• NOW THAT'S WHAT WE CALL SEATTLE MUSIC 2003! Laptop indie-pop. Syncopated taints. Robo-punk. Electro-funk. And people yelling over guitars. Seattle Weekly compiles two discs' worth of the year's best local music. By Andrew Bonazelli, Laura Cassidy, Mark D. Fefer, Michaelangelo Matos, and Neal Schindler
• MORE OF THE BEST Seattle Weekly writers' 2003 mix CDs, part two.
• YEAR OF THE NONALBUM Pop ran amok, the album didn't quite die, and the compilation reigned supreme: A brief look back at 2003. By Michaelangelo Matos
• 2003 101 Seattle Weekly's music editor shares his personal playlist for the year. By Michaelangelo Matos
• 2003 in the Mix Seattle Weekly's music writers fill one CD-R each with their favorite 2003 tracks.
1. Origin Unknown ft. MC Dynamite, "Hotness" (Ram) Don't front2003 was a great year for music, but trying to tie it to any sort of overarching narrative (except maybe how fragmented it was) is doomed from the start. This song (drum and bass! In 2003! And good!) is as good a place as any to start, accurately capturing the pick-and-mix nature of the year.
2. Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz ft. Elephant Man, Busta Rhymes & Ying Yang Twins, "Get Low (Remix)" (TVT) Best pop moment of the year: My mother nearly choking on her gum when confronted with this song's "sweat drips down my balls" line. Some weird transubstantiation of values has taken place when this Muppet-fronted ode to rough sexbased on a rhythm that sounds like Quad City DJs' "C'mon and Ride It (The Train)" slowed to 16 RPMcan annex the top spot on the TRL radio countdown for what seems like forever. Went with the remix because I'm nearly sick of the original.
3. Dr. Ring-Ding, "Bombs Over Baghdad" (Seeed/Germaican) Starts out in typical dancehall-of-the-apocalypse mode, with the good doctor reminding us of some of the Ten Commandments, no less. 'Course, once the song kicks in, you realize that he's, um, talking to the leader of the most powerful nation in the "free" world. After savaging Dubya for three minutes, he avers, "Them never really plan negotiate with Iraq . . . bombs over Baghdad, again they make peace in that style." It's my country too, damn it.
4. Elephant Man, "Nah Lick" (VP) The most representative dancehall track of the year, simply because it's the weirdest. Producers Ward 21 rig up some Braveheart bagpipes to the sparsest, craggiest drumscape of the year, and Ele moans the chorus like he's beset with visions of his pink brethren.
5. Wiley ft. Sharkie Major, "Ice Rink" (white label) Wiley is probably the best producer to come out of U.K. grime garage so far, if only because his records don't sound like any previous dance record (on planet Earth anyway). "Ice Rink" takes the post-"Grindin'" door-slam beat aesthetic to its limit it sounds like a petulant child kicking an old Buick for four minutes. I picked the version with Sharkie Major because it was on my hard drive, but they're all good.
6. Jay-Z, "La La La (Excuse Me Miss Again)" (Roc-a-Fella) The man's work ethic is awe-inspiring, even if his lyrics these days consist of stuff he wrote on cocktail napkins in between clubs, 'cause, like, he's gotta be there five minutes ago, baby. The Black Album is kinda boring, so I chose this soundtrack joint, with the Neptunes on a dancehall-meets-John Carpenter soundtrack tip.
7. Quarks, "I Walk (Superpitcher Schaffle Mix)" (Kompakt) I know nothing of Quarks; they are here merely by the grace of their remixer. Superpitcher connects electroclash (or whatever they're calling it these days) to its prehistoric roots in glam rock. Probably the most classically "sexy" record on this CDall pouty lips and well-defined cheekboneseven though some of the others have much more to do with doing the humpa-humpa.
