Feature ·

Staff Picks

The Best Albums of 2003

 

These are the albums that the staff felt stood above the rest in 2003. Enjoy.

 

 

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Ryan Duffy

Staff Writer (Ten Tops, with some extras and not a bit of order)
   

Cat Power
You are Free


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

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."
   

The Notwist
Neon Golden


I
kind of cheated on this one, but Domino didn't put it out 'til February
and that's when I got it because I don't have the money to pay for
imports or travel to Europe, the latter of which would likely be better
because there's probably a lot more going on over there, more than just
Notwist records I mean, but my point was I totally would've bought this
if I was there.
   

OutKast
Speakerboxxx / The Love Below


Honestly. These doods are just toying with us now.
   

Dead Meadow
Shivering King and Others


I
guess some people dismiss this as a niche record-stoner rock or
Whatever, but this would sound good to me if I was smoking cat shit.
   

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.
   

Ted Leo
Hearts of Oak


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

The Stills
Logic Will Break Your Heart


Contrary to popular belief, Broken Social Scene sucks. Good thing Canada is doing something unbelievably right.
   

Pretty Girls Make Graves
New Romance


Did people forget about this record? Why have I not seen this on other 'Best Of' lists? Fucking anthems.
   

50 Cent
Get Rich or Die Tryin'


Making skinny white kids in FUBU feel tough at the mall since '03...
   

Notable previously released stuff that got a new shine job:

Reissue of Television's > Marquee Moon

Metal Urbain's discography > Anarchy in Paris
   

Honorable Mentions:

Neptunes > Attack of the Clones

The Unicorns > Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?

Jay-Z > The Black Album

The White Stripes > Elephant

Pelican > Australasia

The Gossip > Movement

The Rapture > Echoes

New Pornographers > Electric Version

The Strokes > Room on Fire
 

Jay Riggio

Staff Writer
  5
The Baptist Generals
No Silver/No Gold


Lo-fi, under-produced garage jamming at its best.
  4

The Mars Volta
De-Loused In The Comatorium


The better half of the now defunct At The Drive In's debut. Hard acid rock and confusing lyrics help make De-Loused In The Comatorium the most bad ass recording of this year.
  3

Holopaw
Holopaw


Late summer night barbecues and oddly pretty tunes of cross country travel. If a pig roast ever needed a soundtrack, this is it.
  2

Beulah
Yoko


Melancholy pop from San Francisco. An essential breakup record.
  1

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.
 

Nick Stillman

Staff Writer
  10
Ex-Models
Zoo Psychology

  9
Throbbing Gristle
24 Hours of Throbbing Gristle (box set)

  8
Cabaret Voltaire
Methodology, The Attic Tapes '74-'78 (box set)

  7
Blue Series Continuum
Sorcerer Sessions

  6
Glenn Branca
The Ascension (reissue)

  5
Antipop Consortium vs. Matthew Shipp
Antipop Consortium vs. Matthew Shipp

  4
Thirsty Ear Records
Thirsty Ear Blue Series Sampler compilation

  3
Soul Jazz Records
New York Noise compilation

  2
A.R.E.Weapons
A.R.E.Weapons

  1
Matthew Shipp
Equilibrium

 

Mike Krolak

Staff Writer (Top 15)
  15

Enon
Hocus Pocus


It isn't quite the heights of High Society,
but what is? The mellow side of Enon leads to a more minimal yet no
less melodic album. The buzzing/pounding "Daughter in the House of
Fools" hints at more amazing things to come.
  14

Turin Brakes
Ether Song


Two
guys with acoustic guitars leave their comfort zone to stirring
results, evoking everyone from David Bowie to Neil Young along the way.
If there was a better album closer in 2003 than "Rain City," I didn't
hear it.
  13

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.
  12

Dizzee Rascal
Boy In Da Corner


Dizzee's
East London accent was impossible to decipher at times, but brutally
stripped-down beats abetting gems like "I'm flushing MCs down the loo/
If you don't believe me bring your posse, bring your crew," brought a
fresh voice to hip-hop.
  11

