Johnny Cash’s mugshot from a 1965 drug bust.
Year-end lists are second only to “Desert Island Discs” in the rockcrit book of clichés. So it goes. What can you do?
Here is the stuff that moved us in 2003. Our rules for inclusion aren’t as strict as some; actually, we don’t have any rules for inclusion. So if you see something that wasn’t actually released in 2003, or that isn’t actually a record, or isn’t actually very good, it’s okay…don’t be such a tight-ass.
Add your own faves in the comments.
There were 48,000,000 records released in 2003, and Ja Rule appeared on exactly one of them. Ja’s Blood In My Eye was a bitchy wimper in the wake of Kevlar don .50 Cent, who by the end of his year-long coronation was being blessed by the Pope for having been shot nine times. John Paul’s into heaven sent, he ain’t into making love. You know who is? Pharrell Williams, who used ’03 to expand the Neptunes’ fiefdom into awkward falsetto freaky-deaks. If I was the Asian guy portion of that duo, I’d make moves now to avoid Andrew Ridgley Syndrome in 2004. (Note: ARS is treatable either with Levitra® [vardenafil HCI], or by trading in any unused Sponge Bob paraphernalia.)
Obviously, besides the tired and bruised circular debates over file sharing and the record industry’s supposed woe (I did my part by sending the then Big Five/now Big Four a check for $16.40; its background depicted a cheery brown bear wearing a natty 3-piece suit and braided watch chain), 2003 was dominated by politics politics politics. We were Punk’d on a daily basis by poker-faced Ari and that ever-exasperated Rummy (“Just leave me the fuck alone you twits!” his tone always seemed to say). The liberals made a lot of noise while the boys on Capitol Hill just kept the money train a-rollin’; Cheney had a few more heart attacks, and I heard a rumor down at the diner that Dubya turfed Gore’s lawn. Again.
Well, the meetups, Moveon.org, and Janeane Garofalo will be happy to hear that Al at least got a shot off this time. He endorsed Dean and blew out the taillight of George W’s shiny new Fox NFL Sunday-endorsed F-150 with his daddy’s gator getter. As the Prez’s hoots and hollers faded into the gloomy District night, Gore noticed a group of shabby people huddling for warmth by his house’s exterior dryer vent. Recognizing that crimped mushroom head of Justin Guarini, the members of Trapt (determinedly humming “Headstrong” through chapped lips and chattering teeth), and 2003 “America’s Top Model” victor Adrianne Curry, the ex-non-president brought them all inside for a cup of Tipper’s tea and a viewing of the “Carnivale” marathon his TiVo created for him. “Congratulations,” the machine said in a series of comfy bleeps and bloops. “You’re the only knob to ever watch this show!”
From the get-go, let it be known that Possiblies And Maybes is not a new Casket Lottery full-length. No song on here was intended to be thrown into the mix together with the hope of creating a completely consistent and fresh record. The “previously recorded, unreleased, and rare material” label is very important to such records.
That said, The Casket Lottery already has a lot of dangerous premeditations with which to contend. First is the “metal guys who found their soft side and stopped playing heavy music” factor (both guitarist/vocalist Nathan Ellis and bassist Stacey Hilt did stints as bass player for defunct Kansas metalcore outfit, Coalesce), which seems to have been an “in” trend over the last several years. Being from the same hometown as The Get-Up Kids can’t be much help either, since it can easily get them slagged off as a crybaby emo band without so much as a listen, particularly given the rise of other Lawrence-based Get-Up Kids copycat acts like The Anniversary.
The fact is, however, The Casket Lottery has come to a point smack in the middle of Coalesce and The Get-Up Kids, and nowhere is this more apparent than on Possiblies. The band still retains much of the technical creativity and distorted grooves they mastered in Coalesce—off-time riffage dodges in and out of the verse-chorus-verse format, all the while firmly supported by the incredibly solid pounding of Nathan Richardson. No doubt, they have taken the distortion down a few notches since their days in hardcore, and adapted to the dual-vocal harmony approach, with Ellis’ high-pitched voice taking the forefront on most tracks. However, songs like “March On To Babylon,” “Unteen” and “Blessed/Cursed” beckon back to The Lottery’s earlier releases, Choose Bronze and the Dot Dot Dash EP, making comfortable use of heavier riffs that could easily have slipped into some of Coalesce’s later work. Conversely, tracks like “Better Off” and “Bill And Axe” showcase the pop/rock sensibilities of the group.
Then there are the covers. Some are good, others less so. A pleasing cover of The Cure’s “Six Different Ways” graces the album, as does a fine rendition of Shudder To Think’s “Red House.” They belt it out like Coalesce on Helmet’s “In The Meantime,” and much of this is due to the guest appearance of ex-Coalesce frontman Sean Ingram’s guttural scream. The cover of The Police’s “Synchronicity II” is a bit disappointing. Ellis is no Sting, and his voice and singing style don’t seem to adapt to the song as well as they should, and it’s easy to see why this one stayed unreleased until now. More obscure covers include a Kill Creek rarity and a Government Issue cover taken from their split 7″ with Hot Water Music.
So is The Casket Lottery worthy of a compilation release of their harder-to-find material at a point where many are still asking “Who the hell is The Casket Lottery?” The Casket Lottery has come out on top. Possiblies And Maybes shows that the so-often stated indie belief that bands put out their best work as B-sides and comp tracks may have some credence. What is most impressive about this release is that the band was not squeamish about releasing it. This is, in every way, a complete collection, from their first demo songs, to tracks left off their most recent LP, songs they wanted to re-release, and others that they didn’t particularly want heard. It’s all here, to satisfy completists and non-completists alike, and it should do both very well. The fact is that The Casket Lottery is an important and talented band, and it has shown on every release. In their own words: “No, I’m not too old for this. And I hope I never outgrow my dreams.”