8. Jammer, "Vice Versa (Remix)" (white label) Grime garage is still stuck in an endless black bass whirlpool at the end of 2003, sucking down any sense of melody (and sometimes even groove). Often, this is what makes it so damn cool, but as with any functionalist DJ genre, it's just as frequently an excuse to churn out pro-forma 12-inches. Grime's escape from darkness should be as fascinating as jungle's was, and one of the first shots fired is this sinuous hand-clap-and-sitar masterpiece.
9. M. Mayer & R. Voigt, "Unter Null" (Kompakt) See the Quarks entry and replace "classically sexy" with "classically Baeleric house." Utterly beguiling.
10. Bubba Sparxxx, "Deliverance" (Beatclub/ Interscope) Faulkner rewritten by Kool G. Rap, and the best comeback single since "Mama Said Knock You Out."
11. R. Kelly, "Ignition Remix" (Jive) R. Kelly is a very bad man who is almost surely going to hell. But he's also a geniushalfway between Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Smokey Robinsonand to deny his compositional gifts, immaculate genre exercises, ear for the zeitgeist, and pinpoint lyrics means you're not listening with your ears. I could have easily made this CD entirely from Kelly productions, performances, and guest spots. In the end, I just went with his most representative trackthe best Coke ad never written.
12. Sharkie Major, "So Many Days" (white label) The most songful grime track yet, even though it pivots on an obsessively repeated Orientalist string sample, a full-of-eastern-promise quavery maiden vocal, and little else. Sharkie is such a humble guy that it's possible to hear his paean to gettin' conscious as something other than a pose; it's grime's "Juicy," only with the satisfaction of reaching the summit replaced with the pleasures of the journey.
13. Andrew Broder, "Ain't Nothin" (Dinkytown) Broder is one of those indie guys into hip-hop who make the whole meeting a bit suspiciousare his live instrumental rejigs of a cappella rap vocals ironic? Sincere? Do we even care? His lugubrious piano-man accompaniment to MF Doom's "Ain't Nothin'" sounds like June of 44 or some other post-rock trash but is dewy and wistful, whatever his intention. A trifle, but a supremely affecting one.
14. Coldplay, "Clocks" (Capitol) Imagine David Gray being remixed by trance gods Jam & Spoon. Nothing really to do with dance music (inert rhythm section, for one thing)more like an intimation of dance music. So I'm a sucker for piano riffs and big, swirly Unforgettable Fire production. Sue me.
15. Junior Boys, "Birthday" (Kin) I should say the Junior Boys are the best band you've never heard of, but that's a bit unfair to the J.B.'s, whose "Birthday"/"Last Exit" is almost certainly the year's best single. Junior Boys represent an intriguing "alternate route" for U.K. garageone where the icy, fey romanticism of new wave was embraced rather than the swaggering "toughness" of southern bounce rap and hardcore gabba. (Maybe because they're Canadian.) Pure crunked-up blue-eyed soul, "Birthday" is Hall & Oates remixed by two-step giants Dem 2, and as unexpected as it is moving.
1-3. Turbonegro, "Ride with Us" (Epitaph) + the Go! Team, "Junior Kickstart" (Memphis Industries) + OutKast, "Hey Ya!" (LaFace) There's more than one way to fuck around with the idea of "black rock." Some white, Scandihoovian metalheads named after some imaginary cinematic Sweetback-in-a-Countach totem try the hard way: By rewriting Love's "Seven & Seven Is" as an update to the White Panther Party platform. The Go! Team do it undercover, an elite squadron of mysterious British sample ronin disguised as a ghetto-funk high school marching band from Memphis High's class of '74. All the overambitious crazy-pants half of OutKast had to do was take the easy route: Unscrew the Buzzcocks and the Ramones, then put 'em back together with Moogs and Cadillacs. F-U-N-K, everyone's accusin' Dre.
