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A.R.E. Weapons commit Modified Arts sacrilege
The rawking electro-trash of A.R.E. Weapons verifies there is no way to make a keyboard sound tough. But the scuzzy, raw-energy New Yorkers turned downtown Phoenix's art-rock haven Modified Arts into a bona fide dive for one night. The duo shattered the shoe-gazing sanctity of the joint and temporarily created a beer-soaked dance club. The normally alcohol-free venue this night featured drag queens spraying beer on indie kids and snotty NYC-fashion fucks dancing to preprogrammed beats. Shirtless and drinking Beam, the Weapons felt like drinking whiskey in church. -- Jonathan Bond

Jamaica crashes American pop
If you've listened closely, you've heard dub and dancehall playing just around the corner from the fashionable set for, like, ever. In 2003, the background exploded in your face. The dancehall-minded, omnipresent Diwali beat -- Sean Paul, Elephant Man and Wayne Wonder all used Stephen "Lenky" Marsden's hand-clapped creation -- turned hip-hop's xenophobic castle into a global party pad. And dub, long the secret weapon of techno, returned as a foundation for the indie post-punk revival. Ironically, the finest example of dub-as-savior landed on the hottest jungle mix of the year: Soundmurderer's Wired for Sound, 60 mashed-up drum 'n' bass classics in 70 minutes, eschewing the darkness for a sensuous throb. -- P.O.

Country music reasserts its identity
After several years of abdicating to Shania Twain, Faith Hill and other pop-minded pinups, redneck country struck back. Traditionalists climbed the charts all year with hootin' and hollerin' anthems. Alan Jackson recruited Jimmy Buffett to help him make "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" a rollicking party tune. Toby Keith, meanwhile, furthered his crusade against all anti-American baddies by letting Willie Nelson play executioner on the hill and promising to rise up against the evil forces on "Beer for My Horses." If there's any evidence that the 9/11 attacks had a tangible effect on music, this is it. -- C.O.

Parental advisory: Don't play it for your parents
"Uh-oh -- skip this track!" Parents of CD-burning tweens heard that phrase whenever little Brianna volunteered her mix CD for the family ride to the market. Why is it, then, that mom and dad never heard the entire Akineyle rap that started with the singsongy chorus "Put it in my mouth," but got to squirm through all 3 minutes and 2 seconds of Kelis' double-entendre grind fest "Milkshake," which the daughter deemed okay for adult ears? There's something odd about grown-ups having their listening experience censored by their own kids, who always, curiously, know just when to hit the fast-forward button. -- J.M.

Enjoying the video for "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself"
The White Stripes' pretty little cover of the Burt Bacharach classic "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself" wouldn't surface here if it weren't for the video. No Jack. No Meg. Just Kate Moss pole dancing (better than most strippers around town can do), filmed in black and white and directed by Lost in Translation director Sofia Coppola. You won't see it on MTV, but the British music tabloid New Music Express has it on its Web site at www.nme.com/news/105946.htm. -- Brendan Joel Kelley

50 Cent's "In Da Club"
Remember, everyone: He's into having sex; he's not into making love. The 50 Cent persona is well-documented -- the guy who survives multiple gunshot wounds and still struts around like a peacock, daring everyone to return fire. Eminem has balls, too, but he also has a point. This guy? Well, he just has balls, which is what makes "In Da Club" so delicious. He steps into Dr. Dre's luscious strings-and-swagger beat and squeezes it like a .357. He makes my inner alpha male feel 10 feet tall whenever I hear this song; strangely, he seems to have the same effect on 8-year-old girls. -- C.O.

Twisted Sister plays Six Flags theme parks
The "We're Not Gonna Take It" boys toned down their foul language to tour Six Flags, the family-friendly chain of amusement parks. They also proved that no one -- not even Dee Snider -- can bait an audience to pump their fists with banter like "How the fudge are ya?" and "Are you ready to rock-and-flippin'-roll?" -- S.D.

Behold the sampler hybrid revolution
Whether they were cutting up and manipulating millions of live-instrument bits inside their laptops or jamming with traditional musicians onstage, a school of instrumental producers operating in between jazz, techno, hip-hop and rock shone a light at the future. The synthesis of technology and old shit -- in Four Tet and Matmos' folktronica, Manitoba's psychedelia, Prefuse 73 and Madlib's hip-hop jazz, and Matthew Herbert's fitting a big band inside his sampler -- may have had uneven results, but it undoubtedly pointed in a direction where man and machine can co-exist -- and thrive. -- P.O.

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Charlie Bertsch
Jonathan Bond
Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic
Brendan Joel Kelley
Jimmy Magahern
Contact: Jimmy Magahern
Christopher O'Connor
Piotr Orlov
Mikael Wood