2003 Year End Thoughts
Top Five Worst CDs of the Year
’m a technologophobe and a spendthrift. With regards to music, this means I throw money at almost any album that attracts my attention. My lack of discipline teeters over into compulsive territory, something about which I’m all too aware and yet unwilling to overcome. With this brand of record-store audiophilia chewing through my check-book, I’m bound to get burned. Success rates vary, and each year I manage to recoup an almost insignificant portion of my earnings by selling back albums that don’t make an impact on me. While compiling my top twenty albums of 2003, I began to think of their mirror-hall counterparts, those albums so awkward or unaffecting that I begged the record store to take them back. Some were merely tedious; others were so caustic I considered igniting them in a Fahrenheit 451-style conflagration to ensure they never entered another stereo. Or, stopping just short of such pyromaniacal self-expression, perhaps a list would suffice. Thus, my top five castoffs of 2003:
1. The Polyphonic Spree, The Beginning Stages of…
I never understood the neo-hippie, Day-Glo furor caused by this album. The lyrics were inane, and they lacked the crusty sense of irony that enables such glowing psychedelic poetics any chance of impact. In its more Flaming Lips-inspired passages, I almost forgave them, dizzy from their Merry Prankster whimsy. When the album finished, I felt sick-after-Skittles. I recovered $4 for this one.
2. Air/Baricco, City Reading.
Having waited for Air’s follow-up to 10,000 Hz Legend since 2001, this was a no-hesitation selection. I enjoyed it the first time through, as I sifted past Baricco’s husky Man-with-No-Name reading voice and tried to isolate Air’s gliding soundscapes. Baricco’s insistent, monochromatic voice kept cutting through the distance though, and Air was left with only the stop-gap space between syllables to work. Not quite enough room. The record store reluctantly returned $3 here.
3. Death in Vegas, Scorpio Rising.
I was nabbed by Nicola Kuperus’s cold Siren lure on “Hands Around my Throat,” but after the album’s Teutonic-techno wind-up, the ennui of the ensuing guess-if-it’s-electronic musicianship left every song feeling like retreads from other records. Liam Gallagher’s guest vocals on the title track sounded like a limp Oasis b-side, and, yes, I was just as surprised as you to discover it was possible to make Oasis sound significant. Sadly, Paul Weller’s cover of Gene Clark’s “So You Say You Lost Your Baby” left me wishing the album had ended on the relative high-note of Liam’s guest spot. This was another $3 retrieval.
4. Her Space Holiday, The Young Machines.
I was sure this was a risk-free purchase. His previous album, Manic Expressive, filled an (at-the-time) unrecognized synth-pop gap in my collection with its hypnotic programmed beats and bobbing synthetic strings. On The Young Machines, Mark Bianchi lowered himself to childish, self-righteous vitriol (“Meet the Pressure”) and the kind of emotional purging that made you feel like you were listening in on a neighbor’s fight through the crack underneath their door (“The Luxury of Loneliness”). You wanted to wince and look away, vaguely nauseous from sentiments too orca-fat to allow the lilting escapism of his bedroom-bound soundscapes to carry them off. They gave me $2 back and made me feel ashamed for it.
5. Simian, We are Your Friends.
Abandoning the electronic-sputtering pastoral psychedelics of their debut, Chemistry is What We Are, Simian managed to nullify their sound by expanding its touchstones on this album. The songs range from sunbathed psychpop to cursory nods to electroclash, but they all pulse with similar club-oriented beats and mindless choruses. The beats aren’t always loud enough to mask the black-hole gaps in their lyrics, and just a line or two slipping out underneath the computerized tremble is enough to make you smirk at their expense. They wouldn’t buy this back. As I left, I checked the used bin and noticed there were already two unclaimed copies.