4. Beck, "Feel Good Time" (MP3) Before he donated this song to Pink for that movie about Drew Barrymore's ass, he recorded his own version with William Orbit. It's go-go mod-age primary-color technoid Latin-groove acid-noise electro, and the most messily fun thing he's done in agesa Midnite Vultures red pleather freak jam with Mellow Gold's anarchic abandon. The lyrics are oblique, Beefhearty things, mocking a culture of debris pretending to be in control of their own consumerist fun. Damn, did I need this after Sea Change.
5-6. The White Stripes, "The Hardest Button to Button" (V2) + the Rapture, "Sister Savior" (DFA/Strummer/Universal) Both these songs are techno-pop, but only one is overt about it. Jack White almost assuredly set out to write a Stooges- esque stalk-march of gut-wrench blues. But three minutes 30 of riffs sans solos and an ominous hypno-beat give its Derrick-may-care stomp an unspoken dual Detroit heritage despite its circa-1964 equipment. Meanwhile, the Rapture have the technology, giving indie rock kids a chance to see synthesizers as more than just a Vice City punch line; the result is call-and-response nu-Order you can dance to in Converse.
7. Dizzee Rascal, "Seems 2 Be" (XL, U.K.) A British MCno, wait, come backproves that while England's taken forever to get this rap shit right, their whole two-step thing dovetails nicely with our whole Southern bounce thing. This track rattles like a Hasbro Simon game full of coked-up crickets, so something is gained in the translation. Dizzee's voice is a series of hiccupping, maniacal growls that sound both menaced and menacingyou know what they say about the desperation of the cornered. If the only things he said of any value here were "We chuck grenades at Scotland Yard" and "Dizzee runs things like Idi Amin," he'd be formidable. He says a lot more than that.
8. Basement Jaxx ft. MeShell NdegeOcello, "Right Here's the Spot" (Astralwerks) "You can dance if you want to," she says. "If you don't, make your own way home." This song does for Princely funk-house what the House of Blue Leaves scene in Kill Bill Vol. 1 did for sharp objects, so the possibility of an "if you don't" shouldn't even exist.
9. Elephant Man, "Fuck U Sign" (Greensleeves) I would write properly about this song, but I keep getting interrupted by a spiral-pupil haze that makes me want to run around slapping everybody I deem a "bumbaclaat" as part of an elaborate Bollywood dance number backed by 300 rude boys in tinfoil tracksuits. Perhaps next time.
10. Panjabi MC ft. Jay-Z, "Beware of the Boys (Remix)" (Ultra) The Brooklyn player trading verses with a mellifluous bhangra star over the eternal-classic "Knight Rider" beat: That's what I love about this decade. And what I don't love about this decade gets smacked. Hova asks us politely to "leave Iraq alone," then reminds us that both Bin Laden and Reagan got Manhattan to blowit's just that in Reagan's case, "blow" isn't a verb. Where did Hova get his bricks, anyway?
11. 50 Cent, "What Up Gangsta?" (Shady/ Aftermath) The best monotone in the business, especially when he tosses a curveball in the form of a sudden tweaked intonation: As heard in the chorus, a joy-buzzer "gaaaaaiiiing-STAUH?!" If his voice and G-Unit's beats leave you bored, you can get off on the very idea of 50: Erick Sermon as the 6 Million Dollar Thug.
12. Aesop Rock ft. Party Fun Action Committee, "Cook It Up" (Definitive Jux) MCs aren't supposed to make sex sound awkward anymore, but an incognito Blockhead and an non-cognitive Aes Rizzle show less shame than Scorpio in their tales of dates gone haywire. The results are confessions of clinical bonkerdom, punched-in mouths, and the questionable claim, "Bazooka Tooth is one bad motherfucker." Bad? Probably not. But funny's a good substitute.
