Although we've reviewed more than 10,000 records in the pages of Shredding Paper over the past five years, we have never done a Top 10 list for the year. That's not by accident, it's because Top 10 lists have been discredited to a degree. What appears on them is simply a reflection of what people heard. Some records reach a small audience initially and their reputation grows over the years. Guided By Voices' "Same Place The Fly Got Smashed", may have been the best album of 1990, but you wouldn't have found it on any "best of 1990" lists. In 1986 two of the best albums were from the Swiss bands Chin-Chin and Hungry For What, who were received well in Europe, but remained obscure in the U.S. Foreign records obviously aren't going to get their due on "best of" lists in American publications. Placement on these lists is closely tied to the number of copies received by publications, journalists, and radio stations. Some of the releases we cover have a promotional distribution of more than ten thousand copies. I guarantee you that those will be more critically acclaimed than any release with a promo mailing of one hundred. That said, the obvious disclaimer is that the list below is based on the four thousand plus records Shredding Paper checked out in 2003. That may sound like a lot, but it's less than half of the alternative rock albums released last year. Our list features 4 American bands, 1 each from Scotland, Wales, England, Denmark and Sweden, and a Swiss release of a deceased British artist who recorded in America in the early sixties. - Mel C
|Exploding Hearts - "Guitar Romantic" |
This Portland 4 piece was a huge buzz band in early 2003 having put out a couple great singles, and blowing away audiences with their irrepressible live shows. The March release of their 10 song album "Guitar Romantic" proved all the hype was right. Catchy powerpop somewhere between Generation X and Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers. These guys were great songwriters and accomplished musicians. When I saw their amazing live show in San Francisco last July I knew I had seen a band destined to be one of the best and most popular bands of their time. I couldn't wait for them to write another batch of songs as catchy and memorable as "Sleeping Aides and Razor Blades" and "I'm a Pretender". Tragically the band was in a van accident returning home from the show and Adam, Jeremy and Matt, all in their early 20's, were killed.
|Jerry J. Nixon - "Gentleman Of Rock n Roll"|
"Out of the blue" might be understatement here. Are these classic rockabilly recordings really from the early '60s? According to the liner notes, Nixon was born in Yorkshire, England in 1937 and moved to the United States in 1955 where the success of Elvis Presley spurred Nixon to try his hand at the genre. In the late '50s and early '60s great regional rockabilly records were common, as was their lack of national success. Nixon wrote some absolutely stunning songs that fans of Warren Smith and Ral Donner will appreciate in a big way. "Moonlight" is a superlative rock-a-ballad that sounds like something that rolled right out of the Sun Records studios. "Red Sun" is a fantastic rocker that surfaces here in two versions. The single version from 1964 is a polished gem with Nixon's band The Volcanoes in great form. Later, the disc provides the original demo version from '58 with more of a Hasil Adkins psychobilly feel. There are some cover versions here, including a pair of live Elvis covers from a 1958 performance, but it's the quality of the original material that makes this the rockabilly find of the last twenty years.
|Ballboy - "Guide For the Daylight Hours"|
Ballboy are Scotland's other supergroup (Belle & Sebastian - duh!), with tracks in John Peel's Festive Fifty, as voted by BBC listeners four straight years. G4tDH is Ballboy's second album follow-up to the deceptively titled "Club Anthems", a collection of early tracks, with their third disc due for U.S. release in Spring 2004. The minimalist approach that was Ballboy's signature from 1999-2002 has fallen by the wayside in favor of orchestrated folk-pop. Gordon McIntyre's somber monologues don't dominate the proceedings anymore, but the ironic wit is ever present, accompanied by the band's strongest melodies to date. Ballboy hasn't abandoned their lyrical prowess though, as evidenced by five song titles here are at least ten words long, including the superb "You Can't Spend Your Whole Life Hanging Around With Arseholes", along with shorter titles like "I've Got Pictures of You In Your Underwear". I didn't think the band could ever top early gems like "Donald In the Bushes With a Bag Of Glue" and "I Hate Scotland", but they have. As Ballboy sings in "Something Is Going To Happen Soon", "and the cellos kick in/ and the lights start to flash/ and everyone watching me/ can see right to my heart/ and the cellos kick in."
|Small Hours - "The Anthology"|
The 1979-80 period in the UK was an exciting time, with the Mod and Ska revivals, and the punk movement fusing with a rebirth of soul. There are an incredible number of great obscure UK singles from this era. Small Hours were from that time and only released one 7 inch, as well as some tracks on the "Mods Mayday" compilations, so this anthology is a bolt from the blue. This band had some legitimate punk credentials, with Kym Bradshaw from the Saints on bass, and Iain Shedden from the Jolt on drums. Neil Thompson sang, and his brother Armand played guitar, while keyboard player Carol Isaacs filled out the band's distinctive mod-soul sound with her Farfisa organ. Fans of the Stax sound, Small Hours wrote soulful pop music with big-time hooks. "The Kid", Business In Town" and "Watch This Space" are absolute anthems, and "End Of the Night", the band's show closer, was Dexy's type soul-pop. The album includes seven live tracks recorded in '79, including a cover of JJ Jackson's "But It's Alright" as well as demo tracks and a fine Swamp Dog cover intended as a second single which somehow never got released. This is an album that was worth the more than twenty year wait.
