A look back at the best albums of the year

    Ah, the mind of the music critic — a fabled
    breeding ground for some of the most wonderfully insightful and
    creative thought in the history of mankind. Some of history’s greatest
    achievements were forged by music writers: Hamurabi’s ancient edict "an
    eye for an eye" was developed while reviewing the mediocre Boston
    hardcore band of the same name. Not many folks know that George Foreman
    worked briefly as a rock critic (sample from his review of the Bens EP:
    "Blows. Should’ve been called the Georges"), during which time he
    invented his grill, now a staple graduation gift for state-college
    bound chubby high school seniors everywhere. The list is endless.

    Take for example, this seemingly simple directive:
    Dear Prefix Staff Writers:
    Please submit your Top Ten lists for 2003 as soon as possible. Thanks.
    Your feeble non-music-critic mind probably sees only a basic
    request for a specifically formatted submission. But oh simple reader,
    you fail to see that to the creativity-factory that is the mind of a
    music critic, this is simply yet another opportunity to express the
    inner genius. You could for example, reject the boring, traditional
    "ten" and instead submit, say, three. Or you could do fifteen, you
    could list your favorite bubble gums, you could include explanations,
    you could make bad jokes about your favorite albums, you could invent
    cheese and eat ten pieces of it. Or twelve. Or you could top them all
    and not do a goddamn thing, an option so creative that seventy percent
    of our music scholars opted for it.
    And so without further ado, Prefix‘s Best of 2003. Make of it what you will simple reader; you may not be able to keep up — we on some next level shit.
    ~Ryan Duffy, Staff Writer

     

     

    [more:]

    25 White Stripes

    Elephant

    Jack
    sure packs a punch on the band’s fourth album, with tracks such as
    "Black Math" and "Hardest Button to Button" more than making up for the
    album’s weaker moments.

    24 The Mars Volta

    De-loused in the Comoratorium

    After
    their three-song teaser last summer, my appetite was properly whetted
    for De-loused, an album that comes through in every way that had been
    promised. While maintaining the energy of ATDI, the band forges on with
    a prog and Spanish influence.

    23 Jaylib

    Champion Sound
    Jay
    Dee and Madlib take the bling-oriented approach to contemporary hip-hop
    that typically irritates the crap out of me and make it unbearably
    alluring. Even a skinny white kid from Northern California feels like a
    badass while listening to this record.

    22 The Darkness

    Permission to Land

    Freddie
    Mercury and Angus Young apparently made sweet, sweet love about 25
    years ago and birthed these lads, like so many demon spawn in
    Cronenberg’s The Brood. Best is that these guys aren’t kidding, and
    almost brought back butt rock to the masses. "Giving Up" and "Love is
    Only a Feeling" are the best examples. A hilarious, staggering
    accomplishment.

    21 Radiohead

    Hail to the Thief

    It’s
    pretty fucking amazing when a band is so good for so long that you feel
    you need no discussion of one of the year’s most forward-thinking
    albums.

    20 The Rapture

    Echoes

    Dancepunk’s
    flagship act finally arrives. Credit is due to the much-heralded DFA
    production team, but Luke Jenner’s tortured/drunken wails run a close
    second. No soul? No problem. Just shake it, and "House of Jealous
    Lovers" will guide you.

    19 Belle & Sebastian
    Dear Catastrophe Waitress
    "Piazza,
    New York Catcher" is clearly the masterstroke. But there’s lots of good
    tunes on this, the best Belle & Sebastian product in years:
    complex, initially off-putting tunes that eventually win you (several
    times) over, which, of course, have been B&S’s stock-in-trade since
    Tigermilk’s "The State I Am In." And by the way, why did folks make
    such a big stink over Isobel’s leaving the group? Did she strike anyone
    else as, I dunno, overly twee? Maybe even fey? Anyhow, this is a neat
    album, because the title track sounds like an outtake from Forever
    Changes and it’s almost as good as "All the Things She Said."
    18 Ted Leo

    Hearts of Oak

    This man is the Chevy Truck of fucking rock music. Is there a more consistently marvelous songwriter alive?

    18 Lightning Bolt
    Wonderful Rainbow

    I
    love Lightning Bolt but I’ve never been able to listen to their CDs.
    All that has changed with this one. They lay down 10 of their best
    songs ever with a better production to boot. Still won’t compare to the
    live show though.

    18 The Gossip

    Movement

    Yes,
    Beth can sing. Yes, Nathan is one of the most eccentric people around.
    All the hype is true. Don’t get caught calling it "blues" or "garage"
    because this is straight up punk rock.

