Nada Mucho

It’s About Fucking Time – Our Favorites of 2003 (Albums)

Posted by April 19th, 2004 No Comments »

2003 Year-in-Review
Our 50 Favorite Albums
By Matt Ashworth and Adam Lawrence

30) Electric Six – Fire
The latest chapter in the book entitled, “Why Detroit is the Epicenter of Cool” is Electric Six. Somehow they manage to combine disco, punk and garage rock into an original and immensely fun concoction. Imagine if Junior Senior took lots of drugs and instead of smiling a lot and bouncing around, they sneerer and pushed you over. Here’s our suggestion – if you’re ever out drinking with new acquantainces or wondering if they are as cool as they seem, just put Fire in your car stereo on the ill-advised drive home and dial up “Danger! High Voltage” followed by “Gay Bar.” If they don’t “get it,” they ain’t worth your time.

29) Over The Rhine – Ohio
Over The Rhine records deal with Big Issues. Not tired or political issues, but universal ones. Ones that can never be truly resolved, stuff like Home, Love, The Sacred and Identity. Ohio, the Cincinnati band’s 10th album, is heady stuff, but not so much that the listener is scared away by the husband/wife duo’s musings on the Big Issues. On the contrary, we’re drawn into their conversation, because we may have an idea the band hasn’t thought of yet. That’s part of the reason the band released Ohio as a double album – more to ponder. Aside from the Big Issues, there’s a musicianship to this band unmatched in popular music. Lindford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist have been in the band together longer than they’ve been married, but there’s still plenty of spark left in their musical marriage. Sure, a husband on keyboards and a singing wife conjure images of Captain and Tennille, but by the time Bergquist’s last vocal fades, you’ll put Over The Rhine in a class by themselves.

2003 Year-in-Review
Our 50 Favorite Albums
By Matt Ashworth and Adam Lawrence

30) Electric Six – Fire
The latest chapter in the book entitled, “Why Detroit is the Epicenter of Cool” is Electric Six. Somehow they manage to combine disco, punk and garage rock into an original and immensely fun concoction. Imagine if Junior Senior took lots of drugs and instead of smiling a lot and bouncing around, they sneerer and pushed you over. Here’s our suggestion – if you’re ever out drinking with new acquantainces or wondering if they are as cool as they seem, just put Fire in your car stereo on the ill-advised drive home and dial up “Danger! High Voltage” followed by “Gay Bar.” If they don’t “get it,” they ain’t worth your time.

29) Over The Rhine – Ohio
Over The Rhine records deal with Big Issues. Not tired or political issues, but universal ones. Ones that can never be truly resolved, stuff like Home, Love, The Sacred and Identity. Ohio, the Cincinnati band’s 10th album, is heady stuff, but not so much that the listener is scared away by the husband/wife duo’s musings on the Big Issues. On the contrary, we’re drawn into their conversation, because we may have an idea the band hasn’t thought of yet. That’s part of the reason the band released Ohio as a double album – more to ponder. Aside from the Big Issues, there’s a musicianship to this band unmatched in popular music. Lindford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist have been in the band together longer than they’ve been married, but there’s still plenty of spark left in their musical marriage. Sure, a husband on keyboards and a singing wife conjure images of Captain and Tennille, but by the time Bergquist’s last vocal fades, you’ll put Over The Rhine in a class by themselves.

28) The Fruit Bats – Mouthfuls
Whoever’s scouting the talent over there at Sub Pop should get a raise. Just when you think the label’s settled back into some semblance of musical homogeneity, they drop records by Kinski, The Thermals and The Fruit Bats within the span of a month. The bands on their diverse roster perhaps share only one thing in common – an undeniable talent for making great music. Mouthfuls’ delightful harmonies and impeccably-crafted songs snuck up on me over a period of about two months. It somehow remained in my 35 disc changer that whole time even though I didn’t have any idea who they were. By the third time fate and the gods of randomly-generated integers managed to select “Slipping on Through the Sensors” I had no choice but to identify the culprit and see what the rest of the album had in store. What I found was a ten song set of the most simple, beautiful pop/rock guitar songs I’ve ever heard. Over the next six months the record served as frequent therapy. Listen to the Fruit Bats and smile.

