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2003: A Toast To The Merry Merrymakers

This is our bridge from an exciting year of music to the next, our toast to the merry merrymakers of 2003.

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Whether stated by an insightful Bay Area punk rocker or some majestic fanciful entourage of rock’s greatest excesses, music indeed is a driving force for change. We often hear of music’s great ability to affect the masses; to shape and evolve a community for the better. It is however, on a personal and individual level that music has seen its greatest influence. This year Sound the Sirens Magazine will pay tribute on a more personal scope, as our writers will each share their own list of records they feel have best influenced them in 2003.

Along the way we’ll revisit some of the year’s more memorable interviews and columns while saying swift farewell to some of the many that left us this year. This is our bridge from an exciting year of music to the next, our toast to the merry merrymakers of 2003.

– Billy Ho, Editor


Tributes

ELLIOT SMITH 
1969 – 2003

Steven Paul (Elliott) Smith was born on August 6th, 1969 and even though his life ended on October 21st, 2003 he will live on within the hearts of all those who loved him for what he was: a man, a stranger, a friend, a poet, and an artist. His career gave birth to five stellar solo albums (Roman CandleElliott SmithEither/OrXO, and Figure 8) and a number of albums with his former band Heatmiser. He garnered a following that was very dedicated and connected to the singer. 

From the first time I heard his self titled album I knew that he was different. I’m not sure what it was but when I heard him sing my heart began to collapse. I became completely enamored with someone I knew nothing about. His music, his voice, everything was perfect. From that day on I was hooked and I wasn’t about to let go. His work can be described with two words: Beautifully Depressing. His music held such hurt, vulnerability, and beauty. Anyone who had enjoyed his music felt that in some way they were connected to him. We felt his pain through his lyrics and we sympathized with him despite our inability to be close to him. His words spoke to souls, his music made people connect, and his presence in this world seemed to make things better. – Angela Rodriguez 

WARREN ZEVON 
1947 – 2003

Putting in more than three decades worth of work into the music industry, Zevon was a cultured musician and great student of the musical arts. He spent most of his childhood in California and Arizona before becoming the musical director for The Everly Brothers in the early 70’s. He firmly launched into his own career after the release of his 1976 self-titled album. Since then, he has released numerous collections (his finer works include 1978’s Excitable Boy, 1987’s Sentimental Hygiene) including his final album, The Wind (featuring guest appearances by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Ry Coder and Don Henley); Zevon finally succumbed to cancer in September. – Billy Ho

Some of the others who left us in 2003: Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Sam Phillips, Wesley Willis, Matt Davis, Ronnie Dawson, Matthew Jay, Matthew Fitzgerald, Adam Cox, Jeremy Gage, Sheb Wooley, Robert Palmer, Bill Perkins.


Albums of the Year

Blur – Think Tank (Virgin)

“This is Blur’s finest and most troubled moment. Seemingly struggling with itself, forced to change and grow but trapped inside preconceptions and lofty expectations. But don’t be deceived by attempts to closely relate the progress of this record with their far more humble beginnings. Think Tank is a vital step in this band’s growth and evolution.” [Read review]

My Morning Jacket- It Still Moves (ATO)

Best capturing the sounds of Southern influenced rock music, My Morning Jacket’s vast, serene and occasionally thundering clap paints an earnest picture of true Americana. Drenched in delightful rural qualities, It Still Moves is inspired.

The Strokes – Room On Fire (RCA)

What Shivani said: “The album seems to depend on reductionist theory. That is, incorporating nothing in any degree of excess. The result is a short, thirty-three minute, album that blows you away.” [Read review]

The Unicorns – Who Will Cut Our Hair When You’re Gone? (Alien8)

There is a changing of the sound; and pop music is given the upright beating it deserves courtesy of The Unicorns! With songs like “Tuff Ghost” torching ideas of plaintive rhythms, Who Will Cut Our Hair When You’re Gone? is truly an eclectic, morbid, humorous and brilliant collection of tunes.

