About Jon Chaisson

Writer, obsessed music listener and collector, okay bassist and guitarist, hoopy frood. Questionable logical circuits, but he gets by.

Thirty Years On: Slacker Central, Part I

Going back another decade to 1993 this time? Sure, why not? It’s an era of my past that I’ve kind of glossed over for varying and personal reasons, so maybe it’s time to take a look at some of the records that kept me going at the time.

To set the mood: it was my second and last semester of my senior year at Emerson, and I was exactly where I didn’t want or need to be at. I’d just moved out — more like ragequitted — the apartment I’d lived in for a year and change after having had enough of my then roommate. Moving back to the dorms, I realized I’d lost track of several of my college friends out of my own doing, and was now hanging with several kids younger than me and feeling left behind. My grades were still less than stellar, I had no real idea what my future would be, and the last thing I wanted to do was move back to my hometown.

So yeah, I was pretty much starting from rock bottom here.


The Wedding Present, The Hit Parade 2, released 4 January 1993. In 1992 this British band chose to drop a single a month — an original on the A side and a cover on the reverse — and it was the covers (such as a desperate version of Julee Cruise’s “Falling” and a blistering “Pleasant Valley Sunday”) that caught my attention.

Belly, “Feed the Tree” single, released 11 January 1993. After leaving Throwing Muses, Tanya Donelly surfaced a short time later with her own band that was immediately loved by everyone in the Boston area. She’d always written the less abrasive Muses tracks but never quite got rid of the classic Muses quirkiness, and it shows here.

Stereo MCs, Connected, released 12 January 1993. “Connected” (the single) was everywhere at the time, both on alt-rock and dance stations alike. I used to play this on my show on WECB and cranked the song up loud every time. It’s a really fun dance record worth checking out.

Denis Leary, No Cure for Cancer, released 12 January 1993. I know, this is a comedy record and not alt-rock, but I put it here because a) he’s a fellow Emersonian and b) he’s also a kid from central Massachusetts like me. A lot of the humor here is definitely of its time — irreverent GenX ‘fuck it, let’s go there and a bit beyond because why the hell not’ humor that’s equally ironic, biting, and daring, but you always knew there was an unspoken level of not quite being mean-spirited.

The Tragically Hip, Fully Completely, released 19 January 1993. This was the record that introduced me to this band, and it’s a hell of a fine album. I played at least three or four tracks from this record on my WECB show at the time.

Elvis Costello & the Brodsky Quartet, The Juliet Letters, released 19 January 1993. You never quite knew what EC was going to do next back in the day, his styles changing wildly from album to album. This is probably the first classical album where I finally understood what modern orchestral music was about, and that it could work seamlessly in a semi-pop way.

The The, Dusk, released 26 January 1993. Matt Johnson always took his time between albums, often two or three years at a time, and while his previous record dropped just as I was starting college, this one was released just as I was ending it. While not as angry as 1989’s Mind Bomb, it’s just as tense. This one’s about inner pain, and it shows on many of its tracks.

Duran Duran, “Ordinary World” single, released 26 January 1993. Ooof. If there was any song that encapsulated where my mental and emotional state was at this time, this was pretty much it. My long-term/long-distance relationship with T finally at its end, my less than stellar school years limping to a close, my social connections in the crapper, and my future nowhere to be found, this song saved me from falling any deeper with its constant reminder to keep going.

Jesus Jones, Perverse, released 26 January 1993. Understandably this record didn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of 1991’s Doubt, and by the time of its release, the alt-rock universe had moved on to more organic grunge rock, but this remains one of the band’s best records in my eyes. It’s a much darker and denser record and features some of their best singles and deep cuts. I highly recommend it.


…so yeah, not the most spirited of beginnings of what is supposed to be an important year, yeah? But even though I was lost, hurting and feeling rudderless, I knew I had to keep going. By this time I’d realized that I could still use what I’d learned at this college, but in different ways: my film degree helped me understand how to write and tell stories. My connections with college radio may not have gotten me into that business but it certainly helped me continue my long-lasting love for music, as well as my constant drive to find new things to listen to.

I knew I was starting at the bottom and there was no way to go but up…and I also knew I was going to fuck up a lot along the way (and believe me, I did several times)…and ultimately I was the only one who was going to make me do it.


More to come: songs to keep me going, and an album that blew everything else out of the water!

