December 31, 2003

The Best of 2003.

There used to be a time when I would have a nice long list of favorite books and films as well, but I barely got to read or watch anything. (So if you're wondering where The Station Agent or Mystic River or 21 Grams or The Triplets of Belleville or Lost in Translation or Swimming Pool or even Kill Bill Vol. 1 is, I haven't seen them, unfortunately.) So, here we go: my favorite music of 2003, a couple of movies, and a trio of books. (As usual, as it includes new discoveries, so not everything came out this year.)

Top 7 Titles:
(actually, 59 albums all told)

dengue fever
Dengue Fever, Dengue Fever (2003)

The concept goes like this: indie supergroup does covers of '70s Cambodian rock songs (and one Ethiopian song), complete with the amazing Chhom Nimol, a Cambodian pop star now residing in Long Beach. Whether an object lesson in cultural appropriation, loving homage, or testament to the universal power of rock 'n roll, this album is one of my best listens of the year. (Ros Serey Sothea's "I'm Sixteen," which some of you may be familiar with from the Cambodian Rocks or Love, Peace and Poetry compilations as the mystery "A2" track, is given, at first listen, a disappointingly polished reading, but it ends with an appealing coda that deftly evokes cheap-Siem-Reap-bar ambience.)

dub side of the moon
Easy Star All-Stars, Dub Side of the Moon (2003)

It sounds gimmicky -- a dub version of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon -- but quite simply, it works, being both faithful to the material (practically every solo and background sound effect is remade and accounted for) and irreverent at the same time (the sound of cash registers and change at the beginning of "Money" is replaced by bong hits, though it's not as jokey as the Squirrels' The Not-So-Bright Side of the Moon). Fans of either dub and Floyd (and I am one of the millions out there who knows the album inside and out) would enjoy this. Okay, it's not Scientist's Scientist Rids The World Of The Evil Curse Of The Vampires (a couple of friends were hoping for brain-frying, universe-cracking-open dub, but not here), but it sure makes "Us and Them" a lot more palatable.

hardcore ufos
Guided By Voices, Hardcore UFOs (2003)

In which the second greatest band in America continues to reward us with its largesse: in its third box set in eight years, we get a DVD (complete with documentary and almost every GBV video ever made), a greatest-hits disc, a cd of live tracks, a rarities and demos disc, and their long out-of-print debut album from 1986. Considering the set is Robert Pollard's sixth or seventh release of the year, are GBV fans spoiled or what?

Merzbow, Merzbox (2000)

More proof of the obsessive, acquisitive consumerist impulse than musical genius, this 50-disc limited-edition boxset (including a Merzshirt, Merzstickers, Merzdallion, Merzposter, MerzCD-ROM and a full-length Merzbook in a black rubber case) is the end-all and be-all of Merzmania: the Merzstar collapsing into itself out of sheer Merzdensity.

30 no 1 hits
Elvis Presley, 30 No. 1 Hits (2002)

I never really got Elvis until I saw my daughter jumping around to "Stuck on You." Since then I've enjoyed the sheer exuberance of the music, racial politics be temporarily damned: this is vital, fearless and elemental.

wing sings the carpenters
Wing, Wing Sings The Carpenters (2003)

I hadn't derived so much entertainment from an album this dismal year as I did from this one. This, too, is music that's vital, fearless and elemental, but in a slightly different fashion.

today is the day
Yo La Tengo, Today Is The Day (2003)

Their full-length release this year, Summer Sun, seemed a little loose and lazy -- which, I suppose, was appropriate to the title, but this more cohesive EP benefits from a surer sense of purpose: to get six short and sweet songs out there. And being the greatest band in America helps. Highlights: a breakneck "Today Is The Day," a gloriously chaotic "Outsmartener," and a forlorn reading of Bert Jansch's bleak "Needle of Death." (One bit of disappointment, particularly if you were looking for something Ornette-like inside: when are Susie Ibarra and William Parker really going to jam with them?)


Komet, Gold (2003)
The most organic-sounding electronic music since Aphex Twin's Richard D. James Album: surface noise you can dance to.

Lifeguards, Mist King Urth (2003)
Here Robert Pollard (and Doug Gillard) exercises a more expansive, hard-rock side of his songwriting.

The Sea And Cake, One Bedroom (2002)
Angular lounge music for indie rockers.

Whitehouse, Cruise (2001)
Some of the most fascinatingly repellent music ever put to record.

(songs that rattled around in my head this year, some of which have shown up as "Your New Favorite Song" selections before)

The Angels Of Light's "Evangeline"
Chingy's "Right Thurr"
Deerhoof's ''Panda Panda"
Mark Eitzel's "No Easy Way Down"
50 Cent's "In da Club"
Guided By Voices' "When She Turns 50"
Thee Headcoatees' ''Teenage Kicks"
Kylie Minogue's "Come Into My World"
My Morning Jacket's "Mahgeetah"
The Pebbles' "Twist And Shout"
Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham's ''Your Baby''
The Pinoy Beatles's "Day Tripper"
Elvis Presley's "Stuck on You"
The Sea And Cake's ''Interiors''
The Shins' "Know Your Onion!"
Shonen Knife's "Strawberry Cream Puff"
Stereo Total's "Beautycase"
Matthew Sweet's "The Ocean In-Between"
Velvet Crush's "Time Wraps Around You"
Gillian Welch's "Look At Miss Ohio"
Whitehouse's "Cruise (Force The Truth)"
Yo La Tengo's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love And Understanding"

Two Movies:

battle royale
Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale (2000)

return of the king
Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Three Books:

the glass palace
Amitav Ghosh's The Glass Palace

Lyn Hejinian's My Life

Nick Hornby's Songbook

Posted by the wily filipino at December 31, 2003 07:34 AM

What happened to JT's "Rock Your Body"?

Posted by: Happy on December 31, 2003 11:10 AM

I thought of including it, but I figured it would have sounded better if it were Michael Jackson singing it, circa 1979.

Posted by: the wily filipino on December 31, 2003 03:40 PM

don't ever apologize for Elvis-liking! i just got E2 for Christmas--so so so good! it was all my folks listened to when i was growing up, so it's cute your daughter is jammin out too.

glad too, to see ROTK on your list. but you must see mystic river, if only for sean penn's incroyable performance!

Posted by: aimee on January 10, 2004 06:56 PM

Madeline and I are planning to see "Mystic River" sometime in the next couple of weeks. It's not really a big-screen kind of movie, if you know what I mean, so it's lower on our priorities. But "Cold Mountain" and "Master and Commander" both seem really unappealing, and I'd rather see "Kill Bill" with both parts together...

I read Dennis Lehane's novel ("Mystic River") when the film came out and it was *grim.* I'm just used to his somewhat lighter Kenzie-Gennaro series, so the novel was a bit of a shock.

Posted by: the wily filipino on January 10, 2004 07:24 PM
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