The Exploding Hearts
Guitar Romantic


Along
with Elliott Smith, the fatal auto accident that took three of the four
Exploding Hearts in July was most tragic story in music this year.
Their impact was brief but substantial, and Guitar Romantic is
Exhibit A for the argument entitled "Why Rock 'n' Roll Will Never Die."
Nothing prevented this album from being recorded thirty or forty years
ago -- except that it wasn't. And that gives us hope.
  10

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.
  9

Clearlake
Cedars


If
Clearlake ever catches on, you'll someday find Coldplay's Chris Martin
panhandling in Trafalgar Square. The most traditionally gorgeous album
released this year resonates with emotion and lush sounds.
  8

King Geedorah
Take Me To Your Leader.


The
first of MF Doom's stellar 2003 releases blends a sci-fi vibe with a
harsh condemnation of contemporary human relations. The concept of a
space monster judging life on Earth is dubious at best, but MF Doom and
a few friends ripping fantastic B-movie beats is a tangible pleasure.
  7

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.
  6

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.
  5

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.
  4

Viktor Vaughn
Vaudeville Villain


MF
Doom returns, shedding the space monster suit for a small-time
hood/aspiring MC persona. Doom proves he's peerless on the mike, and
the production alternately sparkles and grates like sandpaper. Any
track here is a highlight anywhere else.
  3

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.
  2

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.
  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.
 
China Bialos

Staff Writer (Top 20 Discoveries of the year, not necessarily 2003 releases)
  20
Portishead
Portishead


I had already owned Dummy
for a while, but hadn't gotten around to this one until this year.
Portishead is quite original with the sounds they use in their
electronic-but-vampy-in-a-Fiona Apple-sort-of-way style. Features the
fairly well-known "Only You," as well as "Glory Box," which reeks of
femininity. This album is haunting in a fantastic way.
  19

Nick Drake
Pink Moon


Being
that Nick Drake died in 1974, I seem to be about 20 years too late on
this one. Great album featuring a voice that is similar to but more
pleasant than Neil Young, as well as the simple accompaniment of an
acoustic guitar. Hard to pick a favorite track, as the whole album is
quite lovely. Sounds like Sun Kil Moon, but this came first, so it's
better. Good music to play in the car on a date, as well.
  18

Explosions in the Sky
Earth is Not a Cold Dead


Nothing
but instrumental songs over eight minutes apiece. Not especially
radio-friendly, and probably an acquired taste. For those who do like
instrumentals, though, this is beautiful and ideal for background
music.
  17

Cursive
The Ugly Organ


I
hated this on the first listen, but after another, it became a
favorite. This is an incredibly strong album whose dramatic sound is
assisted by the cello and Tim Kasher's unique voice. I have a ton of
favorites, particularly the twisted Pinocchio story "Driftwood: A Fairy
Tale," as well as the mellow "The Recluse" and self-pitying "Art is
Hard." "Sierra" is extremely dramatic in sound and encourages the
listener to scream along. Nearly a perfect album; if you could only buy
one CD for the rest of eternity, this should be the album.
  16

Rufus Wainwright
Poses


This
is so beautiful ... if Rufus Wainwright's sexual orientation permitted,
I would want him badly. His operatic voice is a gorgeous complement to
these piano-heavy songs. Favorite tracks include "Cigarettes and
Chocolate Milk," "Poses," "Rebel Prince," and his fantastic cover of
"Across the Universe."
  16

Rufus Wainwright
Poses


This
is so beautiful ... if Rufus Wainwright's sexual orientation permitted,
I would want him badly. His operatic voice is a gorgeous complement to
these piano-heavy songs. Favorite tracks include "Cigarettes and
Chocolate Milk," "Poses," "Rebel Prince," and his fantastic cover of
"Across the Universe."
  15

