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ISSUE 116 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/9/2003

Sounding out summer

By Byron Vierk
Staff Writer

Friday, May 9, 2003

Summer is always a huge time for pop music. Whether it be Rap, Hip-Hop, Rock, or Techno, every type of music seems to find its own groove in the summer. This summer of 2003 promises to be both exiting and intriguing...but only if you are an Alternative music fan. This summer will be all about the heavy hitters in modern rock. New releases in Hip-Hop appear to be anything but noteworthy, and the void in Hip-Hop talent is painfully noticeable. With major Rock releases racking up big sales, this could turn into the most modern rock-dominated summer since 1997.

With practically nonexistent major releases, especially at the beginning of the summer, Hip-Hop seems to be experiencing a Neptunes and Timbaland hangover. Its not that Hip-Hop isn’t putting any fresh material out there, but when Jay Z, the most consistent Rap artist on the planet, chooses to release a smaller version of his sloppy and under-realized 2 disc set, “The Blueprint 2,” and call it simply “Version 2.0,” it shows that there’s something rotten in the state of Hip-Hop.

Without a doubt, there will be plenty of new Club ready throwaways for those summer nights. The fact that vacuous and meaningless Hip-Hop has become more recently acceptable only serves to damage any hope that the genre will rediscover its progressive power, especially in the Mainstream Pop Universe. Let’s hope something newer and better than Dr. Dre’s newest toy 50 Cent can come along and lift Hip-Hop out of its creative rut. Otherwise, its going to be a long Summer for Rap.

For Rock music fans, this summer is anything BUT creatively lacking. Blur’s newest album, “Think Tank” (released May 6), is the first of many highly anticipated Alt. Rock releases. This is Blur’s first album without founding member and lead guitarist Graham Coxon, who was widely viewed as the band’s driving musical force. “Think Tank” owes much to lead singer Damon Albarn’s side work with Gorillaz, as each track’s drum-machine beat and inventive samples re-invent Blur’s sound with almost Beck-quality results. Blur isn’t dead, as many hard-core fans would have you believe, it’s entirely reborn wrapped in dark chrome blues. It’s “Think Tank’s” almost mechanical soul that epitomizes the electronic shift Alt. Rock has undergone since Radiohead’s “Kid A“ and breathes new life into a band in doubt.

Radiohead’s newest, “Hail to the Thief” (due June 10), is easily the most anticipated album of the summer, regardless of genre...and for good reason. “Hail to the Thief” was leaked to the internet nearly a month ago and was immediately posted to music sharing networks, surprising even the most rabid fans. The recordings show a much more melodic Radiohead, with all the future shock of “OK Computer,” the techno drone of “Kid A,” and the sneer of “Amnesiac.”

When it was later revealed that the leaked recordings were recorded in February of 2003, long before the final versions of the songs were finished and mixed, downloads actually increased. Ravenous fan appetite, coupled with a tantalizing preview into Radiohead’s Art-in-Progress, make “Hail to the Thief” the most desirable album of the summer, if only to hear what all the fuss is about.

Certain to be another summer Rock behemoth is Metallica’s long awaited “St. Anger” (due June 10). “Anger” is Metallica’s first album since the departure of bassist Jason Newsted, but don’t expect his absence to change the tried and true Hetfield-Ulrich Metallica sound. The band recently shot a video at San Quentin Prison where they played for inmates in what was undoubtedly a more than interesting concert. Metallica have kept St. Anger well hidden from most online trading services, and if Linkin Park’s success with their hit album “Meteora” is any indicator, it pays to keep albums under strict lock and key.

The Deftones, who tour with Metallica and Linkin Park on the summer Sanatarium Tour, will release an epynonymous follow up to their Grammy-winning breakthrough “White Pony” (due May 20). According to the band, the album is so raw and emotional that only one track was suitable for release. Fortunately for metal fans, “raw and emotional” for the Deftones means loud and heavy.

Last but not least, Staind attempt to build on their huge success with their newest effort 14 “Shades of Gray” (due May 20). While this release is without a doubt one of the most commercially anticipated of the summer, artistically it’s become very hard to stomach the constant sorrow and grunge-dirge nature of Staind’s metal-on-metal grind. The first single off the album, “Price to Play” breaks absolutely no new ground and offers a grim portent on the rest of the album. It’s impossible to write them off, but Stained has a big chip on its shoulder for this album that could either spur creative growth or relegate Staind to a band that almost was.

When all is said and done, summer music is less important as an art form and more important as a soundtrack to our (usually) more carefree days . There seems to be a theme song for every summer activity, whether its driving in your car, lying on the beach, partying with friends, or a warm clear starry night. It’s because summer albums can become so ingrained into ourlives that they have such power over our musical tastes. This summer, there are many albums with the potential to become permanent fixtures in your CD player. No matter the season, that’s music to the ears.

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