'03, Oh My!

Our critics weigh in on a questionable yearís best music

 Editor's note: A correction ran concerning this story; see end of article.

As 2003 dies out, the year isn't suggesting any easy epitaphs for itself. Trends continued -- another Strokes album, another Britney Spears debacle, etc. Trends died out -- goodbye, rap metal! (We mean it this time.) However, the Zeitgeist sort of laid back in the cut this year, in a very un-Zeitgeist kind of way.

But that's the big picture. If you knew where to look, there was some great music in the '03. Here's some of the best.

Joe Rocco
Gillian Welch
Gillian Welch
Dean Ween
Dean Ween
My Morning Jacket
My Morning Jacket
Masami Akita, a.k.a. Merzbow
Masami Akita, a.k.a. Merzbow
Maus
Magnus Unnar
Maus

Top Five Bests of St. Louis Hip-hop
BY RANDALL ROBERTS

St. Louis rap had its most successful year to date in 2003, what with Nelly still reigning supreme, his boy Murphy Lee getting a boost and, best of all -- and most surprisingly -- Chingy proving to be more than a one-hit wonder with his infectious (if sophomoric) debut, Jackpot, going platinum on the strength of two Top 5 singles. What follows are a few Lou highlights -- and embarrassments -- of 2003 hip-hop and R&B.

1. Best Crunk Mix CDs DJ
C-Note: A mix-show DJ on Q95.5, C-Note has released, at last count, nine mix CDs that highlight the best of both local and national crunk -- the lowdown, scream-and-panic hip-hop subgenre of which Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz are kings. The mixes are a great way to keep in touch, and, even better, they'll get you versions of both the All Stars' "So Serious," which has become a local anthem, and the lesser, but still impressive, "Skip to Da Lou" by Young Beano, a track that celebrates Our Fair City.

2. Best Wake-Up Call
Nelly, "Iz U": His track "Iz U," from the gratuitous, unnecessary Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention, bombed, the first track of his to do absolutely nothing on the charts in his three years at the top. And it serves him right; not only was Da Derrty an absolutely transparent cash-in that required nothing of Nelly other than to look cool on the cover, he released it only two months after posse-mate Murphy Lee's Murphy's Law came out, overshadowing his boy's debut album and drawing sales away from it.

3. Best Cameo Line That Never Gets Old
Ludacris, "Holidae In": The king of rap in 2003, Ludacris made St. Louis cutie-pie Chingy a household name when it seemed like he'd only be a one-hit wonder ("Right Thurr"). Luda, who signed Ching-a-ling to a deal, recruited the big Snoop-dizzle to join in on "Holidae In," and the three of them threw down a great party anthem about renting a room, getting loose and making sweet, sweet love to various chickies. And while Chingy deserves kudos for that smoov, smoov rhyme style of his, it was Luda who owned the song with one He-Man command: "Stop, drop, kaboom, baby rub on your nipples!" he insisted, and girls everywhere did indeed stop what they were doing and get to work. Hell, the first time I heard it, I ground my Escalade to a halt, pulled up my shirt and started rubbing: "Yes, sir, Mr. Ludacris, you want that I should pinch them, too?"

4. Best Redundancy in a "Quiet Storm" Fuck Song
Pretty Willie, "Lay Your Body Down": It's a melody that you can't shake once you hear it, for better or for worse: The local hit "Lay Your Body Down" is a slow burn of a song, a song that nestles itself in your consciousness with its cascading vocal melody, one that saves the song from its bland rhythm track. Lyrically, though, the song is infuriating to those of us who value precision: "Lay your body down, and let me touch your body," croons Pretty Willie, a.k.a. P. Dub. Come on, man. Somewhere along the way, someone should have nudged Pretty Willie to expend one or two brain cells to find another word for the first or second "body." Really, Willie, "lay your body down and let me touch your body"? How about, "Lay your body down, and let me touch your booty." Or, "Lay your sweet self down and let me touch your body." Or, "Park your ass on the floor, and let me touch your body." Something, anything, Willie; you ain't gonna make it nationally with that work ethic.

5. Best Hope for 2004
J-Kwon: J-Kwon is a St. Louis rapper signed to Jermaine Dupre's So So Def label, and his first single, which has yet to be released nationally, is the TrackBoyz-produced track called "Tipsy." It's a totally catchy barefoot jungle stomp, à la Clipse's "Grindin'" and bodes well as the next big hope for St. Louis rap.

