David Medsker's Albums & Singles of 2003
by: David Medsker (e-mail)
1) White Stripes:
We didn’t deserve this. The White Stripes were supposed to enjoy a few cheeky moments of notoriety, and then disappear like all of those bands they were lumped in with, even though they have absolutely nothing in common with any of them (Strokes, Hives, Vines). Instead, Jack and Meg give us one of the great rock albums of all time, and easily one of the best albums, if not the best album, of the 2000s. Twenty years from now, kids will hum “Seven Nation Army” the same way Judd Nelson hums “Sunshine of Your Love” in
"The Breakfast Club." It’s an undisputed classic.
2) Stills: Logic Will Break Your Heart (Atlantic)
Never mind the fact that the songs are about 9/11. Never mind that this is a Canadian band talking about 9/11. What’s important is that this is one killer rock record, like Interpol making a tribute album to Echo & The Bunnymen. The guitars sing, Tim Fletcher’s voice positively aches, and the bass line to “Still in Love Song” was built for air guitarists the world over. Superb.
3) Death Cab For Cutie: Transatlanticism (Barsuk)
Transatlanticism is worth inclusion for the title track alone, a gorgeous, eight-minute meditation on long distance romance. As it turns out, Ben Gibbard & co. surrounded “Transatlanticism” with nine other songs that are as good or better. “We Looked Like Giants” beats Robert Smith at his own game of dealing with the awkwardness of young love, and “Expo ‘86” sports a chorus Billy Corgan would kill for. They even got name-checked by Seth Cohen in “The O.C.” Welcome to the big time, boys.
4) New Pornographers:
Electric Version (Matador)
Power pop is a dirty word in some corners of the music world, but even the staunchest power pop hater would be hard pressed to say anything bad about the sophomore effort from this group of Canucks -- plus hot Chicago babe Neko Case. They also have the best song titles in rock (next to Guided by Voices, of course) in instant classics like “The New Face of Zero and One” and “Miss Teen Wordpower.” Not bad for a group that was never supposed to make a second record.
One of the more annoying buzzwords in music circles lately has to be “edgy.” The implication, of course, is that if a band isn’t edgy, they’re irrelevant. Rubbish. Bread and the Carpenters were both critics’ darlings and fan favorites, and the Thorns clearly remember those bygone days of smooth, west coast pop. Matthew Sweet, Shawn Mullins and Pete Droge assemble a delightful collection of CS&N-inspired country rock with harmonies to the heavens. Sadly, the album stiffed. I guess the Thorns just weren’t made for these edgy times.
6) Rufus Wainwright:
Want One (DreamWorks)
The epitome of letting it all hang out. Wainwright’s albums had always been eclectic, but lacked focus. What he has never lacked, though, is fearlessness, and with
Want One he puts together an album that could have been made at any time in the rock era, Britney Spears references aside. The epic “Go or Go Ahead” is one of the single greatest contributions to rock music in years. Thirty years from now, pop stars will assemble a
Red Hot & Blue-style tribute album to him, just like the one Cole Porter received in 1990. Thank goodness, an artist that’s in it for the long haul.
New Sacred Cow (Columbia)
Kenna’s debut was tied up in enough much record industry red tape to make Aimee Mann shudder. Finally, two years later, we are given a nifty slice of new wave with hip hop beats by the pound (thanks to Neptune Chad Hugo) that echoes Seal’s be-good-to-yourself vibe with twice the bounce. The video for the single “Freetime” is one of the best videos in years.
8) Steadman: Revive (Elektra)
British rock has undergone a massive identity crisis over the last few years, with bands either going mellow (Coldplay, Travis, Starsailor), in the way-back machine (The Coral, Elbow) or just plain nuts (Radiohead). The bands that have chosen to keep rocking, like Supergrass, are ignored, though Supergrass’ snubbing was also due to their first lackluster record. All of this was bad news for Steadman, who made one of the finest UK rock albums of the year that no one heard. With big, Oasis-style hooks and a grandiose singer in Simon Steadman, British rock is finally starting to rock again. But is anyone listening?
9) Josh Rouse: 1972 (Rykodisc)
Rouse’s unapologetic homage to the year in which he was born and, more importantly, a year where pop music mattered, is nothing short of delightful. He may overdo it here and there – does a record really need that much flute playing on it? – but the songs are top notch, particularly “Come Back (Light Therapy),” which has one of the catchiest bass lines in years. He’s good now, and he’s getting better.
