Records of the Year 2003

As in any year there are a few disappointments amongst the records you buy.
The three most notable for me were the well liked Jayhawks record which was too lightweight and irritating for these ears and the production was well overcooked.
The new Massive Attack record also seemed aimless and the choice of Sinead O’Connor on vocals didn’t work for me. Finally despite 3 great songs the Metallica new one was a grave disappointment, terrible production too with especially badly recorded drums.

I’ve picked 15 put them in some kind of order but I don’t feel particularly strongly about it.
As always this is posted with the emphasis on music with a mention on the audio aspects for Audiogon members.

DAVID SYLVIAN-BLEMISH-An independent release more challenging in parts than his previous solo works but has a few beautiful moments. Nicely recorded with trademark vocals to the fore. Due out on vinyl soon.

JOSH ROUSE-1972-Spoiled only by a few bad tracks this is a record I think many Audiogon members would enjoy. Good song writing meets the odd Beach Boys style arrangement, good quality commercial music with a bit of substance. Nice neutral and natural production.

THE STROKES- ROOM ON FIRE-Second record from highly rated NY band. I saw this band live last year and they are the real deal despite the hype. However their late 70’s sound struggles to go anywhere really new on this record, the main criticism I would aim towards the vocals and lyrics which second time around sound like a band repeating themselves. Great in parts there are some nice guitar twists and turns but ultimately starts to lose focus towards the end of the record. Production is quite basic sounding and doesn’t help the overall feel of the record.

JANE’S ADDICTION-STRAYS-A pretty competent come back record from a band who married epic rock with a slightly funky feel and a singer and lyricist with unusual intelligence and insight. The sound and arrangements are a leaner take on the more epic nature of their early nineties work and Farrell’s vocals aren’t for everyone but still a force far superior to most new rock/metal bands. Production is by Bob Ezrin and again is neutral and well recorded.

THE MARS VOLTA-DELOUSED IN THE COMATORIUM-Highly acclaimed concept record by the main ex- members of At The Drive In whose intense hard rock and intelligence also brought great acclaim. Wonderfully powerful in parts the record eventually struggles due to its length. Many of the songs have quite dramatic dynamics which do not help the flow of the record. All the same well worth a listen if you want to hear some intense intelligent new music. Production is partly by Rick Rubin and stops just short of being overcooked.

RYAN ADAMS-ROCK N’ROLL-The planet’s most gifted young songwriter has been criticised by critics and fans alike for this record. The songs evoke everybody from The Replacements, Oasis, and T-Rex to The Smiths and early U2! Stepping away from his alt-country roots this is still a good listen. A handful of the tracks are excellent but it would have benefited from a little editing. The production fits the melodic but rocky material.

BONNIE PRINCE BILLY-MASTER AND EVERYONE-Will Oldham produces 10 very sparse low key folk songs which again upset some fans that much preferred the songs live. Production is almost obtuse in terms of being closely miked but there is something mysterious and intriguing about the whole experience.

MOGWAI-SONGS FOR HAPPY PEOPLE-Instrumental post-rock which has turned up in various UK TV ads since it’s release. Atmospheric but mostly tuneful, this is the record they’ve always threatened to make. Production values are good with some nice string arrangements.

DAVID BOWIE-REALITY-Two decent records in a row from Bowie prove there is life in the old diamond dog yet. A more commercial set than its predecessor it benefits from being reasonably focused at 49 minutes .A good range of music that goes from energetic to moody and well worth a listen if you’ve gave up on him. Production is by Tony Visconti again and he does a reasonable job of presenting quite busy arrangements at times.

STEELY DAN-EVERYTHING MUST GO-I wasn’t a big fan of 2AN but this is more like it to me.A decent addition to their almost flawless legacy despite the odd duff track.
Ironic, sarcastic, intelligent with a flawless if tad sterile production.

NICK CAVE-NOCTURAMA-Cave covers most aspect of his career on this record, dark angry rock and plaintive piano based ballads. Overall perhaps then it’s no major surprise it’s a little disjointed but when it’s great, it’s really great. A good balanced production that captures The Bad Seeds versatility.