Top Ten Twang
BY ROY KASTEN

1. The Jayhawks, Rainy Day Music: A pretty-as-spring, largely acoustic record that could have been yet another sickly exercise in unplugging. Instead, the Jayhawks sound revived, in love again with what made them indispensable to begin with: the immediacy of songs worth their gorgeous harmonies. Realizing, finally, that he isn't Brian Wilson, Gary Louris has found the pop masterpiece he's been searching for.

2. Gillian Welch, Soul Journey: Welch calls this record her "sunniest," but the light stings as much as it soothes. She pillages old-time music, cops a loose drum sound from Harvest and squeezes a song like "Wrecking Ball" -- the strange tale of a musician who trashes her life for the hell of it -- from nowhere but the black humor of her soul. Her fourth album is sunny -- in that brilliant, blinding sense.

3. Rodney Crowell, Fate's Right Hand: Crowell isn't the first country artist to register Dylan's influence; he's just the most convincing. Even if the title track didn't spew a lyrical chain of subterranean homesick blues, the band, which slices and riddles Crowell's wine-and-vinegar voice, would clarify what's at stake: reading fate's palm and not flinching.

4. Lucinda Williams, World Without Tears: The title suggests self-importance, and Williams indeed goes there on the awkward statement song "American Dream." The rest of the album, sung with nerve, sex and vivid dreaming, is a feverish purging of more than tears. "Take the glory any day over the fame," Williams moans on opener "Fruits of My Labor." She got both.

5. June Carter Cash, Wildwood Flower: This year June left, then Johnny, but it's her final record that expresses what their absence and, at the same time, their presence feels like. Produced by her son John Carter and featuring her husband, daughter Carlene and ex-son-in-law Marty Stuart, as well as cousins, grandchildren and Norman and Nancy Blake, the album is not an old-time downer. June's voice, as eroded and deep as a canyon, echoes with life.

6. Jay Farrar, Terroir Blues: The slide guitars are voices, the voice is a slide, the words are gestures: "May days of mercy," "target practice at the heart," "storied ghosts." Sure, someone should have talked Farrar out of including four alternate takes (that's what Web sites are for), but listen to the piano, the pedal steel and Farrar's singing on "Dent County," a song for his father. He has never sounded this close to the truth.

7. Ray Wylie Hubbard, Growl: The blues were pronounced dead decades ago, but Hubbard hasn't been reading the papers. He's been too busy making up for lost time, digging deep for the mojo, shredding the Texas singer-songwriter rules, letting guitarists Gurf Morlix and Buddy Miller prove just why God (or was it Lucifer?) gave us electricity. To rock, of course.

8. Tim Easton, Break Your Mother's Heart: This Ohio kid has always been too obscure, too unassuming, too self-reliant to get the "New Dylan" curse, though few of his generation have taken up Dylan's challenge like Easton: "You can learn to make something real that comes from the heel of your life." Exactly.

9. Townes Van Zandt, In the Beginning...: There's a photo in the booklet to these ten early songs, all of which were thought lost, that shows a twentysomething Townes cradling a guitar, looking away from the microphones and toward a future. He seems about to wink in that direction. "Do you think you know my name?" he growls in one of the many weird, electrified blues songs here. No, we don't, but the luminous romance of these love songs and highway reveries sketch the contours of the legend.

10. The Bottle Rockets, Blue Sky: Relaxed and confident, but still willing to snarl and kick when rock comes to shove, the band's sixth album (let's just forget Leftovers) is sometimes sly, sometimes poppy, and mostly tough and smart while steering clear of pretension and driving straight to the heart of a few good songs. The Bottle Rockets make it sound easy; it isn't.

Top Ten Drug Substitutes
BY JORDAN HARPER

If you have to be high to enjoy an album, that album sucks. Witness the witless crap that satisfies most neo-hippies. The best psychedelic records do more than use wanky solos to amaze stupefied stoners (about as hard as mystifying a dog with a card trick). The best drug-inspired music clouds the minds of sober people: These artists take drugs so you don't have to.