10) Pernice Brothers:
Yours, Mine and Ours (Ashmont)
A nagging voice in the back of my head said I should use this 10th spot for something “important,” something that matters
right now, like, you know, Jet. Instead, I’m going with an album I know I’ll be listening to a year from now, whereas Jet might be collecting dust. The rock-oriented third outing from Joe Pernice and brother Bob (plus friends) doesn’t hit the heights of their first two albums, but those two albums are classics, and
Yours, Mine and Ours doesn’t miss the mark by much. Anyone who can make the line “Cut the baby in two” sound like a lullaby deserves praise.
Other albums I really dug:
Ryan Adams: Rock N Roll
Rainy Day Music
Polyphonic Spree: The Beginning States of…
Keep It Together
Weekend Players: Weekend Players
Loneliness Knows My Name
Electric Music AKA: The Resurrection Show
Biggest Disappointments: Three of my favorite bands of the past eight years – Blur, Radiohead and Supergrass – made really mediocre albums
Tank, Hail to the Thief and Life on Other
Planets, respectively). Unfortunately, 2003 will go down as the year my heroes let me down. Sigh.
Noteworthy songs from bands that didn’t make the
10 Best Albums list
1) “Hey Ya,” OutKast
God bless OutKast. When was the last time a band this blatantly weird sold so many albums? Don’t know, don’t care. (Real answer: Parliament.) Their new double album is supposed to be a brilliant mess, but this song is perfect. Now shake it. Like a Polaroid picture.
2) “United States of Whatever,” Liam Lynch
“Sifl & Olly” was the last decent show MTV aired, so it would make sense that they’d stop airing after two years. “Sifl” creator Lynch lifts one of the funnier moments from his late, great show for an album of psycho demos and quirky knockoffs to Bjork and the Pixies, and in the process gets the award for Novelty Song of the Year. It’s even funnier with the “Sifl & Olly” intro. (Check the free sites, it’s out there.)
3) “Are You Gonna Be My Girl,” Jet
This year’s “Hate to Say I Told You So.” Great beat, great breakdowns and a killer vocal performance from Nic Cester. And they owe it all to I-Pod.
4) “Crazy in Love,” Beyonce feat. Jay-Z
While Destiny’s Child generally left me cold, Beyonce’s debut single was one of the hottest, catchiest slices of R&B in eons. If this doesn’t make you want to shake your groove thing, you’re dead.
5) “Soldier Girl,” Polyphonic Spree
The intro was lifted straight out of Jeff Lynne’s book “How I Stole from the Beatles.” The vocals are straight out of
Godspell. The song is like religion in a bottle.
6) “Plug It In,” Basement Jaxx featuring JC Chasez
That’s right, an N’Sync kid actually made one of my best-of lists. This song is a jam, the kind of thing that pop radio should sound like. Loud, sleazy, aggressive and high energy.
7) “99 Problems,” Jay-Z
A coworker just lent me Jigga’s Black Album, and while I still have my reservations about most current hip hop (I’m an old school 1980s New York rap guy; bring back Eric B & Rakim and Kool Moe Dee), this song is da BOMB, suckaz. Backed with a monster drum track and hard rock guitars (he lured Rick Rubin out of rap retirement to helm the boards), this is the kind of rap track a white guy like me can blast without looking ridiculous.
8) “Move Your Feet,” Junior Senior
Like some early 1980s Kool and the Gang track (though not quite as white bread as the band was during that period), this Danish duo made a super catchy, stupidly simple dance track for the ages. D-d-d-d-don’t even try to resist.
9) “We’ll Do It All Again,” Bleu
He had the backing of Andy Sturmer, one of the most talented recluses in rock, yet his major label debut,
Redhead, was woefully erratic, as if Bleu couldn’t decide if he wanted to make a record for right this moment or a record for all time. For a little over three minutes, though, he gets it all right on this sky-high power ballad that recalls Cheap Trick at the height of their powers. Pity the rest of the album couldn’t compare.
10) “In The Night,” Joseph Arthur
There’s no real reason why Pete Yorn sells records and Arthur doesn’t, except perhaps for the fact that Yorn has better connections, has dated Winona Ryder and is better looking. Arthur’s album,
Redemption’s Son, was quite good, but 20 minutes too long. This two-minute pop ditty is the collection’s finest.
Honorable Mention: “All of This,” Blink 182 featuring Robert
I thought that was a misprint the first time I read it, but sure enough, Goth-king Smith lends his low, weary pipes to a very sweet song from those SoCal punk kids, who are all grown up now. What a welcome change.
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