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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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Next up: Summer winds down and music winds up!

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.

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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!]

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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.

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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.

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

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

March of 2003 was…interesting, to say the least. On a personal front, the day job had become considerably busier due to Yankee Candle’s new deal with Bed, Bath & Beyond…while the post-Christmas months had quieted down, the volume was still more than before. But on a more serious note…the Bush II administration had chosen to go ahead with its invasion of Iraq, upselling the ‘they have weapons of mass destruction’ message as far as it could go. Those who believed in it (mainly conservatives) leaned heavy on the American Patriotism to the point of absurdity (anyone remember freedom fries?), while those opposed to it (mainly…well, a lot of people, not just liberals) protested loudly and repeatedly.

I suppose this might be part of the irritation I felt and inserted into The Balance of Light. That novel contained a lot of tension between sides that refused to acknowledge the other; the war didn’t make sense to me, and that became Denni’s focus in the third book: Why the hells are we fighting? What are we trying to achieve by it? It also became Alec Poe’s as well: This makes no sense, and it will all end in destruction. I refuse to be a part of it.

Evanescence, Fallen, released 4 March 2003. “Bring Me to Life” was everywhere that spring, having also been in a key scene in the Ben Affleck’s movie version of Daredevil. I could have easily filed this away on the alt-metal/hard rock bandwagon that was becoming rather crowded at the time, but this one stood out with some really great songwriting and production.

The Ataris, So Long, Astoria, released 4 March 2003. I was never the biggest fan of emo, but I was drawn to this band’s amazing cover of Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” — quite possibly my all-time favorite cover version at that. [Bonus points for updating the bumper sticker lyric to ‘Black Flag’, heh.] I found myself listening to this one a lot during my writing sessions when I needed a good punchy soundtrack for some heavy action scenes.

The New Folk Implosion, The New Folk Implosion, released 4 March 2003. This iteration of Lou Barlow’s band is far moodier and robust than his previous versions, which drew me to it. The epic “Releast” is my favorite off the album and ended up on a few mixtapes that year.

Kelli Ali, Tigermouth, released 4 March 2003. The former Sneaker Pimps singer’s first solo album is a luscious trip-hoppy chill-out record and a perfect album for writing sessions. “Sunlight in the Rain” is one of my favorite tracks of this particular year.

Cave In, Antenna, released 18 March 2003. This New England band started out as hardcore metal but could also write some wonderfully melodic alt-rock. This was one of my favorite albums of the year and was one of the most played cds during writing sessions!

Longwave, The Strangest Things, released 18 March 2003. This too got a lot of Belfry play with its hybrid of indie emo and shoegazey riffs. Not as loud as most similar bands of the time, and definitely far more adventurous.

Zach de la Rocha & DJ Shadow, “March of Death” single, released 21 March 2003. The invasion of Iraq was not a popular move in the US, and several musicians let it be known how pissed off they were, many uploading songs for free online in protest.

Placebo, Sleeping with Ghosts, released 24 March 2003. In my opinion this is their best album ever, full of tight and driving melodies from start to finish. This was also one of my top favorite albums of the year.

Linkin Park, Meteora, released 25 March 2003. I kinda sorta liked the band at the time, but not enough to go out of my way to buy their first album…until I’d heard several of the singles off this one and realized what I was missing. This is an absolutely stellar record worth having in your collection, especially the new twentieth anniversary edition that just came out earlier this month.

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Coming up: more indie rock goodness, mixtapes and bands whose future started here.

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

Welcome to another installation of the Twenty Years On series, in which I revisit some albums, singles, compilations and soundtracks that got some serious play in the Belfry while I wrote the Bridgetown Trilogy!

This time it’s 2003, a transitional year for me personally and creatively. I was just about wrapping up Book 2 in the trilogy, The Persistence of Memories, which I’d managed to write in exactly one year — a first for me, as my previous novels usually took me a year and a half to two. I was extremely proud of that book; I still am, and consider it my favorite of the three. I’d soon start off on The Balance of Light, which…well, more on that later!

So let’s begin, shall we?

Rainer Maria, Long Knives Drawn, released 21 January 2003. One of many bands I’d heard of (thanks to HMV) but never got around to following until some years later. This is a great album full of driving tunes and “Ears Ring” made it to my year-end mixtape and favorites list.

Laika, Lost in Space, Vol 1 (1993-2002), released 21 January 2003. This too was a band I discovered later on, and this is a curious compilation of singles and rarities I found myself enjoying during my writing sessions. Not quite electronica, not quite trip hop, not quite alt rock, but something somewhere in between.

Calla, Televise, released 28 January 2003. I believe I found this one through a review in CMJ — I’d often read the reviews while at Newbury Comics and then pick up what appealed to me — and this jumped out as an interesting find. Arty and angular indie rock that fit the soundtrack of my trilogy perfectly.

