Best Music of 2003 | Sal Ciolfi

Sal Ciolfi

1. Broken Social Scene, You Forgot It in People (Arts & Crafts)
I'm not entirely sure what to say about this collective that has not already been discussed in the American or Canadian music press. The fact that this effort still seems worthwhile after so much attention their way should attest partly to what they accomplished with this release. For anyone living north of the US border, their sound will not have been new to you. It is, if anything, the sound kicked around and teased upon by numerous others in and around Toronto and Montreal. And while those groups worked hard to release arty work upon arty work, here they came together to offer a perfectly concise study in what pop should and could be right now.

2. Death Cab for Cutie, Transatlanticism (Barsuk)
Without a doubt there are long time fans slighted by this new release from Death Cab for Cutie. It's not hard to understand why, what with guitarist Chris Walla's warmly lush production and Ben Gibbard's songs meshing to form the band's most accessible and cohesive album... you get the feeling some of those indie music snobs might get pissed. Never before has the duo's teamwork shone this brightly, and with what seems like ease they've released a collection of songs that could feign radio play and yet still inspire. Bullshit, you say? Need proof? Check out the title track -- if that alone isn't all of Death Cab's promise and qualities firing on all cylinders, I'll turn in my ears. Besides, in the end, what's better than pissing off some indie snobs?

3. The Russian Futurists, Let's Get Ready to Crumble(Upper Class)
Recorded in his bedroom on a portable eight-track recording system, Let's Get Ready to Crumble begins exactly where Matthew Hart's last release left off; with the 25 year old Ontario rising star's heart firmly on his sleeve and tongue planted in cheek. If it's hard to fault the bouncy DIY feel of it, it's harder still to dislike its turns at giddy fun or heartbroken sentiment, and hey, you can dance to it! Laughing at winter and the awkwardness of growing up hasn't been this fun in a while.

4. The Constantines, Shine a Light (Sub Pop/Three Gut)
Though not surpassing the wallop they unleashed upon the world with their debut, Shine a Light moves the band comfortably into new melodic territory and delivers one intense emotional song after another. Standout tracks like "On to You" and "Young Lions" would make this album worth the price of purchase in and of itself. That little filler is to be found, though, makes this a release something even the fashionistas at a Strokes show might one day realize. Nothing new, but everything you should love and might have forgotten about rock music.

5. The Shins, Chutes too Narrow (Sub Pop)
Instead of retreating from the successful glare of debut album Oh, Inverted World, newly Portland-relocated New Mexicans the Shins took all those warnings of running with scissors and ignored them, doing so at top speed. Where their debut album might have been filled with slight endearing quirks and resources of somber hurt, this new release amplifies all those qualities and seems downright ecstatic in the process. In fact, early on in the album's running order you're met with a happily yelping "Whoo!". Altogether bigger, better, cleaner, and that much more significant than its predecessor, Chutes Too Narrow is simply great.

6. Manitoba, Up in Flames (Leaf/Domino)
Aptly titled, this release from Dan Snaith took psychedelic rock/folk music, burned it, and tossed its ashes over a dance floor of gyrating E-loving scenesters … and then he laughed, loudly and manically. For 39 minutes, Snaith made a point to jeer and laugh at all the generic "electronic" music that gets played, sucker punching you with outright pop song after pop song, and then bowing out before you could tire of it or even disseminate what you've just heard. Focused in its jumbled inspirations, this is fun and meaningful in the best sense of the word.

7. Postal Service, Give Up (Sub Pop)
Part one of Ben Gibbard's astounding year of songwriting, this release sees the Death Cab front man teamed with Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello for glorious results. Written by a process of monthly mailed demos, the geographically challenged twosome hit upon an excitingly fresh retro sound and delivered a collection of faultless heartbreak pop songs, synths raised proudly in the sky. Ever playing the sincere poet, Gibbard's lyrics and melodies here get a new brand new vehicle: geek rock for geeks that don't like rock, or those that spent far too much time alone with records in the '80s. Either way we win.

8. Led Zeppelin, How the West Was Won(Atlantic)
If you wanted to talk about Led Zeppelin, you could spend a long time sifting though the back-stories of the legendary band. Be it the forward thinking of manager Peter Grant, Jimmy Page's flirtations with mysticism, or the backstage baby shark myth stories of debauchery… no matter what though, at some point you would have to return to the sheer brute force of their music. And within two minutes of hearing Zeppelin unleash live on this release, you realize how ferociously tight and full of life this band once was. Relevancy and the passing of time hold no importance when you rock this hard.

9. Polmo Polpo, Like Hearts Swelling(Constellation)
You can argue all you want about the need for new post-rock-like material, and you might even have a point. Nevertheless, it won't stop any and all instrumental bleeding hearts from getting their say. Here, Toronto native Sandro Perri packs many ideas of hurt and beauty into one wonderful, cohesive plea set to music. I would say this music is as pretty as a prayer should be, though that would only fuel the anti-post-rockers on. Instead, I'll only say that the heart of Perri's music lies in its subtle ability to resonate slowly and after many listens. If that isn't enough to warrant and justify musical existence, I don't know what is.

10. The Notwist, Neon Golden (Domino)
Available in Europe for over a year before it reached North American shores, this sixth offering from German band the Notwist seemed to be a nugget of gold purposely hidden by Europeans (let us all pretend for a moment that music is not only a mouse click and search away). Putting the final nail in the discarded skin of their early hardcore punk, here the Notwist continue their minimalist flirtations with electronics, though this time with considerable more focus and melody. Subtle multi-instrumental gems abound, with "This Room" and "Consequence" reigning in among the many highlights.

Top five songs
Broken Social Scene -- "Cause = Time"
The Postal Service -- "Such Great Heights"
The Constantines -- "On to You"
Manitoba -- "Kid You'll Move Mountains"
Death Cab for Cutie -- "Transatlanticism"

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