Twenty Years On: Songs from the Belfry 2003, Part XI

Not too many releases to speak of at the end of the year (which, y’know, par for the course at the time), which meant I spent most of my writing sessions listening to all the cds I’d accumulated over the past year or so. In retrospect, 2003 was indeed a stellar year for alternative and indie rock, even though it did kind of feel like a year of change…while there were very few mind-blowing albums or songs that sank deep into my psyche at the time, that’s not to say they weren’t bad per se. Just an interesting mix of bands and sounds changing and evolving. And I always think that’s a good thing, even if the sounds didn’t quite resonate with me.

I did spend a lot of the time listening to releases from 2002 as well — in particular, I’d gotten into Beck’s Sea Change a bit later than its release but it soon became one of my top writing session albums (and still is to this day). Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head was another that I got into quite late. I was very curious to see what the next year would bring.


Hooverphonic, Sit Down and Listen to Hooverphonic: The Live Theater Recordings, released 1 December 2003. I actually didn’t get around to acquiring this one for a while, which is surprising considering my love for this band, but I mention it here because all of their previous albums were still on heavy rotation in the Belfry, including most of the tracks found on this one. Still one of my favorite bands!

Various Artists/Soundtrack, Live Forever: The Best of Britpop, released 2 December 2003. If you’re curious about the Britpop movement of the 90s, this is a perfect collection to start off with. While some mixes lean heavily on obscurities or label-related releases, this one was inspired by the documentary Live Forever: The Rise and Fall of Brit Pop, which I highly recommend, and focuses more on several popular groups and bands at the time. This one still gets plays here in Spare Oom!

Mix CD, Re:Defined…The Best of 2003, created 30 December 2003. The second year in which my end-of-year compilation is CD-only — I’d bought a CD drive for my older PC late in 2002 and managed to somehow have enough hard drive space to rip songs from my collection then burn them. This was the first end-of-year mix using my new PC, and I think it shows that I’d gotten the hang of making a disc mix, after having made 45-minutes-a-side mixes for the last twenty or so years! I’m quite happy with how this one came out, actually.


So what would 2004 bring…? I’d continued my weekly runs to Newbury Comics and would continue to do so until further notice, and I’d start writing The Balance of Light soon enough — as well as a vampire novel idea that would pop into my head, serving as a secondary project when I’d started having trouble with TBoL. After three-plus years of writing the Bridgetown Trilogy, I was starting to burn out.

And then at some point during the summer, one of my close friends would hold a get-together with several friends from all around, during which I’d meet for the second time a friend of a friend from New Jersey…

Twenty Years On: Songs from the Belfry 2003, Part X

I finished The Persistence of Memories in one marathon session on 11 November, having realized I’d started it exactly one year earlier. That’s not something I normally do, but considering that it had been my first novel to be finished in under one year I wanted to see if I could pull it off. It was Veterans Day and I had the day off from work, and if I’m not mistaken it was an extremely lengthy six-hour session (my longest ever to date, with the occasional break for food and whatnot, as well as a few FreeCell games to keep my eyes from crossing).

Thankfully, clearer heads won the day and I didn’t start Book 3 until early January 2004!

Lamb, Between Darkness and Wonder, released 3 November 2003. This duo’s last album before going on an extended hiatus (and not returning until 2011) is a quiet and somber affair, more about contemplation and comfort than their previous experimentations in electronic pop.

P.O.D., Payable On Death, released 4 November 2003. Their follow-up to their mega-selling Satellite may not have been able to reach the same heights, but it certainly had its share of great alt-metal tunes.

Guided By Voices, The Best of Guided By Voices: Human Amusements at Hourly Rates, released 4 November 2003. I’d known about this band for ages thanks to my HMV years but never got around to picking any of their albums up, primarily because they seem to drop four or five records a year! I figured this was a good place to start. And yes, there were a few “oh, that song!” moments upon first listen.

Explosions in the Sky, The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place, released 4 November 2003. Another post-rock band to add to my collection, this one got some considerable play during my writing sessions when I needed background but not necessarily mood.

Loveless, Gift to the World, released 11 November 2003. A Boston group comprised of singer Jen Trynin and members of Expanding Man and Letters to Cleo, their one album is full of crunchy fun indie pop.

Mixtape, Re:Defined 07, created 16 November 2003. This is an interesting one as it’s more of a ‘favorites so far that didn’t make it to previous mixes’ tape than one of new songs. Still, it’s another one of my favorites.

