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.

Waking up early the next few days…

The head bookkeeper is going on a well-earned two week vacation, which means my work schedule in his place will have me waking up before the dawn and getting me out by early afternoon. I do this on Fridays and Saturdays anyway so I’m used to it, but doing so for an entire week, five days in a row, is going to be tough. Still…I’ve done it before and I love this kind of schedule anyway, so I can’t complain.

Just saying that my music posts might be a bit loopy this next week or so if I’m a bit overtired, is all!

Meanwhile…

The PC has been fixed and updated (yay!) but in the meantime I’ve fallen a little behind in my writing (boo!) so I’ve been frantically trying to catch up (blerg!). Doing what I can when I can, though, and making sure I don’t stress out over it all. And I’m not stressed! Which is good, right? Even when I’m trying to squeeze some words out before or after a busy shift at the Day Job?

Anyway. Been listening to a lot of new tunes lately, such as the new boygenius record (fittingly entitled ‘the record’), and it’s quite good! It’s been getting a lot of positive press and high-grade reviews. And let’s be honest, a group with Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker in it has no business being half-assed now. Three phenomenal songwriters writing flawless alternapop. I highly recommend it.

Computer Woes

WELP. Looks like the PC in Spare Oom has gotten to the point where I need to a factory reset. I probably needed to do it anyway as it’s been acting up in various ways over the last several months. Nothing big…until now. Previously the internet would disconnect, or I’d suddenly be super low on memory, but lately weird things have been happening like one single program eating up 98% of the CPU usage, or File Explorer seriously lagging.

I mean, it could very well be that a recent update got hosed (such as a driver download crashing due to said internet disconnect) or I somehow acquired some malware somewhere along the line. Mind you, other than the odd problems, everything ran totally fine once I ran a few cleaning apps. Until it happened again.

So anyways, this means that yesterday afternoon I decided to do take the plunge and do that factory reset after all. I’m not too worried about it, considering that this is the very first time I’ve done it for this PC in the three (four?) years I’ve had it. Having problems at this PC’s age is rather impressive, actually.

Which sadly means that I’ve given you this boring post instead of something about music! Oh well. Hopefully things will be back to normal soon!

Current Writing Session Rotation

So what have I been listening to lately while writing MU4? Lots of things! I’ve mostly been focusing on newer releases these last couple of weeks, and this is what’s currently on rotation:

Flyying Colours, You Never Know, released 17 March. A sort of Slowdive-meets-dreampop hybrid that’s a little more bouncy than shoegaze but still moody enough to keep me enthralled. I’ve been looking forward to this one since hearing the first single “Goodbye to Music” on KEXP.

Depeche Mode, Memento Mori, released 24 March. I was curious as to what this new album would sound like, and it kind of reminds me of Ultra melodywise, but the sound is more like Construction Time Again. It’s definitely a somber affair for many reasons, but this band has always fit perfectly in that niche.

The Church, The Hypnogogue, released 24 February. The band lineup has definitely changed over the years — Steve Kilbey is the lone original member at this point — but their signature sound hasn’t changed at all. This one’s very much like their previous records, very moody and experimental.

The Reds, Pinks and Purples, The Town That Cursed Your Name, released 24 March. I’ve recently found out that this local band has been getting play on KEXP, which makes me extremely happy!

Secret Machines, The Moth, the Lizard and the Secret Machines, released 24 March. Recorded not that long after 2008’s self-titled album but never released, the band finished it off recently. It’s quite unlike any of their other albums, more of a noisefest than a melodic adventure, but it’s perfect background music for my sessions!

U2, Songs of Surrender, released 17 March. A forty-song mix to tie in with Bono’s memoir, it’s full of reimagined recordings of both hits and deep cuts. Many of them also have updated lyrics (per Bono, he felt these new words are closer to what he envisioned for each track). Still, it’s a great set!

fly-by: brb, glitch in the matrix

Sorry for the lack of quality entries this week! Meant to get something up here today but my PC had an update that didn’t update correctly and it’s causing everything to be kind of wonky. Going to run some diagnostics and turn the unit off while I go to work today to give it a rest. Hopefully it’ll be back to normal this evening.

Let’s try this again next week, shall we?