Mando Diao  – Bring ‘em In (Mute)

Bring ’em In is blessed with the same aura of excitement that 1965’s My Generation had, an exhilaration felt while spinning the record for the very first time, an undying importance that no amount of waterlog can sink.” [Read review]

Cursive – The Ugly Organ (Saddle Creek)

“For now, I think I will just revel in The Ugly Organ – a well conceived work of self-indulgent, conceptual, emotionally deconstructive faux-rock that is but surely the next chapter in Cursive’s eminent history.” [Read review]

Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts of a Great Highway (Jetset)

Former Red House Painters member Mark Kozelek’s latest musical offering is a harrowing recount of the past’s unending allure (and occasional torture). Its triumph lies not in one single facet, but the end result that evokes many a great visions of music’s great influence. Ghosts of a Great Highway is a delight in every way.

Warren Zevon – The Wind (Artemis)

Recorded during his battle with cancer, Zevon’s career that spanned more than 30 years came to an illustrious end with The Wind. Supported by a plethora of great people (Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley and Jackson Browne among them), the album is a stirring collection of music that sways from rock songs to ballads to alternative-country gems like “Numb As a Statue.” Warren Zevon will be missed.

Fountains of Wayne – Welcome Interstate Managers (S-Curve / Virgin)

“The latest offering from Fountains of Wayne is a legitimate pop-laced outing with depth; an ideal sound for the simmering days of summer; the sort of album you want to share with your friends.” [Read review]

Radiohead – Hail to the Thief (Capitol)

“The Radiohead opera continues to set precedence among its kind (or lack thereof). It is a wonder where they could possibly go from here – do they continue on this jaunt, moving on to the next act, or do they pull another discerning audio/visual contradiction that will leave not only the listener, but the rest of the industry’s hopefuls countless worlds behind.” [Read review]

Sufjan Stevens – Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State (Asthmatic Kitty)

As concepts go, Stevens’ ambitious 50 state tribute is among the greatest. His first, a collection of tunes hailing his home state of Michigan, is one written for single word praises: beautiful, lush, towering and heroic – a testament to his incredible poise and tuneful splendor. [Read review]

Grandaddy – Sumday (V2)

Sumday is clarity amongst the stillness that is found in between those cavernous surrounds. And if traveling home / breaking free / casting off from the weary past requires clemency, then the end sum of all that resides here is that glorious sense of lifting burden; an emancipation with great conviction.” [Read review]

Matthew Ryan – Regret Over the Wires (Hybrid)

“…an incredible potency intertwined amongst the tales of regret, confusion, acceptance and loneliness … between these cynicisms, hopes and insight, the lofty comparison that may dog a lesser artist, becomes the mere sinking sunset to this very passionate fable.” [Read review]

The Weakerthans – Reconstruction Site (Epitaph)

“If anyone were ever to forward the cause for written spontaneity and a freshness for inspirational description, John K Samson would be our lonesome scribe. And for those seeking a companion for their favorite “road” book, the music of The Weakerthans is that cross-country trip you yearn to take over and over again – a bona fide sound for that timeless vision.” [Read review]

Super Furry Animals – Phantom Power (Epic / Sony)

“For someone who seeks a more personal inquisition, this is the best way to melt away a burning day; for those who are seeking restitution for the torrent of crimson and desolation, Phantom Power is the perfect soundtrack to the looming apocalypse that may plague your soul.” [Read review]

The Decemberists – Her Majesty The Decemberists (Kill Rock Stars)

“…huddled in confines with bricklayers, bakers, schoolboys and one never-dispirited soul, I lived the soldiering life. And through the tales of faraway lands and beckoning sounds of admirable fascination, I am again filled with certain humanity.” [Read review]

Britta Phillips & Dean Wareham – L’Avventura (Jetset)

While the partnerships that were Donny & Marie and The Captain & Tennille proved that the duo could be a disastrous concept, Dean & Britta traces back to more soulful pairings like Otis Redding & Carla Thomas or Serge Gainsbourg & Brigitte Bardot. With original compositions and interpretations of others, L’Avventura is beautifully sung and grandly conceived; a classy pair of aces. [Read review]