    17 Viktor Vaughn

    Vaudeville Villain

    MF
    Doom is an odd one, and this release just pushes his boundaries even
    further with odd lyrical phrasing, seemingly out of place spoken
    samples and tight production. Despite all of this, Vaudeville Villain
    is one of his best pieces of work to date and shows that with each
    alter ego MF tries on, we’re sure to expect something totally
    different.

    16 Manitoba

    Up in Flames

    Dan
    Snaith’s musical career travels from the bedroom to the universe at
    large with this stunning bit of musical amalgam. It’s ’60s pop, it’s
    electronic goodness, and it’s the kind of album that reminds you that
    art is truly boundless.

    15 Broken Social Scene

    You Forgot It in People

    A
    dense yet sprawling masterpiece from Canada’s preeminent "music
    collective." From the anthemic rock of "KC Accidental" to the offhand
    grace of "Pacific Theme," this record really did have something for
    everyone.

    14 Cat Power

    You Are Free

    So fucking gorgeous. I don’t care if she rapes pigeons at her live shows, this is breathtaking.

    13 Dizzee Rascal

    Boy in Da Corner

    He
    raps fast and with a British accent, so I understand about every 35th
    word, but fortunately Diz speaks the universal language of "HOLY FUCK
    MY FACE WHAT THE HELL HOT FUCK THIS IS THE BEST THING I’VE EVER HEARD."

    12 The Decemberists

    Her Majesty

    Not
    quite showtoons. But taking orders from "the corporal of regimen five"
    is suspect if you ask me. This album could be the only release this
    year that would make your history teacher proud. It’s amazing. Go buy
    it.

    11 Matthew Shipp

    Equilibrium

    A strong year for Thirsty Year. Highlighted by super jazz pianist Matthew Shipp.

    10 Aesop Rock

    Bazooka Tooth

    Quite
    seamlessly segues from good to great within the first few moments, as
    slow, chunky beats drag along behind Ace’s witty verse. Hip-hop song
    cycle of sorts, complete with character sketches in the tradition of De
    La Soul is Dead but heavy-handed social critique like Edutainment. See
    pseudo-intellectual Prefix review.

    9 Pretty Girls Make Graves
    New Romance

    Bigger
    than Liars if not the Strokes, brighter than the Rapture if not the
    Shins, PGMG had to deal with their share of that backlash bullcrap that
    typifies the (ahem) indie-rock (ahem ahem) scene in ’03. Their loss
    The New Romance is loaded with emotions, fiery, complex, interesting
    emotions set to commensurately rousing music loved the twin guitars,
    guys, keep it up. My favorite moment is when Zollo goes "We’ll! Have
    such a fabulous time!" on "Chemical, Chemical." What’s yours?

    8 Four Tet

    Rounds

    Kieran
    Hebden may be swamped by scientists for discovering astounding humanity
    in his mess of computer wares. IDM finally delivers on so much promise
    with unlikely but elegant blends of found sounds and harsh electro
    beats.

    7 Yeah Yeah Yeahs

    Fever to Tell
    Putting
    out a record this spectacular when everyone is expecting you to put out
    a record this spectacular is almost as impressive as the album itself.

    6 The Wrens

    This
    record was written with the bitterness that only years of obscurity,
    botched attempts and getting screwed over can accomplish. The pain in
    these songs is the universal tension of getting older and circumstances
    one can’t control. A simple, stark return from hiatus.
    Did people forget about this record? Why have I not seen this on other ‘Best Of’ lists? Fucking anthems.

    5 The Shins

    Chutes Too Narrow

    James
    Mercer and Co. stripped down their sound significantly for their second
    round, which was a wise decision, as these songs, without the bells and
    whistles, show their impeccable songwriting, and captivating harmonies.
    Given the variety, from the layering of "Saint Simon," to the twang of
    "Gone for Good," the Shins have earned their place in the major
    leagues.

    4 The Strokes

    Room on Fire
    More
    of the same from high fashion New Yorkers, and it’s quite good. This
    one has a couple of road bumps, but delivers the same fiery guitar
    licks, underwater vocals and catchy melodies that Is This It? carried.
    Particularly fond of the single "12:51," and its flippant remarks
    regarding 40s. Pour a little on the curb, fellas.

    3 The Unicorns

    Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?

    Fluttering
    synths, detuned guitars and undoubtedly drug-fueled Canadians prove a
    volatile but enchanting brew that intoxicates you into arguing that a
    song called "Tuff Ghost" might be one of the year’s best.

    2 OutKast

    Speakerboxxx / The Love Below

    Honestly. These doods are just toying with us now.

    1 Prefuse 73

    One Word Extinguisher

    When
    hip-hop (and henceforth nowadays, pop culture) appeared to nurture only
    the superficial and the vacant, this album single-handedly infused the
    genre with depth and vulnerability-without uttering a single word. Your
    brain can translate sound into emotion, but then, so can Scott Herren.