27) The Strokes – Room on Fire
Narrowly avoiding the sophomore slump they were destined to be accused of by the rock media who originally championed the New York band before its classic debut Is This It was even released, The Strokes snuck on to many year-end lists by recording a second album of incredibly accessible, timeless songs borrowed from the best garage and classic rock influences. Room on Fire is so similar to the band’s acclaimed debut that it feels almost like the second half of an uncompleted whole. But listening to either record is proof positive that it’s a darn good whole.

26) Kings of Leon – Youth and Young Manhood (RCA)
A few cool things about Kings of Leon:
1. Caleb, Nathan, and Jared Followill are all brothers. Their cousin Matthew Followill is also in the band.
2. The patriarch of the family is an evangelist preacher, who took his sons on his tours of the Midwest. The Kings of Leon literally grew up on the road.
3. Their wardrobe is straight out of 1972. All denim. With no irony.
4. Their debut album, Youth and Young Manhood, is a mature, stinky, fun record that evokes the absolute best of the Southern rock of the 70s, but with a cool factor cultivated in the heart of New York City.

25) Exploding Hearts – Guitar Romantic
It’s a shame our review of the Exploding Hearts’ excellent 2003 album must be preceded by a disclaimer. Shortly after Guitar Romantic was released (and named “record of the year” by Maximum Rock’n’Roll Magazine) the band’s van crashed en route to their native Portland, Oregon, after a show in nearby Eugene. Only the band’s manager and drummer survived. Thankfully, we don’t need you to believe us when we say there’s not an ounce of pity or a single sympathy point contributing to this selection – all you really need to do is pick up a copy of Guitar Romantic and see for yourself. Unless you’re a complete idiot, you’ll immediately see this was a VERY talented young band. The record captures all of the raw production and punk fuzz of the Sex Pistols while simultaneously distancing itself from that comparison by showcasing a dozen songs better than almost anything the Pistols ever recorded, save maybe “Anarchy” or “God Save the Queen.” Given that the Exploding Hearts were all in their very early 20’s when their career abruptly ended earlier this year, it’s hard not to wonder how many great records they could’ve made. Preferably, just be thankful they were able to create such a brilliant swan song before they said goodbye.

24) Kinski – Airs Above Your Station
It’s rare that I champion instrumental bands. When Kinski first started getting local attention and critical acclaim a few years back, we largely disregarded them. “Art rock bullshit,” we predicted. “Leave it for the King Crimson fans – if we want loud, arty guitar rock we’ll dig out our Sonic Youth records.” Then a few of us got tricked into seeing Kinski play live at last year’s Sub Pop Records Anniversary party. Now we don’t disregard Kinski. In fact, since then I’ve seen Kinski four other times, and each time they’ve put on one of the most engaging and mind-blowing live sets I’ve seen since, well…since Sonic Youth. Nevertheless, I was still hesitant to dust off the copy of Airs Above Your Station Sub Pop had sent us a few months earlier – appreciating an instrumental band’s live set is one thing, taking the time to listen to an album without any words is another. Halfway through the album I started feeling like an asshole. How many other great bands had I missed out on by assuming it wasn’t my thing? And would they have the talent and integrity to prove me wrong TWICE like Kinski did, first with their live show and later with their brilliant third album? Turns out Station is a cohesive music experience made by a band interested in pushing their guitars, drums, keyboards and flute (yes, a flute) as far as they can. What makes Kinski so amazing is that they manage to harness all of that energy within the confines of fairly structured, almost traditional, 3-6 minute songs. You won’t hear much pointless noise or repetitive noodling on this record. Kinski don’t have time for that nonsense – they’re too busy packaging all of their technical brilliance and raw sonic power into controlled bursts of head-smashing guitar rock.

23) Richmond Fontaine – Post to Wire
Not surprisingly, one of the year’s best alt-country albums came out of…wait, Portland, Oregon? Yep, that’s right kids. If you preach at the altar of Uncle Tupelo and haven’t heard this band, you should be shot.

22) Grandaddy – Sumday
Grandaddy are a very odd band that we can’t ever seem to explain as well as we’d like. So we’re not going to.