ZWAN-MARY STAR OF THE SEA-I was never a big fan of Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) but this a record full of great commercial rock. Upbeat but without being lightweight this record continued to give me enjoyment throughout the year. Guitars and melodies throughout however the production could have been a little clearer for me.

RADIOHEAD-HAIL TO THE THIEF-Not too dissimilar to their previous 2 records in that it marries Electronica and rock. A record that has made much more sense after seeing them live last month where the more out there things worked better. However having said that there is still a fundamental flaw about their recent music that is very difficult to define. Another record that would have benefited from a few of the weaker tracks being removed. Maybe they think too much and certainly they don’t manage to execute all their ideas perfectly in a recording sense. Production is fantastic in parts sounds gimmicky in other areas as did Amnesiac to my ears.

BLUR-THINK TANK-A very eclectic record that is both experimental and commercial in equal parts.
Modern fragmented but sometimes beautiful wistful music. As always they’ve taken care how the music sounds and the production values are high.

RYAN ADAMS-LOVES IS HELL PARTS 1&2-The record Universal wouldn’t release as his official new record has been released as two separate EP’s.
This quite a downbeat record but as always with Adams it’s the quality of the songs that shine through. There are 15 tracks on the two EP’s and it could do with 2 maybe 3 less but the best work on this record probably eclipses anything else released in 2003.
Evoking everybody from recent Wilco, Jeff Buckley and even Dylan-Adams puts his stamp all over these beautiful songs with great vocals and clever arrangements.
To my ears Adams is on another level musically from any of his contemporaries only his self-destructive tendencies can stop him.
Try to pick up the copies without the bonus tracks which are frankly rubbish and break the flow of the music.
The production and arrangements are excellent throughout.
Great post. I enjoyed Room on Fire (The strokes), Hail to the thief (Radiohead) and Mary Star of the sea (Zwan). Too bad Zwan disbanded.

A cd I keep playing all the time is Coral Fang by The distillers. It's a very good punk band and the lead singer has a great voice.

Catchiest tunes and lyrics of the year: Fountains of Wayne's "Welcome Interstate Managers". Nods to the Cars (Stacy's Mom), Oasis (Super Collider), country (Hung Up On You), and no doubt multiple other influences, all made into their own.

Mixed feelings, 'cos they've finally hit the big time (at least Stateside), so no longer belong in that personally prized pile of undiscovered gems.

Great rockers (powering off with the heavy-hitting trio of Mexican Wine, Bright Future in Sales, and Stacey's Mom), mixed in with more sedate (but equally catchy) tracks (favorites Hackensack and Valley Winter Song).

Slight weakening toward the end, but closes gracefully with Your's and Mine.

Drawback to CD. My young kids want to hear it all the time in the car, and I still hope they're hearing "I'm gonna get my shiP together"

Side Note - In Nick Hornby's "Songbook" (previously mentioned in another post), he acknowledges Hackensack as one of his notable tunes of 2002/3; nice knowing that we have the same great taste.
Best without doubt:
The Flaming Lips "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots"
Wilco "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot"
Damien Rice "O"

No way to shake the "bad" stick at them.
Damien Rice I need to check,one of my best friends rates it highly.
Flaming Lips and Wilco-2002 mate.
Flaming Lips actually make me want to vomit but it's good to see a sea of opinions.
Great post Ben - thanks!

My favorites from 2003 (some repeats from above):

Jane's Addiction - Strays. Who says rock is dead?
Jeff Beck - Jeff.
Fountains of Wayne - Welcome Interstate Managers. I couldn't believe they couldn't get a recording contract after their earlier efforts. That shouldn't be a problem now.
Kings Of Leon - Youth & Manhood.
The Jayhawks - Rainy Day Music.
Ronny Jordan - At Last. One of my favorite jazz guitarists.
Radiohead - Hail to the Thief - so many accolades, but it really is great.
Steely Dan - Everything Must Go. I liked this much better than Two Against Nature.