13-15. Push Button Objects ft. Philco, Illustrate and Verb, "3 Doctors" (Chocolate Industries) + MF Doom ft. RJD2, "Saliva" (Sound Ink) + Lyrics Born, "Bad Dreams" (Quannum) Scalpel-sharp horror-show paranoia wrapped in bloody scrubs; four-color Marvel Comics braggadocio shaded with '60s-cinematic halftone dots; cold-sweat wake-up calls for the hands too numb to get a grip. Fear can come in any form, and the best reaction is to bob your head warily.
16. Bubba Sparxxx, "Jimmy Mathis" (Beatclub/Interscope) "I'm really open-minded about music. I like everything but country and rap." Oh really now?
17-19. Jay-Z, "My First Song" (Roc-a-Fella) + Jean Grae, "Take Me" (Babygrande) + Atmosphere, "Denvemolorado" (Rhymesayers/ Epitaph) A rumination on losing a life in the spotlight, followed by two on losing life altogether. MCs sometimes put on airs of being impulsivea possible side effect of the spontaneous-thinking nature of lyrical constructionbut the temptation of erasing so much with such an authoritative self-inflicted stroke is the one of the weightiest subjects an artist can confront.
20-21. Broadcast, "Before We Begin" (Warp) + the Strokes, "Under Control" (RCA) Go past the Krautrock, past the post-punks, beyond the United States of America and the Velvet Underground, and what you really have in the end is a logical progression of 1964 evolving in an alternate universe where progress is very tidy indeed.
I can just about find the time to listen to the six or eight new CDs that cross my desk each month. The kids in the pop-music department here get at least a dozen a dayI don't know how they manage. Here, in chronological order, are the 71 most fun and fascinating minutes from 2003's classical releases.
1. J.S. Bach, St. Matthew Passion, opening chorus. Gabrieli Players, Paul McCreesh, cond. (Deutsche Grammophon Archiv) A powerful and controversial performance of this vast choral drama, with just one singer on a part in the choruses, rather than manywhich some think is how it was originally done under Bach's direction. We gain a lot in clarity and suppleness and lose nothing in emotional power.
2. Riccardo Broschi, "Qual guerriero" from Idaspe. Vivica Genaux, mezzo-soprano (Harmonia Mundi) The most insanely acrobatic cutyards and yards of sixteenth-note garlandson Genaux's album Arias for Farinelli, an homage to the baroque era's greatest castrato, Carlo Broschi. "Qual guerriero," a stirringly martial aria from an otherwise forgotten 1730 opera by his brother, Riccardo, was one of the most popular showpieces in Farinelli's repertory.
3. Chevalier de Saint-Georges, first movement (Allegro) from the Symphony in G, Op. 11 No. 1. Tafelmusik, Jeanne Lamon, cond. (CBC) A beguiling, featherlight movement from the soundtrack for Le Mozart Noir, a Canadian biopic of the Chevalier. He was the toast of 18th-century Paris as much for his swordsmanship (in both the literal and euphemistic senses) as for his violin prowess, and probably the best composer of African descent before Scott Joplin.
4. Franz Schubert, "Du bist die Ruh." Thomas Quasthoff, bass-baritone (Deutsche Grammophon) From a disc of Schubert songs arranged for chamber orchestra (this particular arrangement by Anton Webern). Quasthoff shares vocal honors with mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter, about 10 tracks each; but it's his voice's velvet bloom, and his artlessly painstaking and dramatically sensitive phrasing, that reduce me to a puddle.
5. Giuseppe Verdi, Sinfonia in C. Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano, Riccardo Chailly, cond. (Decca) A CD of Verdi Discoveries: a couple early concertos, discarded overtures to famous operas, that sort of thing. Giuseppe tossed off this rambunctious Sinfonia at 25; his music gained greatly in sophistication over the next 60 years, but never surpassed this in vigor and whistle-ability.6. Gioachino Rossini, Stabat Mater, final chorus. Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Riccardo Chailly, cond. (Decca) Rossini retired at the peak of his opera-composing fame (perhaps partly because he saw ambitious rookies like Verdi in his rearview mirror) and contented himself with church music and salon pieces in his final decades. The text is all about Mary grieving at the foot of the cross, but the music is pure blood-and-thunder opera, especially in this stormily fugal "Amen" chorus.
