The staff here at Somewherecold take our little Hall of Fame seriously, and after hours of listening to music and pouring over liner notes, we’ve arrived at a consensus for our 2003 awards! This year we’re broadening our categories to commend a number of releases. Each of the releases mentioned below are essential listening (in our humble opinion). So, without further adieu, our 2003 Somewherecold awards:
Album of the Year: Sufjan Stevens: Greetings from Michigan – A striking synthesis of sound, words, artwork, and imagery. In Greetings from Michigan, Sufjan Stevens has created a work of art that is delicate, intricate, moving, baffling, insightful, sad, delightful, and ultimately uplifting. Stevens effortlessly blends smart songwriting with sociological commentary and spiritual insight to create one of the more fascinating CD’s we’ve heard! For its dazzling melodies, pristine production, emotional lyrics, and creativity, we give Greetings From Michigan the top award for CD of the Year!
Artist of the Year: Frank Lenz – In the world of independent music, was there anyone as busy as Frank Lenz? And, was there anyone who made consistently high quality music as Lenz? Just for starters, he produced the wonderful “Kingsqueens” by Wayne Everett, as well as the ultra-cool “Becoming What You Hate” by Pony Express and “Secrets by the Highway” by Map. He helped out on Richard Swift’s excellent “The Novelist“. Lenz played drums and contributed background vocals on Sf59’s 2003 release, “Old”, and played more inspired drums on All Things Bright and Beautiful’s “Love and Affection“. He began to record with the newly resurrected Lassie Foundation and is slated to produce a host of CD’s for a wide range of different artists in 2004. He contributed on a Charity Empressa track for the Grand Theft Autumn Compilation. He even independently released his own quirky “The Last Temptation of Frank Lenz“, blowing away listeners with an effort that Lenz basically described as a demo. And on each of these releases, he left his mark of superior musicianship and creativity! Hands down, Frank Lenz is the year’s top artist.
EP of the Year: Richard Swift: The Novelist – In a music scene full of copy-cats and hum-drum music, it is difficult to find gems on the level of Richard Swift’s work. His debut release transports you back to 1938, making one feel like he is next to a phonograph or listening to an old-time radio show. He pulls this off without a hitch. Although nostalgic ragtime and jazz are definite elements in the music, Swift contributes melancholy and realistic lyrics that nostalgia usually disowns. This is the one ep that all music lovers should buy immediately.
Vinyl of the Year: Low: Murderer – Low, creator of a genre, have certainly put together a limited edition vinyl worth every penny. Murderer displays all those things we love about Low in 3 songs. The title track, Murderer, displays their ability to write pensive songs within a pop framework. Silver Rider displays their ability to write a mid-tempo, quiet masterpiece. The B side, From Your Place on Sunset, is an extended eight-minute track that is slow, careful, patient and beautiful. It is low in all their glory!
Compilation of the Year: Soak your Shoes in Red Wine and Strike the Angels Dumb – A fantastic compilation highlighting up and coming shoegaze and indie pop artists, this release from Grand Theft Autumn delivered 70 minutes of non-stop, high quality music. With artists like Frank Lenz, Wayne Everett, Shiner, Charity Empressa, Duraluxe, Electro Group, The Lull Account, Eskimo Hunter, and so many others contributing exclusive and exciting tracks, Soak your Shoes in Red Wine and Strike the Angels Dumb amazed us. A great introduction to many bands and featuring new tracks from many of our favorite artists. This compilation stole our hearts. Excellent.
Label of the Year: Grand Theft Autumn – With only three releases this year, how could a small label out of the midwest capture our imaginations so convincingly? Well, all three releases in 2003 from this up and coming label impressed us greatly. With an approach that can be somewhat explained as pop-shoegaze-pop, Grand Theft Autumn proved in 2003 that they are serious about providing listeners with extremely catchy, high quality music. Their releases were also very elegantly packaged. Buy the Kingsqueens vinyl, the Soak your Shoes.. compilation, and Coco B’s/Eskimohunter split CD today.
Absinthe Blind: Rings – Many bands never find “their sound” before the band is done and gone. Not so with Absinthe Blind. Combining noise pop and shoe-gazer elements, Absinthe Blind’s Rings showcases this band’s maturity in sound and lyric writing. The melodies are intricate and Erin and Adam’s vocals are beautiful and stunning. Add to all these elements the production magic of Matt Talbott (Hum) and Keith Cleversley (Spritualized and The Flaming Lips) and you have one of the best albums of the year!
Wayne Everett: Kingsqueens: Has pop ever sounded so good? Lassie Foundation front-man Wayne Everett struck out on his own with Kingsqueens, a tribute to 60’s pop and 70’s rock. Expertly produced by fellow Lassie Foundation member Frank Lenz, and featuring contributions from fellow Lassie members Jason Shroeder, Eric Campuzano, and a host of other musicians, Kingsqueens brilliantly showcases shiny pop melodies. A close contender for our CD of the year, Kingsqueens is a must for Beach Boys and Lassie Foundation fans alike, as well as anyone who loves fun, hummable music.
Viva Voce: Lovers: Lead the Way! – Combining indie-pop with dream-pop and a good dose of psychedelia, Viva Voce provided us with one of the fullest and most satisfying releases of the year in Lovers, Lead the Way. Recorded by the husband and wife team at their home, Lovers, Lead the Way sounds like a big budget release, with layers and layers of guitars, keys, percussion, vocals, and other instruments thrown in. One of two excellent releases from music label “Asthmatic Kitty” (the other being our cd of the year by Sufjan Stevens), Lovers, Lead the Way tickles the listener’s ear with catchy pop melodies coated in fuzz and reverb.
Odessa Chen: One Room Palace – With a stunning voice, excellent songs, and excellent production, Odessa Chen’s One Room Palace is the best CD you didn’t hear in 2003. Self-released and self-financed, One Room Palace sounds and looks like a high budget work, with skillful musicians and excellent packaging. Referencing slowcore, with a hint of classical tastes, Odessa Chen provides a chilling yet soothing musical experience. Now, if only someone would sign her!
All things Bright and Beautiful: Love and Affection – A deeply felt work of lyrical and musical intensity from Luxury front-man, Lee Bozeman. Featuring piano-based songs with creative apocalyptic overtones, Love and Affection defies description and mystifies the listener. This is the way music is supposed to be.
Neilson Hubbard: Sing into Me – A sensitive collection of folk tunes delivered in a way that only Neilson Hubbard can. Combining southern sensibilities, excellent songwriting, beautiful production, and worshipful lyrics, Hubbard redefines how to make “worship music”. An excellent example of how to do it right.
V/A: Blue – A concept compilation that pleases fans of dreamy-glitch-pop and slowcore, Blue was the ultimate statement in combining art, music and words into one cohesive work. Excellent stuff, and we look forward with much anticipation to the next colour in the series, Orange.
The Von Trapps: This is the Von Trapps – Beautiful melodies, dreamy guitars, that voice…oh, that voice! Brent’s close runner up for Ep of the year deserves a mention for delivering 4 memorable dream-pop songs. A must for every dream-pop fan, and worth the hype. RIP, Von Trapps.