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Top Ten Albums of 2003

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1. Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism

Ben Gibbard had a big year and you can’t doubt the quality of the Postal Service (which appears later on my list) but this album is by far the best album of the year. It is a complete album that takes you on a journey. It hits rock highs with “The New Year,” “Expo ’86,” “Tiny Vessels,” and “We Looked Like Giants.” It hits pop heights with “The Sound of Settling,” “Title and Registration,” and “Death of an Interior Decorator.” The best part though is in the heartbreaking songs like “A Lack of Color,” and probably the best song of the year “Transatlanticism.” If you missed this album you should go buy it.

2. Iron and Wine – The Sea and the Rhythm (E.P.)

Sam Beam is a minimalist. He produces his own albums at his home in Florida and records each part including his fragile vocal harmonies all by himself. While this is only an E.P. I have to include it on my list this year because “Beneath the Balcony,” and “The Sea and the Rhythm” are two of the better songs I heard this year. This is what it would sound like if Elliott Smith (R.I.P.) moved to the bayous of Florida. Also, although it isn’t on this disc, there is a version of The Postal Service song “Such Great Heights” that Sam performs, which is almost better than The Postal Service version.

3. Coheed and Cambria – In Keeping Secrets…

This is one of the only progressive indie bands I have ever heard. The guitar riffs and the rhythms are complicated. The vocals are way up on the register like a Geddy Lee, and the song quality is totally excellent. Highlight songs are “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3,” “The Crowing,” “Blood Red Summer,” and “The Light in the Glass.” From punk rocking, to heart bleeding emotion, to an uncharacteristic mysteriousness, Coheed wrote one of the best albums of the year.

4. Minus the Bear – Highly Refined Pirates

Although this album was released in November of 2002, I am including it on my list this year. Sue me. Despite the crazy song titles that I am not going to list again, this is a great album. They don’t have the best singer. They don’t have the best musicianship, but the things they do set them apart. The singer sings interesting vocal lines, they have one guitar player do nothing but tapping, their keyboard player adds the necessary atmospherics and this combines for one entertaining album.

5. Thursday – War All the Time

Although I still don’t think this album is as good as their major label debut, it is a solid effort from a band that pushes a lot of the limits of the genre. “Signals Over the Air,” “For the Workforce Drowning,” “Division Street,” and “War All the Time,” are all very good songs. Aggressive and emotional, personal and political, this is a very complex album that is well more than listenable.

6. A Perfect Circle – Thirteenth Step

Although this band is a “side project” for Tool’s lead singer, Maynard James Keenan, the quality of the songs are not Junior Varsity. Songs like the album opener “The Package,” the single “Weak and Powerless,” “The Noose,” “The Nurse Who Loved Me,” and “Gravity,” are more than enough to make this album one of the best of the year. Maynard’s voice is beautiful, Billy Howerdel’s riffs are great, and the rest of the lineup is solid with Jeordie White (formerly Twiggy from Manson’s band) and James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins fame. This band straddles the line of heavy and melodic as well as any around right now.

7. The Postal Service – Give Up

The Postal Service was a successful experiment. Ben Gibbard of Death Cab and Jimmy Tamborello of DNTEL traded tapes back and forth in writing these songs. Then they brought in Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley to do backup vocals. A successful album, a successful tour and a whole host of new fans make me think we will probably see another album from the Postal Service. Album highlights include “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” and “Such Great Heights.”

8. The Fire Theft – S/T

A prediction for this album was questionable at best. These are the majority of the members from Sunny Day Real Estate, who have gone down in history as the quintessential Indie/Emo band. Unfortunately they lost there way for a while. Now with this return, and given some time, they were able to create a great album. It is definitely influenced by classic rock. The song “Rubber Bands” makes the album. It is one of the most urgent love songs that I have heard in a long time.

9. Dashboard Confessional – A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar

Indie poster boy Chris Carraba had a great 2002 and this album was the key to see if that upward trend could continue. From what I can tell, it has. Carraba borrowed some of the rock from his experience in previous bands and put together a heavier record that keeps the melodies from the acoustic records that made him famous. “Hands Down,” “As Lovers Go,” “Bend and not Break” rule this album.

