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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:


15. The Soft Pink Truth
Do You Party?
(Soundslike)


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.


14. Califone
Quicksand/Cradlesnakes

(Thrill Jockey)


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 organic throughout.



13. Giddy Motors
Make It Pop
(Fat Cat)


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.




12. Handsome Family
Singing Bones
(Carrot Top)

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.



10. The Books
The Lemon of Pink
(Tomlab)

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.




9. The Essex Green

The Long Goodbye
(Merge)

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. .



8. Belle & Sebastian
Dear Catastrophe Waitress
(Rough)


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 Feeling Sinister.


7. The Kills

Keep on Your Mean Side
(Sanctuary)


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 losers.



6. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists
Hearts of Oak
(Lookout)


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 are dorky.



5. Lightning Bolt

Wonderful Rainbow
(Load)

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
Elephant
(V2)

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
(XL)

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.

2. TV on the Radio
Young Liars
(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.



1. My Morning Jacket
It Still Moves
(ATO Records)


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.





Honorable Mention:


Out Hud
S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D.
(Kranky)


The Shins
Chutes Too Narrow
(Sub Pop)

Broken Social Scene
You Forgot it in People
(Arts & Crafts/Paper Bag)


Pram
Dark Island
(Merge)

Sufjan Stevens

Michigan
(Asthmatic Kitty)


Scene Creamers
I Suck on That Emotion
(Drag City)

Lucinda Williams

World Without Tears
(Lost Highway)

Cafe Tacuba
Cuatro Caminos
(MCA)





Single of the Year:


"In Da Club"
50 Cent

"Danger, High Voltage"
Electric Six

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:


Junior Senior
D-D-Don't Don't Stop the Beat
(Atlantic)


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 Else's
Lists (But Shouldn't Be):



Outkast

Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
(Arista)

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.



The Rapture
Echoes
(DFA)
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 hype?



Broadcast

HaHa Sound
(Warp)
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.



Radiohead
Hail to the Thief
(Capitol)

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:




The Darkness
Permission to Land
(Atlantic)

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 2003



Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Fever to Tell
(Interscope)

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.




Strangest Phenomenon



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 We've Heard
Due for Release in 2004



Dub Narcotic Sound System

Degenerate Introduction
(K Records)

Jon Spencer meets The Make-up meets King Tubby. Calvin Johnson, you are a genius.





The Best Music of 2003, year end list, favorite


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