21) The Notwist – Neon Golden
These guys are German. They mix folk music with electronica. And we still like it. A lot.

20) American Analog Set – Promise of Love
Listening to Promise of Love is like renting a good HBO series and watching the whole season on a Sunday afternoon. The first episode (or in our case, song) might not have enough action going on to provide the instant gratification you’ve come to expect in television drama, but it’s interesting enough to warrant a second episode. By the time that one’s done you’ve got a relationship going with some of the characters – you throw in disc 3 because you’re curious about what direction a certain storyline is gonna take. After a few more episodes, you start noticing things that were too subtle to command your attention when they originally surfaced. In fact, you might have even forgotten that broadcast television spent years programming you to expect every TV drama to neatly resolve its main conflict in exactly 44 minutes. Then, just as you’ve grown content with juggling complex subplots and gaining a deeper understanding of the show’s characters – WHAMMO! Several of those long story arcs come together all at once. It simultaneously catches you off guard while feeling pleasantly familiar, and you can’t help but reach for the remote to make sure you didn’t miss any of the factors that contributed to this extremely gratifying pay-off.

19) Fountains of Wayne – Welcome Interstate Managers
Fountains of Wayne took some time off after 1999’s Utopia Parkway, during which time main Wayne Adam Schlesinger became a hot commodity among indie rock circles and the prank call circuit. Schlesinger wrote and performed the theme song to “Crank Yankers” and helped his other band, Ivy, release two albums. Some were worried if we would ever hear the dulcet tones of Wayne’s picture-perfect Beatle-riffic pop songs again. Fear not, for 2003 brought not only a new life to Fountains of Wayne, but also massive commercial success. Whether or not you liked “Stacey’s Mom,” you can’t argue that it wasn’t catchy as all hell, with a hot video to boot. Truth be told, “Stacey’s Mom” could be the most forgettable song on Welcome Interstate Managers. For proof, simply listen to “Hackensack,” “No Better Place,” or “Supercollider”. Fountains of Wayne have proved themselves to be not only masters of witty lyrics and brutal hooks, but with Welcome Interstate Managers, they branch out, flexing their hit-making muscles.

18) Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism
I’m not sure how Death Cab for Cutie – the young Bellingham band who used to rip off Built to Spill at mid-nineties Breakroom shows – grew into the most popular and consistent indie rock band in Seattle in what feels like the blink of an eye. Perhaps I took too long to give the band a second chance after their early output failed to impress. Regardless, there’s really no arguing with Transatlanticism – it’s immaculately constructed guitar rock that very few bands are talented enough to execute so flawlessly.

17) The Lights – Beautiful Bird
Our favorite Seattle album of 2003, Beautiful Bird channels the spirits of Wire, The Fall and even early Psychedelic Furs in what is an immediate classic. Call it “post-punk,” call it “college rock,” call it whatever you want, this is a great, great rock n’ roll record from a one of the city’s best young bands.

16) Placebo – Sleeping with Ghosts
The elfish Brian Malko and his band Placebo have long been the source of debate among Nada staff, inspiring undying adulation from some (Vallejos, Oliver) and skepticism bordering on disdain from others (Ashworth, Lawrence), but Sleeping with Ghosts should go a long way in diffusing the debate. The band’s finest work to date and perhaps their first fully solid album.

15) The Darkness – Permission to Land
Channelling the spirit of Queen and reminding us that early 80s “Heavy Metal” was the absolute SHIZNIT for a brief period of time (just before it became a parody of itself and deterioated into, well, into Winger), The Darkness have steadily risen to a near-ubiquitious level of popularity. Luckily, it will still be a long, long time before you get tired of hearing “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.”

14) Air – Talkie Walkie
Melodic, space age dinner music from the French electronic geniuses.

13) Radiohead – Hail to the Thief
Radiohead might someday put out a less than stellar album, but probably not.

12) The Wrens – The Meadowlands
Indie pop at its absolute finest.