Two Live CDs, one of an old recording, one of a new concert:
Led Zeppelin - How The West Was Won
Roxy Music - Live
1> Uncivilized Love by Gus Black -- fabulous song writing, very good recording and extremely musical

A huge gap appears before going on to the next group, in no particular order:

- Bare by Annie Lennox
- Audioslave by Audioslave (it was very late 2002, but...)
- Give Up by Postal Service
- My Private Nation by Train
- Life for Rent by Dido
- Meteora by Linkin Park
- Fallen by Evanescence (just love her voice)
- 14 Shades of Grey by Staind

I tried not to repeat any of the great recordings mentioned earlier. Great post. Thanks

How would you compare Beck's latest to his previous 2. I've heard it's in the same sort of techno vein. I enjoyed "Who Else", but thought the formula was getting a bit stale for "You Had It Coming", so I haven't gotten around to "Jeff" yet.

Frankly, I liked it better when he was only putting out albums every 5 years or so. Made them seem more special. What's up with this sudden burst of productivity anyway?
Elvis Costello - North
Randy Newman - Songbook Vol.1
Dar Williams - Beauty of the Rain
Richard Thompson - Old Kit Bag
Warren Zevon - The Wind

I've also enjoyed what I've heard from the Jayhawks (sorry Ben), Rickie Lee Jones, and Jack Johnson.
I really like The Jayhawks just didn't like the last one although most who bought it really liked it.
Records that I've enjoyed this year include:

Geoff Muldaur---"Private Astornomy": Mainly updates on Bix Beiderbecke tunes with great vocals on a few cuts by Loudon and Martha Wainwright. Nice to have these tunes in modern sound quality.

Blind Boys of Alabama --- "Go Tell It on The Mountain": With loads of associated artists like Tom Waits, Richard Thompson

Band of Blacky Ranchette --- (Can't remember the album title): How Gelb's (Giant Sand) band with real rough and tumble c&w and old-timey feel.

Mojave 3---"Spoon and Rafter"

Robert Cray Band --- "Time Will Tell"

Decembrists --- (Can't remember title: Dark songs with accessible arrangements and well recorded

Matmos --- "The Civil War": SF music collage duo who have backed Bjork at times

Mathew Herbert---(Can't remember title): Skewed big band arrangements of former ambient/elecronic artist

Andrew Hill --- "Passing Ships": Newly issued shelved recording from early '60's on Blue Note by noted great pianist

Also agree with the other posters' nominations for Kings of Leon and Mars Volta
I'll go with the Steely Dan. They seem to have a handle on the times. I'm not sure why so many feel this is better than Two Against Nature, as that album had some real gems IMHO.
Ben Cambell always comes up with some great newer record reviews here on audiogon - thanks as always Ben
(I heard Ryan Adams was all hype, guess I'll check him out)

here's a few I really liked in 03

1) Lucinda Williams - World Without Tears
2) Sarah McLachlan - Afterglow
3) Daniel Lanois - Shine
4) Radiohead mentioned prev
5) Steely Dan mentioned prev
6) Ricki Lee Jones - My Favorite Day
7) Dave Matthews - Sove Devil

I enjoy your lists because they typically showcase how the musical tastes of Great Britain and the US both come together and diverge. It is like reading Uncut or Q or one of the other British music magazines.

I found that I purchased more music than ever in 2003 ... but a good deal of it (probably a majority) was reissues, compilations, or classical. There seemed to be more recordings that received a fair bit of hype, but were mediocre or worse in 2003 than in previous years ... Elvis Costello (I will never purchase anymore of his puke); Emmylou Harris; Radiohead (sorry Ben); Joan Baez; Metallica; Richard Thompson; John Hiatt ... just to name a few and it bothers me to cite them, as they are all favorites of mine.

