Friday, January 02, 2004

Favorite Music of 2003

It was a great year. I heard so much wonderful music that I have to pick 20 (and I'm not done buying).

1. Belle & Sebastian, Dear Catastrophe Waitress: This album took longer for me to warm up to than any other B&S album, but in the end I came to love more songs off of it than any other single B&S album. New directions, new successes.

2. Radiohead, Hail to the Thief: My first slight disappointment from Radiohead after two incredible albums, but this still towers over most albums in my collection. I won't be parted with it. Ever.

3. Cat Power, You are Free: I recently compared this to her last LP of original material, Moon Pix, and I can't believe how much more focussed and powerful the songwriting is. Her new approach is almost primitivist (think children's/outsider art), and a couple songs grate (the catalog of misery otherwise known as "Names" is unbearable if you're in the wrong mood), but the approach is the best studio attempt yet to capture her raw talent and show off her voice. A beautiful vision of freedom in a year when the word was especially abused. (Crappy packaging, though.)

4. Britta Phillips & Dean Wareham, L'Avventura: After Luna's disappointing recent forays, Dean got back to doing what he does better than anyone: woozy, dreamy, romantic pop/rock. The best songs are his originals (Ginger Snaps, Knives From Bavaria, and Night Nurse--even if its orchestration rips off the beginning of Lee Hazlewood's "Your Sweet Love"), but some of the covers are also dazzling (Madonna, Buffy St. Marie). Another CD I'll keep forever.

5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell: All the signs pointed to backlash after the huge success of their debut EPs, but the YYY's first full album managed to keep 'em impressed, and for good reason.

6. Ted Leo, Heart of Oaks: It may not be the best CD of the year, but I got more excited by this than any other CD because (as with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs last year) it made me feel like I was being drawn into new territory, personally. I'd never thought I'd go for this kind of punk-inflected indierock, but the intelligence of his lyrics and the sincerity of his passion really drew me in.

7. Morvern Callar soundtrack (2002 copyright, released 2003): Probably the single disc that had the most impact on me this year, this soundtrack that comprised the film's cool mix tape (practically a character of its own, standing in as it does for a dead boyfriend's absence) opened my ears to artists I'd heard of but never properly heard before.

8. Junior Senior, d-d-don't don't stop the beat: The most fun dance-pop in ages. Bound for film soundtracks and wedding reception dance floors for years to come.

9. Hidden Cameras, The Smell of Our Own: An album of queer politics, sexuality and spirituality, it came just when I needed solace. The music, kind of Sommerville-does-folk, is a consistent delight. (And the profane-as-sacred approach to lyrics is oddly uplifting.)

10. Kill Bill V. 1 soundtrack: Tarantino's back! I didn't realize I missed him so much! He ought to be paid to do other director's soundtracks. Awesome, and bound up with the experience of the excellent movie. Bring on Volume 2!

11. New Pornographers, Electric Version: I don't understand how this can be so much fun.

12. Longwave, The Strangest Things: I bought it thinking they were Strokes-clones and that it would just tide me over, but I grew to adore this album on its own merits.

13. Strokes, Room on Fire: Higher highs and lower lows than the debut. Unbelievable guitar.

14. White Stripes, Elephant: I was disappointed at first, but the album's best tracks continue to grow on me as the year goes on. I'm going to have to buy this for myself!

15. Nada Surf, Let Go: Wallowing in self-pity, but achingly beautiful. If it weren't for some of the lyrics, which get in the way (I prefer lyrics to stay out of the way and not take the spotlight) I'd have it much higher.

16. Steve Malkmus and the Jicks, Pig Lib: Not what I expected or even wanted from him, but that's the point: a new (Classic-rock) direction for "Mr. Pavement," and after initially balking, I found myself happily going along for the ride.

17. Wrens, The Meadowland: Still getting to know the album: weakish front end, but it builds up tremendously in the second half.

18. The Raveonettes, Chain Gang of Love: After a summer vacation where I fell in love with oldies all over again, out came this CD that sounds like an update of the best of the best oldies. A few highlights make this sensational.

19. Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers: I reasoned that by playing the radio pop song game, Fountains of Wayne must end up with essentially disposable music. But it doesn't quite seem to work that way, from what I've heard of the album, which is clever and witty and unique. Do I dare compare it to Weezer's Blue album?

20. British Sea Power, The Decline of British Sea Power: Some outstanding songs, and I like the style overall. They have real potential beyond just opening for Interpol.

Honorable mentions:

  • Grandaddy, Sumday
  • Holly Golightly, Truly She Is None Other
  • Notwist, Neon Golden (copyright 2002, 2003 US)
  • Stereolab, Instant 0 in the Universe EP
  • Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man, out of season (2002 import, 2003 US)
  • Gillian Welch, Soul Journey
  • !!!, Me and Guliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story) EP
  • VA, Rough Trade 25: Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before
  • Monade, Socialisme ou Barbarie: The Bedroom Recordings



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