The Beatles, Let It Be…Naked, released 17 November 2003. An interesting compilation that kind of flew under the wire, it’s pretty much all the major songs from the 1970 original minus most of Phil Spector’s, er, mishandling by overproduction. Mostly released for completists like myself, it also contains a twenty-minute bonus track of chat and soundbites from the sessions.

Blink-182, Blink-182, released 18 November 2003. The meathead-punk band of the 90s seems to have chilled out a bit on this record, writing some surprisingly intelligent and straightforward tracks, a few of which have become radio favorites.

Various Artists, Feedback to the Future, released 25 November 2003. A single-disc collection of shoegaze and Britpop I discovered on the pages of CMJ and had Newbury Comics special order for me. This is only a small sampling but it’s a great mix nonetheless. This one got a lot of play in the Belfry.

+/- (Plus Minus), You Are Here, relesased 25 November 2003. The band follows up their fantastic EP with a full record of twitchy indie rock that’s kind of hard to pin down into one style yet worth multiple listens.


Next up: End of the year releases and mixtapes!

Twenty Years On: Songs from the Belfry 2003, Part IX

The days at Yankee Candle were already getting busier by October, the sign of Q4 starting with extended hours (aka ‘mandatory overtime’) and larger volume to move. This was the second year with heightened volume thanks to our recent acquisition of Bed Bath & Beyond as a seller. The downside was that YC’s hiring of seasonal help always started a month or so late (they’d come in November when we really needed them earlier), and by then we’d lost one or two members of our team for one reason or another.

And yet at the same time, I was kicking ass writing. I was just about wrapping up The Persistence of Memories and about to start in on Book 3 and I wasn’t about to take any time off in between and lose that momentum. Perhaps that wasn’t the best of ideas in hindsight, but at the time I felt it was better to just keep riding that high while I could.

Mono, One Step More and You Die, released 2 October 2003. This Japanese instrumental post-rock band was a critic favorite from the beginning, and while it took me a bit to warm up to them, I found their music perfect background for writing sessions.

Soundtrack, Lost in Translation, released 3 October 2003. Sofia Coppola’s second movie was a surprise hit and featured quite a few great bands on its quirky and unique soundtrack, including a few rare solo tracks from My Bloody Valentine guitarist Kevin Shields.

Belle and Sebastian, Dear Catastrophe Waitress, released 6 October 2003. These Glaswegians broke out of their bedroom twee sound with this perky and often funny bedsit pop record. The new style fit them really well and they’ve evolved in that direction ever since.

Living Colour, CollideĆøscope, released 7 October 2003. This band returned for their first record after their 1995 split, and while it’s not as heavy and funky as their previous records, it’s just as topical.

Jet, Get Born, released 7 October 2003. “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” was my favorite track of 2003, containing so much power, swagger and energy that was lacking in so many other songs and records of the day. The entire record is full of fun Stones-y rock with even a few forays into Beatlesque psych pop.

Paul Van Dyk, Reflections, released 7 October 2003. A name I knew for ages as a producer and remixer, his fourth album took him in interesting directions, showing that he wasn’t just knowledgeable in electronic music but in full-band rock.

Death Cab for Cutie, Transatlanticism, released 7 October 2003. Their last album for indie Barsuk Records and a few years before their major-label breakthrough Plans, this album paves the way for their well-loved brand of intelligent, slightly quirky alternative rock, and is considered one of their best.

Laika, Wherever I Am I Am What Is Missing, released 7 October 2003. This may have been their last album, but it doesn’t feel like it; instead it feels like what the band’s sound would have evolved into had they kept going. The twitchy electronics are still there but muted to reveal beautiful melodies just underneath.

Mixtape, Re:Defined 06, created 19 October 2003. This mix in particular got a lot of play in my car as well as its previous volume, containing quite a few of my favorite songs at the time.

The Strokes, Room on Fire, released 28 October 2003. I had a love/hate relationship with this band at the time; I thought their music was interesting and kind of fun, but at the same time I disliked the way Julian Casablancas’ voice always sounded tinny and mixed as if with zero bass whatsoever. I’ve come to appreciate their sounds over the ensuing years.