Liars
They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top


Singer
Angus Andrew almost sounds Australian. This is an exciting album from
start to finish; lots of sounds and long song titles that usually
aren't expected from any band. More original than a lot of albums to
recently come out.
  14

Starlight Mints
The Dream that Stuff Was Made Of


This
is just as fun as "Built on Squares," but this first album is a tiny
bit louder and features the same orchestrally-blessed pop. This is a
very strong pop album; it is impossible to call the Starlight Mints
subtle. Highly recommended.
  13

Interpol
Turn On the Bright Lights


Yes,
they do sound like Joy Division. But Joy Division didn't write the
exact same songs as Interpol in 2002, so I will have to call this a
fantastically written album. Enjoyable are the stoic vocals and melodic
guitar-playing.
  12

The Make Up
In Mass Mind


This
band has been compared to (I)NC, which intrigued me. They do have a
'60s garage and jazz-influenced sound, but they are a bit more
danceable than (I)NC, and their singer sounds like a much heavier
smoker. His name is Ian Svenonius, and that gives them another point in
my book.
  11

The Shins
Chutes Too Narrow


Sophomore
albums frequently fail, but this one proved that the Shins are still
full of great ideas. Country-twinged but full of beautiful guitar work.
"So Says I" is one of the most fun songs to sing along to, provided you
can get your voice to go up an octave or so.
  10

The Rapture
Echoes


"The
lead singer has an annoying voice," you remark? I'd say the same about
the Mars Volta and they're great. Same goes for the Rapture; this album
is extremely catchy, danceable and unique. "The Coming of Spring" is a
new all-time favorite song.
  9

Bright Eyes
Fevers and Mirrors


*I'd
almost call this better than "Lifted," though the variety is less. The
aggressive, percussion-heavy "The Calendar Hung Itself" is a standout
track (as well as a great song performed live), and the eerie,
waltz-esque "Sunrise, Sunset" is also excellent. This is a fantastic
album that I wish I had bought earlier.
  8

Vells
Vells


Six
songs that are fun, poppy, catchy and highlighted by a falsetto voice
that matches the feel-good music. This band owns my heart.
  7

Elliott Smith
Either/Or


I
can't believe I didn't buy this sooner. This is quite possibly the most
beautiful collection of songs ever written, particularly "Between the
Bars" and "2:45 am," which make you want to cry. Me, at least. If I
could steal the talent of any songwriter, I would have chosen Elliott
Smith just based on this album.
  6

The Thermals
More Parts Per Million


Not
just a great live band, the Thermals have a wonderful formula for their
songs despite being a bit repetitive. They're fast, raw and sound as
though they were recorded on tin. I can't stop listening to this one.
  5

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Fever to Tell


The
best in dominatrix rock. Karen O's shriek is perfectly complementary to
the raw guitar work and catchy drumming patterns. "Maps" is a sweet
ballad about O's boyfriend, Angus Andrew. Standout tracks include the
raunchy "Black Tongue" and the exciting "Tick," which induces periodic
sing-a-longs.
  4

Belle and Sebastian
Dear Catastrophe Waitress


Just
mellow enough, just humorous enough. Pleasant vocals and inquiries
about Mike Piazza's sexual identity give this album a very high rating.
  3

(International) Noise Conspiracy
Bigger Cages, Longer Chains EP


Six
songs, five new ones. I love their cover of N.E.R.D.'s "Baby Doll,"
which is much hotter than the former's overly-danceable original
version. "When Words Are Not Working" is amazingly strong and has a
great chorus. It's the ideal album closer.
  2

Refused
The Shape of Punk to Come


Already
a fan of Dennis Lyxzen through (I)NC, this album has everything I love
about (I)NC minus the jazz influence and with more screaming.
Especially a fan of "Liberation Frequency," "Summerholiday V.
Punkroutine," and "The Deadly Rythm" (yes, it's spelled improperly on
purpose).
  1

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


This
album is amazing; perfect guitar riffs, powerful vocals that go back
and forth between screaming and singing melodically, and interesting
drumming rhythm. This makes me wish I were in a band. Badly.
 
