For the Record

For national releases, 2003 wonked as much as it rocked.

3. Darediablo, Feeding Frenzy (Southern)
Sludge-clogged grooves, ham-fisted organ and song with titles like "Behold the Panther Stone"? Sounds like Uriah Heep's proto-metal epic Demons and Wizards. Add a little math rock and subtract the vocals, and you've got Feeding Frenzy, an album for the twelfth-level magic-user in all of us.

4. The Clientele, The Violet Hour (Merge)
This English trio's sophomore effort is just as fey, folky and redolent of incense as Cat Stevens's Teaser and the Firecat. Coincidentally, the Clientele's round-cheeked leader, Alasdair Roberts, bears an eerie resemblance to Bud Cort's Stevens-reciting character in Harold and Maude.

5. The Rapture, Echoes (Universal)

The Rolling Stones' 1980 album Emotional Rescue was a lame, clumsy stab at cashing in on disco. The Rapture, perhaps the most overrated band of the new century, attempts the same with today's dance-punk "craze," making a record just as forced, awkward and ultimately disposable.

6. The Kills, Keep on Your Mean Side (Rough Trade)
Marianne Faithfull's sweet pop voice degenerated into the cracked, husky rasp of Broken English, her 1979 comeback. Ex-Discount singer Alison Mosshart's sweet pop-punk voice has degenerated into the cracked, husky rasp of Keep on Your Mean Side, her foray into lyrical darkness and angst-scorched blues punk.

7. The Twilight Singers, Blackberry Belle (Birdman)
When Greg Dulli left the Afghan Whigs to form the Twilight Singers, it was like Steve Winwood defecting from Spencer Davis to make Traffic's Mr. Fantasy. In both cases, the result was a more sophisticated, if way less fiery, brand of soulful rock. Let's just hope Dulli doesn't go solo; the world would probably do fine without his equivalent of "Higher Love."

8. Neil Michael Hagerty, The Howling Hex (Drag City)
Filing down the scuzzy garage excess of his Royal Trux days, Hagerty unveils a technically dazzling puzzle of mumbled imagery and logic-defying leads. The spirit of Thin Lizzy's overlooked classic, Nightlife, can be spotted haunting the periphery of his odd, compelling vision.

9. Apollo Sunshine, Katonah (SpinArt)
Todd Rundgren's sprawling Todd was a dense tangle of ballads, prog and hard rock anchored to a playful virtuosity. Likewise, Apollo Sunshine dunked Katonah in buckets of candy gloss and studio sparkle while crafting this melody-dappled mélange of vintage pop.

10. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Vicious Cycle (Sanctuary)
In an ironic kick to the balls, many former stadium rockers are now on lowly indie labels, gasping for air in a market dominated by rap and country. The once-mighty Skynyrd tries brown-nosing both genres on Vicious Cycle by remaking its own 1976 Southern-rock staple "Gimme Back My Bullets" -- only with Kid Rock belching all over the top of it. Even worse is "Red, White and Blue," a cringe-inducing song that out-jingos Toby Keith with the Paleolithic platitudes "My hair's turning white/My neck's always been red/My collar's still blue." Fittingly, the group's new indie imprint, Sanctuary, also boasts such ripe-for-the-glue-factory acts as Sammy Hagar and Meat Loaf. A vicious cycle, indeed.

How Swede It Is
By Andrew Ignatius Vontz

Fuck electroclash. While electronic-music fans in America stopped, dropped and fell in love with the cocaine and leg-warmer-fueled nostalgia of the electroclash scene, the homeboy tribal techno revolution raged globally; a pair of Brits created a Latin Project that inexplicably made my deep-house-hatin' ears perk up; a Scumfrog hopped to the top; and Underworld offered up the best of its best (which is to say, pretty much the best, period) on a two-CD set. Hey now.

1. Swedes
Techno producers in Sweden are sampling, pointing and clicking their way toward a brighter tomorrow for electronic music. If Detroit Techno went to a B-Boy battle, cut the noise on the high end, picked up a djembe, threw in some crazy breakbeats every now and again and did a back flip into a reverb tank, then bam! -- you'd have Swedish techno. Super-clean production, whirling dub effects, hip-hop-style breakbeats mixed in with pounding four-to-the floor madness, tribal hand-percussion polyrhythms and minimal melodies are hallmarks of the Swedish techno production style.

Like their better-known producing peers in America and abroad, the Swedes are building on pre-existing styles, but they're producing future music that will blow your mind. BjŲrn Borg. Ikea. Abba. The Swedes have given us so much. You're about to hear a lot more from them soon. See artists like Robert Leiner and Samuel L Session for examples.

2. Not Swedish, but close
Tony Rohr, an American, and two Brits -- Michaelangelo and Oliver Ho -- have crafted superlative tribal-techno tracks with styles that are distinctly their own, yet evocative of the Swedish techno sound. Unless you're out digging through crates every week or ordering up some platters online, it might be tough to find tracks from these cats. But you can hear some of the tracks on readily available mix CDs from Adam Beyer and John Kelley.

3. The rest of the best
Celebrating ten years of bringing light in, 1992-2002, a two-CD set of electronic perfection from Underworld, has almost everything you need from its oeuvre: "Cowgirl," "Born Slippy," "Two Months Off," "Dark and Long," "Rez" and many more. The live act might be the best there is -- electronic or not -- and the group's artistry is unparalleled. Even without Darren Emerson, it's still banging.

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