11) Iron and Wine – The Sea and the Rhythm
It’s hard to include EP’s on this list. Too many are filled with unused tracks that were justifiably left off of other albums, or they’re unfinished records rushed to the public to keep the artist in the public eye. In the case of The Sea & the Rhythm, its existence can only be attributed to the fact that Iron & Wine, aka Sam Beam, could not satiate the demand for new material following his sparkling debut, 2002’s The Creek Drank the Cradle. There are no songs on The Sea & the Rhythm that don’t deserve to be heard and appreciated. Each is caressed with great care by Beam by his rich, quiet voice and careful guitar playing. The songs that make up the growing Iron & Wine catalog are the finest of its kind since Nick Drake walked unnoticed into the Island Records offices and dropped off the tapes that would become Pink Moon.

10) The New Pornographers – Electric Version
We’ve been down this road before. Canadian indie supergroup distills American new wave and pop for those of us who may have lost our way. It sounds like something that would grow tiresome around the second album, but Vancouver’s New Pornographers have mined something that cannot spoil. When Carl Newman and Neko Case intertwine their voices in front of dancing keyboards and driving guitars on songs like “All For Swinging You Around” and “The Laws Have Changed,” it’s fun to see how they’ve grown since 2000’s excellent debut, Mass Romantic.

9) Nada Surf – Let Go
The story has been told many times: Nada Surf, who tasted a flash of stardom with 1996’s “Popular,” veer away from the geekrock that captured America’s imagination during Weezer’s heyday. 1999’s critically acclaimed Proximity Effect followed and, for the most part, went unnoticed. After Let Go was released, the prophecy was complete. A band can return from one-hit wonder obscurity to put out a fantastic album of near-perfect post-geek pop songs. At one point last year, I knew of at least 4 people who had Let Go in permanent rotation in their CD players. That’s peer pressure on the positive tip.

8) The Shins – Chutes too Narrow
Like its predecessor, the classic Oh, Inverted World, Chutes Too Narrow took a while to set in. And like its predecessor, it now ranks among the greatest indie pop records of all time – timeless, beautiful and immaculately constructed.

7) Ween – Quebec
Ween is definitely the most versatile rock band on the planet and arguably one of the most talented. Their odd brand of style-hopping and tirelessly original sense of humor have perhaps never before been so well encompassed within the confines of a single album. Why I’ve largely ignored this band for so many years is one of the great mysteries of 2003. If you find yourself in the same boat, I can almost promise you Quebec will sell you on the band and you’ll spend much of 2004 going through their back catalogue.

6) Lyrics Born – Later That Day
The best pure hip-hop album of 2003, hands down, and “Calling Out” is a subtle call to arms to an otherwise stagnant rap world. Buy this.

5) Long Winters – When I Pretend to Fall
Barsuk Records have the distinction of owning the rights to former Western State Hurricanes frontman John Roderick’s songs. Roderick followed up his new band’s debut, 2002’s The Worst You Can Do Is Harm, with an ever better record. Gone are the aimless noodlings and unfocused songwriting that slowed the otherwise promising Harm. When I Pretend To Fall plants the band square in the middle of some very fertile pop songwriting. Accompanying Roderick is former Harvey Danger frontman Sean Nelson, who harmonizes perfectly with Roderick’s almost deadpan delivery. What they’ve created will bring joy to the listener, especially when heard live. When lucky Bumbershooters heard the perfect melding of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” into the Winters’ “Cinnamon,” they all bore witness to another great Seattle band coming into their own. When I Pretend to Fall not only sounds fantastic coming out of your speakers, it serves notice that the future of this band is very, very bright.