In 2002, there were two releases that I played to death just because they were that good ... Coldplay's "Rush of Blood to the Head" and Peter Wolf's "Sleepless." For 2003, the debut efforts from the Thorns and Evanescence, were those types of releases for me. With that all said, Rich's Top 10 recordings for 2003 are:

1. Rosane Cash "Rules of Travel"
I have been a huge fan of Rosanne Cash for almost 20 years now. She is a gifted songwriter and poet. Her songs are intimate and touching and filled with imagery. Her voice is inviting and full and embraces the soul. This recording also represented a personal accomplishment for Rosanne ... she had developed polyps on her vocal cords and didn't think that she would ever sing again. The CD includes a duet with her dad, Johnny Cash. The song is entitled, "September When It Comes," and it uses the passing of the seasons as a metaphor for the passing of the stages of life. All very moving ... all very dignified.

2. The Thorns
I was so taken by surprise with the excellence of this album. Three solo artists (Matthew Sweet; Shawn Mullins; and Pete Droge) who typically put out good independent genre type music, get together and craft a recording that is greater than the sum of its pieces. The sound is very reminiscent of CSN&Y ... soaring harmonies with an acoustic rock/country/folk feel (think late 60's/early 70's). The recording has been released in 3 versions ... the original version; the original version plus a separate acoustic version; and a hybrid SACD version of the original. Buy two ... the original plus acoustic versions for the diversity and the SACD version for the cleaner sonics.

3. John Mellencamp "Trouble No More'
Even though John has not had as many chart toppers as he had earlier in his career, his albums over the last 10 years have been excellent, from both songwriting and musicianship points of view. "Trouble No More" is a covers album, featuring John's treatment of a number of traditional/public domain; blues, folk; rock, and pop songs. John's versions range from good to very good ... done in what has become his eclectic mix of instruments (violin; accordion; organ; etc).

4. Shins "Chutes Too Narrow"
The lead vocalist sounds a bit like Robert Smith from the Cure ... the music sounds like a combination of the Who; the Beatles; and the Grass Roots (the original band with PF Sloane) ... the album sounds (arrangements, song sequencing, etc.) like it was made in 1966. A real find.

5. Mark O Connor "In Full Swing"
Stunning sonics ... equally stunning performances. Superb combination of classical, swing, and traditional jazz.

6. Evanescence "Fallen"
Heavy metal with melody ... what a concept. The most listenable metal music to my ears since Metallica's "S&M." And yes, they did the song ("Fallen") from the "Daredevil" movie.

7. David Bowie "Reality"
I had felt that "Heathen" was a huge disappointment. But, I still buy Bowie's new stuff, because I believe that he has another Ziggy Stardust in him ... if he could just "rediscover" his onetime excellent songwriting skills. Nonetheless, Bowie is still an impressive performer and clever musician and that comes across in bucket loads in "Reality."

8. Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros "Streetcore"
Well crafted and engaging music from Joe Strummer, from the premier 70's punk band, The Clash. One album highlight is a gripping version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" (note: this version is different than the one that Joe did with Johnny Cash, which appears on Johnny's American Label anthology, "Unearthed"). Life isn't fair ... both Johnny and Joe passed away in 2003.

9. Gil Shaham "The Faure Album"
I purchased a lot of clasical music in 2003. 2003 was a tough year for my family and the year ended with my having two pretty serious back surgeries. The doctors said that I should get some music that relaxes me ... and I did. This recording is a must for violin, piano, and cello fans. The music is passionate. It awakens the senses. It is mesmerizing in its beauty. When I first heard the recording on a set of store speakers in Virgin Records (NYC - Union Square) ... I just stopped ... the music was that beautiful. Another album to try is a Virgin Records compilation ... "Relaxing Classics."

tie for #10 ...
10. Bangles "Doll Revolution'
10. Travis "12 Memories"

These are both guilty pleasure type recordings. The music just rocks and it succeeds in getting inside my head ... with very little effort on my part.

Thanks for hanging in there with me. My 2004 New Year's Resolution is to focus on the music and not to focus so much on the equipment. Believe it or not, that is what I did until about five years ago, when I got speaker happy. It must have been a mid-life crisis, as I was 41 at the time.

