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

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

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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.

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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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