'03, Oh My!

Our critics weigh in on a questionable year’s best music

4. Sunn 0))), White1: Dark Medieval power drone, now with vocals. Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson wreak twin-guitar havoc by plugging in, tuning down and dropping off the face of Earth. Guest chanting by Julian Cope on the first track provides the sort of terrifying glimpse into the Abyss normally achieved only through hours of self-mutilation. Heavy enough to curdle air, creepy enough to flash-freeze urine while in the bladder.

5. Pelican, Australasia: Intricately crafted math-metal/imaginary soundtrack foregoes lyrics in favor of empathic communication through beautiful, crushing volume. Atmospheric soundscapes build to great heights, then collapse in glorious disasters. Just like life.

6. Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Altered States of America: A 99-track (plus one hidden), debilitating laundry list of everything wrong with the world today and a hyperkinetic "fuck you" to everyone possessing a shred of authority over another human being; the party record of the next millennium, should there be one.

7. Merzbow, Live Magnetism: Aurora Borealis captured, reconfigured as sound and refracted through the hot-rodded synapses and PowerBook of power-electronics genius Masami Akita. Densely layered jets of howl give way to brief moments of shimmering beauty that are then snuffed out suddenly. Unfairly honest.

8. Bastard Noise, Skullwave:A softer, more seductive Bastard. Gone is the coruscating noise; in its place is a menacing wash of shapeless noise that lurks uncomfortably on the edges of consciousness. Excellent music for late-night excursions into the crawl space of your neighbor's house.

9. Attila Csihar, The Beast Of: A collection of the nefarious Hungarian vocalist's collaborations with a half-dozen cult metal bands. Csihar's hissing vocals are as unsettling with the blistering metal of Mayhem (the classic two corpses and a murderer lineup!) as they are coupled with the vaguely industrial/techno metal of Plasma Pool. He's the next vocalist for Van Halen, Dark Lord willing....

10. Motörhead, Stone Deaf Forever: Five discs cover more than 25 years of speeding, acid-biker space metal. BBC sessions, B-sides, bootlegs and the entire canon of Motörhead classics serve as both an admirable testament to England's Finest and an excellent look back at a band in the middle of its career (Lemmy has enough juice to go for another quarter century, no doubt.) These five-plus hours of glorious, necessary, wart-inflicted, sexy, virile, rock & roll provide the only hope you'll need to hold on until spring.

Top Ten World Music
BY JOHN GODDARD

"World music" means lots of things to lots of people. It's not necessarily gurgling in yurts or fancy-dancy, ethnic-inspired pop fusion for namby-pamby pan-cultural wannabes with ponytails and Nag Champa stankin' up the joint. It's a big world, so I've stretched the perimeter a bit.

1. Bally Sagoo, Hanji: This is the first bhangra record that remix producer Sagoo has turned out in a while; from the sound of it, he's glad to be back in the saddle. Massive Punjabi hip-hop, techno and R&B beats that beg to be blasted combine with a vast array of traditional and modern instruments and Surjit Khan's soulful crooning to create bomb-ass bhangra for stomping and whirling.

2. Oumou Sangaré, Oumou: The great Malian diva and women's rights activist puts out her first platter in seven years, and it's a double whammy (two discs). Aside from the eight never-released cuts, there is a wealth of career retrospective material. Idiomatic Wassoulou rhythms and dulcet thumb piano combine with Sangaré's crystal-clear peak-and-valley dynamics throughout. Heavenly.

3. Various Artists, Abayudaya: Music from the Jewish People of Uganda: If you own anything Folkways has put out, you know they're serious about topnotch documentation of world music. This is a superb collection of lullabies, political and children's songs, hymns and celebratory music sung in Hebrew and Ugandan by the Abayudaya Jews. African pop, folk, choral singing and drumming are all represented. It's easy like Shabbat.

4. Peter Brötzmann, More Nipples: It took a while to get hold of this release, but the wait was well rewarded. More Nipples features three tracks from 1969's Nipples sessions that Brötzmann believed had been discarded. They were found in 2002 and released this year as part of Atavistic's incredible Unheard Music series. This is all-out mayhem with huge, metallic percussion, anthemic chords and dizzying, cyclical, evil-troll riffs for which the Brötzmann clan has come to be known (see: Caspar Brötzmann Massaker). If ultra-rare, mind-bending free jazz by German saxophone weirdos is on your music-shopping list, you're not going to do better than this one.

5. Maus, Musick:Hailing from the sleepy Reykjavik suburb of Árbær, Maus has done its fair share of soul-searching to finally arrive at an epic modern rock sound that's as much U2 as it is Coldplay in a bizarre glacial dream state. The songs on Musick drift and sway while they rock, offering a glimpse of the Nordic mindset through indie-ish lenses.

6. Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Raise Your Spirit Higher: Here's another kingly record from the kings of the isicathamiya style of African choral singing. This is pure, pleasing, a cappella soul music from start to finish. There is no bald, shrimpy white guy's warbling to get in the way of the pure emotion these masters convey so beautifully. A real lifesaver.

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