Regards, Rich
Rich nice list,if you read anything I write about Radiohead you'll see I understand any criticism they get.
As always you can't get to everything and there's a few on your list I'd like to hear/get.
As for reissues/remasters I did another list on Audiogon a few days before that has attracted next to no attention.
I bought The Shins CD a few weeks ago and just didn't like it at first. Only listened to it twice. In your opinion, What are the best songs in that cd?
Man I love this kinda stuff. Thanks to all that contribute. Ben and Rich, we seem to appreciate the same styles or kinds of music. I think your lists are on the mark. I'm a few days from receiving my Odyssey Stratos Extreme amp and then I'll endeavor to listen and focus on the music even more as well in 2004. I believe I purchased more music in 2003 than any other year too. My highlights, in no particular order, are:

Ziggy Marley "Dragonfly"
The Jayhawks "Rainy Day Music"
Ryan Adams "Rock and Roll, Love is Hell 1 and 2"
Kathleen Edwards "Failer"
Rosanne Cash "Rules of Travel"
Radiohead "Hail to the Thief"
Stereophonics "You Gotta Go There To Come Back"
Perfect Circle "Thirteenth Step"
Paul Westerberg "Come Feel Me Tremble"
Acoustic Alchemy "Radio Contact"
David Sanborn "Time Again"

Everyone, please keep the lists coming. I'm always on the lookout for "new" stuff to listen to.
I struck by Ben_campbell's as the list of the more lame 2003 albums containing the least interesting music. Mine

Renee Fleming
Robinella and the CCstringband
Scene Creamers
The Shins
and the Lost in Translation Soundtrack
Ohala-I do listen to a wide variety of music some of which is mainstream,some isn't.
The more experimental things I bought this year didn't work for me such as Pole,Manitoba and Growing.
You might do your list more service with a description of these bands,many of whom I haven't heard of.
My music tastes are what they are but a bit more depth of explination as to why they are lame would do your post more justice.
I'm all for people saying I bought X,Y or Z here's why I think it's crap.
That's what debate is for otherwise my choices aren't the only lame thing about.
Hi Blue:

You may want to try listening through the Shins' Chutes Too Narrow CD a few times as the CD is relatively short (39 minutes). What has so struck me about this album was its 60's feel and sound to it. It displays many of the influences from the 60's ... but where it really hits the mark, is the way it captures the art rock style (for example) of the Zombies (Time of the Season) and the Left Banke (Walk Away Renee). I pretty much like all the songs, but some standouts are:

1. Kissing the Lipless (This song features lots of good guitar work ... from basic strumming to choppy power chords to Mick Ronson style soaring guitar. I also like the half shout the lead vocalist does each time before he goes into the chorus);
2. So Says I (Close your eyes and imagine the Small Faces (the Steve Marriott band) ... bouncing vocals; intricate song structure; guitar & drum interplay.)
3. Saint Simon (Any British pop band from the mid-60's would have been proud to perform a pop art song so well. This song reminds me of the track "A Rose for Emily" from the Zombies' "Odyssey & Oracle" album.)
4&5. Fighting In a Sack and Turn a Square (two good old fashioned rave ups ... one comes complete with harmonica break.)

To like this CD, it really helps to like the pop/rock music that was coming out in the late 60's ... though obviously, it doesn't have to be that way.

Regards, Rich
BTW, I find the first Shins record entitled something like "Oh, Inverted World" even better than "Chutes Too Narrow".
My 2003 Faves:

Janes Addiction - Strays Glad that Dave Navarro is back where he belongs.

Moonspell - Antidote One of the best EuroGoth rock bands in existence...period. And they're from Portugal. Musical, melodic, relevant.

Front 242 - Pulse Yes, it just goes to show you that even older industrial geezers can still find that yet unexplored territory.

Massive Attack - 100th Window And I do like Sinead.

Rdaiohaed - These guys are the only band currently carrying the Beatles torch, along with Beck (Hanson) of course.

Sorry for not behaving in the way you want. I have no personal interest in you, and I have already said to completion what I meant. Breaking down why something stikes me as lame is a weird waste of time, but hey, I did add "uninteresting". Maybe that helps you.
And maybe it would also help to point out that at least I didn't go as far as to state what you liked from 2003 makes me want to vomit.

"You might do your list more service with a description of these bands,many of whom I haven't heard of."

