Art is how we decorate space, Music is how we decorate time

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Top Albums 2003

The whole 2003 list

01 The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow

Built on the foundations of 2001’s great Oh, Inverted World, Chutes Too Narrow is a smash-hit 2nd album.  No big production tricks, no tracks to skip, not a down moment beginning to end.  Just excellently written and presented rock with a brilliant, groovy pop-sheen.

02 The Dirtbombs – Dangerous Magical Noise

RIGHTEOUS!! The Dirtbombs are the Detroit rock sound (via The Gories : best band ever??).  Everyone else are mere pretenders (and know it).  The party starts with the first note, and refuses to slow down, much less stop, until the album has sweated you through 3 T-shirts. This is a boiling rock-n-roll fever that will kick your ass as you beg for more.

03 The Black Keys – Thickfreakness

A two-piece (drums & guitar) from Ohio, The Black Keys churn out blues-rock.  Not some modern-rock wanker version either, but the raw, growling, sawdust-cigarettes-and-whiskey kind.  Supposedly recorded start-to-finish in one day, don’t look for frills, just 2 dudes getting it all out.

04 New Pornographers – Electric Version

Sugary-sweet, with every hook in the book, this is POP music at it’s finest.  Intricate, smart and polished, it’s a delight to hear boppy, upbeat rock that doesn’t end up mocking itself.  And Neko Case.  Oh, Neko.  Can’t get enough Neko…

05 Kings of Leon – Youth and Young Manhood

Three sons of a preacher (and a cousin) give off a blast of Southern-rock yumminess.  The AMG review hits all the right phrases, so I’ll just straight crib it!: “hymnal of rock & roll redemption”, “country-rock hootenanny”, “honky tonk rowdiness”, “coarse-grained drawl”, “greasy licks”.

06 Calexico – Feast of Wire

Slide guitars, trumpets, accordions, strings, vibes, complex percussion rhythms…  It’s extremely hard to describe the multi-instrumental Calexico sound, but with Feast of Wire, they’ve tuned it into a spectacular sonic whole.  A soundtrack for the Southwest desert.

07 The Kills – Keep on Your Mean Side

A boy (Hotel) and a girl (VV) play punk-blues.  Sounds familiar, tired even.  But it ain’t.  The Kills are a big, passionate, sexy blast of everything you’ve been told to be wary of.  If you get a chance, absolutely go see them live, and hurry, before they burn themselves up.

08 The Decemberists – Her Majesty

Big, romantic, quirky, literate stories over folksy, lo-fi, melodic rock.  Her Majesty is not a casually assembled rock album, rather it’s a brilliantly dramatic piece of art, firmly in the spirit of Neutral Milk Hotel.

09 U.N.K.L.E. – Never Never Land

Very different than 1998’s (also brilliant) Psyence Fiction, but no less compelling.  Best absorbed in whole, the album traces all around different musical styles (rock, metal, downbeat, folk) while keeping to it’s trip-hop based foundations.  An awesome example of artistic exploration.

10 The White Stripes – Elephant

Everyone knows about this record.  Which doesn’t make it any less good.  Just when it starts to feel like you know where it’s going, it turns on it’s head.  The tunes are all firmly embedded in a folk-blues simplicity, but expand in all directions to encompass just about every type of music.  (Also, don’t miss the Jack White tracks on the Cold Mountain soundtrack…)

Other notables:

11 Spiritualized – Amazing Grace

Bumped from the top 10 very late. Amazing Grace finds J. Pierce toning down the grandeur and returning to something closer to the Spaceman 3 sound.  Just a great rock-n-roll record with great stand-alone tunes.

14 The Mars Volta – De-loused in the Comatorium

I absolutely did not get this record the first 4-5 times I listened to it.  Now I do (I think), and I’m loving it.  A huge, grand, creepy prog/art/punk/rock album; it’s easily the concept-album of the year.  Good luck.

15 Steve Burns – Songs for Dustmites

The host of the childrens show Blue’s Clues hooks up with some of the Flaming Lips’ posse and makes a fantastic pop album!!

16 +/- (plus/minus) – You Are Here

Moody and atmospheric, a great headphones record, with enough groove to listen again and again.

18 Basement Jaxx – Kish Kash

Great guest vocalists higlight this fun, funky dance album.  Head and shoulders better than any previous Basement Jaxx releases.  A bit of dead-on Prince, too.

20 Exploding Hearts – Guitar Romantic

Power-pop in the raw.  No frills, just straight-ahead and go.  Sadly, 3 (of 4) band members died in a van accident while on tour this year (leaving SF, no less…).

24 The Tyde – Twice

Great psychedelic summer-pop.  Varied enough to hold interest, but focused enough to be coherent.

Al Green – I Can’t Stop

The good Rev. Green can still bring it!  Classy, professional R&B, with that groovy 70’s sound.

Clem Snide – Soft Spot

Very emotional with a tinge of alt-country, this is a masterfully presented album.  Best served with a stiff drink.

Joss Stone – Soul Sessions

She’s a 16 year-old white girl from Britain, but she has one of the truest soul voices out there.  10 well chosen covers, with an all-time-classic band.

The Thorns – The Thorns

Crosby-Stills-Nash as done by Matthew Sweet, Pete Droge, and Shawn Mullins.  3-part harmonies to die for.

The Thrills – So Much For The City

Five boys from Ireland make the most ‘California’ record of the year.  Very radio-ready, it holds up nonetheless.


Too late for the list, but definite contenders

Bill Frisell- The Intercontinentals

Fascinating rhythms and percussion sequences.  Each song stands out on it’s own, but together weave into a remarkably enjoyable and relaxation-inducing album.  The Intercontinentals has Bill Frisell racing back to his Nashville levels of virtuosity.

Lost in Translation OST

The incomparable Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine) drops 5 tracks onto a lofty, ethereal soundtrack.  The rest of the songs fit the sound-concept well, but Shields’ genius makes this a don’t-miss album.

The Radio Dept. – Lesser Matters

Nice Swedish pop band.  Lo-fi, c86-ish, but still sounds current.  Great turntable fixture for your local rainy season.

Cracker – Countrysides

Eight drunk wise-ass country covers with a big flying bird flown toward an old record label at the end. Drink a lot + listen to Countrysides = have a damn fun time.

The Hurricane Lamps – Sing Me A Song

Great good-time guitar power-pop. Nothing terribly new or groundbreaking, but very well done and fun as hell to listen to.

The Long Winters – When I Pretend to Fall

Awesomely fun psychedelic, quirky, pop album. Consistently excellent songs start to finish. Horns, harmonies, wit, sunshine and not a minute of let-down. Easily top 10 material!

Ulrich Schnauss – A Strangely Isolated Place

Great atmospheric shoegaze-esque release. Beautifully spacey, without being cold and heartless.

Califone – Deceleration Two

Musical cinema at it’s finest. The final half of the disc, music to accompany the movie “Salome”, is just unbelievably excellent.

M83 – DeadCities,RedSeas&LostGhosts

Awesome ‘synthgaze’ album. The drone and hum of classic MBV, with modern club atmosphere vibes.

Juana Molina – Segundo

Incredibly textured folk-electronic-Latin album. Transport your mind into a relaxed state you previously only dreamt of.

Luminous Orange – Drop You Vivid Colours

From Japan, a great MBV-esque shoegazer with some awesome pop overtones.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Take Them On, On Your Own

Fantastic rock-n-roll album, driving guitar lines and pounding drums. Somewhat reminiscent of VU, with some Detroit attitude.