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.