Dominic Umile

Staff Writer
  10

The Thrills
So Much for the City


Immediately
catchy hooks from Dublin-based enthusiasts of California. Byrds-y
guitar, breathy vocals, banjo and soulful organ. Their complex
harmonies and gentle melodies complement summer drunken debauchery just
fine.
  9

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.
  8

Prefuse 73
One Word Extinguisher


If
every album was specifically constructed for headphone listening, they
would probably sound like this. Overrun with otherworldly blips and
bleeps and beats that drift in and out of each speaker at a pace most
pleasant.
  7

The Raveonettes

Chain Gang of Love


Frenzied
anthems fit for a barroom brawl backdrop. Noisy like a Velvets' record,
but with beautifully matching vocal harmony. I'd drop a couple o'
quarters in the tavern jukebox, select track two, then I'd announce,
"Anyone want a piece of me?" Then, when they'd look around, I would
point to Prefix writer Dany Sloan, and make like he'd said it. Sweet.
  6

Four Tet > Rounds

Unassuming
psychedelic tapestries, woven together with folk and electronic
sensibility. Warning: Surgeon General Urges Headphones For This One.
Pieces as quietly evocative as "Hands," coupled with numbers as warm as
a bowl of Cream of Wheat, like "My Angel Rocks Back and Forth." Very
technically elaborate but also rather minimalist.
  5

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.
  4

Rufus Wainwright
Want One


As
gloriously arranged as his previous two, this time boasting even more
lush orchestration. The first chords of "Oh What a World" merely hint
at the well-crafted and personal chamber pop to come, in numbers like
"Go or Go Ahead," and closer "Dinner at Eight." Looking forward to
second installment, aptly titled Want Two.
  3

Mojave 3
Spoon and Rafter


Gorgeous,
heavenly harmonies here. Bigger than their previous efforts and just as
mournful. In Mojave's style, singer Halstead and crew showcase a love
for the '60s country and a special spot for psyche pop. I miss Rachel
Goswell's lead a bit, though.
  2

Manitoba
Up in Flames


Sonically
astounding. I was a lil' put off by this because writers were wetting
their pants over it, but upon first listen, I too, had to change my
trunks. (Did I write this part, and actually submit it?) Canadian
genius boy brings dreamy vocals and a polished blend of electronic and
organic instrumentation.
  1

The Beatles
Let it Be...Naked


A
fine installment in their catalog. Stripped bare -- before the
murderous Phil Spector put his meaty murderous hands all over the
knobs.
  Kevin Dolak

Staff Writer (Best 7 Records of 2003, no order)
   

Xiu Xiu
A Promise


Fuck
Interpol, this is what Joy Division would sound like today --
shattered, confused, and angry. Jamie Stewart's faint whispers break
into a screams amidst the scattered clangs and keys; "Apistat
Commander's" shout of OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GO-O-OD" is hands down
the best musical moment this year.
   

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.
   

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.
   

Cat Power
You Are Free


Five year's after her defining Moon Pix,
Chan Marshall returned with this slickly produced, star-studded
meditation on physical and mental freedom. Featuring vocals from Eddie
Vedder and the percussive stylings of one Dave Grohl, Chan layered the
vocals or her simple songs for a distinctive effect. Always haunting in
mere delivery, she still continues to surprise with each record.
   

The.Decemberists
Her Majesty, The Decemberists


In
a year of striking follow-ups to promising debuts, Colin Meloy's
Decemberists took the furthest leap. Their skillful songwriting grew
more varied here to tell the tales of soldiers, liars and Myla
Goldberg, set to countless accordions and strings.
   

The Wrens
The Meadowlands


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.
   

