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Posted by: Dave on January 8, 2004 at 2:05 pm

11. The Shins Chutes Too Narowicon (Sub Pop) – The Shins darling debut album won indie-fans and critics over with its familiarity and freshness. Their mix of gentle, Who-esque guitar rock and whimsical, 60s psychedelic pop was immediately nostalgic, but full of enough new ideas to avoid any charges of plagiarism. Their follow-up comes from a similar place, but stretches much further into an uncharted direction of quirky, delicate pop and challenging songwriting. Since they ditch most of the previous point of reference, Chutes Too Narrow takes several listens to click. Once that watershed moment occurs, though, there’s no turning back.
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12. Travis 12 Memoriesicon (Epic) – The post-9/11 world and the near-death experience of Travis drummer Neil Primrose brought a new sense of urgency to the band. They still tackle love and heartbreak with their trademark cynicism, but they also cover domestic abuse on “Re-Offender” (specifically based on vocalist Fran Healy’s mother’s experience). And they throw their hat into politics. “The Beautiful Occupation” is their tongue-in-cheek view of the Coalition forces’ actions in Iraq, and “Peace the Fuck Out” is an anti-war plea. All this personal passion boosts the pulse of their elegant, melancholy rock. Not that it reaches the electric stomp of their debut Good Feeling, but it moves much more than their last two albums. 12 Memories is Travis’ meatiest effort.
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13. Aesop Rock Bazooka Toothicon (Definitive Jux) – With 2001’s Labor Days, Aesop Rock established himself as one of the premier forces in underground hip hop. His verbosely intellectually and off-kilter rhymes were captivating head scratchers. And while you may have gotten lost in the verses, the catchy hooks and samples roped in the more casual fan. On the considerably more challenging Bazooka Tooth, Aesop Rock’s tireless lyrical flow is just as steeped in obscure references, but there’s a sharp social awareness laced throughout. He dives into an apocalyptic world where “Nowadays, even the babies got guns,” and you might get a “box cutter facelift.” There are few obvious choruses to ground you, but the consistently tense and hypnotic backdrop sucks you in immediately. Don’t try to take it all in at once.
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14. Turin Brakes Ether Song (Astralwerks) – Some fans of
Radiohead’s
The Bends and OK Computer have felt shortchanged by the band’s last three albums. They long for more guitars, more gorgeous vocals and less avant-garde electronica. Every year a couple of bands help ease the pain, and Turin Brakes may be the best remedy this year. Their delicate-but-powerful, folk rock brims with layers of atmosphere. And their high-pitched, dual vocal attack
twangs, harmonizes and often soars near the androgynous range of Rush’s Geddy Lee. Little of what they do warrants direct parallels to their British contemporaries, but their expert craftsmanship and dynamics take you to a similar place.
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15. Alaska! Emotions (B-Girl) – Imaad Wasif and Russell Pollard may be slightly better known as the other members of The New Folk Implosion (other than veteran Lou Barlow of Sebadoh and Folk Implosion). But the reality is, their own band released a far better album this year. Between rhythmic folk ditties, snappy indie-rockers, and brooding soul bearers, they cover a lot of familiar territory in
their own way. The mixed bag is held together by the endearing sweetness of the vocals and the memorable songwriting. With such strong musicianship, there’s a lot of promise and anticipation for the future.
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16. Ms. Dynamite A Little Deepericon (Interscope) – On her debut album, Ms. Dynamite addresses a large range of societal ills via a limitless array of musical styles. She tackles abusive relationships, drug pushing and addiction, violence, poverty and AIDS, to name a few. Rather than casting a grim outlook, she seeks to empower through awareness and a positive spirit. She also leaves room for some intimate and vulnerable admissions of love. Her reggae-
influenced hip hop impressively incorporates anything from electro funk to synth pop to soulful r&b. Over 17 tracks, her message could get a little overbearing or sappy for some, but you’d still have to marvel at her talent and passion.
(Note: 2002 UK release. 2003 US release)
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17. The Fiery Furnaces Gallowsbird’s Barkicon (Rough Trade) – This sister/brother duo’s ragged and timeless sound is nearly impossible to put your finger on. Sometimes you could call them the happiest blues band you’ve ever heard. Though a paradox, how else do you describe their whimsically animated boogie? Other times they’ll take quaint, barroom piano lines and shoot them into outer space with cosmic synthesizers. Underneath all their youthful exuberance, they seem to be frustrated with the idea of being tied down to anywhere on this planet in this century. They channel this restlessness through such an imaginative and amusing lyrical palette that you have to pay pretty close attention to detect the angst. Who knows where this music comes from and how it arrived in 2003, but it sure is refreshing.
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18. Blink-182 [Untitled]icon (Geffen) – For years their juvenile-but-clever and super catchy pop-punk has won over millions of teenage girls, scored a solid string of hits, and spawned a sickening number of imitators. But someday you’ve got to graduate from the kid stuff or forever be stuck there. By adding unprecedented aggression, grappling with some dark demons (they even collaborate with The Cure’s Robert Smith), and covering a wider musical spectrum, they take that bold leap into maturity. They certainly don’t betray their
ability to write extremely memorable songs, though. Hit after hit, this album’s pretty tough to resist.
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19. The Jayhawks Rainy Day Musicicon (American) – After two albums of experimenting with denser pop and electronica, The Jayhawks return to their bread and butter – folk rock. With rich and soothing harmonies and downplaying their previous rock elements, they make the prettiest album of their career. It’s often so classic sounding that you’ll feel it’s a lost Buffalo Springfield or Flying
Burrito Brothers record from the late 60s/early 70s. Though the lyrics are full of rainy day sadness, the music is so bright that it’s perfect for a sunny day.
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20. Yeah Yeah Yeahs Fever to Tellicon (Interscope) – Due to the strength and buzz of their early EPs, Yeah Yeah Yeahs entered 2003 as one of the year’s most hyped bands. While their debut album of noisy art punk lacks the immediacy of their earlier work, it finds several ways to win you over. Karen O’s frenetic and erratic yelps, for one, dare you to ignore them as they ooze with sexual energy. The consistent stream of unconventionally catchy hooks grows better with
age and keeps revealing new surprises. The softer side unveiled in the latter tracks demonstrates a surprising tenderness and maturity. The hype continues.
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One Response to “Top 20 Albums of 2003 (Part 2)”

  1. New Music Nation » Blog Archive » The Fiery Furnaces I’m Going Away (Thrill Jockey) Says:

    […] Sound: Instead of continuing to see how far they can push the boundaries of music, The Fiery Furnaces actually rein in their music to a relative simplicity on par with their debut Gallowsbird’s Bark (my #17 Album of 2003). The multi-sectioned, ADD-friendly, tangential epics are replaced by a collection of streamlined songs. Their playful indie rock is as whimsical and scrappy as ever as they bounce between frenetic pop, lounge-like ruminations, swingin’ boogies and sinister grooves. Heavy Rotation tracks: “Staring at the Steeple”; “I’m Going Away” Medium Rotation tracks: “Take Me Round Again”; “Keep Me In the Dark”; “Charmaine Champaign”; “Even in the Rain” Recommended: I’m Going Away isn’t quite as accomplished as their stellar debut, but it’s certainly their most focused and listenable release since then. Grade: B+ […]

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