When all is said and done, 2003 was a solid
year for music. In fact, we had a difficult time narrowing
our favorites list down to fifteen entries. The following
are what we consider to be the essential records of 2003.
As usual, our list is based upon what we liked and enjoyed
this year as opposed to what music snobs tell us we should
like. Our yearly music wrap-up always seems to generate
a lot of mail, so please feel free to send your responses
and opinions here.
And now, the envelope please......
The Best Records of 2003:
The Soft Pink Truth
Do You Party?
Rumor is that in 2001 Matthew Herbert dared Matmos' Drew
Daniel to make a House record. The result ? A wired slab
of angular dance floor programming titled "Soft Pink Missy"
that successfully unified a deep house groove with Daniel's
talented experimental creativity. A couple years later and
Daniel is at it again, dropping this full-length LP, one
sure to have skinny white robots fashioning invisible orbs
and boxes with their hands on dance floors everywhere. And
with good reason, because Daniel's unquestionable programming
mastery represents the perfect response to 2002's surplus
of mediocre dance music -- it is intelligent yet lacks pomposity;
exudes a likeable, sincere sarcasm, and easily provides
ears with eleven tracks worth of superior technical acuity.
If you thought a successful marriage of IDM, House and R&B
was impossible, think again because Do You Party? is the
most compelling evidence yet that robots may have souls.
Born from the ashes of Red Red Meat, Califone sire a type
of boozy Americana that is equal parts delta blues and ramshackle
country, with the requisite amount of sonic discord to keep
you guessing. On Quicksand/Cradlesnakes, the band's
fourth full-length, captivating melodies devolve into inventive
dissonance, and at the point of no return, arise from the
expanse to resume their beautiful course - songs dangerously
close to coming undone, held together by creative junkyard
percussion and Tim Rutili's steady, gravel-throated tenor.
Here, backwater arrangements mingle with strains of electronica
and droning tape loops; two eras collide - the Great Depression
meets the Information Age - in a way that remains surprisingly
Make It Pop
A noisy as hell debut that delighted fans of Gang of
Four and inventive post punk. Produced by Steve Albini,
Giddy Motors' Make it Pop is the strongest British
release since Original Pirate Material. Giddy Motors
sound like The Liars meet Captain Beefheart. An easy choice
as one of the year's best.
Their recent relocation to Albuquerque from Chicago has
apparently inspired The Handsome Family. On Singing Bones,
they have finally perfected their acoustic retro folk/country
sound. The songwriting on the disk is flawless and the band's
vocals and harmonies are crisp and effortless. Theremins,
violins, and even saws add texture to the lonesome tone
of the music, but in the end the record is simply too lovely
to be classified as dreary. A welcome addition to an impressive
canon of work. This is their best record to date.
11. Deadly Snakes
Ode to Joy
(In the Red)
The Deadly Snakes' blend of rootsy
rock, R&B, gospel, and soul has long gone under the radar
with great releases such as Love Undone and I'm
Not Your Soldier Anymore remaining virtually unnoticed
by fans of indie music. Still not exactly a household name,
The Deadly Snakes finally received some acclaim in 2003
with the release of their wonderful Ode to Joy. One
part Exile on Main Street one part Blonde on Blonde,
Ode to Joy is one of the best releases of the year.
If you are new to the band, be sure to give their other
releases a spin as well. You won't be disappointed.
The Lemon of Pink
Combining acoustic instrumentation (banjo, guitar,
violin) with subtle electronics is The Books specialty and
with The Lemon of Pink, the band has beautifully
(and organically) fused the two. Vocals by Anne Doerner
have been added to the mix this time adding the perfect
bluesy touch. Our favorite late night listen of the year
and one of the year's most inventive releases.