Next up: one novel down, one more to go

Twenty Years On: Songs from the Belfry 2003, Part VIII

September of 2003 was a hell of a fine month for releases, as you can see below. It seems I was in a Loud Music mood, as most of the albums I picked up then certain made a noise. And it definitely made an impact on the scenes I was writing at the time as well, as this was Act 3 of The Persistence of Memories when the stakes were at their highest.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Take Them On, On Your Own, released 2 September 2003. Their follow-up album found them still in that dark and cavernous sound yet still sounding fresh and ready for more.

Soundtrack, Underworld, released 2 September 2003. This might have been yet another ridiculous Goth Vampire Movie With An Alt-Metal Soundtrack (and one with clearly the same color tones as The Matrix universe) but it’s surprisingly enjoyable and well-written. No surprise they made four sequels over the years…

Laibach, WAT, released 8 September 2003. What I love about Laibach is that they can sound and appear so incredibly SERIOUS yet fully embrace the humor lying just underneath. Only they could take what’s essentially a marching rally song and turn it into an infectious dance tune.

Andrew WK, The Wolf, released 9 September 2003. Would the Prince of Party pull off another record full of meathead metal? While this one wasn’t nearly as popular as his previous record, it was still fun and enjoyable.

Starsailor, Silence Is Easy, released 15 September 2003. I was never sure if I liked this band or not as I found some of their songs hauntingly beautiful and others kind of bland, but I’m glad I kept tabs on them over the years. This second album finds them a bit more cheerful than previous.

David Bowie, Reality, released 16 September 2003. Bowie’s last album before taking a well-earned decade off (he’d do a few one-off performances, art shows and recording cameos here and there in the interim) centers on winding down and getting older. There are some intriguing songs — and intriguing covers — on this one, written and recorded to be easily played live.

A Perfect Circle, Thirteenth Step, released 16 September 2003. I always felt this band was a bit like Tool-Lite…an easier project of Maynard James Keenan’s that’s just a bit easier to swallow, and a little less dire. There’s an interesting cover of Failure’s “The Nurse Who Loved Me” that introduced many Tool fans to that band’s Fantastic Planet.

Thursday, War All the Time, released 16 September 2003. I was never much into the Screamo scene, but every now and again a song would capture my interest, such as “Signals Over the Air” which I’d heard on WHMP once or twice.

Muse, Absolution, released 21 September 2003. This band did have a tight following from its first album in 1999, but wasn’t until this third album that they would finally break through in the US and maintain it for a number of years. This one’s got a lot of their best songs on it.

UNKLE, Never, Never, Land, released 22 September 2003. Five years, a few mixes and several singles after their insanely brilliant debut, James Lavelle finally follows up with a much darker and grimmer second record. With the departure of DJ Shadow, the band is less sample-heavy but keeps its chilly atmospheric sound.

Leaves, Breathe, released 23 September 2003. I first heard of this Icelandic indie band through the pages of CMJ, and I wasn’t let down. Very reminiscent of Doves, one of my favorite bands of the 90s-00s, they didn’t quite hit the same heights but they wrote some absolutely lovely songs like “Catch”.

Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, released 23 September 2003. I never got around to picking up this album, but you could not escape “Hey Ya!” that summer. You still can’t, as it still shows up on the playlist of several radio stations!

stellastarr*, stellastarr*, released 23 September 2003. An indie band from New York that had the flash of The Killers and the swagger of Suede, they didn’t quite hit the heights they deserved, but they did manage to get a brilliant one-hit-wonder out of the single “My Coco”.

South, With the Tides, released 23 September 2003. Another CMJ find, I didn’t really know much about this band other than that “Same Old Story” was a great tune that also popped up on LaunchCast. I listened to this one a lot during my writing sessions.

The Network, Money Money 2020, released 30 September 2003. Talk about obscure earworms! The guys from Green Day don masks, channel Devo and write some really weird yet catchy tunes like “Joe Robot.” Noted, in 2020 they returned with a new album: Money Money 2020 Pt II: We Told Ya So.

Ben Folds, Sunny 16 EP, released 30 September 2003. Folds’ second EP follows up with more of his signature piano-driven pop songwriting, including the fun “There’s Always Someone Cooler Than You”.


Up Next: winding down but not cooling off just yet

Twenty Years On: Songs from the Belfry 2003, Part VII

By August I was most likely hitting the third act of The Persistence of Memories, where a lot of major plot points I’d kept open were finally getting woven together. By this time I’d also been making time to take a few days off from work to attend both Readercon and Boskone, both Boston-area science fiction conventions. (Readercon had just taken place in July, so I must have still been on that buzz of being a part of the SFF community.) At this point I still wasn’t sure how I was going to get my works published, but I wasn’t going to give up the Mendaihu Universe just yet.

