Top Eleven Songs of 2003:
Purchase Best of 2003 iMix
The Jayhawks – Rainy Day Music
“Smoke ad mirrors couldn’t hide your tears/Your eyes only betray you/Long trip, you lost your grip/We’ve all been praying for you.”
Not a big fan of this group until I listened to this album. Producer Rick Rubin influenced without interfering, and as lead singer Gary Louris put it, “We made an album for us, and it just turned out that everyone likes it.” With Matthew Sweet and Jakob Dylan also appearing on backup vocals, the album pays homage to many American music genres. Influences outside of American music are also clear, however. When listening to the album, you can’t help but imagining McCartney, Lennon, Simon, and Garfunkel renting a cabin in Copper Harbor for a weekend of songwriting, sans ego clashes. Lost Highway is probably the only label that would let a group release an album like this, and that’s why they’re one of a few labels left that can be respected for finding new, pure talent.
The New Pornographers – Electric Version
“When the contact high from the real life adventures wear off/You find, in the tiny moments that bomb, your old files rain down from the sky/And would they fall down, like cymbal crashes, would the alarm bell sound?”
At one point, this Vancouver based band was the best kept secret in indie-rock. Even 2000’s Mass Romantic fell under the radar of most critics. 2003’s Electric Version is simply brilliant.
Nada Surf – Let Go
“I’m just a happy kid/Stuck with the heart of a sad punk/drowning in my id/always searching like it’s on junk.”
Yes, this is the same band who released the 1995 single Popular. No, this album does not sound anything like it. An unbelievable album that immediately waives any criticism for going unnoticed for the past eight years.
Longwave – The Strangest Things
“I don’t know how to begin/when I’m barely breathing/Swallowing down/I can’t feel a thing.”
In 1983, The Police bade farewell as a group at Live-Aid, literally handing their instruments to U2, the new driver for the decade’s music. While Bono already gave a similar nod to Radiohead in 1999, something tells me he wouldn’t be bothered giving props to this group, either. Very heavily influenced by early 80s rock, The Strangest Things is evocative of The Unforgettable Fire. New York based, this band joins The Strokes and Interpol as the three best rock bands in the States.
White Stripes – Elephant
“I'm only waiting for the proper time to tell you/That it's impossible to get along with you/It's hard to look you in the face when we are talking/So it helps to have a mirror in the room.”
A follow-up album to White Blood Cells, Detroit’s own continues its dominance with this release. Seven Nation Army, The Hardest Button to Button, and There’s No Home For You Here are retro for the days of grit rock glory. Continuing with their throwback style, the Stripes refuse to use any recording equipment made after 1975. In some cases, using equipment once used by Apple Records (a.k.a. The Beatles’ label), their thick sound carries hints from Houses of the Holy. Rock ‘n’ roll, v4.0. If you dig this album, you really should also buy their major label debut, De Stijl.
The Strokes – Room on Fire
“Oh Tennessee, what did you write?/I come together in the middle of the night./Oh that's an ending that I can't write/ 'cause I've got you to let me down.”
Julian Casablancas reveals that he’s not a fluke songwriter, penning 11 of the album’s 12 songs. With Nigel Godrich presiding as executive producer, this sophomore effort by the American band that helped bring back rock is a must for 2003.
Idlewild – The Remote Part
“Songs when the truth are all dedicated to you/In this invisible world I choose to live in/And if you believe that now I understand/Why words mean so much to you, they’ll never be about you.”
The Portsmouth FC of music. Sophomore effort from this Scottish group raised them to the level of the premier league of Brit-rock. Along with clear Smiths influences, this group is also surprisingly influenced by REM.
Snow Patrol – Final Straw
“This is the straw, the final straw in the/ Roof of my mouth as I lie to you/Just because I’m sorry doesn’t mean/I didn’t enjoy it at the time.”
This group, originating from Northern Ireland and adding Scottish members, sounds closer to American bands like the original Folk Implosion than some of its European counterparts.
The Delgados – Hate
“Step inside/A better dream job you could never find/A set of keys and bottles heaven wide/Find yourself a seat and settle in for the ride.”
Emma Pollock’s vocals are reminiscent of Juliana Hatfield’s performance on God Bless the Blake Babies, but this group offers more arrangements in accompanying instruments (whether a stringed quartet, or synth and drum kits).
Jesse Malin – The Fine Art of Self Destruction
“It’s all blood money in the bank/Somehow people find the nerve/I’d like to thank the soldiers down in D.C./If I could only find the nerve.”
Friend Ryan Adams produced and played electric guitar for this New York based singer-songwriter. Don’t let the SS word fool you, though. This album proves Adams should have just focused on producing this year instead of putting out Llor n’ Kcor.
Clearlake – Cedars
“So much to live up to, you’ve been punishing yourself/For far too long/I see you treat yourself in ways you’d never treat another.”
Domino records adds another notch to its belt with yet another hidden Brit-rock gem. Satirical lyrics come in pure English form, seemingly direct from Morrissey’s pen.
Travis – 12 Memories
“They were following me/They were following everyone/They had visions of me/Holding hands walking into the sun”
The Scottish quartet’s 4th release is a departure from Nigel Godrich production (and, as a result, less ties to Radiohead vein of music). Lyrically darker and closer in sound to Good Feeling, the group has successfully redirected their recording path. While not quite at the level of The Man Who or The Invisible Band, this is an album that quickly grows on you. Look out for their soon to be released single, Love Will Come Through, which should become their biggest stateside single since Why Does It Always Rain on Me.
Kings of Leon – Youth & Young Manhood
“You’ll plead- you’ll get down on your knees/For just another taste/And when you think she’s let you in/That’s when she fades away.”
What would have happened if Tom Petty overlooked The Strokes’ Room on Fire instead of Nigel Godrich? The answer – Youth & Young Manhood. Red Flashing Light and Molly’s Chambers are quintessential southern rock songs with a twist of prog rock.
Damien Rice – O
"Why'd you sing Hallelujah if it means nothing to ya/Why'd you sing with me at all?"
If you bought a John Mayer, Jason Mraz, or Howie Day album in 2003, you probably lost your interest in the singer-songwriter genre. To remedy this situation, buy this album (after you buy The Fine Art of Self Destruction, of course). Rice outshines nearly everyone in his category.
Grandaddy – Sumday
“Despite the faxes sent/I shook my head and went/”Guess who lost the go in the go-for-it.”
Saw these guys open up for Pete Yorn at the Rivieria last Spring. This band is mellow yet moving, uses more instruments than Radiohead, less acid than The Flaming Lips, and is definitely worth a listen.
The Raveonettes – Chain Gang of Love
“Changing your strut when you know I’m behind you/Changing your ways cause you don’t know what to do.”
Danish band released this 50s influenced album in 2003. Punchy and upbeat. As the album indicates, “this is whiplash rock ‘n’ roll.” I will remember That Great Love Sound as the song of the summer.