The Essex Green
The Long Goodbye
Post-punk, electroclash, neo-garage, anti-folk, no
wave - in these complicated times the nondescript descriptors
abound. Nearly gone are the days when categorizing music
didn't require a glossary. Lucky for us bands do still exist
that fit snugly within genre lines. The Essex Green, for
one, play pop music (indie-pop if you must), and they play
it extraordinarily well. Brooklynites by way of the Burlington,
Vermont, the Seekers-esque trio is filled out by Sasha Bell
and Jeff Baron, also of the Ladybug Transistor, and founding
member Christopher Ziter. Drenched in bewitching melodies
and rich harmonies their second full-length, The Long Goodbye,
recreates the sounds of the '60s with songs more authentic
than atavistic. The highlights are many: Bell's affable
flute passages and blithe vocals, Baron's eloquent guitar
lines, and the anthemic rocker "The Late Great Cassiopia"
to name a few. The Long Goodbye's tuneful, feelgood refrains
are instantly memorable after the first play, unforgettable
after the second. Alas, at 38 minutes in length, this Long
Goodbye, as any other, is far too brief. .
Belle & Sebastian
Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Belle and Sebastian became the poster children of wimp rock
(aka fag rock) with the release of their masterpiece If
You're Feeling Sinister. There have always been naysayers
when it comes to this band who criticize them as being too
folky, too derivative, or too boring to be taken seriously,
but their legion of loyal fans has propelled them onward,
making them one of the most important indie bands to emerge
from the past decade. Nevertheless, following the spottiness
of their last two releases, many had begun to assume that
their strongest work was behind them. A surprise to fans
and critics alike, Dear Catastrophe Waitress finds
Belle and Sebastian in top form. With a sound that owes
more inspiration to late Sixties bubblegum (The Lovin' Spoonful,
Turtles) than it does classic folk, Dear Catastrophe
Waitress is the band's best record since If You're
Keep on Your Mean Side
Itís rough times for bluesy guy-girl garage duos. I
mean, with Jack and Meg hogging the spotlight, is there
room for another ass kicking revivalist duo? Evidently so,
because The Kills rock. If PJ Harvey and Keith Richards
cut a record in their respective primes, it might sound
a bit like Keep on Your Mean Side. People (for some
unknown reason) rag on these guys, but they are fucking
Ted Leo & the Pharmacists
Hearts of Oak
Hearts of Oak is straight ahead indie pop that takes
its cue from the early Eighties pop of Elvis Costello and
The Replacements. Following the unbelievable The Tyranny
of Distance, the band once again outdoes itself. This
is a great record, even if the soccer shirts on the cover
Hold on to your earplugs, Lightning Bolt,
the dynamic bass and drums duo from Providence, RI, are
back with another feedback-laden full-length. "Wonderful
Rainbow," a cornucopia of distorted bass, galloping rhythms,
and shrill screeches, will surely satisfy those who have
waited in anticipation for the follow-up to the duo's sensational
sophomore effort, "Ride the Skies". Wonderful Rainbow is
one hit after the other and contains very few noise-for-noise-sake
interludes. Prepare to plow through th'Bolt's best record
yet and one of the year's best.
4. The White Stripes
We still prefer De Stijl, but Elephant
sounds better and better each time we give it a spin. Meg
and Jack sure look cute in their press shots too. Who knew
celebrityhood would suit them so well? An impressive follow-though
to White Blood Cells. Plus,
it's about time the indie world had a couple of new bigtime
rock stars. We've gotten sick of Thom Yorke.
3. Dizzee Rascal
Boy in da Corner
We want more British garage to be released in America. The
Streets and Dizzee Rascal have both kicked ass. Who else
are the British hoarding away for themselves in this exciting
new genre? Is this payback for the Bush administration's
apparent brainwashing of Tony Blair? Boy in Da Corner
is less accessible and melodic than The Streets' Original
Pirate Material, but it's nevertheless a great and wildly
creative record that's at once sophisticated and playful.
The only thing lacking innovation about Dizzee is the fact
that he got shot over the summer. We're keeping our fingers
crossed that he won't start driving a Lexus and singing
about bling. Boy in da Corner is a must own for anyone
who longs for creative beats and rhymes.
