying to those emails sometime. Stupid broken internet.

* * *

Radiohead – Hail to the Thief

MS: I find it difficult to listen to Radiohead these days – the quiet bits bring thoughts of Coldplay to mind and the loud bits bring Muse to mind, possibly the top two bands I don’t want to think about at all. I realise it’s not Radiohead’s fault for inspiring such crap but there you go. However, I just copied this album off a workmate’s computer out of interest (Sadly none of them had any Deerhoof or Khanate…) and it’s not half bad. Nice layering of electronics in particular.

SF: It seems very odd to (a) be writing about this in January ’04; and (b) writing about the new Radiohead album at all – these things must be just about the most dissected records in music whenever they plop out these days, so anything I can add will have been said better by loads of other people. Suffice to say that this is, while perhaps not peaking as high as the very best moments of Kid A and Amnesiac , no doubt their most consistent album since 1997. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it shouldn’t – what struck me most about the album was its confidence, the absolute sureness with which they’ve somehow managed to do exactly what they fe el like while remaining one of the most popular bands in the world. And ‘Backdrifts’ is one of my favourite Radiohead songs, so there.

* * *

Deerhoof – Apple O’

CS: The closest thing to the Magic Band I’ve heard. They write great songs and then strip them down to just before the point of breaking. So you have to fill the gaps in yourself. Its interactive pop record making! Be the extra member!

DS: Hooray, their most straight-ahead record, and it’s still head-twistingly strange and exciting. After the extraordinary eclecticism of ‘Reveille’, Deerhoof acquired a second guitarist and consequently spend most of Apple O’ rocking out like spasticated daddies. The dichotomy of the flailing screeching garage guitars going head on up against Satomi’s sweet vocals make this definitely the cutest record of the year at the very least. They’ve already got a brand new album all ready for release, so expect some kind of minor world domination soon.

* * *

Sunn 0))) – White1

HM: As much as it is true that their bowel shaking drones don’t go unnoticed live, it’s very easy to listen to the cd and not realise it’s actually on. That’s what happened to me and a friend when we tried to listen to it at home after their gig. Or were we deaf?

OS: A lot of people seemed to hate Julian Cope’s strange babblings on My Wall, but I loved ’em. Apart from the “motherfucker/cocksucker/ding-dong/sing-song” bit, that was a little odd.

DS: Gotta love those vocals. My neighbours must hate my guts.

* * *

Erase Errata – At Crystal Palace

SF: With thirteen tracks clocking in at a little short of half an hour, Erase Errata certainly ain’t outstayin’ their welcome. In fact, they force-feed you Sunny Delight and Pro Plus, tie you to a playground roundabout and spin you round, then run off cackling. Wonderfully buoyant, elastic basslines bounce along, underpinning Nation of Ulysses-esque horn skwerks and high-end, spidery guitar patterns. Intricately-constructed, crystalline miniatures, the lot of ’em, and what’s more, it’s the album you can listen between meals without ruining your appetite.

* * *

Also highly commended…

Being the albums which didn’t quite make it into The List…

Ex Models – Zoo psychology, Jane’s Addiction – Strays, Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – Hearts of oak, Of – The infant paths, Ove-Naxx – Bullets over Habikino City HxCx, Venetian Snares – Stupid chocolate wheelchair, Whitehouse – Bird Seed, The Workhouse – The end of the pier, Cat Power – You are free, Black Eyes – Black Eyes, Mogwai – Happy songs for happy people, Noxagt – Turning it down since 2001, The Rapture – Echoes, Sole – Selling live water, Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies – Let’s get going… you’re fracturing me with this misery


So, a fine victory for long-time diskant friends and supporters Cat on Form there! If you haven’t heard ‘Structure and fear’ yet, go and buy a copy IMMEDIATELY. This year’s chart seems to tend towards the more chaotic and noisy end of music, which in turn seems a reflection of what went on in independent music over the past twelve months. Everybody seemed to be getting angry and confrontational. However, there are still a few breaks from all that noise in there, with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy sitting in third place, and Ove-Naxx, Venetian Snares and Sole reinforcing the fact that not everything is about guitars.

Our favourite films of 2003