BT, Emotional Technology, released 5 August 2003. I’d been a fan of his since his “Blue Skies” single he did with Tori Amos, so by this point I’d been picking up his newest releases as they came out.

Mixtape, Re:Defined 05, created 10 August 2003. This was one of my favorites to listen to during my commutes home from work.

Dishwalla, Live…Greetings from the Flow State, released 12 August 2003. A great live album from a very underrated band, and from the vibe of the audience you can tell they’re having a great time. A really good cross-section of their three albums to date.

Puffy AmiYumi, Nice, US version released 12 August 2003. A few years before their goofy Cartoon Network show, these two cheerful pop-rockers dropped a super fun album that features some great earworms, some of them co-written by ex-Jellyfish leader Andy Sturmer.

Elbow, Cast of Thousands, released 18 August 2003. While Asleep in the Back showed that this band had the songwriting chops and could write equally beautiful and quirky music, this second album took them so much further and became one of my favorite albums of the year. I highly recommend it.

Client, Client, released 18 August 2003. This was Dubstar singer Sarah Blackwood’s project after her original band went on hiatus. It’s an odd but fascinating mix of retro new-wave and chilly synthpop.

Broadcast, Haha Sound, released 18 August 2003. This strange electronic band was hard to pin down, but I always thought of them as a sort of distinctly British version of Stereolab, only with more tension. Their albums are well worth checking out.

Sloan, Action Pact, released 19 August 2003. As always, I will definitely pick up any Sloan album that drops! By this point in their career they’d nailed the jangly pop sound similar to Matthew Sweet, and just as catchy.

The Good North, An Explanation, released 19 August 2003. A fantastic and almost entirely unknown band from the New England/NYC area, I discovered them while doing one of my Newbury Comics runs. They only dropped one album and a few EPs, but they’re all wonderful.

The Raveonettes, Chain Gang of Love, released 25 August 2003. This band’s early work always reminds me of The Jesus & Mary Chain. They had just as much feedback going on, and the melodies underneath all that noise were surprisingly attractive and melodic. They’ve mellowed out a bit since then, but their early albums are great fun.


Up next: A lot more noise

Twenty Years On: Songs from the Belfry 2003, Part VI

Amusingly one memory I have of July 2003 is going to the bookstore on the corner of Brattle Street, just off Harvard Square. That would often be one of the last places I’d hit at the end of my Boston day trips. It was a split-level shop with fiction in the extremely crowded basement and nonfiction upstairs. I’d been going to that store since my college days and always found something interesting there. And in this particular warm evening, I found myself browsing the stacks while the store’s speakers softly played Beck’s Sea Change (which by this time had claimed top position as writing session soundtrack). It was one of those perfect moments of mood and music that has stuck with me ever since. And what did I buy there that evening? The 11th Edition of the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, heh. Which I still have and use frequently, store sticker and all. [Side note: looks like an updated edition came out a few years ago…perhaps I should finally buy it?]

Razed in Black, Damaged, released 1 July 2003. I always enjoyed darkwave but never quite got around to fully involving myself in the style, but this album I liked. “Share This Poison” ended up on a future Re:Defined mix.

Year of the Rabbit, Year of the Rabbit, released 15 July 2003. One of Ken Andrews’ many post-Failure projects after they broke up in the late 90s, this one should have gotten a lot more attention than it did for its excellent songwriting.

Mixtape, Re:Defined 04, created 20 July 2003. The fourth volume in this series got a lot of play in my car that summer between commutes to work and road trips elsewhere. Its cd version even got some play in the Belfry!

311, Evolver, released 22 July 2003. I’ve been a fan since the self-titled 1994 album and I always pick up their albums. They’ve mastered that heavy-yet-fun aspect of funky hard rock and rap and they’re always a refreshing listen. “Creatures (for a While)” is one of my favorites of theirs.

Eve 6, It’s All in Your Head, released 22 July 2003. The third album from this SoCal band didn’t quite impress the label and dropped them soon after because of its experimentation and lack of radio-friendly tunes (aside from the first single “Think Twice”). I kind of like this one though, because it really shows how good they were when they were able to expand their horizons.

