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.
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.