The Postal Service
Give Up


What's
unexpected about the Postal Service is that it's not Ben Gibbard's
unique vocals that shine through, but Jimmy Tamborello's beats and
blips. Combining the two creates an element Death Cab never thought of:
fun.
  Dany Sloan

Staff Writer (Top 10, not in any order)
   

Ted Leo
Hearts of Oak


Ted
Leo is the new Elvis Costello. He keeps his mind firmly entrenched in
politics and an eye on social issues while writing songs that you will
never get out of your head. This album is bananas, and his shows are
even better.
   

Fannypack
So Stylistic


After
seeing the video for "Cameltoe" on TRL, I put this Brooklyn group off
as simple novelty. I am glad I gave them another chance because this
album is packed tight with schoolgirl charm and referential '80s
electro beat, which brings to mind another girl-fronted group, L'Trimm.
   

Hot Cross
Cyronics


This
group followed a promising EP with an LP comes through in spades. This
one of those hardcore albums that come along every few years that push
the bar a little bit higher and lets the peanut gallery know that this
genre still is as vibrant as ever.
   

Jay-Z
The Black Album


One
would think an emcee as celebrated as Jay-Z would retire by resting on
his laurels, but this LP is a fiery and on-key exit from the adoring
rap world that made him a star.
   

Black Eyes


Made
up of ex-members of the Rapture, the Better Automatic, the No Go's and
other bands that few people outside of the Capital Beltway have heard
of, this band expertly takes the dissonant D.C. aesthetic and throws in
equal portions dub, go-go and avant garde to make one beautiful,
disjointed mess.
   

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.
   

Respira
A Still Silhouette


Respira is a breath of fresh air from the West Coast. While their song that was featured on Exotic Fever's Books Through Bars compilation CD last year was underwhelming, A Still Silhouette
is everything a debut should be: fiery, off-the- wall and anticipatory.
This is a true album in every sense of the word, with each song
complementing the other, and each one being a five star winner.
   

Prefuse 73
One Word Extinguisher


One Word Extinguisher
can easily be described as Prefuse 73's breakthrough. After previous
work with Mos Def and some under the radar releases, his 2003 album is
solid and genre defying, with enough eclecticism to indicate that his
next move is anyone's best guess.
   

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.
   

Ten Grand
This Is The Way We Rule


After
a battle with a certain jam band's side project over their name, the
Vidablue became Ten Grand and dropped this amazing album of pure post
hardcore exploration. Few bands of this ilk have ever had the talent
and energy to create songs with this amount of power, and sadly, this
will be their final album. Guitarist and singer Matthew Davis died
earlier this year.
 
Toby Francis

Staff Writer (Top 10, not in any order except Chromatics is #1)
   

The Sick Lipstick
Sting Sting Sting


The ghost of Black Cat #13 rides again! Ten steps up from their debut EP, Sting Sting Sting is equal parts catchy, discordant and annoying ... in all the right ways.
   

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.
   

Die Monitr Batss
Youth Controllerz


It's
not really important that this is Nathan from the Gossip's other band.
What matters is the fact that they totally destroy the foundation of
what "rock music" is about, and no one is complaining.
   

Death From Above
Heads Up


Bass and drums power duo combining the Stooges with Talking Book-era Stevie Wonder. No one has done this much without a guitar in a very long time. Incredible.
   

The Locust
Plague Soundscapes


Yes,
the hype is over but these guys finally released a proper document of
what they are all about and I'm pretty sure it had to do with the hefty
check Anti gave up that enabled them to get an absolutely incredible
recording.
   

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.
   

Wolf Eyes
Dead Hills


With a band that has over one hundred releases, it's hard for things to really stand out. Dead Hills is their shining moment. It's impossible not to hate everyone and thing around you when this is playing.
   

Glass Candy
Love Love Love


This
was the result of that David Bowie/Blondie affair we never heard about.
This is their kid. Plus, any band that covers the Screamers gets
immediately recognition for knowing what's up.
   

JR Ewing
Ride Paranoia


These
guys have come a long way over the years but this truly captures
exactly what I love about this band: energy. Hardcore for the post
punks.
   

