Staff Picks

     

    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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