08 November 2010

Top Albums: 2003

{ Yep. That happened. Remember this at the MTV Music Video awards way back in 2003? Know what else happened? Avril Lavigne kept releasing No. 1 singles. One hundred people died in a fire started by a pyrotechnics accident at a Great White show. Famed producer Phil Spector shot actress Lana Clarkson. Johnny Cash died. Linkin Park was pretty huge. All in all, a lot of depressing things. But it wasn't all gray skies, there were many sunny spots in 2003. }

There was a lot of great albums that were released in 2003 that I simply missed and didn't catch until later on. So, no, you won't see Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It In People on this list. Also, no Sufjan Stevens, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Cat Power, or Decemberists either. Elephant by The White Stripes was released in 2003 and while I was a fan of White Stripes singles, for some reason, I never gave their albums much of a thought chance.

I'm not sure why. And I'm quite not sure what I was listening to back in 2003. But when I was compiling this list, these were the albums that stuck out in my head:

5. The Thrills - So Much For the City

I absolutely adore this Thrills record. I'm not quite sure how I stumbled across So Much For The City but when this album first poured its honey-sweet harmonies and nostalgia-inducing summer-Pacific-Coast tunes into my ears, I was in love.

The other cool thing? The Thrills are Irish.

They captured a California-Beach-Boys-esque essence that few bands in California can ever hope to achieve.

4. Rooney - Rooney

Okay, I guess I remember what I was doing. I was probably listening to a bunch of summer-y indie-rock in 2003 like this Rooney album.

I don't quite remember but I want to say that my girlfriend at the time introduced me to Rooney. I seem to remember that she had some wry comment about how I'd like the lyrics about "bursting veins" or something like that. That line was in "Blueside."

Well, she was right. I fell in love with "Blueside" and the video to that song. Sure, it featured hipster Hollywood kids with their vintage gear and their vintage harmonies but, well, they pulled it off nicely.

Later on, my friend and I wore out this record and memorized the entire record (almost). I suppose it a guilty pleasure. And that's really all I needed. I didn't really care about the next record. This was really one of those time-and-place sort of records.

But I still love rocking out to this album without shame.

Well, maybe a little shame.

3. The Postal Service - Give Up

I feel like Give Up had its ardent supporters and its bitter detractors.

Supporters embraced the dreamy-electro-indie-pop quality of the record while detractors blasted its mopey, emo-kid vibe of the album.

I certainly wasn't some sort of emo-kid in 2003 but I simply loved the '80s New Wave inspiration behind the beats and the soothing quality of Ben Gibbard's vocals. Give Up also introduced me to Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley and her sweet voice. Sure, some of the lyrics were pretty sappy, but all the songs were fantastic and the album was strong from start to finish.

While I remember songs like "Such Great Heights" at indie-rock-dance clubs, I really associate the album a lot with relaxing or sleeping. I love the dreamy quality of the album.

I hope that The Postal Service doesn't release a follow-up album. I think they got it right the first time and they should leave it at that.

2. Muse - Absolution

This was my true introduction to Muse as it was for most in America. I'm pretty sure that I had Muse's debut album Showbiz and may have discovered their stellar sophomore release Origin of Symmetry a bit later on. But Absolution is really where I started listening to a lot of Muse.

I suppose this filled the Radiohead-sized hole in my heart. The part of my heart where I wish that Radiohead became this epic, stadium-rock band because Radiohead are certainly capable of it. But I'm glad Radiohead did what they did and I'm glad Muse did what they did.

Absolution gives you everything you want in an unabashed rock 'n' roll album. Slick, James-Bond-cool songs like "Time Is Running Out" (Hey, MGM, can Muse please do the next Bond theme? Thanks.), songs like "Stockholm Syndrome" with metal-inspired riffs that would shame Metallica, massive headbanging anthems like "Hysteria." Oh, how about some classical music? "Butterflies & Hurricanes" features this expansive and achingly gorgeous Rachmaninoff-esque section that would have put some Romantic classical composers to shame.

Muse is one of the best bands in rock 'n' roll and Absolution is one of the best pure rock 'n' roll albums that I have heard in a long, long time.

1. Radiohead - Hail To The Thief

If it was good ol' fashioned rock 'n' roll that I craved, Radiohead certainly wasn't providing it with records like Kid A and Amnesiac.

But when Radiohead released Hail To Thief in the summer of 2003, they had emerged from the long shadow of OK Computer as a strong and confident rock band.

OK Computer was that violent reaction to their mid-90s alternative-rock hit album The Bends but OK Computer ended up becoming a smash hit. What followed OK Computer was Kid A and its near absence of guitars and heavy use of programmed beats and synths.

Hail To The Thief feels like the perfect blend of their rock 'n' roll roots and their affinity for experimental noises and synths. Nearly six years had gone by since OK Computer and Hail... felt like their most organic album since then.

The crackling sound of feedback in the opening seconds of the first track ("2+2=5") seemed to announce that Radiohead were re-familiarizing themselves with electric guitars again. And "2+2=5" announced their presence with authority and reminding the music scene that they hadn't gone completely into leftfield.

The lush tones and organic feel of "There There" offered a warmth and comfort that their fans hadn't seen in ages. It's a song that would not have seemed out of place on on OK Computer:

{ Radiohead performing "There There" live on BBC Later with Jools Holland. }

That's the beauty of this album. Radiohead really did become more comfortable with their fame, their fortune, their influence and their place in the upper-echelons of rock 'n' roll. This album really brought together all of their previous styles together for a powerful record. It's an album that still sounds fresh and unique today. It's simply amazing.

2003 Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
  • Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Take Them On, On Your Own
  • Jet - Get Born
  • M83 - Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts
  • The Music - The Music
  • The Strokes - Room On Fire

{ A return to form? I never thought they left. }

Please be sure to read my post explaining this little project and, more importantly, the criteria that I'm using. Thanks!