The Jealous Sound – Kill Them With Kindness (Better Looking)

“We look for those open arms where we can rest our weary core, where we can sit and hear and wait for the profound, where we can scream in relief “It feels so good to feel”. And like the moments spent in Shehan’s audience, the understanding is clear, and the only constraints lie in whether or not we’ve found them in time.” [Read review]

Beulah – Yoko (Velocette)

“It is a togetherness forged by Beulah’s realization of mortality and their revelations that follow; a reassurance for the spirit. While we could merely ache along, the overriding inclination is for one to embrace this alluring sadness.” [Read review]

The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow (Sub Pop)

“The Shins have over the course of two releases, rightly etched themselves in pop’s Rosetta stone. Enigmatically tracing the greatest of pop roots with quenching success, Chutes Too Narrow is perfectly stated, and undoubtedly, a masterpiece.” [Read review]


The list in numbers

Number of different albums appearing on our lists: 72
Number of albums appearing on more than one list: 17
Number of times an album, well liked by a writer, was panned by the editor: 3
Number of times The Shins appear on our lists: 5
Number of times The White Stripes appear on our lists: 0

Individual lists

David Walter
Ashley Lefor
Ashley Megan
Angela Rodriguez
Shivani Verma

Epilogue

As we close out another successful year here at Sound the Sirens Magazine, it cannot be understated how much appreciation we have for the people who make this all possible. 

We would first like to thank the amazing writers and their hard work; your time and work is greatly appreciated. We would also like to thank all the public relations teams, record labels, publicists, bands, and media folks who have graciously worked with us in 2003.

And last, but absolutely not least, each and every one of you who read our work. We hope you have enjoyed the year as much as we have. So from myself and the entire staff at Sound the Sirens Magazine, happy holidays and thank you; see you all in 2004!

– David Walter, Associate Editor

Lists

If U.S. presidential candidates were rock bands they’d be…

Here’s where we think the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates stack up if they were a band headlining a 2020 music fest

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Dem candidates

We still have a long, long, long way to go until the 2020 U.S. presidential election — and the list of candidates seems to get a bit longer every day. So, how do you actually keep track of who’s who? Let’s try turning it into a soundtrack.

Admittedly, the list runs too long to actually break down all of those candidates (there are 20+ actually running in the Democratic primary, though several are polling close to zero percent), so we’ve focused in on the folks who are actually showing a bit of buzz in the polls. Plus, of course, the incumbent who is currently president. From hip-hop to corporate rock and everything else in-between, here’s where we think the current crop of would-be presidents stack up if they were a band headlining a 2020 music fest.

Joe Biden: The Rolling Stones

Uncle Joe has been a fixture of American politics for decades, and he’s launched failed bids for president over the past few decades. But with 2020 in sight, Biden is — by far — the most popular Democratic candidate on the ballot. He’s leading most polls by a mile, thanks in large part to the good will he accumulated as President Obama’s vice-president and a solid legislative record (though it does have some troublesome bits in there, too). But, pretty much everyone sees him as likable, solid and — keyword here — “electable.” Translating that to music, Biden feels like The Rolling Stones of this election cycle. Most everybody likes The Stones, from your granddaddy to your aunts and uncles. They also run pretty high on a bunch of those lists of the best band ever. They’re a solid bet, and pop in just about any Stones record, and you’re bound to get something pretty darn good. Sure, it can get a bit worn at times, but even after all these decades, it’s still good stuff.