Gee, a lecture, now I feel like the only one who didn't include descriptions. I had other things to do and too little motivation to include them.

I forgot to add White Stripes.
INPO: The sound track for "ChiCago" and Bette Midler Sings The Rosemary Clooney Songbook.
Ohlala cheer up mate.
It's nice to be nice.
Sorry you took my Flaming Lips quip so personally.
Nice of you to come back and throw another brick only this time you shouted "asshole" as you ran away.
Uninteresting is a good word.
So is pointless.
So is petty.
"Sorry you took my Flaming Lips quip so personally."

I didn't. I don't own or have much interest in their music, not that I think its bad. The irony may be too subtle to pick out, but your use of 'petty' is really good.
The best IMO by far is

Richard Thompson's This Old Kit Bag,,I have it on CD and Vinyl...

Judith Owen's 12 Arrows ( I bought it from CDBaby)

David Bromberg's "Wood",,,awesome jazz CD with excellent production.
The passion that drives Ben_campbell to write in favor of his choices is the same passion that causes him to react violently to music he dislikes.

Personally I prefer a guy with passion, a guy that lets me know where he’s coming from. If I agree with one of his suggestions, I research others on his list. If I disagree, no harm done.

This is a good review. We should embrace the diversity of music at Audiogon and be grateful we have choices.

Ohlala is entitled to his opinion too. I hope he responds in a way that causes me to search out a new piece of software. Music should not be a point of dissention. It’s the only purpose for all this expensive and complicated equipment.
Ben..what about the suit, cock rock at its finest...if u like early ac/dc...this will float you boat bigtime...
Ben- mahalo for your list- "Uninteresting is a good word," but that would be pointless and petty.

PS- a real music lover would never put a TV in his listening room, much less between his speakers.
Kana813-A quick check indicates you might be saying thanks for the list,it would be nice to think so.
I have one main room,so the TV needs to be there and the room doesn't work reversed.
"A quick check indicates you might be saying thanks for the list," - that's true. you're obviously a very serious

"I have one main room, so the TV needs to be there and the room doesn't work reversed."- that too bad. tvs cause all sort of problem with audio system.
Phasecorrect I like what I've heard of the Darkness (the singles),they're good fun,a bit tongue in cheek obviously but the music is cleverly constructed.
The TV Kana I've taken it out before and indeed covered the screen etc.etc, my opinon is that it really didn't make any difference to my ears the picture may be deceptive but the Speakers sit quite a bit forward from the TV.
Okay - weighing in with a second record of the year. An XMAS gift, so kind of late on giving a good listen - but Belle & Sebastian's Dear Catastrophe Waitress" is fantastic.

I'd given them a spin several years back with "The Boy With the Arab Strap" - although pleasant enough, it was so "twee" and hushed that it didn't merit more than the occasional play.

So - wow - was it good to hear this collection of hooky, up-tempo, sun-drenched songs (some lyrics aside). Who cares if Trevor Horn's production may have upset some B&S purists who cry "sell-out". Instrumentation is great - the interplay is pristine.

I suppose I'd term it 60's early/70's retro pop ... Hammond organ, sometimes sounds a little Kinks'y, a little 10cc, great backing horns, someone else suggested Rundgren.

I suppose "sell-out might be appropriate" - as it's apparently a top 250 seller on Amazon - and I've heard significant airplay of at least 2 or 3 songs on "adult contemporary" stations - a far cry from being darlings of the college radio circuit. But if sell-out means music THIS GOOD, well - call me a believer.

Go on and give a listen to the hits - Track 1 (Step Into My Office Baby), Track 3 (If She Wants Me), or 6 (I'm a Cuckoo) - and you'll be a believer too.

Oh - by the way, I haven't paid enough attention lyrically because I can't get beyond the damned tunes! But snippets definitely leap out (If She Wants Me - "If I could do just one near perfect thing I’d be happy/
They’d write it on my grave, or when they scattered
my ashes" ... I'm a Cuckoo - "I’d rather be in Tokyo/
Id rather listen to Thin Lizzy-oh/
Watch the Sunday gang in Harajuku/
There’s something wrong with me/I’m a cuckoo") ... They've even got a song for you baseball fans ... Piazza, New York Catcher...