1. Ween, Quebec: "It's a bong record," Dean Ween told the RFT before the release of his and Gene's eighth LP, Quebec, and he wasn't kidding. Parts of Quebec are as sodden with hemp as a bongwater-soaked ferret. But beyond the Pink Floyd-style dirges and cosmic weirdness that is one of Ween's trademarks lies the brothers' true gift: inspired songwriting. The folk-rock of "Chocolate Town" and "Tried and True" reveals Ween's pop chops, and the barn-burner "Transdermal Celebration" shows that the band can compete with Queens of the Stone Age as the kings of stoner rock. The album is Dean and Gene's first minor-label album after ten years on Elektra, and it's gratifying to see them still growing.

2. Various Artists, Uncut 06/2003: Acid Daze: Britain's Uncut magazine always includes a mixed CD with each issue, and the June issue had a dilly: eighteen psychedelic tracks from the genre's late-'60s heyday. From the gentle bizarreness of Kevin Ayer's "Clarence in Wonderland" to the epic musings of Donovan's "Atlantis," Uncut created a trippy time capsule with this disc.

3. Andre 3000, The Love Below: It's anyone's guess what chemicals are flowing through Andre's brain these days: One half of a double-disc set from OutKast, The Love Below suggests drug consumption both varied and prolific, although rumor has it that Andre was stone sober, even when creating the drum & bass cover "A Few of My Favorite Things" that stands as Love's strangest moment. But song of the year "Hey Ya" is music-as-drug at its best: an endorphin-pumping track that will plaster a smile on your face.

4. Sweet Trip, Velocity: Design: Comfort: The dream-pop collective Sweet Trip threatened to disappear after its audaciously formless 2000 single "Fish" failed to make the waves it deserved. Fortunately, the group didn't quit and chose instead to hone its chops (do ambient bands have chops?) and wait until 2003 to release its great record. While still clinging to the electronic rhythms and effects of its earlier work, Sweet Trip is more shoegazey and poppy than ever on this release. This collective actually earns the comparison to My Bloody Valentine that far too many bands garner.

5. Various Artists, Party Monster: A great soundtrack to a shitty movie, Party Monster uses modern electro masters like Felix da Housecat to cram all the decadent, coke-fueled hubris of the club scene onto one disc. The insistent beats and tingling keyboard lines run their fingers up your spine as well as any stimulant, and the chants of "Being famous is so nice" and "Money, success, fame, glamour" can intoxicate you with one listen. And you'll still have a complete, unbloodied septum in the morning!

6. Longwave, The Strangest Things: It was a slow year for genius producer Dave Fridmann, who didn't do any major albums with the psychedelic pop artists who are his bread and butter: the Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, the Delgados and Elf Power all sat this year out, leaving Dave to twiddle knobs for lesser beings. Not too much lesser, though; the Strokes-on-acid sounds of Longwave prove a good fit for Fridmann. He has a way of centering the beat in the middle of your head, bringing it to the front without overshadowing the melody. It's a clean, overwhelming sound, a stereo wall of sound, and it lends heft to the most atmospheric of Longwave's tunes.

7. Morphine, The Best of Morphine: 1992-1995: This disc isn't the best Best-of-Morphine disc that will ever be released; one day licensing issues will be cleared up and a disc that spans from '92 to '99, the year of lead singer Mark Sandman's death, will come out. But this will do: seventeen smoky, lubricated tracks from the greatest dive bar band in the world. It's always three a.m. in Sandman's world; you can tell the time by his smooth but weathered voice. The best end-of-the-party music since Leonard Cohen.

8. The Decemberists, Her Majesty: "What did he say?" "What's going on?" "Who is this guy?" These are questions often asked by both those in the midst of drug frenzy and those listening to the Decemberists. Apparently eager to seize the crown of "Most Non Sequitur Song Lines" now that Neutral Milk Hotel has hung it up, singer Colin Meloy sings songs about being someone, anyone else. It's a foggy mishmash of folk and odd pop, a mélange of historical fiction and ballads. It's a great album.

9. Timbaland & Magoo, Under Construction Pt. II: The reason to listen to Timbaland's solo work isn't for lyrics: Timba gets by on attitude alone, and as the poor man's Snoop Dogg, Magoo's lyrics are just on the bizarre side of wack. But, as has been noted before, Timbaland's beats seem to feed off idiotic verses, and Timba's solo work stands as a chance to see what goes on in his head. It may not have any of the heroin-catchy hooks of the stuff he dreams up for Missy, but Pt. II is the real deal: the sparse beats and echoes of an artist stuck in a bling-bling world.

