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Best Music of 2003 | #36-40

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 36 - 40
forward to 31-35 >

Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers (Brassland)
While not the jaw-dropping reaction I had with the band's debut album, this group still is one of those bands that may never quite reach the acclaim they richly deserve. Whether it's the opening "Cardinal Song," the tone of this album is dark and brutally truthful. "Never tell the one you love that you do/Save it for the deathbed," lead singer Matt Berninger sings on the opener "Cardinal Song". Fusing a spacier country feel with rock undercurrents, the band brings to mind a pissed off Cowboy Junkies. "Dear, we better get a drink in you before you start to bore us," he sings in the brilliant "Slipping Husband". Excellent!
      � Jason MacNeil

Naturaliste (Drive-In/Boompa!)
The Australian trio's seventh proper full-length perfects the band's gentle, acoustic-heavy sound. While still retaining the light-hearted charm of previous Lucksmiths outings, Naturaliste looks inward, resulting in a tuneful, smart, and unabashedly earnest set of songs worthy of a jangly pop band with a similar name -- the Smiths. The sparse production, recalling early Belle & Sebastian or even Rubber Soul-era Beatles, allows the finest songs of the year to shine through. Call them "precious" if you must, but don't underestimate the Lucksmiths.
      � Marc Hogan

Straight 'Til Morning (Estrus)
Drunk Minnesotans fumble at the bra-strap of their Muse, with Jack Daniels on their breath and some Nazareth records in the changer. She's panting, biting lips, clutching at their hair, and this sense of urgency -- blue balls and a jammed zipper -- is what motivates these 12 tracks. Well, that, plus lots of weed & booze. Namby-pamby "rock" artistes such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the White Stripes, Andrew W.K., they are like gentle floating feathers lost in the contrails of this cock-rocket. Why is this the best album of the year, you ask? Do you really think there's a better album out there?
      � Mark Desrosiers :. original PopMatters review

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.
      � Michael Beaumont :. original PopMatters review

36 JAY-Z
The Black Album (Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam)
We know why Jay was in the game -- he was always in it for the "cash, hoes, and cars", but that never meant that he wasn't also doin' it for the "Love of the Mic". And ain't nobody ever rocked the Runway and the Boulevard the way Jay has ('cept maybe Snoop) and for as long. He was never as serious as Nas (his only legitimate living East Coast contender) or as lovable as Biggie, but his wit, inventiveness, brashness and sense of humor (which Nas has never had) counts for something. Nas may get into burning Jay in effigy, but he need to own up to the fact that Jay got him back on the grind, finally realizing the promise we all thought we heard on Illmatic. The Black Album may or not be Hova's Sly Stone move, but he's no doubt doin' it on his terms. Better than Reasonable Doubt and just a tad off of the brilliance of The Blueprint (his best, imho), The Black Album finds Jay perhaps assuaging his hurt feelings, making the case any way, as to why he's "Brooklyn's Finest". As hip-hop gets dirty in the South and searches the globe for the next distorted "third world" riff, being the "King of Brooklyn" might be everything.
      � Mark Anthony Neal :. original PopMatters review

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