Fine stuff...
Fiery Furnaces - Gallowsbird's Bark
The song 'Snaggletooth' (officially entitled Two Fat Feet) is the catchiest rock/pop tune I've heard all year. Reminds me of some great Jefferson Airplane tunes from the heyday of Haight Ashbury. The rest of the album is an interesting collection of modern 'garage' without the annoying distortion. "Sometimes the signs from Heaven are vague" is the best lyric I've heard in a long time.
HIGHLY recommended.

Po' Girl - Po' Girl
I cannot stop playing this disc. These 2 girls have put together an infectious collection of folk/blues/roots/folk/R&B songs that they are singing with bubbling joy. There's a great version of "Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans" about 5 minutes after the regular CD ends.

Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros - Streetcore
The Clash meets Worldbeat. Lots of appealing thythms and riffs.

The Handsome Family - Singing Bones
I really like these guys. How do you clasify this? Folk Americana with an edge?

Ojos de Brujo - Bari
Dub Flamenco? Acid Worldbeat? I have no idea how to categorize this. The liner notes are written in either Spanish or Portugese, so I'm not sure where the band is from. But if you like the idea of high-octane Flamenco guitars with dub and killer vocals, listen to this album.

Emmylou Harris - Stumble into Grace
Its not as good as Red Dirt Girl, but its still got that visceral impact that really pulls you into the songs.

Bill Frisell - The Intercontinentals
Jazz meets Worldbeat meets the Blues. Which is a great thing, since to me , most modern jazz is devoid of that 'something' that grabs your emotions and pulls you in. Intercontinentals has some phenomenal musicians playing percusssion, oud, pedal steel and violin. The whole album is somewhat of an ode to Malian blues guitar, which is what gives it such emotional appeal.

Lucinda Williams - World without Tears
Not as good as Sweet Old World, or Carwheels, or Essence. But it is still one of my ten favourites of 2003. Says something about how good Lucinda is compared to the pretenders.

Oh Susanna - Oh Susanna
My favourite pop album of the year. Catchy jingles and a good dollop of emotional singing. Nettwerk does it again.

Josh Rouse - 1972
For flowery folk/pop, this is a very good album

FWIW, I didn't like the Ryan Adams songs at all. Where's the music?

Great ideas from all. I'm eager to go listen to some of the albums listed here. Thanks.
Okay - another response to ROTY - just got Blur's "Think Tank" for Valentine's day, and I just can't get past the ballads (Out of Time, Good Song, Sweet Song, Battery In Your Leg). I'm sure I have to listen to the other tracks more, but the first time round it felt like my earholes had been violated.

HOWEVER, the ballads are pretty amazing. What gets me is how much the bass grounds the song. If I had to compare them, I guess I'd put them in the same camp as the Cure's "Disintegration" (sort of), or maybe some thin-white-duke era Bowie. The bass simply pulses throughout the songs, giving their somewhat simple tunes an unexpected urgency. Hard to explain. Giving it a spin on Amazon through headlines doesn't do the bass line justice. In my weenie car stereo (Mazda Protege es - stock, but that's another thread, isn't it?), they just about shake the door off.