10. The Stratford 4, Love & Distortion: A ten-minute song with clever wordplay, a storyline and waves of guitars, "Telephone," the centerpiece of Love & Distortion, looks on paper to be a remnant of '70s prog. But the Stratford 4 pull their influences from the late '80s and early '90s, making the song a gauze-draped wall of sound. It's a killer track, one that pushes the otherwise only "pretty good" album into the stratosphere.

Top Ten Bests of Indie Rock
BY CHRISTIAN SCHAEFFER

I could have bored you with a scraggly list of the best independent rock records from 2003, but I respect you too much. Instead, here are the ten best happenings from in and around the indie rock scene. Incomplete? Maybe. Boring? Never!

1. Best Album
The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow: Sophomore slump be damned! The Shins' second record is able to fulfill all the promises made on 2001's pristine Oh, Inverted World without rehashing too much old ground. James Mercer's oft-loopy lyrics have never been more pointed as on the opener "Kissing the Lipless," and from there, Chutes Too Narrow doesn't let up. The sound is at once sharper, softer, more delicate and more brutal, all within an action-packed 33 minutes.

2. Best Single
The New Pornographers, "All for Swinging You Around": Even for a band that seems to write every song as if it were destined to be a hit single, this was the best cut from this year's Electric Version. "All for Swinging You Around" perfects the formula: buzzing synth leads, chug-a-lug guitar chords and Neko Case's tempest-tossed vocals steering the ship into port. When these Canadians sing that they "can't tell if this is fantasy or culture shock," we can't either: Such pop prowess may turn the New Pornographers into Ministers of Canuck Culture.

3. Best New Artist
Head of Femur: Not that I want the Riverfront Times to become Campaign Headquarters for Head of Femur '04, but this Chicago-based octet deserves every column inch they get. Their meld of well-made pop and fusion freak-outs is adequately captured on their debut, Ringodom or Proctor, but it was the pair of shows at the Way Out Club this fall that put Head of Femur at the front of the pack.

4. Best Concert
Yo La Tengo, September 26 at the Pageant: This year's Summer Sun may have been a slow burner, but there was nothing but flares of brilliance from Georgia, Ira and James when Yo La Tengo returned to town this fall. The concert gave context to the more understated new songs and proved that the days of guitar-swinging histrionics are not over. If this is Yo La Tengo for the next millennium, let the golden age begin.

5. Best Indie Rock Club
The Gargoyle: Indie rock is often synonymous with college rock, so it's fitting that Washington University's Gargoyle is the best place in St. Louis to see quality new music. Solid performances from the Anniversary, Grand Champeen, the Raveonettes, the Sea and Cake, the Walkmen and Broken Social Scene turned the tiny basement space into a temporary haven of cool. Plus, it's a great place to pick up some well-heeled coeds.

6. Best Indie Rock Resource
Pitchforkmedia.com: Snotty, sarcastic and usually spot-on, Pitchforkmedia.com is essential for keeping up with the minutiae of independent music, and the on-line 'zine covers all the bases. The newswire is updated daily, album release dates are kept (mostly) up to date, and each weekday brings an impressive five album reviews, all given a super-scientific 0.0 to 10.0 rating. Unlike most online publications (and several "real" magazines), the writing on Pitchfork is sharp, creative and well supported.

7. Best Label
Undertow Records: To be fair, there is a bit of civic pride in this choice. After starting in St. Louis, then moving to Chicago and, as of last month, moving back to St. Louis, Undertow has been releasing some of the finest music made in the Midwest for six years now. 2003 saw the release of Welcome, Convalescence by Centro-Matic offshoot South San Gabriel and a beautiful (albeit Web-only) album of duets by Dolly Varden's Stephen Dawson and Diane Christiansen, plus some gems from newcomers Magnolia Summer, Glossary, The Redwalls and American Minor. Welcome home, Undertow.

8. Best Move to the Majors
My Morning Jacket: These Kentucky headhunters have been mixing southern rock and shoegaze for a few years, but this year's It Still Moves is a great synthesis of styles and proves that moving to a major record label (in this case the RCA subsidiary ATO Records) doesn't always mean selling out.