Chromatics
Chrome Rats V.S. Basement Ruts


My
pick for album of the year. Taking what they were doing in Soiled Doves
and injecting a healthy dose of nihilism and despair.
 

Matt Ozga

Staff Writer (Top 7, no order)
   

Being a rock critic kind
of sucked in 2003. Probably. I really wouldn't know, I'm not one. But I
do know that being a pop music fan kind of sucked in 2003. Grossly out
of step with what most regarded as the best records of the year White
Stripes, 50 Cent, Strokes, to which I say whatever, whatever, whatever,
respectively I never really found anything to love in 2K3. I waited
and waited, and now it's December. Shit.
Not that my field of reference is nearly as broad as, say,
any working rock critic in the USA. Of the approximately 32 bajillion
new albums released in the last twelve months, I got to hear exactly
eighteen. I have a stack of six albums beside me (which is to say,
thirty-three percent of all the records I heard this year), all of
which claim 2003 as the year of their birth, and I haven't listened to
any of 'em. Would that I had more time, strength, cash, and patience.
Come to think of it, just the cash part would suffice.
Anyway, I still had old albums to catch up on (my
discoveries of the year: jazz, and the miniscule yet intensely
revelatory back catalogue of Mission of Burma), all of which sorely
limited my new-music intake. I guess I listened to the radio during the
summer, too. But right now, off the top of my head, I can only recall
really loving two songs first apprehended in that particular medium: R.
Kelly's "Ignition" and Justin Timberlake's "Senorita," both of which
whoop ass on any song found in the albums below (except "Season of the
Shark," and maaaaybe Andre 3000's "Spread"). I guess most people
download new music too, but frankly I can't be bothered.
So anyway, herewith are the albums that most turned
me on in this, the year of the sheep (I think): a top whatever number
it turns out to be list of the records I made the most time for. Only
Number One would score higher than 4.0 on the Prefix scale, and just barely at that. Enjoy.

   

Lyrics Born
Later That Day


Maybe
this disc's concept-album concept -- a day in the life of a vividly
descriptive rapper, from rude awakening to "Nightro" -- won't exactly
make you throw your hands up in the air like you just don't care. No
matter; in hip-hop, it's all about the persona anyway, and LB has
crafted a doozy for himself: you'll want to hear -- and you'll care
about -- his opinions on telemarketers, the war, the implications of
snoozing all afternoon, even the state of hip-hop. And I personally
guarantee that the churning funk and endlessly interesting wordplay
found within will have you nodding your head, grinning, moving,
laughing, proclaiming yes I said yes I will yes.
   

Outkast
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below


They've been building toward this for a while. Aquemini was where they started getting weird enough for white people to notice; Stankonia
defied the logic of all sexxx laws; and the childishly clever "The
Whole World" defied all logic period on its way to becoming the most
absorbing hip-hop single since who can even remember back that far. But
this new one, this new one brings the beats and the jazz and the funk and
the rhythm. Big Boi's the love-hatin' nigga trying to act all hard and
shit; Dre3K's the full grown man who's not afraid to cry. Some days the
hour-long Speakerboxxx feels like the better album; other days
it's Andre's eighty-minute effort that slakes my love jones. Hey, let
MTV News fret about whether or not they're breaking up. All good things
must come to an end, and it's not like they haven't enjoyed a fine run.
I'm just being honest.Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks
   

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks
Pig Lib


"Us,"
the heartbreaking work of staggering genius that caps the second album
by SM & the J's, is certainly the most boldly groovy thing Malkmus
has ever choogled, and is among the frankest lyrically. It's
refreshing, it feels new. But dig also the scene-defying koan "Animal
Midnight," which contains the line "Is it piss? Is it Skyy? Is it why
we try?" It's possible I'm mishearing that last part, and probable I'm
misinterpreting the first and second maybe they're not allusions to
cheap beer and too-rich-for-my-blood vodka, respectively. But with
Malkmus, misinterpretation has always made for some high priority fun
and games.
   