Bernie Sanders: Big Star

Bernie has been around the scene for decades, much like Biden, but despite the name recognition he’s still not polling as well as Biden. He was huge in the last primary running against Hillary Clinton, and briefly hailed as the Next Big Thing for a while there. He also introduced some forward-thinking policy ideas, many of which have been adopted by a bevy of candidates now running against him this time around. Take that resume to the music world, and Bernie feels a whole lot like Big Star. The Memphis-based rock band burst onto the scene in the early 1970s, and sadly flamed out not long after. Much like Bernie, it took a while for folks to really latch onto just how great Big Star was at the time. They found a cult following a few years later in the 1980s, and went on to influence pretty much every decent band that’s formed ever since. That said, there are still plenty of people who still love and appreciate Big Star to this day. But, they’ll never be as big as bands like the Stones, or The Beatles.

Elizabeth Warren: Radiohead

Elizabeth Warren is a smart, smart candidate. Of the folks vying for the Democratic candidacy, she arguably has the best ideas and platform concepts laid out in detail. Oddly enough, she’s also polling well below folks like Biden and Sanders. Turning to music, she feels like the Radiohead of this election. She’s smart, probably one of the smartest if not the smartest candidate out there. That feels a lot like Radiohead, an indie band that puts out some clever music and has developed a strong, loyal fanbase with their excellent output (a lot like Warren has these past few years).

Kamala Harris: Tupac

This may seem a bit obvious, considering Harris has spoken publicly about her affinity for Tupac’s music, but hear us out. Much like Tupac, Harris has some OG bona fides. Before running for the senate she served as a district attorney and attorney general in California, leading an up-tick in the conviction rate for homicides and overall felonies. She also took on hate crimes during that time. As a senator, she’s taken full advantage of her DA roots to ask the smart, hard questions — without backing down. She has guts, much like Tupac did. Tupac also has a ton of name recognition, something Harris is quickly working to acquire as the campaign heats up.

Pete Buttigieg: Conor Oberst

As a city mayor in Indiana, Buttigieg has exploded onto the scene as a bit of a wunderkind candidate over the past few months. He’s young, smart, energetic and almost always knows the right thing to say when the moment comes. He comes off as accessible and fresh, much like the Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst has during his career. Sure, Oberst’s output has always been a bit niche, but if it’s your flavor it’s fantastic stuff. Buttigieg has had much the same kind of run in the lead-up to the primary. In certain circles, he’s quickly becoming a buzzy, respected voice. But, ask random folks on the street, and odds are they have no idea about Mayor Pete. That said, Oberst has always had the potential to blow out the Top 40 with a chart-topper — and Buttigieg is in the hunt to do much the same in the presidential race.

Beto O’Rourke: Foss (just kidding, Weezer)

The handsome, punk rock candidate from Texas became a national sensation when he gave Ted Cruz a scare — but ultimately lost. So, he used that buzz to launch a presidential bid. He’s had some missteps, but there’s no doubt O’Rourke is a tall, charismatic dude. He was also literally in the little-known punk band called Foss back in the day, but we won’t go with that one. Instead, O’Rourke feels more like the Weezer of this election. He’s the dude bro, and is largely popular in a broad, thoughtless, “Oh It’s On The Radio So Just Listen To It And Idly Tap Your Toe” kind of way. Weezer is sometimes the butt of jokes (like that run SNL skit), but they’re still huge — and Beto has much that same kind of potential

Donald Trump: Kid Rock

Time for the big, loud Commander-in-Chief himself. Trump isn’t refined, he’s not all that bright, and he typically just beats you over the head with whatever he’s saying. Kind of like one of his biggest supporters and golf buddies, Kid Rock. He appeals to a certain conservative type of redneck, which is where most of his popularity lies (that applies to both of ‘em, to be clear). There’s also the fact that, if you actually listen to what he says, it’s typically really stupid and nonsensical. We’re just waiting for the presidential radio edit.

Editor’s Note: To be clear, this is all meant in good fun. The presidential race in 2020 looks to be one of the most contentious and important in the modern history of the United States. It’s a big deal, and everyone should take it very, very seriously. But, between all that seriousness, there should be a bit of space to have some fun musing about the folks who want to lead the free world.

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Feel Unlucky Punk: 5 records lost in the punk explosion

We take a look at 5 records lost in the post-1994 scramble of punk’s mainstream success.

