Top 10 of 2003

- Corinne

posted December 30, 2003

Can you believe it? It's that time again! We asked six musicians and label owners to give us their top 10 of 2003. Check out their lists.

:: Blag Dahlia of the Dwarves
     Chris Cornell- Sad and Mopey Metal
     The Strokes- Disappointing New York Follow Up
     R. Kelly- Fourteen or Fight
     Good Charlotte- Fat Kids Need Love Too
     Queens of the Trustfund- Hippy Rock 2000
     Distillers- I'm Sleeping With Everyone
     Hoobastank- Jerry Garcia Memorial Jugband Funk
     A Simple Plan- Growing Up Gay In Canada
     Michelle Branch- I'll Be Cute For Six More Months
     The Dwarves- Career Suicide

:: Greg Anderson of Southern Lord Recordings
     1. Gorgoroth-"Twilight of the Idols"
     2. Enslaved-"Below the Lights"
     3. Melvins-(whatever they released this year)
     4. Place of Skulls-"With Vision"
     5. Khanate-"Things Viral"
     6. Darkest Hour-"Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation"
     7. Orcustus-7"
     8. Orodruin - "Epicurean Mass"
     9. Morbid Angel-Heretic
     10. Boris-"Heavy Rocks"

:: Emil Hyde of the Mystechs, owner of Omega Point Records
     1. Outkast - Speakerboxxx / The Love Below (LaFace)
Speakerboxxx / The Love Below was the first CD that Nick and I popped in as we hit the road this year for our 18-city tour, and halfway through the second disc I knew I was listening to one of my favorite albums of all time, for the first time. A double-disc mess of electro, r&b, indie rock, jazz, and showtunes that puts the ‘wild’ in ‘wildly experimental’. I'm tempted to say this disc represents the ultimate triumph of hip-hop over your parents' rock and roll, but really it's just the triumph of Outkast over all those mainstream rock and rap artists too chickenshit to cut loose and get crazy.

     2. The Postal Service – Give Up (Sub Pop)
Together with the Notwist’s 2002 release Neon Golden and the Faint’s 2001 Danse Macabre, The Postal Service’s full-length debut Gave Up shows that the future of electropop belongs to actual musicians with actual songwriting ability, not to art-school dropouts or models with pawn-shop drum machines. Leave it to a pair of grizzled, veteran indie rockers (Jimmy Tamborello and Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard) to teach the fashionista kids how to make a synth album with genuine emotion rather than put-on attitude.

     3. Flutter – Toys In Coin Machines (Flutter Music)
Recorded at the same time as The Postal Service’s Give Up, Flutter’s debut LP Toys In Coin Machines is very similar in its arrangements (sparse electro beats, lush synth pads, pop song structure) and every bit as good, overall. The key differences are that, where the voice of TPS’ Ben Gibbard is frail and ordinary (in the best indie-rock tradition), Flutter frontwoman Christine Ingaldson has an opera-caliber instrument. Fortunately, Ingaldson also has a riot-grrrl streak that keeps the mood poppy, punky, and politicized, instead of floating off to Enya-land. That TPS are getting on everyone else’s Top 10 lists this year while Flutter remain largely unknown and unsigned is attributable more to indie-politics (and, to be fair, seniority) than relative merit.

     4. Ludacris – Chick –N- Beer (Def Jam)
Big, bass-heavy, bling-rap that aims for the butt, not the brain (unless we’re talking about the pleasure center). There’s a time and a place to be arty (Outkast), but when it’s time to p-arty, you need a wild man like Ludacris to tell you what to do with your shit. “When I move you move / Just like that…” Yeah, that’s right. Just like that. Someone better remind all those bloodless garage-revival poseurs how rock and roll used to be this much fun…

     5. Johnny Cash – Unearthed (American)
Can you think of another rock n’ roll legend who ended on so dignified a note as Johnny Cash? And can you name any “cash”-in-on-the-dead-star release as essential as the 5-CD Unearthed box set? Johnny was a perfectionist, recording nearly 100 songs for each of his four American Records releases (plus an entire, unreleased gospel album), of which only a dozen or so would actually make it to each record. That left a lot of perfectly good material in the vaults, for producer Rick Rubin to give us now, as a lovely parting gift from the Man in Black.

     6. Avenpitch – Avenpitch (Omega Point)
Yes, they’re signed to a label that I happen to own. But there’s a reason I signed these guys, damn it! Avenpitch take the goofy British rave-rock of Pop Will Eat Itself and The Happy Mondays, then thrash it out twice as fast, three times as sloppy, and ten times as loud whilst vocalist Todd Millenacker yelps his lungs out. Finally, a synth-punk band with some actual punk to it.

     7. Goldfrapp – Black Cherry (Mute)
Goldfrapp proves an essential truth that Andre 3000 of Outkast knows but Peaches, Fischerspooner, and the rest of their electroclash ilk have either ignored, missed, or forgotten: regardless of genre, it helps to have a vocalist who can really sing. Allison Goldfrapp’s serpentine scales on “Crystalline Green” and “Strict Machine” lend the clear-as-glass electro beats a sexy edge far deadlier than Peaches’ blunt potty-rhymes or Fischerspooner’s mushmouthed robot voices. Those who decry Goldfrapp for taking a chance and getting all trashy on this record - instead of staying with the stately, haunting ambience of her previous releases – should just shut up and go home to their old Portishead and Esthero records.