My exposure to Blur previously has been "Modern Life Is Rubbish" (which I've barely listened to), and "Parklife" (which I think is great - an artfully deliberate slice of Anglo-nia) - if perhaps a bit ambitious in scope.
Regiolanthe-yes Blur do extremes which is part of their charm to me however if you like this record you might actually prefer 13 their previous one-it has some elements of the extremes in their music also but is more atmospheric overall and arguably better "ballads" as you term them.
Sorry, but I didn't buy or hear any albums which came out in 2003 that I would nominate for a list of Records of the Year, including any of the ones listed above to which I've been exposed (the Lips excepted of course, but as the vomitious Ben points out, they were '02). Not that I've heard nearly all of them, or even a majority, but some I know I wouldn't need to hear at all based on past experience with the artists, and none of the ones I did held much interest for me and I thought almost all of it was overrated. Rarl's description of the Shins is extremely tempting for someone of my predispositions, but I saw 'em play on TV and didn't have his reaction at all. Maybe I need to check out the whole disk, but from what I recall I have strong doubts about my prospects. 60's-heads might also go for the Raveonettes long-player, which is revved-up girl group/surf genre-mongering and trifling good fun (and co-produced by the legendary Richard Gottehrer). The new Buzzcocks I thought wasn't nearly as impressive as their first comeback effort in the early 90's, Trade Test Transmissions, let alone their old prime, despite lots of positive press. I haven't heard the latest Sloan yet because it's a $25 import here and I was hoping they'd just come around on tour and I'd buy it there, while new Guided By Voices disks I swore off after their previous one (or was it the one before that?). As for hits, there was but one tune to make it onto radio last year which got the job done for me, and that was Outkast's "Hey Ya", which shone brightly like a lonely beacon in the popworld void (ditto its video)...

The Shins were a huge disappointment when they performed on the Conan O' Brien show. I was really taken aback. The vocals were thin; the band members were bouncing around and acting goofy during the song; and the drummer looked like he was playing a toy set of drums. I had flashbacks of a Wallflowers performance that I saw at Madison Square Garden a few years back. I openly wondered what is the lead singer doing with these jerks.

The Shins' CD is TOTALLY different and has so much going on. It is a very layered, delicate, retro sound ... with modern era, quite out there lyrics. I am reminded of the Odessa era Bee Gees and other pop groups (like Procol Harum) of that time (1968). They were shaping their sound so much in the studo, that they couldn't recreate their sound live, unless they toured with a 60 piece orchestra (which is what Procol Harum did).

Give the Shins a shot. The CD is $10 in most places.

Regards, Rich
Zaikesman I bought a record this week you might like it came out in 2003 on Sub Pop but is new out in the UK.
The Constantines-Shine A Light.
I haven't heard it in depth but I have heard enough to be impressed.
Punky but with rock dynamics,it might well be the kind of thing you'd like.
Sorry 2003 was a musical bummer for you but try The Constantines or if you don't like that there is always the Flaming Lips.
Let us know how you go.............
Zaikeman oh and we agree about Outkast I bought that this year too,great album(x2).
For Ben, Albert and others with open minds, and for all those "there's-no-good-new-music" trolls out there:

Check out a handful off this link, you're guaranteed to find something that will get you going.
If you really like it, listen to "World Cafe" on PRI radio, hosted by XPN's David Dye.
Musical diversity is what it's all about!

I can occasionally listen to WC when I travel to Philly and NYC, and the new music they play is generally not of interest to me, but thanks for classing me with the closed-minders... ;^)
Zaikesman get that Constantines record now maan!
Go on tell me I'm wrong,go on ,go on.
Zaikes, would never do that to you! Any Flaming Lips fan automatically gets categorized as open-minded-good-guy.

Hey Ben, Spencer and I both know you're 'wrong'...You know what about! ;^)

Thanks Spence for the vote of far this morning, I've listened to classical radio, Sonny Rollins, Carmen McRea, The Artwoods, The Fleshtones, and The Monochrome Set, and George Abdo belly-dance music, so I don't think I'm exactly in danger of folding up myself into a coccoon...I'll try to check out that Constantines, seems to me I've read something good about it, but you know all that can mean...
I can't disagree with Ben; he likes David Sylvian!
Ben ever get to see him live? I was fortunate enough to see him in a small venue in Philly about a year ago. He did everything I could hope for from The Art of Parties to Secrets From the Beehive(an all-time favorite). A truly unique voice, and widely underappreciated songwriter...
Thanks for the tip on Blemish. Didn't know he has anything new out.
Spencer sadly Manchester was as close as he got to Glasgow on the 3 date Blemish tour he did late last year.
He's one of the few artists I haven't seen live that I'd like to.
Blemish is now out on vinyl as well which will probably interest you.
Ben, Thanks for the heads up. Worth a road trip to see him, if you get the chance. Cheers, Spencer