Best Music of 2003 | #31-35

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 31 - 35
forward to 26-30 >

World without Tears (Lost Highway)
There is nothing funny about this most recent release from brilliant-artist-with-troubled-soul Lucinda Williams. Yet on an album marked by harrowing loss, Williams demonstrates her unique artistry in turning vomit, cancer and perdition into the property of powerful poetry. But Williams is not only interested in the violent side of life; Lucinda sings exquisitely of lavender, lotus blossoms, sugar canes, sweet sides, John Coltrane, and Prince Charming as with the sugary innocence passionate kisses. Teamed with a strong backing band who play the blues as a tight unit, Lucinda fills her record's world with plenty of tears, joy and just about every other emotion. World Without Tears is as complete an album as there can be: from the lacerating rocker "Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings" to the broke-down Gospel of "Atonement" to the stark ballad "Minneapolis", there is never a let-down. Out of a most painful time in her life, Lucinda has crafted some of her best work in years.
      — Seth Limmer :. original PopMatters review

Comfort Woman (Maverick)
Like many folks, after 9/11, Meshell reconsidered. Unlike many folks, she conjured a singular beauty. Rich, undulating, pulsing with her usual heavy bass, the new album is one of the few to emerge this year that repays re-listening. There's always something new to savor, in the layers it constructs and investigates, at once self-referential and also, carefully, stretching out: "Love Song #1" is sweet and thick, while "Liliquoi Moon" (from the Biker Boyz soundtrack) is contemplative and generous. The album, as many listeners have noted, is "peaceful," a coming to terms with the impossibility of containing chaos, a consciousness of limits and also, their uses, as motivations and self-preservations. Later tracks, "Thankful" and "Fellowship," offer readings of systems, and such reading, in its way, brings hope.
      — Cynthia Fuchs :. original PopMatters review

Phantom Power (XL/Beggars Group)
Gruff Rhys knows that the world is going to shit, and tells you why in the most beautiful way possible. This is a hugely ambitious concept record about the deep huge mess our country has made of the post-9/11 world, where the Liberty Belle is also the ninja jihad that sneers, "Suck my oil." The only escape is to disappear into music, and SFA has done nothing to lessen their Beach Beatle Aphex Orchestra image except to hone it and polish it to a high glossolalia -- hard to tell if "Venus and Serena" and "Cityscape Skybaby" melt the mind or the heart first.
      — Matt Cibula :. original PopMatters review

Her Majesty, the Decemberists (Kill Rock Stars)
Portland, Oregon's newest lit-rock sensations defy the perpetual late season slump with the release of Her Majesty, the Decemberists. Led by bookstore clerk Colin Meloy, the songs on this album hearken us back into history, beyond the 1917 Decemberists Revolution, weaving tales of scurvy pirates lost at sea, teenage infantry men fighting for more than a faded patriotism, and a former spelling bee contestant with a religious vision from the novel Bee Season. Musically, the band evokes memories of the greats of late-'80s college radio, the wit and poignancy of the Smiths, the expansive "Americanism" of REM, as well as the quirky story stylings of groups like They Might be Giants and XTC. To describe Her Majesty in a phrase, it's like PBS with music videos.
      — Jason Korenkiewicz :. original PopMatters review

Kish Kash (Astralwerks)
If the next-big-thing-of-2003-that-wasn't is the mashup ("A Stroke of Genius", I'm listening to you), then this album is the bastard offspring of the mashup; this is pop music that's been mashed together, held only by a remarkable grasp of the history of pop music. As such, it's both like and unlike any pop music anyone on earth (besides Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe) has ever heard. With a platoon of hot (Dizzee Rascal, Me'Shell Ndege'Ocello) or not (JC Chasez?) guest vocalists on display, we get some Electro-Northern Soul ("Good Luck"), Mutant Big Beat ("Supersonic"), Middle Eastern Garage ("Lucky Star"), Ambient Quiet Storm ("Feels Like Home"), and Fractured Chartpop ("Plug It In"). And while this record runs out of steam three-quarters of the way through, it's breathtaking when it's on. Why hasn't any track on here hit mainstream radio?
      — Anthony C. Bleach :. original PopMatters review

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less

Kuinka appeal to ornery Renaissance royalty with a joyous song in their infectiously fun new music video.

With the release of Americana band Kuinka's Stay Up Late EP earlier this year, the quartet took creative steps forward to deftly expand their sound into folk-pop territory. Riding in on the trend of moves made by bands like the Head and the Heart and the National Parks in recent years, they've traded in their raw roots sound for a bit more pop polish. Kuinka has kept the same singalong, celebratory vibe that they've been toting all this time, but there was a fork in the sonic highway that they boldly took this go-around. In this writer's opinion, they succeeded in once again captivating their audience, just in a respectably newfound way.

Keep reading... Show less

Merseybeat survivors, the Searchers made two new-wave styled, pop rock albums in 1979 and 1981. They covered Big Star, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. What could possibly go wrong?

Imagine the plight of the Searchers in 1979. You've been diligently plugging away at the night-club circuit since the hits dried up in the late '60s, and you've just made a great, pop-rock record. Critics love it, but radio won't play it as they're too busy scrambling around to find bands that look like the Pretenders, the Boomtown Rats and Elvis Costello, but who sound like… well, the Searchers.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.