     8. Ween – Quebec (Sanctuary)
While it’s a far cry from the primo, hydroponic Ween of Chocolate and Cheese and The Pod, this late-career bag of ditch and shake will still get you higher than a whole freakin’ can of ScotchGuard. We picked it up somewhere in upstate New York, in the middle of our tour. The roaring jackhammer punk of “It’s Gonna Be A Long Night” became a post-show, pre-party psych-up anthem, while the gentle folk and chirping-bird effects on “Zoloft” eased us through the rough mornings after.

     9. Panjabi MC – Beware (Sequence)
Beware isn’t a great album, but at the same time it’s great that this album exists. When I first heard tabla drums pop up in Missy Elliot’s 2001 hip-hop hit “Get Ur Freak On” I thought finally, my hopelessly provincial fellow Americans will understand why I’ve always been so keen on Indian dance-pop. Two years later, the curried-rap craze is still going strong, to the point where Jay-Z would take time out of his busy schedule to executive-produce (and make a cameo on) a compilation of cuts by international (British Indian) Bhangra star Panjabi MC. Okay, so maybe in retrospect all this hip hop / Bhangra fusion will seem as tacky as those annoying reggae toasters on old Soup Dragons and Deee-Lite! Records do today. But at least a bridge has been established – however temporarily – for hip-hop fans to enter the realm of Indian dance music. Those looking for uncut product should skip Beware and pick up the Apache Indian’s Make Way For The Indian.

     10. Pink – Try This (Arista)
Pink’s lyrics make me cringe, and her dubious choice of songwriting partners (4 Non Blondes’ Linda Perry, Rancid’s Tim Armstrong) suggests that someone needs to give her a Magnetic Fields or Momus CD for Christmas. But the fact remains that she’s the only member of the 90s teen-pop pack who really seems to care about making good music, the way Madonna really seems to (yes, American Life was a failure, but it only failed because it tried). In her best moments, Pink’s enthusiasm and amazingly versatile voice can be enough to overcome the weak material, meanwhile her no-holds-barred approach to production and genre make her records far less predictable than, say, Ladytron’s or Belle & Sebastian’s. All future teenage divas take note: this is what you should be doing with your stardom.

:: Bill Foreman
     Not just music:
     1. Winged Migration. Best movie hands down. I used to dream I could fly as a kid, and now I feel like I really can.

     2. Old Kit Bag--Richard Thompson. The more I hear it the better it gets. He is the best there is, and this is easily in his top 5 of his career.

     3. Princesses Nubiennes--Les Nubians. My friend Dawn turned me on to this, and even though "Temperature Rising" was a clear attempt to appeal to the American market, I sing along to it whenever I hear it.

     4. New Ancient Strings--Ballake Sissoko and Toumani Diabate. Released in 1999 but I bought it this year. Knocked me out completely.

     5. Keith Jarrett--Up For It. Not his best, but amazing nonetheless.

     6. Steely Dan--Everything Must Go. I swear it--song for song this is their best record since Katy Lied, even if there's nothing quite as amazing as Hey Nineteen. But there is stuff that comes close.

     7. Matt Nathanson--Beneath these Fireworks. Fantastic music, fantastic lyrics, from the one person I know who really, really deserves to sell millions of records to adoring fans worldwide.

     8. Super Imperialism--Michael Hudson. Very updated second edition. Very clear account of the role of international monetary policy in US world dominance. It may be out of date as we speak, but probably wasn't at the beginning of 2003.

     9. Financial Times--the American press completely folded over Bush and Iraq. The Financial Times did not, and it made my 2003 a bit saner. I also now understand current account deficits.

     10. Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony--Soundtrack to a documentary about the role of song in South Africa's liberation struggle. Demonstrates everything that's wrong with the American music industry.

:: Jenny Choi
     1. Make Up the Breakdown - Hot Hot Heat
     2. Hail To The Thief - Radiohead
     3. Give Up - Postal Service
     4. Room On Fire - The Strokes
     5. Impossible Leap In 34 Simple Steps
     6. Elephant - White Stripes
     7. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below - Outkast
     8. Stars At Noon - Sea Ray
     9. Yoko - Beulah
     10. Promise of Love - The American Analog Set

:: Mick Cancer of the Sickidz
     The best music I heard this year was:

     Paul Westerberg's dual release, Iggy (best & worst), A Trunkfull of Dead Bodies, Free Jazz Classics Vol 1&2 by Vandermark 5, From Autumn To Ashes, one song on the White Stripes, Cramps Fiends of Dope Island, the best of REM, the re-issue of Bruce Palmer's solo lp, The Flaming Lips and Robert Wyatt's Cuckooland which I haven't heard but has to be fabulous. Oh, yeah and How The West Was Won by Led Zeppelin and The Pink Fairies' re-issues.

     Best live thing: Flyzzz at the Balcony/Cramps at Troc. Band of the Year: Flyzzz. And where's Alex Chilton? Also Robin Williamson's Skitring The River Road (Songs and Settings of Whitman Blake and Vaughan)