The Austin Chronicle

Dead & Buried

Music 2003

By Raoul Hernandez, January 2, 2004, Music

There was a commercial for it last Sunday: a computer with a CD and DVD burner that was also cable TV compatible. Having your TiVo wired through it is doubtless a no-no, since the Copyright Gestapo doesn't want anyone minting Seinfeld DVDs with their digital VCR replacement. The monitor for it resembled a flat-screen TV. In a year or two, it will be.

The Obstron aside, 2003 was the first year in a decade that local releases meant more than nationals. That's because the greater music biz as we know it is dead. Dead & Buried, only like the DVD reissue of that 1981 James Farentino/Jack Albertson creeper, it doesn't know it.

Major labels (how many are left, two, three?) are learning to the tune of millions that long-gone artist development pays. Indies, meanwhile, must also contend with file-sharing. Jason Enright of the late-great Jupiter Records ( had a damning anecdote about two girls at his register. One was purchasing three copies of KGSR's collectable Broadcasts discs, two as gifts. "Just buy one," said her friend, "I'll burn you two." That's the next thing to go, of course -- record stores. If we're lucky, we'll get to keep the Waterloos and Cheapo Records of the world.

Austin, meanwhile, thrives -- bands, labels, clubs. Well, maybe not clubs. But live music is alive and above ground in Austin, and if live music venues are seeing smaller crowds, it's only because, locally, there's an embarrassment of riches to choose from. The biggest roadshows, believe it or not, still compete with killer local bills at the Carousel Lounge.

Locally, there were dozens of unique, provocative albums, led by Explosions in the Sky's The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place, perhaps the most compelling "indie" album out of Austin since Spoon's A Series of Sneaks. Los Lonely Boys, meanwhile, pulled off the most notable national coming-out since Stevie Ray Vaughan's Texas Flood. Oddly enough, unlike SRV, a scan across the Chronicle's Texas Top 10s reveals the brothers Garza aren't critics' darlings. Wait til the 2003-04 Music Poll has its say.

Nationally, a seven nation army has spoken: the White Stripes. What can you say? Jack and Meg, better live than on disc, were the Elephant in your living room, though it was Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power -- definitely not known for her live prowess -- pulling out yet more gut and proving PJ Harvey better stay sharp. With her sophomore LP, Run to Ruin, NYC's Nina Nastasia is the next Chan Power. Andre 3000 is the new OutKast.

Ultimately, 2003 began by looking like just another innocuous fad, this year it being the Scandinavian invasion: the Raveonettes (Chain Gang of Love), Sounds (Living in America), and Mensen (Oslo City), not to mention Sahara Hotnights, who scorched Stubb's during a SXSW 03 day party. Then Bush II invaded Iraq. Pray that locating Saddam Hussein doesn't bring on four more years. If so, things are gonna get really cold and dead, or even more pop (Grandaddy's Sumday) to fight back the shadow of Mordor.

Speaking of darkness, there were the Caesars, from Sweden, with 39 Minutes of Bliss (In an Otherwise Meaningless World). At least 20 minutes of bliss anyway. "You Don't Mean a Thing to Me," the closer, drops like a Nugget from the great Sixties gold rush. A rave-up rattling the drum kit as two guitarists gush adrenaline for a monotone with (unconfirmed) dyed black hair and pasty skin howling both Sixties garage and Eighties grand. Hey ya! Tears for Fears, 2004.

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