Sense Field, Living Outside, released 22 July 2003. It’s a pity this band broke up after this album, because this was such a great one! They kind of reminded me of that 90s alt-rock vibe similar to The Verve Pipe, full of great tunes and songwriting.

Yellowcard, Ocean Avenue, released 22 July 2003. I never actually owned this album, but I remember a few of its singles being everywhere at the time, especially on LaunchCast! All the emo kids loved this record even though the critics didn’t. I wasn’t a big fan of pop-punk at the time but I did enjoy this band.

Ben Folds, Speed Graphic EP, released 22 July 2003. Folds took his time following up his excellent Rockin’ the Suburbs and filled the space with a trio of of EPs over the next year with his signature quirky piano pop. He pulls off a rocking cover of The Cure’s “In Between Days” here.

Jane’s Addiction, Strays, released 22 July 2003. Speaking of bands that took their time…Jane’s finally reunited at the start of the decade (minus bassist Eric Avery) to record their third album and surprised everyone with how slick it sounded. Some fans felt it a bit too slick and missed the sloppy grunge/funk of the first two releases, but it was a fresh sound that worked for the present day. “Just Because” ended up with a lot of airplay on radio, movies and TV.


Next up: Summer winds down and music winds up!

Twenty Years On: Songs from the Belfry 2003, Part V

I seem to remember that the New England summer of 2003 was extremely warm and humid, which meant that I’d have the garage door open at night when I worked down in the Belfry. This was well before my parents’ house started seeing more surprising wildlife cutting through the yard, by the way, so there was little expectation of a wildcat or a bear walking its way in to see what was going on.

This was also the time of several weekend road trips! I was still heading into Boston every now and again, spending the day hitting my old book and record store haunts, spending some time in Back Bay and on the Common, then taking the Red Line up to Harvard Square where I’d hang out for a good few hours before heading home again. More locally I was still hitting Toadstool Books up in Keene, and the Newbury Comics/Barnes & Noble run in Leominster. (Sometimes both on the same day!)

Speaking of books, it was around this time that I really started reading more voraciously. Before then, I’d pick up the occasional book I was interested in but stuck with comics for the most part, but I’d finally decided that if I was going to be a writer, maybe I should, y’know, do my homework. I soon had a mountain of books next to my bed with both SF/Fantasy and litfic, ready to be opened.

A lot of money spent on shopping and gas, but it was definitely a fun time!


Stereophonics, You Gotta Go There to Come Back, released 2 June 2003. I’d been a fan of this band since the HMV days, and still am to this day. This album feels more organic than some of their previous records with some genuinely heartfelt tunes like “Maybe Tomorrow”.

Rob Dougan, Furious Angels, released 3 June 2003. The man who brought us the classic Matrix moment with “Clubbed to Death” released exactly one album, and this was it. Half instrumental and half growly vocals, it doesn’t quite measure up to his signature song (which is included here) but it did work perfectly as writing session soundtrack material. He’s done a lot of production and scoring work, however.

Dave Gahan, Paper Monsters, released 3 June 2003. The other lead singer of Depeche Mode finally released his first solo record this year, and you can kind of tell that his songs are chillier and more visceral than Martin Gore’s whose songs tend to have more heart to them. Still, this one’s an interesting record that proved he could go it alone.

Love and Rockets, Sorted! The Best of Love and Rockets, released 3 June 2003. One of my favorite bands of the late 80s finally dropped a greatest hits to tie in with their expanded rereleases of the last couple of years. It’s a simple selection with not that many deep cuts, but it does prove just how great they were!

Soundtrack, The Animatrix – The Album, released 3 June 2003. The two-fer of Matrix movies was supplemented by a third project, an anthology of American-Japanese animation containing in-canon back stories and side stories, many that actually tied in directly with the three movies, and released as a box set with a dvd and a soundtrack.

Radiohead, Hail to the Thief, released 9 June 2003. After their one-two weirdness of Kid A and Amnesiac, the band didn’t quite return to their previous sound but instead chose to find a middle ground between the two styles. This one’s probably my favorite of their later period and there are a lot of deep cuts on this album that I love.

Duran Duran, The Singles 81-85, released 10 June 2003. Finding singles from this band was always an adventure, considering their first few years were filled with alternate versions, dance remixes and odd b-sides, sometimes only available on import. This box set compiles every one of them up to “A View to a Kill”, and it’s a great mix.

Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers, released 10 June 2003. The third record from this band finally saw them get major airplay thanks to the “Stacy’s Mom” single, but the rest of this record is just as fun and quirky, including the fabulous album cut “All Kinds of Time” which is the best song about football I’ve ever heard.

Ambulance LTD, Ambulance LTD EP, released 17 June 2003. This band from NYC only stuck around for a couple of years before vanishing, but what they put out was a couple of records full of wonderfully understated indie rock. They’re definitely one of those ‘oh, that band! I remember them!’ groups, but they’re well worth checking out.

Michelle Branch, Hotel Paper, released 24 June 2003. I didn’t actually own this album, but I did own its lead single “Are You Happy Now” which I thought was an excellent eff-you pop song that wasn’t sung by Alanis Morissette. Definitely a change from her previous poppier singles.

Liz Phair, Liz Phair, released 24 June 2003. You either loved or hated her, and I think I started with indifference (her 90s single “Supernova” got way overplayed on WFNX), but over the years I’d grown to enjoy her work.


Coming up next: summer songs and mixtapes

Twenty Years On: Songs from the Belfry 2003, Part IV

Sometimes you get that feeling that things are on the verge of change whether you want it to come or not. Just little inconsequential things that signify the end of something, like an afternoon anime series that stops getting played on Cartoon Network, or a coworker leaving or getting fired…or simply that you notice there’s a wide-open road ahead for you to travel on, but you’re not sure if you’re quite ready to take it just yet. I think I was heading in this direction as it was, having thought a lot (almost obsessively) about my future as a writer, as well as knowing it was time for me to move on emotionally from the stagnancy I’d found myself in. I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to go, but I was well aware that I had the ability. It was just up to me to take that step.


Brian Vander Ark, Resurrection, released 1 May 2003. The lead singer for the Verve Pipe brought his spectacular songwriting chops into a solo side career while his band was on hiatus, and it’s a lovely record full of gorgeous songs.

Blur, Think Tank, released 5 May 2003. A last gasp for the band before going on an extended hiatus, this one was recorded after guitarist Graham Coxon’s departure. It’s a bit disjointed and strange, as if Damon Albarn’s huge success with Gorillaz kind of took him off his game, but it’s still listenable and has some wonderfully odd songs on it.

Dead Can Dance, Wake, released 5 May 2003. A two-disc retrospective that essentially takes the best of their box set from two years previous, making it more digestible. I’d been a fan of this band since the late 80s so this was of course recommended listening during the writing sessions.

The Dandy Warhols, Welcome to the Monkey House, released 5 May 2003. Though not as enjoyable as their previous album Thirteen Tales of Urban Bohemia from 2000, it nonetheless contained some of their most memorable singles.

Wire, Send, released 6 May 2003. The highly inventive and influential band that defined post-punk (and pretty much owned the music journalist word ‘angular’) had returned in 2000 to play a series of live shows that were so successful they chose to write and record new songs. This ‘third wave’ (if you count the ‘Wir’ project as part of the 80s-90s wave two) is more of a hybrid of their choppy 70s punk albums and their melodic 80s records, and they’ve been recording ever since.

Tricky, Vulnerable, released 19 May 2003. At this point Tricky entered my list of ‘I will buy anything they release’ musicians. This album is true to its name, with the trip-hop gloom stripped back to reveal several quiet and delicate songs.

Deftones, Deftones, released 20 May 2003. There’s something about hearing a song at the right time and in the right place that makes it resonate with me, and hearing “Minerva” on the radio during a break at the day job on a warm and sunny spring day made this band click with me all of a sudden. I really got into this album for its mix of heaviness and tight songwriting as well as its fascinating experimentation.

Tipper, Surrounded, released 20 May 2003. One of the first records to be mixed in 5.1 surround sound, this is an album for listening even if you don’t have the technology to hear it as intended. It’s full of fascinating dreamlike soundscapes that you can easily get lost in. The closing track “Illabye” became one of my favorite tracks of the year.

The Thorns, The Thorns, released 20 May 2003. A project featuring Matthew Sweet, Pete Droge and Shawn Mullins, this album is just as creatively melodic as you’d expect, and just about as Crosby Stills & Nash as you can get without actually being them. The single “I Can’t Remember” is pure alternafolk bliss.