7. Johann Strauss. Jr., "Leichtes Blut." Vienna Philharmonic, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, cond. (Deutsche Grammophon) The Vienna Philharmonic's traditional New Year's Day concert always gets recorded; this gallop is the sprightliest track from the more-interesting-than-usual 2003 concert.
8. Charles Ives, second movement (Adagio molto) from the Symphony No. 1. National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, James Sinclair, cond. (Naxos) Ives' first symphony was a valedictory piece for his studies at Yale with archconservative Germanophile Horatio Parker. There are only hints here of his later iconoclasms, but the slow movement is breathtaking.
9. Jan Sibelius, third movement (Allegro molto) from the Symphony No. 5. Utah Symphony Orchestra, Maurice Abravanel, cond. (Vanguard Classics) Vanguard, a favorite label of classical audiophiles in the '60s, has cracked its safe and is rereleasing dozens of recordings: The complete symphonies of Sibelius, Mahler, Brahms, Beethoven quartets, Bach, and Vivaldi . . . Here's a gorgeous performance selected in homage to Abravanel, who turned his Utah orchestra (of all places) into one of flyover America's greatest ensembles.
10. Alban Berg, sixth movement (Largo desolato) from the Lyric Suite. Kronos Quartet with Dawn Upshaw, soprano (Nonesuch) Berg seems to have originally planned to introduce a soprano into the finale of this string quartet; he dropped the idea but retained the vocal line he'd written (a setting of Baudelaire's "De Profundis"), hiding it in the viola and violin parts. Berg scholar George Perle has teased it out again, and the result is magical.
11-13. Walter Piston, "Arrival of the Circus," "Circus March," and "Polka Finale" from The Incredible Flutist. Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz, cond. (Naxos) Naxos has rereleased three of the recordings of Americana our own SSO made for Delos in the '90s. Along with discs devoted to David Diamond and Alan Hovhaness comes this one of underrated Maine neoclassicist Piston (1894-1976), including his ballet The Incredible Flutist. In the Circus scene, Piston calls for crowd noises and a barking dogin this recording it's Norie, a golden retriever who lives with SSO members Barry Lieberman and Maria Larionoff.
14. Richard Band, prologue and main title from Re-Animator (La-La Land) Asked to compose music for this lovingly crafted, deliriously gory 1985 cult classicthe most nearly perfect film I can think ofBand decided to take the greatest horror-film score of them all, Bernard Herrmann's for Psycho, and synth it up. His giddy deconstruction has been remastered and rereleased in a limited edition, including an interview with Band.
15. Christian Asplund, "Organism Two." Tom Baker, fretless guitar (Present Sounds) For Baker, an enthusiast of alternative tuning systems, the strength of the fretless guitar is its pitch-bending ability. As demonstrated on his CD Sounding the Curve, he plays it and writes for it with equal fluency. There's a whole harmonic world in the cracks between the piano keys, and the second of four "Organisms" by former Seattle composer Asplund is an ideal three-minute introduction to the concept.