10. Zwan – Mary Star of the Sea

This is the first post-Pumpkins effort from Billy Corgan. It sounded surprisingly different than some of the past material. Thematically the music is different and new players Paz Lenchantin of A Perfect Circle, Dave Pajo of Slint/Tortoise, Matt Sweeney from Skunk, and longtime Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chaimberlin give it a bit of a different sound. This album is happier than a lot of Pumpkins stuff, but the riffs and power are still present. Billy Corgan was born to rock and he does.

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About Craig Lyndall

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    Nice list, I’ll have a number of the same contestants on my list too.

    Coheed And Cambria – this album has really, really surprised me. I picked it up after reading many mixed reviews and was initially very confused by the mix of prog-rock complexity and pop-punk simplicity. I actually thought I was going to trade it back in. And then something clicked and I couldn’t stop listening to it. The only problem I have with it, or them maybe (not having heard their first album) is that they and the Mars Volta sound nearly identical. Maybe MV is a bit more eclectic and just plain weird at times, but they’re mining the same rich ore of inspiration. I’m actually surprised MV isn’t on your list. It’ll definitely be on mine!

    I think I may be the last human in the world to get the Postal Service’s album. I have no idea why I passed this up for so long, but since I am in a Christmas-season buying freeze, it’s on my list as a very hopeful contender for under-tree status, as well as The Fire Theft’s album.

    I somehow forgot that Zwan came out this year – I love this album so much that I actually feel like it came out in 2002. Weird.

  • http://www.filteringcraig.com Craig Lyndall

    I haven’t heard the latest Mars Volta album, so now I will have to check it out.

  • http://www.filteringcraig.com Craig Lyndall

    Oh and the Coheed and Cambria review is coming soon. I saw them at the Agora in Cleveland last night.

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    The MV album sounds like CC on crack.

    Lucky fans will be able to find a live EP this coming Tuesday. I’m not sure what stores will be carrying it, but it will be a select few. Anyone who wants it might just want to order it here for $5.99 (four songs, 42 minutes – pretty good deal.)

  • http://www.johnnytheo.com Andy

    I’m a big fan of The Smashing Pumpkins, and I’ve got to say that the Zwan effort is a bit lame.
    Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of great tracks on there:
    “Ride a Black Swan” and “Jesus, I/Mary Star of the sea” in particular.
    But some of the other tracks seem a bit too much like filler.
    Witness the cheesy “Baby Let’s Rock!” for instance, or the uninspiring “Yeah!” or “Settle Down”.

    Ok, it’s not terrible.
    But it’s hardly one of the top albums of the year, either.

    I also didn’t find the sound that far removed from the Pumpkins, either.
    The same drummer, grungy guitars, and a girl playing bass and doing backing vocals.
    Also, I guess Corgan’s voice will always be associated with the Pumpkins.

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    Zwan, for me, is much smarter, much more clever, and a hell of a lot more fun that the dreary Pumpkins. As much as I love them, SP was really melodramatic. Corgan actually sounded happy with Zwan, for once. Too bad the album was mastered so crappily . . . it just sounds terrible. It suffers the same problem Rush’s amazing Vapor Trails does – mastered too loud, causing distortion. What a shame. (And what a shame Zwan is no more.)

  • http://www.homerjay.net/index.phtml homer jay

    Coheed was the best thing I’ve heard in a long time. The Darkness should be on that list as well.

  • Andy

    I agree that it’s a shame Zwan are no more.
    Especially as they cancelled the European tour, which I was going to see them on!

    I think I was a little disappointed with the album in general.
    I really tried to enjoy all of it, but some of the material is a bit weak.
    It sounds like Corgan went for a more “live” sound for the album.
    The last official Pumpkins release (Machina) was quite a technically polished album.
    There are some “dreary” songs on the Zwan album, though.
    I just think Corgan does pain better than pleasure!
    (Not from physical experience, before you start!)

    But seriously I reckon it would have taken another album or two to find a winning formula.

    Alas, we may never know!