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We could sit here all day and discuss the ethos behind the entire punk mantra but it has been discussed to no end. Instead, we’re inspecting the spiraling consequences of the mainstream upsurge of punk that ultimately peaked in 1994/95. Three years after what many dubbed as “the year punk broke” (1991), the resurgence of the punk subculture back into the mainstream scope was in significant contrast to the 70’s and early 80’s – there was now widespread acceptance. An extension of the earlier indie rock signing spree, 1994 was the pinnacle, underscored by two California bands that saw their popularity rocket into previously unfamiliar extremes. With the success of Green Day’s Dookie and Offspring’s Smash, major labels sought to find continued and similar success in unearthing hopeful bands and signing those who had called the underground home previously.

However, the effects of a genre’s popularity often result in a number of those caught up in the wave to get left behind. Casualties of other people’s success. For one reason or another, glory did not come to them as expected, and the resulting fallout ends with bands disbanding and careers changing. The fallout of an entire movement are far too great to tackle in mere paragraphs. We will instead section the years 1994 to 1996 as a small example of these fleeting successes, a time during and immediately after Green Day and the Offspring opened the floodgates to the modern punk underground. We circle five records that the major labels released; all of which merited success in many ways, but undoubtedly lacked the mega-sale attraction their financiers had hoped for. In a different time, under different circumstances, these records would have led to more, but in the shadow of platinum records these albums just did not pay back their investment. At the height of major label power, that was the death knell for many bands.

Here are the 5 records lost in the post-1994 scramble of punk’s mainstream success.

Hog

05. Hog – Nothing Sacred
(Geffen Records, March 1996)

Los Angeles punk band Hog were fueled by frontman Kirk Miller’s monstrous anthemic handiwork and the band’s love for melody, Nothing Sacred was a blast of a time. It was a simplistic record yes, one that relied on crunchy alternative rock riffs and soaring melodies, but one that was as easily digestible as it was loud. Miller’s raspy voice rang clear in “Shut Down” and “Walls”, providing guidance for the band’s heavily distorted appeal. Perhaps in an attempt to sustain a level of ingenuity, they combined honky-tonk fragments with aggressive punk riffage in “Don’t Know Why” and took on punk acoustic in the terrific country-bluegrass fueled “You & Me”. There was no love from the public however, as stints on the Black Sheep soundtrack and limited airplay did little to bolster the band’s success. Nothing Sacred was the band’s only offering.

I wore out my cassette tape copy of Hog’s Nothing Sacred it was so good. The title track is fantastic in particular, but there are so many great songs on this album, like the aforementioned “Walls” and “Not Perfect”. To this day I still go back to this album as the perfect windows down highway album because sonically, it sounds like a damn rock record. If you ever come across this album somewhere in a record shop and you like loud guitars, melodic punk, and some attitude, don’t hesitate to spend the money on it.

Stream: Hog – “Shut Down”

Waterdog

04. Waterdog – Waterdog
(Atlantic Records, October 1995)

Atlantic’s pop-punk flag carriers depended greatly on Green Day’s popularity to carry over. This self-titled disc was surprisingly accessible (bolstered by radio-ready tracks “Can’t Let Go” and “Jessica”) but ultimately lacked a strong connection to the recently converted masses. Unlike the Berkeley trio’s unabashed, juvenile visage, Waterdog relied on slightly more cultured lyrics and less simplistic chords, but kept true to mainstream pop-punk’s then alternative sound. Waterdog was a band that had the chops and the songs, but for a myriad of reasons, just couldn’t find their ground in a crowded radio field. After the dissolution of Waterdog, members of the band spent time in (ironically enough) Mike Dirnt’s project The Frustrators.

This album was not the best produced but had some great songs- most notably the closer “Good-bye, Good-bye”, and the track below “Jessica”. I still like listening to this song today and while it isn’t as loud or as urgent as Hog’s Nothing Sacred, had plenty to like, especially if you enjoyed pop-punk with a less bouncy appeal. The band came and went after only one album, but who knows just what they could have done during a different era.

