Best Music of 2003 | #46-50

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 46 - 50
forward to 41-45 >

Deliverance (Interscope)
Welcome to the New South... and Bubba Sparxxx and Timbaland mean it. Deliverance literally sounds like nothing you've never heard before: a perfect marriage of rural, white Southern country and bluegrass wedded to urban, black Southern hip-hop and funk. From the haunting refrains of "Nowhere", which convincingly unifies the poor white and black Southern experience, to the pounding horns of Organized Noize's frenetic beats on "Like It Or Not" and the mournful fiddle and high lonesome howl of "She Tried", this record rounds all the Southern musical bases and offers a staggering array of rhythms, moods, and smart lyrics. Just when everyone counted the big man out after his hit single "Ugly", Bubba has surprised us all with a hick-hop masterpiece. And last but not least, props must go to Timbaland for the finest production job of his career.
      — Sarah Zupko :. original PopMatters review

Summer Sun (Matador)
With Summer Sun, Yo La Tengo have fulfilled the promise they first offered with their 1993 album Painful, when a sublime late-night mood began creeping into their music via an organ and a taste for gentle experimentation. Since then they've been slowly showing us they're as in love with jazz and quiet pop as they are rock and roll -- here they reveal that completely, with a stunning album that outdoes its predecessors (even 2000's similarly hushed but less consistent And the Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out) in both atmosphere and emotional impact. It's a real beauty, the mark of a rock band that knows that sometimes turning the guitars down can be even more powerful than turning them up.
      — Dave Heaton :. original PopMatters review

Throwing Muses (4AD)
After a 12-year recording break, stepsisters Kristen Hersh and Tanya Donelly return from successful solo careers to put the band back together once more. Joined by longtime drummer Dave Narcizo and late-era Muses bassist Bernard Georges, the sisters have created their most raucous and off-kilter album to date. Instead of placating their fanbase with nostalgia, Throwing Muses leap forward delivering a difficult album full of therapist-fueled introspective noise-driven anthems coupled with the warm return of the fondly remembered Donelly/Hersh vocal harmonies. A roaring beast of an album that provides a fitting swansong from one of the best and most under-rated rock acts.
      — Jason Korenkiewicz :. original PopMatters review

La Revancha del Tango (¡Ya Basta!/XL)
Like a lot of good records, the debut album from Gotan Project came out pretty much everywhere except the U.S. over two years ago; it finally made its Stateside debut this year, and its brilliance remains undimmed. The programmed beats and dubby keyboard and bass effects from Philippe Cohen Solal and Christoph H. Müller are what give the record its unmistakable sheen of 21st century cool, but the individual musicians are what really make the record and its tango/jazz/dub/electronica fusions so endlessly fascinating. Nini Flores' bandoneon croons and sighs with the seductive allure of a fading cabaret singer who's smoked too many cigarettes; Eduardo Makaroff's crisp, rhythmic acoustic guitar breathes life into the spaces between the looped beats and basslines; and Line Kruse's violin is simply a thing of beauty, swooping and diving through every solo with just the right balance of passion and virtuosity. In a year that saw Latin/electronica crossover acts sprouting up faster than Starbucks franchises, no one ever topped this.
      — Andy Hermann :. original PopMatters review

Black Cherry (Mute)
Okay, I admit it: I was wrong about electro. A year ago I was still railing about what a lame genre it was, but now here I am singing the praises of Tiga's DJ-Kicks and this, the buzzy sophomore album from Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp. Black Cherry surprised a lot of people -- mainly because everything on Goldfrapp's debut Felt Mountain was enveloped in such a soft-focus gauze of John Barry cool and avant-pop sophistication, while songs like "Train" and "Twist" were simple, hooky and defiantly unsophisticated -- raunchy, even, the electro/synth-pop equivalent of Exile on Main Street-era Stones. But Gregory and Goldfrapp are extraordinarily gifted producers and songwriters, and even the simplest songs in this set unfold in ways that still satisfy on the twentieth listen. It's exciting to hear artists take this many chances over the course of just two albums and have nearly all of them pay off. And it sure doesn't hurt that Alison Goldfrapp has one of the most meltingly lovely voices in popular music.
      — Andy Hermann :. original PopMatters review

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

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Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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