Well, folks, here it is. It’s what you’ve all been waiting for. Here’s my annual list of favourite albums that were released this year. Once again, you won’t find any shlock that’s sandwiched between commercials on “new rock” radio stations and music video channels. This is pretentiousness at its finest 😉 2003 was a surprisingly decent year for music, so I’ve left off some good albums due to sheer volume. If you’re a serious music fan, you’ll seek them out. Let’s get on with the list (in alphabetical order).
1. A Perfect Circle – The Thirteenth Step
Is it a coincidence that this album is entitled The Thirteenth Step and I have thirteen albums in my list this year? Yes, because that is what a coincidence is defined as. This album rawks even though distortion is kept at a minimum and the amps never go all the way up to 11. This is what The Cure would sound like if they were headbangers. Jeordie White’s (the dude formerly known as Twiggy Ramirez when he was in Marylin Manson‘s band) bass riff in “Vanishing” has to be one of my highlights. I can’t wait to hear the next album when James Iha is around for the recording of it.
2. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Take Them On, On Your Own
Sure BMRC ape The Jesus and Mary Chain a little bit, but they do it well and I’m a huge JAMC fan. This album has more kick than their first album, which is a good thing.
3. Death Cab For Cutie – Transatlanticism
If Lou Barlow were to have a child and it matured at an alarming rate, there’s a good chance he would become Ben Gibbard. No, DCFC don’t sound like Sebadoh or the Folk Implosion. They sound like DCFC, duh. Dena might actually approve of this band since they were name dropped by one of the stars on a fave TV show of hers, The O.C..
4. Frank Black and the Catholics – Show Me Your Tears
Frank got divorced and it’s all over this terribly depressing album. There’s no Pixies flourishes or sci-fi references to be found on it. Instead, we have a cathartic release from one of rock’s foremost icons and he pulls it off with style and dignity. He even manages to rock a bit, too.
5. Mogwai – Happy Songs For Happy People
Mogwai rawk, lull, spook, hypnotize and rawk some more. I love these buggers. “Hunted By A Freak”, “I Know You Are But What Am I?”, “Stop Coming To My House”…aw bloody hell, all of the songs are great.
6. New Pornographers – Electric Version
The Vancouver super-group’s second album is as good as guitar pop gets. Most ciritcs think this album is better than their first. I disagree but the Electric Version is still a wicked album.
7. The Postal Service – Give Up
Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard shows up twice in my list this year. This time, it’s for his electronic side-project with some guy called Jimmy Tamborello from a band called Dntel that I’ve never heard of before. It’s Ben’s lyrics on top of electronic music. Now I’m not the world’s biggest electronic music fan, but this is good stuff. Anyone that can sample the Super Mario Bros’ theme and make it sound good is ok in my books.
8. Pretty Girls Make Graves – The New Romance
They’re sorta sounding like AYWKUBTTOD and then they’re sorta not. It’s stuttery at times, laced with interweaving guitars, screaming female vocals and the odd Sonic Youth-like blast of noise here and there. They’re first album was a little “punkier” and had appeal right out of the box, but The New Romance is still an awesome album. It took a few repeated listens to sink in for me, but wow, is it great.
9. Radiohead – Hail To The Thief
Let’s face it, if Radiohead released a CD of fingernails scratching a chalkboard, it probably would be hailed as a masterpiece. As the world’s best band, IMO, they can do no wrong in the eyes of many. This album is comforting in that although it contains some of the electronic flourishes of Kid A and Amnesiac, there’s more of the familiar guitar rock that they were once known for. That and the kewl alternating left-right stereo effect at the beginning of “Backdrifts” is a nice touch (headphone stoners take note).
10. Sloan – Action Pact
I’ve been a Sloan fan since Smeared (I missed out on the Peppermind EP the first time around) and in each of their phases (shoegazers, indie rockers, 60’s rivivalists, etc), they’ve always sounded great. This time, they appear to be celebrating rock for rock itself. This album is massive guitar onslaught with a steady dose of hooks, ya’ll!