9. Best Gimmick
One-man bands: If two-piece bands were all the rage in 2002, then it only makes sense that one-man bands were de rigueur this year. Both the organ-pounding Quintron and jumpsuited guitarist Bob Log III had good showings in 2003, but it was the Lonesome Organist who won the most hearts. His ability to play drums, harmonica, organ and melodica simultaneously is quite impressive, but it's the childlike glee with which he does it all that steals the show.

10. Best Reason to Weep
Elliott Smith, 1969-2003: Argue all you want, but there hasn't been a more talented singer-songwriter in the past ten years. It's just a shame it had to end this way.

Best Music for the Winter of Our Discothèque
BY PAUL FRISWOLD

It has been a long year, full of hardship and woe and death. Same as every other year, but this span of misery was somehow different. Johnny Cash is gone; Justin Timberlake still lives. The RIAA began to devour its audience, Clay Aiken's album debuted at Number One, and René Spencer Saller left the Riverfront Times. In this flickering season of twilight, 2003 stumbles and collapses towards its End, trailing the acrid perfume of decay. Now the trees are denuded, the Western Hemisphere grows ever colder and more silent, and the days are shorter. Night looms upon the horizon, crows circle the woods with terrible purpose and there are strange rumblings beneath the hard, black soil. Head to ground; secure your doors; it's going to get worse before it gets better.

1. Hidden Hand, Divine Propaganda: Doom-legend Wino (formerly of the Obsessed, Saint Vitus and Spirit Caravan) turns his massive guitar loose on conspiracy theories and government cover-ups, crafting an intelligent album that rocks with wicked metal purpose and East Coast hardcore conviction. Wino's best album since Jug Fulla Sun.

2. Ephel Duath, The Painter's Palette: Italian black metal band (black like Mayhem, not Black like Living Colour) decide they're Mr. Bungle as filtered through either Yes or Sigh (even they are not sure which). Dizzying time changes, maniacal blast-beats, dual vocalists (a death-metal growler and a "skimming vocalist" who can actually sing) and the piercing shriek of a trumpet make for an invigorating, challenging cacophony.

3. Khanate, Things Viral: Dirge-metal supergroup contracts the universe through sheer force of will. Four tracks plod and scrape and trudge and stagger toward oblivion across sere plains of mesmerizing D-O-O-M. Alan Dubin's vocals peel the flesh from your back in long wet strips, while James Plotkin's bass is a teetering pillar of basalt that falls with agonizing slowness. Eight beats per hour is four too many, apparently.

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.

7. Cedric 'Im Brooks & the Light of Saba, Cedric 'Im Brooks & the Light of Saba: This disc is packed to overflowing with rocksteady, niyabinghi, dancehall and early ska by one of the most talented, underexposed groups to come from Jamaica. Of special note are Brooks' horn arrangements, informed by his association with and admiration of Sun Ra. A special pleasure was derived from the large number of instrumentals present. Very saucy, slack, prototypical Jamaican jazz.

8. Otomo Yoshihide, We Insist?: On this re-release, Japanese noise luminary Otomo Yoshihide goes completely apeshit with Eye Yamatsuka, Junji Hirose and seven other maladjusted purveyors of skronk from Nippon. Turntables, tape machines, samplers, guitars, horns, piano and bass all collide and deconstruct waves of stutter and screech. Your brain will fart.

9. The Monks of Sherab Ling Monastery, Sacred Tibetan Chant: Here's a bunch of bald, shrimpy Tibetan guys whose drones and warbles on this disc earned them a Grammy nomination. This is way trancy, extreme vocal music at its purest. And if you listen to it loudly enough, it's also a soothing, chemical-free laxative.

10. Shafqat Ali Khan, Sublime Sufi: Hearing qawwali devotional music is like hearing people flying. The amazing qawwal prodigy Ali Khan goes beyond tradition on this disc by combining modern jazz instruments with centuries-old compositional styles of ghazal, raga and Sufi poetry. You'll execute a few double-takes during the course of this one.

Correction published in the 1/14/04 Radar Station: In the original version of this story, we inadvertently credited the wrong local producers for the work done on the J-Kwon single "Tipsy." The above version reflects the corrected text.

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