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Music Savaged By The Average Beast

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for January 5, 2004

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Top Tens for 2003
by Sean Carolan

At the beginning of this past year, you might have convinced me that radio was only boring because there wasn't any good music being put out. Granted, you'd have to have gotten me pretty drunk to convince me of that, but hey, if you were buying, why complain?

Since I've been afforded the luxury of programming my own music again, it's become very clear to me that the homogeneity of radio is no reflection on the people that are putting out music, only on radio's own cowardice. Here's a group of albums and individual tracks that I found challenging over this past year; some from classic artists that aren't young enough to grace the cover of Rolling Stone or Spin, and some that just haven't popped above the glass ceiling of the tried-and-true.

(As an aside: did we ever think we'd say that about Rolling Stone?)


1. WireSend
More than anything else, this record is the one that convinced me that not only was good music being made in healthy amounts, but that it was also being made available in ways that provided far more benefit to its creators than the standard music distribution system. Send is a record whose anger comes from the wisdom that accompanies the knowledge of exactly what's worth being angry about, which makes it worth listening to; it's being made available at the Pink Flag website in ways (either CD with bonus live disc, or vinyl with a pile of extra tracks) that make it clear that they want to give their customers a superior value. As the boys in marketing say, it's a win-win.

2. SeedlingLet's Play Boys And Girls
Transformed Dreams is a record label in Amsterdam that goes to great lengths to help the bands associated with it gain the audience they deserve. Seedling certainly made good on the promise of that mission - they were voted “Best Dutch band of 2003” by hometown alternative station VPRO. This spectactularly listenable disc refused to leave my player for several months, and when I finally did unwedge it from there around the time they played The Saint in Asbury, it started coming out of my radio (courtesy Jeff Raspe, who started playing it on 90.5 The Night.) See for yourself; go to their site at and download the latest single from their album, "Dutch Disease". No need to thank me - just be there when they inevitably come to the US again.

3. The FallThe Real New Fall LP (formerly Country On The Click)
If I hadn't been listening to John Peel at the BBC Radio 1 website, I'd have missed this completely - but if you listen to Peel, you know there's no way he'll let you miss the slightest burble from Mark E. Smith and whatever company he's keeping. It's just the latest proof that Smith will always be Smith, and as long as he is, the Fall will always be.

4. Joe Strummer & The MescalerosStreetcore
Too much has been written already about how much was lost when Joe Strummer died. We'll be rediscovering his ignored releases for years. This deserves every bit of the attention it got.

5. Killing JokeKilling Joke
As Wire did at the beginning of the year, Killing Joke proved mid-way through that given a big enough irritant, the vein of anger that informed music made twenty years ago can be successfully re-tapped. They've been sold a big lie (as have we all - where are those weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed on twenty-minutes' notice again?) and they're not taking it lying down. Neither is Dave Grohl, who propels the fury with power and elegance.

6. KennaNew Sacred Cow
Kenna's from Ethiopia by way of Virginia, and Chad Hugo of the Neptunes (working under the pseudonym of Chase Chad) has tried out some fairly startling arrangements around Kenna's plaintive voice. Result: surprising techno-pop, always welcome in the Altrok worldview.

7. Hot Hot HeatMake Up The Breakdown
I love XTC, so I love these guys. Besides, how can you not love the idea of an album that features the viewpoint of someone capable of winding up "naked in the city"..."again"?

8. BuzzcocksBuzzcocks
Another echo of punk's big bang, Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle are given a new lease on life by teaming with a rejuvenated rhythm section, and wind up as fun as ever.

9. Black Rebel Motorcycle ClubTake Them On, On Your Own
Some music percolates, some music tinkles. This music throbs. This is the best 1987 Manchester record not released in 1987 nor by a band from Manchester.

10. Mandy MooreCoverage
Whoever convinced her to do the songs she did on this album is clearly on a blessed mission.


1. Dramarama — "California Uber Alles"
John Easdale and friends pulled this off in a couple of days, so that it could be available in time for the day of California's recall election. While it may not have prevented Arnold's ascension to the statehouse (an event that I still haven't made up my mind about) it certainly updated a deserving song for a suddenly-energized audience. It couldn't have come at a better time.

2. Arab Strap — "The Shy Retirer"
Mondays At The Hug And Pint ponders the ultimate futility of being by pondering the ultimate futility of hanging out in bars, but none of the songs on the album do it with the irony of this one - a song that sounds great on the dance floor, about how stupid it is to spend so much time on the dance floor. Never has revulsion been so much fun.

3. Venus Hum — "Soul Slosher"
The best record Yazoo never made with Bjork.

4. Scout — "Good Enough For Now"
Repetitive use of the word "yeah" is part of rock's playing field by now, but its quadruple use here is almost as infectuous as its triple use by that skiffle band from Liverpool. And another New York band gets noticed.

5. Longwave — "Everywhere You Turn"
....and another New York band gets noticed. Some comparisons with "Boy"-era Bono are probably warranted, especially in the way the song's delivery sounds like it could get pretentious in the wrong hands, but doesn't. Here's hoping Longwave never play Red Rocks.

6. JunkieXL Featuring Terry Hall — "Never Alone"
Hall likely came in, did his bit, and got out, but what a bit it is. Paranoia hits the dance floor running.

7. Fischerspooner — "The 15th"
Honestly, I had a hard time listening to their entire #1 album, but I keep going back to this spare, efficient and wistful rework of the Wire original. I hope they do too.

8. Lamb — "Sugar 5"
Drum 'n' bass beats build subtly to a succession of mellotron-driven climaxes. Oh yes, they do.

9. Earlimart — "We Drink On The Job"
It's the magnificently whiny guitar lead that does it for me on this one.

10. Fountains Of Wayne — "Stacy's Mom"
Bbecause twisted subversion is good, but twisted subversion that makes the top forty is better.


Next year, look out for:

- Amy Speace's new record. It's currently in its formative stages, but you can preorder it, and maybe even get your name in the credits by checking out
- Blue Sandcastle's new record (also in progress.)
- Former Miss AmericaCarnivalism
- The Crimea — "Baby Boom"

..and, of course, look out for more people realizing there's little reason to bother with commercial radio anymore. It's insane that I, a New Jersey resident, should have to turn to the BBC to find out about the Quick Fix Kills from Jersey City, but that's where we stand.


©2004 Sean Carolan

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


Today's NY/NJ Shows That Matter

Friday, June 5, 2020
The Lumineers at BB&T Pavilion, Camden (POSTPONED)
Keb Mo at City Winery (Pier 57) (POSTPONED)
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit and David Crosby at Rooftop At Pier 17 (POSTPONED)
Ace Frehley at Hard Rock, Atlantic City (POSTPONED)
EOB (Ed O'Brien of Radiohead) at Brooklyn Steel, Bklyn (POSTPONED)
Talib Kweli (full band) at Brooklyn Bowl (POSTPONED)
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ALTROK Ordinals

ALTROK recommends music once a week; here's our most recent choices. Most links will take you to a place where you can buy the music; if there's no link, and you own a record company, consider releasing it yourself...

A Place To Bury Strangers - It Is Nothing
The Boxer Rebellion - Semi-Automatic
The Cribs - Cheat On Me
Datarock - True Stories
Everything Everything - Photoshop Handsome
HEALTH - Die Slow
Miles Hunt and Erica Nockalls - Catching More Than We Miss
Julian Plenti - Games For Days
Los Campesinos - The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future (Free download!)
Miike Snow - Black & Blue

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