Best Music of 2003 | #16-20

That favorite rite of passage for all music critics is here again . . . the annual top 10 lists, or in this case top 50. As in years past, we have top 10s from the whole crew of regular PopMatters music writers, but this year we're adding a twist. What you have before you is our mammoth list of the 50 best records of the year as voted on by our entire music staff.

BEST MUSIC OF 2003 16 - 20
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Electric Version (Matador)
Whereas their debut, Mass Romantic, was a pastiche of solo snapshots from former Zumpano frontman Carl Newman and Destroyer leader Dan Bejar, Electric Version is clearly a more unified and consistent work. Newman's songs string together subversive fragments of northern socio-political mantras while Bejar channels the boisterous glam of the 1970's. Add the back-up vocals of country siren Neko Case to these mouth-watering compositions and this album is one to go back to for years to come. A propulsive rhythm, tickling melodic keys, and sublime three-part vocal harmonies, "Electric Version" is what the late-'60s Kinks would have sounded like with Janis Joplin on backing vocals. The kind of thinking man's pop masterpiece that is rarely seen on this side of the pond.
      — Jason Korenkiewicz :. original PopMatters review

Burn, Piano Island, Burn (ARTISTdirect)
Earlier this year, my friend gave me a piece of blank paper with the instructions, "I want to know what you love about music. Write it on here." I should have just given her this album, as Burn Piano Island, Burn is tattooed on the inside of my heart in sound waves and encoded in my brain with neurons of noise. But the thing that I continue to love about Burn Piano Island, Burn is its sheer indescribability -- no matter how many thousands of words I've shed in this album's wake, nothing can capture its destructive, heart-crushing beauty. It's simply inexpressible bliss. Burn Piano Island, Burn leaps so far past mandated musical boundaries that it's setting a learning curve for rock's next millennia; it's accelerating punk rock into a subversive, intelligent future vacant of trends, stereotypes, and sickeningly typical norms. But, even above all of that, the Blood Brothers are the ambulance that's attempting to revive our artistically ill, ignorance-riddled, emotionally impoverished culture with an allegorical lyrical bite. And they've succeeded: Burn Piano Island, Burn is an album that squeezes bits of heaven into your eardrums, overturns our corpse of a culture, begs you to do the same all while shifting paradigms, warping minds, altering lives and now topping my all-time favorite list.
      — Ryan Potts :. original PopMatters review

18 50 CENT
Get Rich or Die Tryin' (Interscope/Shady/Aftermath)
I ain't gonna lie, from the first time I heard "Wanksta" and then heard all the hype about Mr. Fiddy, I thought he was the hip-hop anti-Christ. Cats couldn't be MCs no more, now they either had to be droppin' joints from the grave or rappin' about the nine bullets that shoulda put them in a grave. Seemed like a marketing scheme to me, since you can't be any more authentic in hip-hop then to be dead. The video for "In Da Club" essentially admitted that the cat was constructed like the Bionic Rapper (what, y'all didn't watch The Six Million Dollar Man?). I laid low on the 50-phenomenon for awhile, even as my girl Lynne D. Johnson put some shit out there to turn a brotha's head. But it was "21 Questions" -- the best hip-hop love song since LL's "I Need Love" -- that got me in the mix and that video with Meagan Goode (bruhs could finally admit what they thought about her, since they couldn't when she first appeared in the film Eve's Bayou). By the time I heard "Many Men (Wish Death)" I was convinced that Fiddy might become the Robert Johnson of his generation.
      — Mark Anthony Neal :. original PopMatters review

You Are Free (Matador)
Released on the virtual eve (and by a virtual Eve, in the archetypal indie-chick sense) of destruction, this record's preemptive timing was downright eerie. Not content with making us wait years between new songs, Chan Marshall drops a slow-fuse cluster bomb out of a pure blue sky. Lamenting war and child abuse and sundry darknesses far more oblique and cryptic than phantom WMDs (werewolves! John Lee Hooker!), this was a timely plea for sanity from an artist whose own grasp of emotional health is all too often glibly impugned by the sheltered and the heartless. So some of the bomblets are squibs, who cares? For "Good Woman" and "Maybe Not" alone, Marshall deserves iconic status. So assured in its fragility, we barely notice Messieurs Vedder and Grohl painting minimalist strokes on an aberrant canvas.
      — David Antrobus
The Meadowlands (Absolutely Kosher)
Emo is dead. Long live emo -- at least as played by these Jersey natives. The Wrens finally restore some dignity to a form withered by crass commercialization at the behest of Dashboard Confessional and Jimmy Eat World. By trimming the syrupy bathos and finding inspiration in hallowed indie figures like Built to Spill and Modest Mouse, the Wrens manage to avoid the genre's many trappings. Some may miss the frenetic pace of the Wrens earlier efforts, but there's something to be said for maturity in a genre afflicted with hormonal imbalance.
      — Jon Garrett :. original PopMatters review

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