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MUSIC SPECIAL 2003
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Top 25 Albums
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Top 10 Singles
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The Larry Awards
|
Years Past
Thanks to the Internet, there's no excuse for buying a bad CD anymore. Recommendation engines (of varying accuracy) suggest albums based on ratings from music fans with similar tastes. Sites like Metacritic gather album reviews from trustworthy sources so you can view them all on one page. And then, of course, there's downloading.

Whether it's legal or not, file sharing is the single-most influential innovation to change to way we choose our music since The Buggles launched MTV. Some say downloading may even kill the album format. Here are 25 albums that beg to differ.


STARLIGHT MINTS Built on Squares
They may be from Oklahoma and produce sounds a bit outside of the norm, but Starlight Mints have little in common with their oft-compared statemates The Flaming Lips. Built on Squares, the Starlight Mints' sophomore release, is a carefully-controlled fusion of instrumentation -- synths and strings orchestrated for a smart signature style that lies where indie rock meets demented musical theater. (PIAS)
STEPHEN MALKMUS & THE JICKS Pig Lib
Former Pavement frontman Malkmus' first solo effort was a satisfying dose of alternative pop. Splendid, but safe. But Malkmus' return (which bills The Jicks who backed him on his debut as well) is gorgeous, lyrically and musically. Pig Lib maintains a tone just above melanchony but manages to create a collection of unpredictable tracks that is his most daring work since Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. (Matador)
THE LIBERTINES Up the Bracket
The rollicking energy that erupts on this UK band's NYC-garage-influenced debut Up the Bracket sets The Libertines apart from a now-overcrowded field of retro-ripping newcomers. They find the perfect balance between emulating '70s hipster acts and maintaining a 21st-century edge. As the last big trend in rock begins to fade, The Libertines find sparks. (Rough Trade)
JAY-Z The Black Album
Even if you're skepticle that one of the most successful MCs in hip-hop history is retiring his mic at the top of his game, there's no denying that Jay-Z's The Black Album evokes the feeling of closure to a brilliant career. Not since Reasonable Doubt has Jay-Z seemed so unconcerned about including a few hit party anthems. His focus yields the most honest, consistent work of his career. (Roc-a-Fella)
THE POSTAL SERVICE Give Up
At first, Dntel keyboardist Jimmy Tamborello's project with Death Cab for Cutie's vocalist Ben Gibbard sounds as awkward (although intriguing) as Belle and Sebastian trying to keep up with Aphex Twin. Computerized beats unafraid to deviate from standard rhythms combine with a gentle voice unashamed of heartfelt sensitivity. By albums end, it feels as natural as, well, a heartbeat. (Sub Pop)
BEULAH Yoko
After a few member changes, San Francisco's Beulah returned to the music scene this year with their confidently-recorded fourth album, Yoko. There are heartbreaking songs to lie in bed to. There are moments of optimistic melody to sway your head to. And there's an irresistable sweetness that holds throughout. (Velocette)
TED LEO & THE PHARMACISTS Hearts of Oak
Ted Leo is as much of a singer/songwriter as he is a punk-rocker. Take the single "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?" with its charming, gently-sung melody set against its walloping guitars chords. Although Hearts of Oak may not be the most innovative release this year, it proves solid indie rock attitude can still go a long way. (Lookout!)
FOUR TET Rounds
The glitches and chimes that Kieran Hebdan of Fout Tet lays on every inch of Rounds generate impassionated emotion and awe. From the endlessly grim "My Angel Rocks Back and Forth" to the hyperactively erratic "Spirit Fingers," Hebdan displays visionary, experimental techniques but concentrates primarily on its heart-rendering landscapes above all else. (Domino)
MY MORNING JACKET It Still Moves
The Neo-psychedelic Americana band My Morning Jacket owns a sound (and the hair) big enough to fill an arena. The Louisville, Ky., four-piece makes Southern rock for hippies on their major label debut, It Still Moves. Lush echoes and twangs heighten an electric, forward-thinking county-blues album. (Ato)
SUPER FURRY ANIMALS Phantom Power
Rings Around the World, last year's #4 album, provided the Super Furry Animals their first taste of deserved attention in the U.S. with its high-contrast collage of sound and emotion. The follow-up, Phantom Power, is a toned-down version of its predecessor. But the less-jarring pushes and pulls of Power allow for a naturally-progressing album that emphasizes substance over style, yet again excelling in both. (XL)
CALEXICO Feast of Wire
Tuscon collective Calexico draws from a range of influences that stretches from alternative country to latin jazz to the spaghetti-western scores of Ennio Morricone. Their Feast of Wire is tinted with haunting, sweeping melodies crafted with extreme fragility. It's an eclectic Southwestern roots rock album willing to venture into other territories. (Quarterstick)
PREFUSE 73 One Word Extinguisher
One Word Extinguisher is an unrelenting bombardment of spastic sounds and rhythms from producer Scott Herren (a.k.a. Prefuse 73). With appearances by underground MCs like Mr. Lif to help keep the album grounded, the latest Prefuse 73 work certainly brims with bizarreness, but it's also filled with an amusingly unique playfulness. (Warp)
EMMYLOU HARRIS Stumble into Grace
Emmylou Harris is on the short list of the most consistent musicians in the history of modern music. With one foot firmly planted in the traditional, and the other dancing with ingenuity, she's an artist who spans all generations. Stumble into Grace is no exception. It holds its strongest roots in country, yet it's perfectly highlighted with glimmers of contemporary folk and indie rock. (Nonesuch)
MANITOBA Up in Flames
With Up in Flames, Manitoba (a one-man band also known as Dan Snaith) created a psychedelic, electronic post-rock album full of beauty and depth. Whispy overtones, tribal beats and arcade noises all find a place on a mostly-instumental album of nothing less than pure joy. (Domino)
OUT HUD Street Dad
Okay, before someone pesters me about it, I'll admit it: Out Hud's Street Dad was released in November of 2002. But, since the album wasn't widely exposed in the press until early this year, I'm putting it on the 2003 list. Sue me. Street Dad's peppy brand of post-rock features academic dance beats that just can't be overlooked. (Kranky)
MUSIC SPECIAL 2003: TOP 25 ALBUMS (#10 - #1) >>
MUSIC SPECIAL 2003
|
Top 25 Albums
|
Top 10 Singles
|
The Larry Awards
|
Years Past