1-5. Wide Right, "Pete Best" (Poptop) + Rainer Maria, "Ears Ring" (Polyvinyl) + the Rogers Sisters, "Zero Point" (Troubleman Unlimited) + KaitO U.K., "Should I" (spinART) + Bettie Serveert, "Stuck" (Hidden Agenda)
6-10. The Fiery Furnaces, "Up in the North" (Rough Trade) + Monica ft. Missy Elliott, "So Gone" (J) + Jean Grae, "Hater's Anthem" (Babygrande) + Britney Spears, "Toxic" (Jive) + Metric, "Dead Disco" (Everloving)
11-15. Dixie Chicks, "Travelin' Soldier" (Sony) + Rosanne Cash; "Beautiful Pain" (Capitol) + Amy Rigby, "The Deal" (Signature Sounds) + Liz Phair, "Favorite" (Capitol) + Erykah Badu ft. Bahamadia, Queen Latifah, Angie Stone, "Love of My Life Worldwide" (Motown)
16-21. Northern State, "The Man's Dollar" (Startime International) + Fannypack, "Hey Mami" (Tommy Boy) + Lumidee, "Never Leave You (Uh Ooh, Uh Oooh!)" (Universal) + Mamani Keita/Marc Minelli, "N'Ka Willy" (Palm Pictures) + Christina Aguilera, "Beautiful" (Jive) + Deana Carter, "Girls' Night" (Arista)
Don't call it a backlash, it's been here for years. Women weren't purged instantaneously from rock; over time, their presence has erodedor should I say "has been eroded"? Well, depends on whether you believe active agents of reaction reconstruct the barriers that pioneers once leveled or instead some cultural undertow drags us inexorably past-ward. But the facts are clear: 10 years back, enough women had plugged in enough electric guitars that a return to all-but-unquestioned male rock dominance seemed as unlikely as a second President Bush or a Gulf War sequel. Even more telling than the fact that Rolling Stone's "Women Who Rock" cover (Missy, Eve, Alicia) didn't contain any actual rock women was how much less behind-the-times their interview with elder stateswomen Sleater-Kinney seemed than it should haveI'd have been hard pressed to name a younger, equally representative alternative.
So though I'm not constrained by questions of commercial or cultural significance, I expected my own women-who-rock compilation to hip, hop, groove, bounce, slideto do everything, in short, but rock. But as I started to pile track upon track, I found myself less interested in hearing that amazing hit by Missy or Beyonc頯r Lil Kimor those no less amazing stomps from Karen O or Pink or Brody Dalleone more time. I wanted to hearwanted you to hearthe women shouting at the margins. Most, like Nikki Colk and Gemma Cullingford of KaitO U.K., are so cool they even let boys play with them. They're typically arty, like the Fiery Furnaces' Eleanor Friedberger or Metric's Emily Haynes; then again, Wide Right's Leah Archibald not only fronts the best meat-and-potatoes rock band today (Drive-By Truckers are more grits-and-gravy), but the Buffalo native's one of the few Brooklynites honest and empathetic enough to remember where she came from. And if you seriously believe there's a rootsish man writing truer, funnier, more painful relationship songs than Amy Rigby, I've got a crate of Ryan Adams EPs to sell ya.
You'll notice that although emo is a notoriously capacious and loosely defined genre, Ranier Maria is the only band on my mix that faintly fits the tag. Alas, Caithlin De Marrais miffed the baggy-sweatered boys whose eyes were previously misted by her vague poetry when she started articulately screaming infidelity and, you know, rocking. As emo fellow traveler Jessica Hopper noted in a Punk Planet essay (later reprinted in Alternative Press), the music's prevailing lyrical thrust is as sexist as any in rock's history, though more coyly shaded; even worse, emo girls are almost solely spectators, with little opportunity to sing back at the boys they adore from offstage.
Underground hip-hop may even be worse. No matter what you think of Lil Kim's predilection for deep-throating Sprite cans, at least other women's voices balance her out. Jean Grae hardly speaks for every undie rap female, but how many challengers does she face? Well, erm, there's Northern State. The three Long Island-bred goofballs don't take hip-hop seriously enough, it's said, don't downplay their middle-classness enough. (What, do they brag about attending St. John's University or something?) I'm a trifle wary of their Beastie-mania myself, but if you've made it through Sole's Selling Live Water more than once you have no room to quibble about their melanin deficiency.
