It's as clockwork as Christmas, but that doesn't make It any less fun, does it? Year-end lists are as ubiquitous as annoying AOL commercials, and sometimes less interesting. But that doesn't make them irrelevant, and this short list is no exception. There are definitely some potent 2002 releases missing here, but most of those are covered in my usual "Must-Have CDs" columns, so hit the Back Issues button for a quick look at other quality stuff that has hit the shelves (hey, I don't review crap, people). The following are three of the discs that graced the Year of the Pallindrome with their glowing presence, only to be half-heartedly promoted and/or disseminated by an otherwise anemic pop culture landscape. So don't make the same mistake twice: pick them up for the holidays and spread some smiles.

Blazing Arrow: Blackalicious

Mainstream hip-hop is mostly a Neptunes production featuring a snoozy turn at the mike from either some nobody or someone who ought to be a nobody were it not for the ceaselessly looped MTV video starring ghetto fab hotties and fake gold. Thank the late Jam Master Jay for Bay Area undergrounders, Blackalicious. Hip-hop to the endlessly talented MC Gift of Gab and DJ Chief X-Cel is a multicultural melange of positivity, intimidating rhyme skills and sonic depth, more Gil-Scott Heron than gangsta paradise. Arrow is chock full of tunes where each is on display more than once, and though they aimed it at the heart of hip-hop pretenders, image wins out every time. Pick it up and fire it again.

Amon Tobin: Out from Out Where

Electronic music has many characteristics, but a singular style is usually not one of them. Which is to say that it can be hard -- if you're listening to someone else besides DJ Shadow -- to tell who you're hearing unless you have the liner notes right in front of you. Not so with Tobin, whose pomo slicing and dicing is not only impressive, it's addictive. It's hard to explain what this guy does, but imagine the finest jazz, funk, hip-hop and world music on Earth shoved into a blender and mixed into a rump-shaking, mind-expanding concoction and you're close. It's sad that Moby and Paul Oakenfold make the papers, while talents like Tobin go unrecognized, but hey, it's wartime, right? Nothing makes sense.

And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead:
Source Tags and Codes

Hands down the best rock album of 2002, Source Tags and Codes dropped like a nuke on an otherwise moribund (Coldplay? Bo-ring) or scene-heavy (let's be real here: the Vines are Nirvana-Lite, and we mean real Lite) alternative landscape, yet the next day you'd have think that the Austin-based noise machine hadn't even made a peep. And there's no forgiving that. Rather than another cute-fest from the White Stripes, MTV should've grabed whatever they could get from these Gothic rockers and ran with it until everyone forgot the name Eminem. It would've happened sooner than later too, but no one gave it a chance, and so lesser acts like Puddle of Mudd, Korn and the Strokes unfairly got the spotlight and the props. But hear this: "How Near How Far" was the best rock song of the year, a spine-tingling, hook-filled masterpiece. And I'll gladly defend that point if all of you go out and grab Source Tags and Codes and give it a spin. It'll scare you, it'll rock you, but most of all, it will win you.

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© Melt Magazine 2003