TV on the Radio
(Touch & Go)
Released in July by Touch and Go and featuring Dave Sitek
(engineer for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) at the controls, "Young
Liars" fucking rules. A completely original blend of pre-cheese
Genesis, Maxinquaye-era Tricky, and traditional gospel music,
TV on the Radio's debut has me longing for more. Best of
all, "Young Liars" concludes with a bonus track; an a capella
version of The Pixies' "Mr. Grieves." We were hesitant to
include an EP on our list, but Young Liars is more
satisfying and enjoyable than most full lengths.
My Morning Jacket
It Still Moves
Ah... My Morning Jacket, we love you. Lead vocalist Jim
James (who sounds like a cross between Wayne Coyne of the
Flaming Lips and Neil Young) has one of the best voices
in rock and is the perfect frontman for this melancholy
and ethereal band. Coated with an extra layer of reverb
and featuring hooks that will revisit you in moments of
silence, It Still Moves is eighty minutes of bliss
that gets better with each listen. By blending the the psychedelia
and drone of Galaxy 500 with Sixties-bred Americana of bands
like The Band and Grateful Dead (no MMJ aren't a hippie
band and even if they were we'd still love them) the band
has created a sound that is completely unique. Despite it's
tight production, It Still Moves has the vitality
of a live recording, aurally transporting its listeners
to a smokey club witnessing a band performing at their best.
Our favorite of 2003.
Chutes Too Narrow
Broken Social Scene
You Forgot it in People
(Arts & Crafts/Paper Bag)
I Suck on That Emotion
World Without Tears
Single of the Year:
"In Da Club"
"Danger, High Voltage"
This category is a tie. Despite a bad case of overexposure,
"In da Club," is the catchiest hip hop tune since
"Hard Knock Life." But with its infectious chorus
and a surprise vocal by Jack White, The Electric Six' "Danger,
High Voltage" more than holds its own. Both respective
full lengths are gratuitous. The singles are unfortunately
all you need.
2003's Guilty Pleasure:
D-D-Don't Don't Stop the Beat
D-D-Don't Stop the Beat is a guilty pleasure from
start to finish. It is pure, unbridled ass shaking fluff.
Joyously so. "Serious" music fans often forget
that music can sometimes just be stupid and fun. Blending
pop, rock, Motown, new wave, and hip hop influences with
dance beat, Junior Senior's sound is infectious. Last year
we had the oversexed, lo-fi beats of Peaches. This year
we had the the spastic, frenetic, we-defy-you-not-to-dance
goofiness of Junior Senior.
Albums That Will Be on Everyone
Lists (But Shouldn't Be):
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Granted, Andre and Big Boi have added some great tracks
to the Outkast canon here ("Hey Ya" is among the
best songs they've ever written) but this double record
has WAY too much filler to be very enjoyable.
A mediocre record that everyone will buy (or download),
but in the long run, who will listen to it come June. To
be fair, how could they top the single or meet up to the
For some reason, the critics finally caught up with Broadcast
when they began sucking. Don't believe what you've heard,
this record is as dull as it gets.
Hail to the Thief
When it comes time for the Grammys, Bob Dylan, Elton John,
U2, and Sting always get nominated, whether or not they
deserve it. You know where we are going with this.
Most Likely to be
in the Used Bin by March:
Permission to Land
Sorry Andrew WK. Sorry members of The Darkness. The Fucking
Champs are the only ironic metal band we need. Even if you
aren't being ironic, we still prefer the Champs. Enjoy your
fame while it lasts and sell a few songs to Coors like Andrew
WK did. Nobody will be listening a few months from now.
Biggest Dud of
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Fever to Tell
There are plenty of worse records out there from 2003 (The
Sea and Cake's latest snorefest comes to mind) but Fever
to Tell had so much promise, we couldn't help but be
disappointed. Despite the amazing guitar work of Nick Zinner,
the record simply has no energy.
People who generally have good taste claiming that the new
Jay-Z record is cool. Don't be tricked, he still sucks ass.
Most Exciting Record
Due for Release in 2004
Dub Narcotic Sound System
Jon Spencer meets The Make-up meets King Tubby. Calvin Johnson,
you are a genius.
The Best Music of 2003, year end