Dying In Stereo's underground rep is best indicated by the snotty 0.8 rating it received from the hip-hop bible (har-har) Pitchforkmedia.com. Still, that's nothing next to the perfect 0.0 that greeted Liz Phair. (Can I get a "has been eroded"?) Right, Phair's a troublemaker. She'swhat's the phrase again? Oh yeahasking for it. But the squabbling around Liz Phair (in Pitchfork and elsewhere) wasn't a debate between co-equals; this was a (not entirely male) cohort expressing a proprietary controlling interest in a female artist, deciding what choicessexual, artistic, economicare acceptable for women to make.
Since chart-pop and R&B always have been relatively safe zones for female singers, hatred of "commercial music" always has been an acceptably encoded form of misogyny. In 2003 more than ever, the language surrounding mainstream pop was about keeping women in line. Whether decrying Phair's "betrayal" or mocking Britney's "stupidity," the underlying message is that women are unreliable, artistically and sexually. Country has always been left, like pop/rock's drunken uncle, to blurt the ugly secrets sublimated by more politic genres, but Toby Keith wasn't telling us anything we couldn't guess about the state of gender relations when he schooled Natalie Maines on yahoo civics. Why, given the ensuing ruckus, you might not have even noticed that "Travelin' Soldier," as close to an antiwar song as any famous white person risked in 2003, plummeted far less dramatically off the charts than "reported" (read: hoped) by ill-wishers.
Even in the supposed alt-chick golden age, there were fewer women-who-rock than the headlines pretended. But then further progress seemed inevitable. Now the mainstream basically sounds like 1982 all over again, with less thrilling replicants of the Go-Go's (the Donnas), Joan Jett (the Distillers), the Pretenders (Yeah Yeah Yeahs). Figure Meg White is Tina Weymouth and Amy Lee's Evanescence iswhat, Pat Benatar? Heart?and any potential positive future is, at least for now, unguessable. That's the implicit message of the glossy self-titled gauntlet Phair threw down, the message no one wanted to hearthat for now your daughters are safer casting their lots with Hillary Duff.
This mix is hardly meant to be representative of the sounds women made in 2003. Instead it's a symbolic offering, a no-boys-aloud area, an invitation to call me a knee-jerk alarmist and prove me wrong. Because whether you subscribe to the active or passive theory of reactionary cultural politics, there's no question that progressive counterbalance only comes about when women start making noise.
1. The Shins, "Gone For Good" (Sub Pop) Singer James Mercer may not look like John Wayne or sing like Johnny Cash, but deep down he's got the heart of a cowboy. A bona-fide country ballad, "Gone For Good" hits that soft spot in our gut we reserve for tormented relationships, heartache, and Indian food.
2. The Fire Theft, "Heaven" (Rykodisc) Jeremy Enigk is essentially the Steve Perry of the millennium, and "Heaven" is his "Open Arms." Both songs follow the tried-and-true rock ballad formulaa piano combined with a husky-voiced she-man, resulting in Bic lighters blazing above the crowd and red, puffy, teary eyes throughout the room.
3. Electric Six, "Danger! High Voltage" (XL) Combine elements of Parliament, the Commodores, and Jimi Hendrix, with an extra dose of comical heat. Sprinkle with sound effects (whenever singer Dick Valentine says "Danger! Danger! High voltage," we actually hear surges of electricity) and a funky sax. Accept lyrics such as, "Fire in the disco/Fire in the Taco Bell" for what they are: pure genius.
4. Stereolab, "Mass Riff" (Elektra) Your standard Stereolab songrequisite pop organ, unintelligible lyricslit on fire. Stereolab seamlessly transitions sleepy-time lounge music into a Soul Train-worthy disco inferno, producing a sound so groovy it makes bell-bottoms and free love seem like good ideas again.
5. The Postal Service, "A Brand New Colony" (Sub Pop) This song may not be the best on the album, but the combination of video game sound effects and Ben Gibbard's eighth-grade-crush-inspired lyrics burrowed their way into my cobweb-covered heart. Packed full of superbly placed bleeps and bloops, this is the kind of song that people curse themselves for not writing, because Gibbard and Dntel (aka Jimmy Tamborello) make it look so easy.