Clearlake, Cedars, released 3 February 2003. I believe I’d first heard “Almost the Same” on LaunchCast and thought hey, this is like ‘what if Robert Smith sang for an emo punk band? and picked it up right away.

Johnny Marr & the Healers, Boomslang, released 4 February 2003. Marr’s first official solo album after several post-Smiths years of session work and he hit it straight out of the park from the beginning. You can kind of tell he’s still feeling the waters a bit and he’s not nearly as adventurous as he’d be ten years later with his album The Messenger, but there’s no mistaking his wonderful songwriting style.

Massive Attack, 100th Window, released 10 February 2003. Their long-awaited follow up to their brilliant Mezzanine may not have been as flawless, but it’s an interesting album nonetheless. Essentially recorded by main member Robert Del Naja on his own (the two other members, Mushroom and Grant Marshall, chose not to work on this one), it’s somewhat strangely upbeat compared to previous albums. The Sinead O’Connor-sung “What Your Soul Sings” ended up on many mixtapes, but also ended up as a key phrase in the Bridgetown Trilogy as well.

Stars, Heart, released 11 February 2003. Another ‘heard of but never heard‘ band I finally started to follow. I loved their curious mix of pretty balladry and oddball indie pop, and this one also got a lot of Belfry play.

The Postal Service, Give Up, released 18 February 2003. A side project between Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and DJ/producer Dntel, this was essentially what if Death Cab was an electropop band but “Such Great Heights” was so huge (and still gets played on the radio!) it’s considered a classic album.

Mixtape, Re:Defined 01, created 24 February 2003. The first mixtape of the year, and the first where I decided not to use the Walk in Silence/Listen in Silence/Untitled/etc theme, instead going for a streamlined mix of Songs I Love at the time. This first one is understandably a mix of songs from the new year and tunes from late 2002, but I found myself listening to this one a lot during my commutes to and from work. This boded well, and I’d keep the Re:Defined theme into 2005. I’d even make CD versions for Belfry play!

The Notwist, Neon Golden, released (US) 25 February 2003. This German indie rock band had a small but considerable following in the States but this album broke them and helped kickstart the indietronica movement. “Pick Up the Phone” is one of my favorite songs of this particular year.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Nocturama, released 25 February 2003. Nick Cave is someone I always enjoyed but never quite got around to collecting his albums. I was fascinated by this album, however, as it sounded so different from their previous records, as it sounds so much more vibrant (and dare I say, even a bit less funereal?) than them.

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Stay tuned for more!

Albums I Haven’t Played in Ages: The Downward Spiral

KEXP played Nine Inch Nails’ “March of the Pigs” earlier today and it occurred to me that I have not listened to The Downward Spiral in ages. Which is surprising, considering I used to play the hell out of my taped copy (and later the cd) of it in the mid-90s during my last couple of years in Boston. It was even part of my Belfry writing session playlist for a significant time. I’m sure the main reason I’ve been avoiding it is that it reminds me a little too much of a not-so-happy time in my life. Very broke, very depressed, and very desperate.

I mean, “Closer” was everywhere on MTV and the alternative radio stations for months after it came out. [And I’m 99% sure it was because us Gen Xers were proud of the fact we could get a song with “I want to f*** you like an animal” as a lyric on commercial radio. When in doubt and you want to shock, might as well go all the way, right?] Mind you, it’s actually a step back from NIN’s previous EPs from 1992 (Broken and Fixed), though not by much. All three were extremely nihilistic and pissed off, but Downward Spiral seemed to step back just a little bit from the brink to be just this side of listenable.

I remember having a conversation with my then-girlfriend (the one I co-wrote True Faith with) about this album, how deliberate its production and construction was. It started with unbridled anger and violence with “Mr. Self Destruct” and only going…well, downard from there. The album does have a sense of resolution by its finish, however dire. By the self-titled song (the next to last track) the main focus is desperation and nihilism laid bare…followed by the damaged ascendance of “Hurt” as its final track. We’re not sure if the main character (so to speak) has reached the point of suicide or relief — or both — but it’s certain that the pain has finally gone away, one way or another.

I never got around to seeing Nine Inch Nails live except that one time, back in late 1989 when I won tickets to see them on Landsdowne Street in Boston, before their fame skyrocketed to arenas and music festivals. But by the mid-90s I was far too broke to go see any bands other than the free shows on the Hatch Shell anyway, so I made do with the music I could get cheaply. I followed the band’s progress through the years as I could, but I don’t think I quite connected with them as closely as I did with Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral.

I don’t remember the last time I actively gave this album a full spin, to tell the truth. I remember playing it in the stock room at HMV and in the Belfry when I was deep in writing The Phoenix Effect, but I rarely played it after that. It just struck a little too close to home.

I keep meaning to give it another play one of these days, now that time and age have intervened and the traumas of those years has faded, no longer equating those songs with personal and emotional hells. I can appreciate it as a fan and a listener and audiophile and not just a low chapter in my life.