Best Music of 2003 | #26-30

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 26 - 30
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Cedars (Domino)
An obvious key to the triumph of Cedars rests near its conclusion: the chilling hesitancy of "Treat Yourself with Kindness", the album's second-to-last track. It is anything but a denouement. Guitars crawl eerily out of dark silences to captivate your consciousness; drums and bass lines pinning you down to be slowly, surely compelled by Jason Pegg's legato singing, his words constant yet distinct, like the pace of water between droplets and a stream. Then the burst: clashing cymbals, deafening guitars, singing that seems to be begging the noise for mercy. Dynamism, theater, action, expectation -- all here in one package, but threaded masterfully throughout Clearlake's sophomore effort.
      — Devon Powers :. original PopMatters review

Mouthfuls (Sub Pop)
Eric Johnson and Gillian Lisee produced one of the most enjoyable records of the year, full of charm and wonder and great pop-flavored hooks. But it's more than just a mouthful of sweetness. There's mature complexity to these otherwise seemingly simple songs that evolves over time. Themes of nature and mysticism explode from beneath gentle surfaces; the new is always colliding with the old and earthy. But it doesn't happen in a violent way; rather, it's an immersion that seems completely natural -- take "Union Blanket" as the best example of such fusion, as digital noise and beats mesh seamlessly with banjo and folky acoustic guitar. Yet, there's not just one track that stands out here. Instead, Mouthfuls is a whole record; one piece can stand on its own, but it's so much better when digested all at once.
      — Mitch Pugh :. original PopMatters review

Up in Flames (Leaf/Domino)
2003 has been a very fruitful year for great music, as many excellent albums have come out, but in my mind, nothing really stands out above all the rest, and it's a real toss-up among my top ten. In picking my favorite album of the year, I went to the one that resonated with me emotionally the most, that one being Manitoba's folktronica standout Up in Flames. Canadian laptop whiz Dan Snaith has crafted a deeply layered cut-and-paste collage that sounds equal parts Flaming Lips, Boards of Canada, and My Bloody Valentine, a euphoric, giddy, 39-minute experience that reveals something new every time you hear it. On this album, Snaith establishes himself as a singular talent; he makes Radiohead's clumsy Hail to the Thief sound pretentious and emotionally empty, and equals the Flaming Lips' ability to combine electronic beats with blissed-out pop in a way that would make Wayne Coyne wish he had collaborated with Manitoba instead of the Chemical Brothers. It might not be the most important album of 2003, but it is the most beautiful record I've heard this year. That's all the convincing I need.
      — Adrien Begrand :. original PopMatters review

Apple O' (Kill Rock Stars)
Some of the best drumming on record, combined with imaginative guitar interplay and some unhinged Sesame Street singing from bassist/vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki. It's hard to imagine anyone growing bored of this record (assuming one wasn't immediately irritated by its agitated adventurousness): the brief songs' structures are all varied from each other and all sui generis, impossible to predict where they're going even after you've heard them a dozen times. They're loaded with unconventional hooks that can come at any moment from any instrument, and layered with well-chosen sounds that run the gamut from cloying sweetness to an industrialized abrasiveness. Don't let the comparisons to the Shaggs fool you: this is accomplished and carefully orchestrated. It's the only album all year that made me think something new was still possible, the only thing I thought my friends just had to hear.
      — Rob Horning :. original PopMatters review

Streetcore (Hellcat)
Streetcore is Joe Strummer's straight-on rock and roll record, the disc we've been waiting for since Strummer and his bandmates kicked fellow frontman Mick Jones out of the Clash nearly two decades ago. It is a rocking, rumbling record, a pastiche of straight-on rockers, '60s rave-ups, folk, and Third World rhythms, upon which Strummer sets his most focused lyrics since his days with The Clash. It is an album of memory and politics, of connections and echoes, references to the Clash ("London is burning", he sings at one point) mixing in with ruminations on aging ("I want to do everything silver and gold / and I've got to hurry up before I get too old") and calls to political action and freedom -- his simple, exquisite cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song functioning as the disc's focal point.
      — Hank Kalet :. original PopMatters review

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

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​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

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Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

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There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

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