6. Sean Paul, "Get Busy" (VP/Atlantic) Like a big toke of sinsemilla that got me thinking more clearly; its pared-down, booty wiggling beats are just a backdrop to Paul's 8 a.m. hangover mutterings and can even get a square like me to don a pair of spandex cutoffs and "shake that thing," as he so politely asks.
7. Hang on the Box, "We Don't Need a Sax" (JVC Victor, Japan) An all-female punk quartet from our favorite communist country in Southeast AsiaI'm talking about China, not North KoreaHang on the Box sings about sex, drugs, and rock and roll while angry Maoists try to shut them up. Here, the girls sing in abominable English, but belt out a few show-stopping harmonies certain to make their motherland proud.
8. Justin Timberlake, "Rock Your Body" (Jive) Things-to-do list: 1. Buy milk and eggs: check. 2. Pick up dry cleaning: check. 3. Let Justin Timberlake rock my body: double check.
9. The Polyphonic Spree, "Reach for the Sun" (Hollywood) There was a time that whenever I heard this song my heart would burst with joy and my kinship with man and animal pulsed forth from my being bearing goodwill and love. Now, whenever I hear this song I think of Volkswagens and iPods and how sad I am that I can't afford either. Better keep reaching.
10. Belle & Sebastian, "If She Wants Me" (Rough Trade) The kind of song basement party slow dances are all about. Singer and resident space cadet Stuart Murdoch shows a break from the listless, woeful lyrics and tone of B&S past, busting out a few soul-stirring high notes and Al Green-esque falsetto. Think the Lovin' Spoonful meets Burt Bacharach, with a lemon twist.
11. The Strokes, "Under Control" (RCA) Why deny a good old-fashioned pop song just because it may sound like American Bandstand material? This is the kind of slow jam that has guys watching out for their wallets and girls writing "Mrs. Julian Casablancas" all over their notebooks.
12. Xiu Xiu, "Ian Curtis Wishlist" (5 Rue Christine) A sonic assault that blurs the line between insanity and good taste by dodging all forms of genial pleasantry and attacking the protective bubble of civility that surrounds us. Almost painful to listen to, the up-front lyrics and generous use of synthesizers and drum machines make this song a once-every-six-months listenany more would kill your spirit.
13. Ryan Adams, "Burning Photographs" (Lost Highway) I spent all four minutes and 14 seconds of this song guessing whether it was an old Replacements B-side or a new Paul Westerberg song. Wrong on both accounts. Angered at first by Adams' blatant thievery of sound and style, I finally decided to settle with his top-rate forgery.
14. OutKast (Andre 3000), "Hey Ya!" (LaFace/Arista) Dear Andre 3000: Thank you for writing such a super song. The miracle of "Hey Ya!" has brought feeling back into my lame right foot. Love, Janna.
15. Broken Social Scene, "Stars and Sons" (Arts & Crafts) Screw guitar solos and fancy drum machines, BSS has brought back the forgotten sound of organic hand clapping! A featured instrument throughout the song, this is one number that is best heard in the privacy of your own home where you can close your eyes, clap your hands, and dork out free of stares or inhibitions. (Note: The same instructions can be applied when listening to "Hey Ya!")
16. Grandaddy, "El Caminos in the West" (V2) Listening to this is akin to being on a hefty cocktail of Zoloft and Prozac and being forced to watch The Pianist. Luckily for me, that sounds like a lovely way to spend a Friday night.
17. Beyonc頦t. Jay-Z, "Crazy in Love" (Sony) If Ashanti or Brandy ever had the good taste to throw a solid, funky horn section into one of their songs, maybe they would be America's reigning divabut they didn't, and so they aren't.
The rest of the Seattle Weekly's year-end mixes will be published in next week's Music section.