11. Stephen Malkmus – Pig Lib
I wasn’t a huge fan of his first solo album and prefered PSOI’s All This Sounds Gas instead. SM’s sounded like a bunch of Pavement toss-aways from the Wowee Zowee sessions gone awry, except for “Jo Jo’s Jacket” and “Jenny And The Ess-Dog”. But this album sounds more like the SM I remember. It’s funny but never seems like it’s trying to be funny and it rocks when it’s required to. This album will remind you of how great of a band Pavement really was while charting a good future direction for SM.
12. The Strokes – Room On Fire
Critics lauded the Strokes‘ first album, Is This It, as a masterpiece. Personally, I thought it was pretty good, but not all it was cracked up to be. You might say that I was pondering “is this it?”. Heh But this time around, the Strokes hit the nail on the head. The album’s ending trilogy of songs is an awesome way to conclude Room On Fire.
13. The White Stripes – Elephant
Let’s face it, Michigan hasn’t produced any good music in a long time. It’s been some time since Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper and the MC5 burst onto the scene. Eminem, Andrew W.K. and Kid Rock aren’t good music folks, sorry. At least they can claim one of the world’s best bands as their own. If you don’t _get_ the White Stripes, that’s a shame for you. And why “Black Math” hasn’t been released a single is beyond me.
Here are a few albums that didn’t make the list for whatever reason, but could have.
Grandaddy – Sumday
This album is a rarity for Grandaddy in that it’s quite upbeat. They do upbeat well. It’s not the most exciting album, though, but “Stray Dog and the Chocolate Shake” has to be one of the catchiest songs…ever.
Folk Implosion – The New Folk Implosion
This is a great album but only 9 songs?!? C’mon Lou, give us some more.
The Music – The Music
I haven’t listened to the entire album but from what I have managed to hear, it’s definitely good. The songs don’t contain insights into the secrets of the universe, so the lyrics are mostly a secondary thing. But the sounds are what count and they definitely have a great groove at a very young age.
Sam Roberts – We Were Born In A Flame
Here’s another album that I haven’t heard in its entirety, but he’s released 4 singles and I’ve liked them all. Who would’ve thought that the one to take over for the Beatles’ sensibility would be some guy from Montreal in need of a shave and a haircut.
Outkast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Hip-hop bores me these days. It didn’t always, though. In my younger days, Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Cypress Hill, NWA and Ice-T were going boldly where nobody else had gone before. The last hip-hop album that I actually listened to daily was A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory and that was a wicked album that was released back in 1991. After that, it became all about the bling-bling. Boring. Enter Outkast, who remind me of A Tribe Called Quest. Not in sound per se; mostly about style and muscial intelligence. Here’s another album (actually two solo albums combined into one) that I haven’t heard in its entirety. But what I have heard, has been a breath of fresh air in an otherwise boring (to me) hip-hop world.
Yo La Tengo – Today Is The Day EP
EPs aren’t albums and won’t make it on to my list. But the version of “Today Is The Day” on this EP crushes the wimpy version found on Summer Sun. It’s refreshing to hear distortion and feedback from YLT after they’ve released two very light and breezy jazz-ish albums in a row.
The Flaming Lips – Fight Test EP
Another EP that has no chance of making my list but I gotta mention the Flaming Lips every year Sure, the Ego Tripping At The Gates Of Hell EP was just released but Fight Test EP contains three special gems; the creepy cover of Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”, the rip-roaring cover of Radiohead’s “Knives Out” and the awesomely hilarious “Thank You Jack White (For The Fiber-Optic Jesus That You Gave Me)”.
Lost In Translation Soundtrack
This has a few new songs from Kevin Shields. Since there may never be a follow up to My Bloody Valentine’s perfect Loveless, I guess we have to take what we can get. But I haven’t heard any of the new songs yet (except for one and it was almost over but it sounded kewl)!
Here are two albums that I wanted to make my list but they just couldn’t.
Guided By Voices – Earthquake Glue
Bob, what happened? I’m all for the rock, but GbV is not Yes.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever To Tell
Their first EP was great. But this over-hyped album, though, seems like nothing but filler except for one amazing song; “Maps”.
What albums will 2004 bring us? If 2004 knows what’s good for it, they’ll be good ones