Mogwai, Happy Songs for Happy People, released 21 May 2003. This month’s ‘I know of them and like them but don’t own anything’ band is the one that finally got me to start buying their albums and singles. I’d see them later in 2004 as one of the many bands in the Curiosa festival.

Mixtape, Re:Defined 03, created 25 May 2003. I remember listening to this one quite a bit at the time during my commutes to and from the Yankee Candle warehouse in Deerfield. The trip was exactly thirty miles and took about forty minutes or so, so I could listen to a complete side each way. [Note: I remembered just now where I got the title for this series from — the song “In the Warmth of Meanings Redefined” by Kimone, which shows up on the Re:Defined 01 mixtape. So now you know!]


Coming soon: summer is around the corner meaning more road trips, more car listening and more spending money at bookstores and record stores!

Twenty Years On: Songs from the Belfry 2003, Part III

I started the spring of 2003 in the best creative zone I’d ever been in to date. I was six months into writing The Persistence of Memories and was hitting at least a thousand words a night without fail. I was having a hell of a lot of fun planning it during the day and writing it at night. This was a novel that was about the soul growing stronger not just on its own but through connections with others, and in a way that’s what was going on in my life at the time. It remains my favorite of my books to date for those reasons.


The White Stripes, Elephant, released 1 April 2003. After 2001’s breakthrough album White Blood Cells (and its earwormy single “Fell in Love with a Girl” and its Lego-inspired video), the duo’s sound started veering away from the lo-fi blues-garage rock and more towards slick indie production.

Ester Drang, Infinite Keys, released 1 April 2003. I’d heard this one on WAMH — I’d started listening to my once-favorite college radio station during my commutes — and really enjoyed how this band blended their sound between post-rock, slow-core and indie rock. Yet another on the Belfry jukebox.

Front 242, Still and Raw EP, released 8 April 2003. I’d always loved this EDM band but sadly it took me years to finally get around to getting the rest of their discography! This was a new release after many years of live and remix albums, to be followed the next month by a new album.

Yo La Tengo, Summer Sun, released 8 April 2003. A band that’s been around since I was a teenager (and still going strong with a new album this year!), this one was a favorite on college radio, especially the song “Little Eyes”.

Elefant, Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid, released 8 April 2003. This one got some seriously heavy play in the Belfry at the time! This was an NYC band that sadly kind of came and went, but it’s a hell of a fine record full of glossy, smooth indie rock with a touch of 80s sheen to it. There’s a track on it called “Static on Channel 4” that I swear is a Thomas Dolby song!

Mixtape, Re:Defined 02, created 13 April 2003. The first in this series went down so well for my commutes and writing sessions that I continued make them. This second one is a favorite of mine and contains a lot of songs I really enjoyed at the time.

M83, Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts, released 15 April. Years before the game-changing Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, this band came out with a handful of odd yet fascinating electronic releases that leaned more towards chiptunes and glitchiness.

+/- (Plus/Minus), Holding Patterns EP, released 15 April 2003. This side project of the band Versus could be alternately experimental and full of sugary indie pop, but their song “Trapped Under Ice Floes” nails it with its driving beat, catchy melody and excellent midsong breakdown. Props for their video that’s a direct homage to The Cure’s video for “Jumping Someone Else’s Train”.

Blue Man Group, The Complex, released 22 April 2003. A group known more for their live (and often messy) performances, they would occasionally drop an album of the songs they did for their shows, often with the guest singers that would show up. This record features the vocals of Dave Matthews, Tracy Bonham (who would tour with them for this album), Esthero, and Gavin Rossdale.

Goldfrapp, Black Cherry, released 28 April 2003. After her adventurous and experimental first album, Alison Goldfrapp chose to go sultry, sexy and groovy with this second outing, and absolutely nailed it with a record full of great songs. This one’s a super fun listen!

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell, released 29 April 2003. This NYC band had been around for a bit, but this was their official debut album and what a hell of a record it is! I admit it took me a while to get used to it, but once I heard the brilliant track “Maps” it all clicked for me.

Soundtrack, The Matrix Reloaded: The Album, released 29 April 2003. After a four-year wait, the second Matrix film dropped in early May, with the third in the trilogy (The Matrix Revolutions, both filmed at the same time) released that November. The unconventional soundtrack featured both the rock/electronic tracks and the score rather than them being released separately.


Up next: another mixtape, a long-awaited release from an all-time favorite band, and more!