Radiohead
Hail to the Thief


Bookended by two of their best songs ever, Hail to the Thief is easily Radiohead's most listenable and what's the word? fun
album to date. But do you think maybe they're taking this ridiculous
Greatest Band in the World title a bit too seriously? When I saw them
in August they couldn't play "Myxomatosis" because their computers kept
crashing -- are they getting too ambitious for their own good? And is
Thom Yorke smart enough to recognize his band's perceived momentousness
and exploit that in future records? Yep, yep, and double yep, which
makes this up-and-coming group of youngsters a band to watch in the
future!
   

Yo La Tengo
Summer Sun


It takes a long time before Summer Sun's
weird moonrock soaks into your psyche. But give it three or four
dedicated spins before you dismiss it as overly morose, as some have.
And remember that Georgia and Ira are twice as old as you and me. In
other words, listen up to the words, dummies. Pay special
notice, however, to the words they didn't write: album closer "Take
Care," a gem from Alex Chilton's blue period maybe their most
inspired cover tune in a career full of 'em.
   

Pretty Girls Make Graves
The 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?
   

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."
 

Rebecca Willa Davis

Staff Writer (Top 10 of 2003, with a new discovery)
   

Top Discovery of 2003:

Faux
Jean. Adding a sinister twist to B-52's blowout style, Faux Jean adds
an inescapable momentum to each of their songs while hopping around
from genre to genre, whether it be straight-up, psychedelic, or art
pop. Dead Lover, released in 2003, is good; Nature is better.

  10

The 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.
  9

The New Pornographers
Electric Version


Taking all that was good about Mass Romantic and improving upon it, these Canadians know how to make both good music and good time music.
  8

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Fever to Tell


Approaching
this album with low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by its
high enjoyment. Though not replicating the energy of a live show, the
band manages to pull it off with few hitches, and even reveals a softer
side in the process.
  7

Franz Ferdinand
Darts of Pleasure EP


Hailing
from Glasgow, the band promptly became my "told-you-so" band with the
release of their EP, which backs up all early hype they had received.
Buy it before everyone else does.
  6

British Sea Power
Decline of British Sea Power


Flipping
between glacial beauty and spasmodic chaos, British Sea Power has one
well rounded debut album, which only hints at the intensity of their
live shows.
  5

The Fever
Pink on Pink


You
must understand that rarely to I buy EPs. I'm that cheap. So when I say
this is the best five dollars I've ever spent, I mean it. The perfect
mix of gutter and glam.
  4

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
Hearts of Oak


Ted Leo just never seems to get it wrong. Even my mom likes him (and that's a good thing).
  3

Brendan Benson
One Mississippi


If
you missed out on this album the first time around, shame on Benson's
label. If you miss out on this album the second time, with its
re-release, shame on you. Benson does pop-rock like no one else.
  2

The Fiery Furnaces
Gallowsbird's Bark


You
might hate this album the first time you listen to it. You might still
hate it the second time. But, I promise, during the all-important third
listen, it'll start making sense. And the sense it makes is quite
wonderful.
  1

The Strokes
Room on Fire


Threats
of social embarrassment or scalping will not stop me from enjoying this
album and enjoying the Strokes' music. Just try to dislike "Under
Control" or "Automatic Stop." I dare you.
 
 Patrick Coffee

Staff Writer (Top 10 Discoveries of the year, not necessarily 2003 releases)
   
Prefuse 73
One Word Extinguisher


   
The Books
The Lemon of Pink

   
Dave Douglas
Freak In


   
Manitoba
Up in Flames


   
Animal Collective
Here Comes the Indian


   
Matthew Herbert Big Band
Goodbye Swingtime


   
DJ Muttamassik
Bidoun


   
Out Hud
S.T.R.E.E.T.D.A.D.


   
Four Tet
Rounds


   
Aesop Rock
Bazooka Tooth




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