To coincide with everyone else's year end lists, I couldn't help but compile my own. Nominees for space on this crowning were many, and narrowing it down to just ten was difficult, but I hope you enjoy the final result. Thanks.
The Top Ten Albums of 2003
10: Prefuse 73 – One Word Extinguisher
Glitch-hop is hip-hop for those indie snobs that refuse to recognize it as a productive genre, and Prefuse 73 has created the best for the year. Freely spastic, yet danceably understandable, One Word Extinguisher rolls through its 23 tracks with hip-hop mentality and ease. With each consecutive listen of the album the sophistication of the technical layers slowly unravels, revealing an album that is as playful as it is complex.
9: Ellen Allien - Berlinette
This is your brain.
This is your brain on Berlinette.
8: M83 – Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts
If I were going to make music, this is how it would sound. A journey of epic proportions smashed into one album, full with a spectrum of emotion and imagination. I’d make the most electronically cheesy sounds propel the most moving moments, and somehow it would all feel so organic and natural. But M83 beat me to it. And they pulled it off with awe inspiring poise.
7: Viktor Vaughn – Vaudeville Villain
Viktor Vaughn is the villain of this story, or at least that’s the way he would have it. Throwing down some of the most inventive hip-hop beats, he quickly distinguished himself as one of the best new acts the genre has to offer. His lyrics quickly align with the beats, finding themselves unbelievably strong. Quite simply, great hip-hop.
6: Ms. John Soda – No P. or D.
Notwist has become some sort of “supergroup,” but in reverse order. The band had already formed when its members began pumping out class-A side projects like Lali Puna, Tied & Tickled Trio, and Ms. John Soda. The Notwist influences are completely evident in Ms. John Soda’s debut, No P. or D., and I certainly don’t mind. Their sterile lap-pop stylings, are both soothing and rejuvenating to the spirit. In fact, I’ve woken up to this album every morning for the past five months. And if that doesn’t mean something, then I don’t know what does.
5: Single Frame – Wetheads Come Running
The compatibility of the wide spectrum of sounds incorporated into this album makes no sense at all. Indeed, this album sounds like the type of futuristic punk music that artificial intelligence will create once they rule the world. Wetheads Come Running has spazz-rock at it’s core, but the hyper electric sounds of keyboards make it sound completely new and altogether strange. Somehow the guitars don’t sound like guitars anymore, and somehow, the random bursts of noise make sense. But when the swirling collage of notes aligns correctly, incredibly powerful songs prove to be the glory of this album. I simply can’t wait for their next release.
4: Four Tet – Rounds
Early this year, I was desperately searching for a new electronic album. Something to get me away from all that Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, and Mum. And this is the album that I found. With looping drums, restrained glitch, and those strummed strings, Four Tet has created his own unique sound, that feels like hip-hop at its heart. So, Rounds became my new best friend of the electronica world. Quite simply, this album is a treat filled with all your favorite toppings [well, at least mine].
3: The Wrens – The Meadowlands
Who would’ve thought? These old guys still know how to make good music. Fair enough, I’d never listened to Secaucus before this, by why should that matter? The fact is, this album is overflowing with soulful wailing and mellifluous melodies. Emotional battles are fought and won, and The Wrens take us every step of the way. The story of its development is The Meadowlands most intriguing aspect, but the music is most definitely what deserves the most attention. It’s just so damn good.
2: The Rapture – Echoes
I refused to listen to this album for the longest time. Perhaps it was some preconceived hatred of the words ‘dance’ and ‘punk’ next to each other, or the fear that I might enjoy it. But soon, curiosity gave in, and I…wait. What’s this? I. Just. Can’t. Resist. Dancing. To say the album is ‘moving’ is some strange misinterpretation; it’s a force no one can refuse. Who would have thought that I, of all people, would freely dance to music…even when I’m alone. Well I have…too many times to count. And repeated arguments with my friends over what tracks are the best only verifies the albums solidity. Echoes doesn’t have a concept, all it has in mind is getting you off your ass.
1: Broken Social Scene – You Forgot it in the People
The only thing more amazing than the story of Broken Social Scene’s fifteen members, and their post-rock/experimental/art origins, is how they managed to blend mind-blowing pop sensibilities and ultra rock hooks with the spacious reverberation of experimental noise to form music that feels not only extremely new but also classic. You Forgot it in the People homes in on your brainwaves and instantly imbeds itself in your cheek, reeling you into a blissful grasp that will never let go. With tracks like “Almost Crimes” and “Cause = Time”, among others, the album is entrancing and floating with the superb pop that your soul desires, whether you’d admit it or not.
TV on the Radio – Young Liars EP
Johann Johannson – Englaborn
Fruit Bats – Mouthfuls
Manitoba – Up in Flames
Clearlake – Cedars
Postal Service – Give Up
The following are supposedly “good” albums that I don’t think are:
Radiohead – Hail to the Thief
Grandaddy – Sumday
Blur – Think Tank
Constantines – Shine a Light
Supersilent – 6
Blood Brothers – Burn, Piano Island, Burn
I realize that there are many albums I have not even listened to that were released this year, the new Belle and Sebastian and Yo La Tengo albums to name a few, and the fact that so many albums have gone unconsidered for this list disturbs me. I strongly encourage comments for other albums of this year you have come to love or hate, and challenge everyone to argue or commend any of my above choices. All comments are appreciated and seeing other people’s lists of the year would certainly thrill me.
-Andrew Wexler, Thursday, December 18, 2003
[note: I realize some of the aforementioned albums were not released in 2003, but because of their late 2002 release, I have considered them in this list.]