|The Raveonettes - "Chain Gang of Love"|
The Raveonettes may not be influenced by anything after 1963, but they sound like they came straight outta the UK, circa '88. The guy/gal core of this band hail from Denmark, and perhaps created their moniker by combining Ronettes with the Buddy Holly hit "Rave On." The album title "Chain Gang Of Love" pays homage to the 1963 Sam Cooke hit "Chain Gang", and the title track here completes the homage by mimicking the original's signature grunts. The Raveonettes create their industrial-pop by combining elemental rock n' roll songwriting with enough buzzing, whirring, whooshing, humming, banging, and clanging noises to make Sigue Sigue Sputnik proud. With better songs than their debut, and a sonic upgrade from producer Richard Gottehrer, CGOL is noisier than disco night at the bowling alley, and with just as many hooks.
|Radio Dept - "Lesser Matters"|
If you aren't completely hooked in the first two minutes of this one, you really ain't into indiepop dude, cause it doesn't get much better than this. In the SP review, J Edward Keyes described it as, "...Field Mice as covered by Jesus and Mary Chain. ... brisk, soft, shivery pop songs..." Yeah, this Swedish outfit has seductive melodies, breathy vocals, and a hypnotic fuzzpop drone to die for. The Velvets influenced "When The Damage Is Done" is a wonderful tune that drifts away too soon. The disc's final track, "Lost and Found" may be the highlight, sounding like Suicide meets the Pale Saints.
|Stereotypes - "1"|
In an era of fake rock n' roll, with "alternative" sometimes translating to overhyped gimmick bands and bastardized corporate versions of rock genres demographically targeted to kids who wouldn't know the real thing if they heard it, San Diego's Stereotypes are a breath of fresh air. Using '60s influences like Motown, Dylan, Stooges and Velvets as a starting point the Stereotypes create memorable tunes with an edgey contemporary sound all their own. The arrangements add a lot, and the punked out production complete with compressed vocals that may have been borrowed from the Strokes, gets the most out of some solid tuneage. "Knives" alone is worth the price of admission - if that doesn't rock your world nothing ever will.
|Star Spangles - "Bazooka"|
"Bazooka" is the best album The Replacements never made. Oh sure, the Spangles are from the Big Apple and do a Johhny Thunders cover, but why complicate the matter; if you like the 'Mats, you'll like this. This is one of those uncommon debuts where the band has written such a fine batch of tunes that you wonder how they can ever follow it up. Their "adaptation" of Hoodoo Gurus "I Want You Back" doesn't measure up to their original material. "In Love Again" the only tune here that would qualify as a ballad is my favorite. Don't let the generic opening track fool you, the Star Spangles brand of melodic punk has more than its share of memorable moments.
|It's Jo and Danny - "But We Have the Music"|
Appropriately enough, It's Jo and Danny are a gal named Jo and a guy named Danny. When they play live it's simply Jo's shimmering vocals backed by a pair of acoustic guitars, and here's the twist, some pre-recorded electronica. Listening to the third album from this Welsh duo is like hearing an experimental, perhaps contemporary update of Fairport Convention. Some might say Beth Orton with less affected, prettier vocals, and more hooks. The groups ability to add adventurous creative elements is showcased in the irresistible "Better Off", where a trumpet joins the fray, and in "Godsend" where a British rapper adds a Jamaican style rap. Although the strength of the duo is writing truly memorable songs, the imaginative production touches add a sonic demension that make IJAD an essential listen.
|Andrew WK - "The Wolf"|
It's truly remarkable that Andrew WK's lyrical wizardry here is able to define the exact gaussian co-ordinates of the four dimensional space-time continuum. Just kidding, but judging from the critical consensus on this one, it seems that Andrew is being judged by the number of cosmic revelations his lyrics can provide. These are the same critics who praise any rapper who can find a new way to rhyme "bitch" as a genius. AWK's second album is an explosive rock symphony full of buoyant melodies that sounds like Mott The Hoople produced by Phil Spector. The average record doesn't have a million overdubs, this one does. This is an album about the joy of making a rock n' roll record. On "The Wolf" Andrew revives the anthem "Don't Ever Stop The Noise" from his out of print debut EP. It's re-titled here as "The Song" in a new beefed up version, and remains one of his finest moments. Although many folks are branding AWK and his band as dumb heavy metal, they are neither. The only thing dense on this sonic landmark disc is the mix.