[16 December 2003]
1. Blur Think Tank (Parlophone/Food)
Being that Think Tank was an album that I was fully prepared to despise, I am as dumbfounded as anyone that it tops my list of the year’s best LPs. Now don’t get me wrong, Blur is one of my most beloved bands, but after Graham Coxen’s departure and the abysmal 13 album, I wasn’t hopeful. In fact, even after listening to Think Tank for the first time I can honestly say I was underwhelmed. But I kept listening, and kept listening, and slowly but surely a new song made itself evident after each listen. Soon enough, it never left my CD player. It might be Blur’s most rewarding album. A treasure.
2. My Morning Jacket It Still Moves (ATO)
I despise southern rock. It is one of the few genres of music that I have never come close to embracing in any meaningful way. But Kentucky’s My Morning Jacket snuck their way into my listening pile disguised as an indie band. And so, you could imagine my response when those twangy, electric guitars opened “Dancefloors”. I was not happy. I felt cheated and tricked. I won’t say anything more about this album other than I spent countless hours debating whether or not to make it my album of the year. I also subsequently bought a MMJ T-shirt. I haven’t bought a rock T-shirt in years. I love this album with a disturbing passion. Buy it now.
3. The Postal Service Give Up (Sub Pop)
I listened to Give Up more than any other record this year. I played it to death when it came out, and for some reason I just never got sick of it. Give Up is one of those rare albums that I read a lot about before it ever came out and was eagerly anticipating it when it finally hit the street. It exceeded all my expectations. It’s fun, and smart, and sweet all without a hint of irony. It’s an incredible pop album that should be loved by millions around the world. Although it was an indie smash, it still didn’t make a dent in the mainstream charts. That’s a shame because there aren’t many people that wouldn’t love this record. It’s got the glitchy experimentalism for the smug elitist crowd, the hooks for the masses, and the heart for everyone in between. An absolute gem of a record.
4. Belle and Sebastian Dear Catastrophe Waitress (Rough Trade) (XL)
Yet another album I was skeptical of. After Fold Your Hands Child I, like many others feared that Belle and Sebastian had finally lost the plot. Although I actually liked Fold Your Hands Child (many did not) the band was clearly lost. The lively but uneven soundtrack to Todd Solondz’s Storytelling didn’t offer much more hope. But Belle and Sebastian came through in spades with a dazzlingly polished pop record filled to the brim with gorgeous melodies, spellbindingly intelligent lyrics, and off-kilter kookiness. So, back to business as usual then.
5. British Sea Power The Decline of British Sea Power (Rough Trade)
Not since The Smiths has a British band come along that has the wind-swept romanticism, clever lyrics, and biting social commentary of BSP. At times both verbose and succinct, unabashedly dramatic and searing, original and derivative, BSP managed to quietly release an incredible debut album that no true fan of British rock ‘n’ roll should be without. Add in a legendarily theatrical stage show and these guys could usher in a whole new wave of UK talent on their backs. If they can follow this one up with an equally powerful sophomore release they’ll be unstoppable.
6. Super Furry Animals Phantom Power (XL/Beggars Group)
Chalk up another psychedelic masterpiece for these Welsh rockers. Bettering themselves on each subsequent release, the Super Furries have been the most consistently invigorating Britpop group, challenging themselves and their audience on every LP, while the likes of Blur, Travis, and Coldplay grab all the headlines. Crafting songs of staggering originality with so much melodic ear candy is no easy task, but the Super Furries manage to make it seem like child’s play. A corker of a record.
7. Bent Everlasting Blink (Guidance)
A completely gorgeous downbeat album with nary a dull moment is not an easy thing to find. When they do come along, they should be treasured and appreciated like a fine wine. Bent followed up their superb debut with an equally extraordinary sophomore release. Combining seemingly kitschy elements (David Essex samples anyone?) with truly heartfelt sentiment hasn’t sounded this good since Air released Moon Safari way back in 1998. Anyone looking for a little true song craft in their “chill out” collection should not be without it.
8. Basement Jaxx Kish Kash (Astralwerks)
An absolute paella of different cultures, sounds, textures, beats, and howls, Kish Kash is the first truly kick ass dance album of the new millennium. From UK garage, to scorching acid house, to bhangra-tinged hip-hop, Basement Jaxx have finally delivered on their long-standing potential and created an album of stunning excitement and incredible diversity. This is an album that floors you with its unique blend of so many different street cultures and rhythms. If you buy one dance album this year, make it Kish Kash. A classic.
9. Death Cab For Cutie Transatlanticism (Barsuk)
It wasn’t enough for Ben Gibbard to release just one brilliant record this year, he had to go and do it all over again for his usual group, Death Cab For Cutie. Transatlanticism is everything The Postal Service isn’t: it’s melancholic where the other is giddy, subtle where the other is immediately hook-laden, and personal where the other seems more concerned with anecdotes. What makes them both so special is the utterly compelling honesty and sweetness of Ben Gibbard’s voice. You want to believe that a band can be this good, and yet still feel like they’re all your own.
10. The Libertines Up The Bracket (Rough Trade)
Although Up The Bracket made a big splash in the UK last year, it was only released in America this year, so I felt compelled to include it. A raucous blend of Clash-style punk, and Oasis-style buffoonery, Up The Bracket sounds as if it is about to fall apart at any moment, but somehow, like a drunk stumbling home from the pub, manages to keep itself erect. You won’t hear a better or more exciting pure rock ‘n’ roll album this year. It’s bloody essential, and should be bought by the boatload. Oh, and the songs are killer. This band could be your life.
Songs of the Year:
1. The Roots, “The Seed 2.0”
The best song of 2003 by a mile. I know, the album was released last year, but technically the single was released this year. This might be the greatest rock n’ roll song of the decade and it was made by a hip-hop group. Wow.
2. Dandy Warhols, “You Were The Last High”
I’ve always loved Duran Duran’s “Rio” and I play it on bar jukeboxes constantly. This is as close as anyone’s ever come to matching it. Although, granted, presumably very few have made the attempt. But the Dandy Warhols did, and they did it very, very well.
3. The Postal Service, “Such Great Heights”
The best song on one of the year’s best albums. It’s about as simple as that really.
4. Archie Eversole, “We Ready”
Contrary to what you may think I don’t just sit around and write about sad indie pop records all day. On Sundays I watch football (that’d be American football) and I watch it with passionate intensity. There has never been a better song to prepare for a big game than this. Eversole sings about shooting people in the chest with machine guns in this song (metaphorically, one presumes, but who knows), and it’s a revelation.
5. Keane, “This Is The Last Time” / “Can’t Stop Now”
Imagine the best songs by Travis, Coldplay and U2 mashed together into the most sublime music you’ve ever heard, then throw out the guitars. That’s the sound of Keane and they will be absolutely gob-smackingly HUGE in a year’s time. So buy this utterly extraordinary single now so you can say you’ve been listening to Keane for ages when everybody else picks up on ‘em a year from now. Music like this doesn’t happen very often. I still don’t know whether the A-side or the B-side is better, but when the music’s this good, it hardly matters.
Elefant Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid
Audio Bullys Ego War
Four Tet Rounds
Longwave Strangest Things
Broadway Project The Vessel
The Shins Chutes Too Narrow
Spiritualized Amazing Grace
The Thrills So Much For The City
Richard Ashcroft Human Condition
Prefuse 73 One Word Extinguisher
Outkast Speakerboxxx-The Love Below
Junior Senior d-d-don’t don’t stop the beat
TRS-80 Shake Hands With Danger
The Constantines Shine A Light
Richard Hawley Lowedges