4) Los Halos – Leaving VA
The legend surrounding the beginning of Los Halos’ musical career and subsequent signing to Seattle’s Loveless Records goes something like this. 1) Four Philadelphia musicians lock themselves in a basement long enough to kick a nasty junk habit. While there, they figure they might as well channel some of the situation’s intensity into an album. 2) The result is a torrid, catastrophic collection of epic rock n’ roll songs, some spanning up to 10 minutes to deliver their point. 2) Los Halos mails what would become their self-titled debut to John Richards, influential indie rock DJ and Loveless head honcho, unsolicited. 3) A few mornings later Richards finds the package on his doorstep. 4) Unknown forces of fate compel Richards, who must get more albums sent his way than just about any other living human being, to open said package and listen to the music contained therein. 5) Richards mind is resolutely blown. 6) Richards dials the number included on the demo as he rescues his jaw from the kitchen floor. 7) Worried he might not be the only recipient of this particular package, Richards signs the band that day. Unfortunately for Los Halos, reception to their first two Loveless Records came mostly from other music nerds like Richards, and despite an overwhelmingly positive reaction from critics and music press, they remain relatively anonymous. Fast forward to 2003’s Leaving VA, the band’s third and best album – an 8-song masterpiece that brings together the huge, emotional guitar noise of their debut and the subtle acoustic balladry of its follow up, Ramona. Detailed without crossing into self-indulgence, beautiful and varied while wearing some very traditional classic rock influences proudly on its sleeves, and continuously assaulting its listener with heart-wrenching, bitter-sweet tales of love and loss, Leaving VA is one of my favorite albums ever. That it hasn’t catapulted Los Halos to national recognition is a felony. Do the world a favor and come on out to the Crocodile next time the band honors us with their presence – the 75 of us hip enough to be there last time could use the company.

3) Drive-By Truckers – Decoration Day
In 2001, the Athens, Georgia band Drive-By Truckers gained national acclaim with the release of their double album, Southern Rock Opera, a love letter to southern rock, specifically Lynyrd Skynyrd. Finally the Truckers were getting attention after touring relentlessly since 1996. The band signed a deal with Lost Highway and their future was bright. Since then, the band endured divorce, deaths of close friends and the departure of their longtime second guitarist. No matter. In two weeks, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley guided the band to the completion of Decoration Day. An album about choices made and their consequences, Decoration Day grounds the band back into the present day, no longer singing about the tragedies that other people bear, but rather the ones they themselves had gone through. The title track refers to the southern practice of appointing a specific day to the decoration of loved one’s graves. The album is full of songs about regret, loss, suicide, and pain, but in the end, the gun stays loaded in the closet. Most bands have trouble following up the album that gets them noticed. The Drive-By Truckers improved on it.

2) White Stripes – Elephant
How long can the White Stripes continue to be the best Rock n’ Roll band in America? Only time will tell. Right now, all we can be sure of is that all those naysayers who called the Stripes a “flash-in-the-pan” or a “one trick pony” must have shut their yaps pretty damn quickly when Elephant came out. From Jack White’s bass impersonation opening the first track and best single, “Seven Nation Army” to the giddy one-off album closer “It’s True That We Love One Another,” Jack and Meg prove they’re willing to take in the fame and success while staying grounded to their roots – driving beats with wailing guitars and impassioned vocals. Call them stuck in the past if you must, but know this; as long as there’s blues and rock n’ roll on this earth, chances are the White Stripes will be out there, joyously trying to fix something that ain’t broke.

1) Outkast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Listening to the now-legendary Atlanta hip-hop duo’s latest masterpiece can be as difficult as it is rewarding. While the idea of a double album containing nearly 40 tracks – one chock full of Big Boi’s ideas and the other highlighting Andre 3000’s creations – may sound a bit overwhelming, it takes only a few listens to see that the band couldn’t have done anything less. They just have that many ideas and directions to explore. Those of you scoring at home were right in giving the nod to Speakerboxxx, on which Big Boi reignites the long-extinguished flame of America’s Soul Maestro and effortlessly makes hip-hop sound new again. Conversely, The Love Below is all over the place, highlighting the undiluted eccentricity we’ve come to expect from Andre 3000. But while Dre doesn’t always succeed in reinventing Prince, Sly Stone and Billy Ocean as a quick-tongued hippy love child, he does achieve the set’s most amazing high points. “Hey Ya” is an undeniable pop masterpiece that transcends all of the band’s varied influences and prevents rock critics from thinking they’ve got him figured out. The bad news is that Speakerboxxx/The Love Below may be the group’s swan song. Rumors swirling around Stankonia (the place from which all funky things come) threaten a more formal segregation of the duo’s musical direction. If so, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below indicates that both artists are likely to continue making music that’s exciting, important, and innovative. For now, just acknowledge that this album is exactly the type of sprawling, adventurous masterpiece we needed from the undisputed greatest living band on earth.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright © 2017 Nada Mucho