Stream: Waterdog – “Jessica”

Samiam

03. Samiam – Clumsy
(Atlantic, August 1994)

Amongst their respective discography, Samiam’s Clumsy can easily go unnoticed. Their foray into the majors did not end here but unlike some of their kind, Samiam lasted through all the troubles and are still around today. Their creative blend of chunky pop punk components with more rock-oriented mechanisms resulted in their fiery guitar powered focus. Keen on quality vocal delivery and constantly trying to rework their musical progression, Samiam are front runners of pop-punk/rock with definitive style and substance. Clumsy however, is far from being their definitive work, but thankfully, major label misteps aside, they got even better after their foray into the majors. Albums like You Are Freaking Me Out and their 2000 release Astray, proved that there was life after the majors. Clumsy was the only album they ever did for Atlantic.

Sergie Loobkoff of the band also spent time in seminal emo band Knapsack as well as indie rock band Solea. I had a chat with Sergie Loobkoff about Solea back in 2002 about his then-new band.

Samiam are one of the lucky few.

Jawbreaker

02. Jawbreaker – Dear You
(Geffen Records, September 1995)

Pulled from shelves just months after its release, Dear You is a painful reminder of the fickleness that saturates the major label landscape. Far more restrained than their previous work, Jawbreaker’s (then) final release is as mysterious as it is admired; a defining example of bad things happening to good bands. Almost completely disappearing from North American retail stores (and most definitely from the Geffen catalogue), it has been the scourge of punk record collectors who have been unsuccessful at securing a copy. Featuring the classic Jawbreaker track “Jet Black”, Dear You was re-released in 2004 via Blackball Records. After Jawbreaker’s initial break-up, Blake Schwarzenbach went on to form one of my favorite bands, Jets to Brazil.

Dear You is not such a lost commodity since its reissue. However, it’s still a fascinating example of how the majors reached deep into the underground to try and replicate Green Day’s success any way they could. Dear You was a real step away from previous Jawbreaker material and the commercial results were unfortunate. In the Jawbreaker discography, it isn’t the easiest of records to get in to, partly because it was a shift from what the band were known for. But in hindsight, it’s a shining example of a band exploring new surrounds while jumping head first into the major label game.

In 2017, against all odds, Jawbreaker reformed. Remarkably, there is new music on the way. New Jawbreaker. In 2019. Who would have thought post Dear You?

Klover

01. Klover – Feel Lucky Punk
(Mercury/Polygram Records, August 1995)

Featuring members of legendary Boston hardcore outfit Gang Green, Klover epitomized all that was the spirit of a misunderstood generation. Leering like the Buzzcocks, influential like the Jam and embodying the youthful enthusiasm of early Social Distortion, Feel Lucky Punk was an immensely competent release. Confidently portraying ideas of rebellion, social rejection and an underlying cause for unity, it was a record that exuded all that was great of the punk movement. Strengthened by the “Basket Case”-like “Our Way” (how did this song not resonate with the radio crown? I just don’t know), the gang vocals of “Beginning to End” and the truly wonderful cover of the Real Kids’ “All Kindsa Girls”, Feel Lucky Punk is a real gem that deserved far more than it received. The album sounded great, the songs were exactly what you would expect from a shiny, major label punk release- everything seemed poised for success. It never came. Klover disbanded in early 1996 after just one album.

If there was ever an album so commercially ready to be big, it was this one. Mercury Records didn’t do anything for the band, and the songs here were relegated to used bins in Tower Records all around the world. Too bad because there is so much good material on here, so much of it is still so listenable today (you could argue that it holds up better than a lot of mainstream punk of the last decade). Their cover of “All Kindsa Girls” is still one of the best covers you’ll hear. However, it is the opening track “Our Way” that really sets the tone for the album and remains one of the best things not to have been huge.

Stream: Klover – “Our Way”

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