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Sunday, December 28, 2003

My Top 20 Albums of 2003

My Top 20 Albums of 2003

1. FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE / Welcome Interstate Managers (S-Curve)
To my ears FOW have now made three consecutive perfect pop albums (the only other band I can say that about is the dBs back in the 80's). Like the other two, this album is loaded with memorable hooks, seemingly effortless harmonies, and lyrics that play out like short stories. Pop fun of the highest degree.

2. BUZZCOCKS / Buzzcocks (Merge)
25 years into their career the Buzzcocks return with their most aggressive record ever and their strongest songs since 1993's comeback album, Trade Test Transmissions.

3. THE 88 / Kind of Light (EMK Records)
LA band that owes a huge debt in sound and style to The Kinks (Village Green thru Muswell Hillbillies to be exact). They have a rootsy vibe without ever dipping their toes into the country pool. Retro without sounding dated.

4. PERNICE BROTHERS / Yours, Mine & Ours (Ashmont Records)
For the third album the band's sound is a bit fuller and the songs are a little poppier without losing any of the subtle charm that made their earlier records so special.

Giant lush production and summery melodies that sounds like a Brit-pop Pet Sounds.

6. THE KINGSBURY MANX / Aztec Discipline (Overcoat Records)
Dreamy pop with a slightly psychedelic folk slant that falls somewhere between early Pink Floyd and a less morose Elliott Smith.

7. SLOAN / Action Pact (VIK/BMG Canada)
Sloan records are always a sampler platter of rock/pop references, but for me they are at their best when the guitars are louder and the rhythms have some ooomph. This record rocks the way One Chord To Another did oh so many years ago.

8. NEW PORNOGRAPHERS / Electric Version (Matador)
Jangley guitars and bouncy choruses that expand and improve on where the debut left off. I thought that their first album didn't quite live up to the hype (partly driven by the music press' deserved devotion to Neko Case) while this exceeded it.

9. WIRE / Send (Pink Flag)
Compiling cuts from two EPs with some new songs, Wire's first new album in a decade is a cohesive collection of edgy buzz punk that seamlessly combines the art angst of the early records with the dance grooves of the band's second phase in the late 80's.

10. KENNA / New Sacred Cow (Columbia)
Synthpop revivalism with herky-jerky keyboards and new wave riffs that sound at home along side Soft Cell and the first Depeche Mode records. At times the vocals shift between Dave Gahan and Simon LeBon and thanks to production from Chad Hugo (Neptunes) the grooves are always tight and upfront.

11. JOE STRUMMER & THE MESCALEROS / Streetcore (Hellcat Records)
I can't think of anybody better than Joe Strummer at merging diverse cultural influences into the punk rock aesthetic and still make the songs so damn catchy.

12. PLACEBO / Sleeping With Ghosts (Astralwerks)
Glam punk pop with an edgy tension on the fast songs and a slightly creepy vibe on the slow songs (like a rock version of Massive Attack). The production is great and highlights the innovative rhythm section (I love the drumming throughout) and the whiney vocals that should bug me, but don't.

13. BELLE & SEBASTIAN / Dear Catastrophe Waitress (Rough Trade)
This is the first B&S album I've loved since Sinister. The band has abandoned the blander twee leanings of their last few records in favor of stronger songs with interesting melodies and lyrics with a subtle sense of humor that recalls the early Smiths.

14. EXPLODING HEARTS / Guitar Romantic (Dirtnap)
This record is totally out of place with today - it successfully emulates the pop punk sound and energy of The Boys, Rich Kids, Radiators From Space, and Vibrators. Unapologetically retro from the artwork to the snotty vocals that sound like Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks) mixed with Jake Burns (Stiff Little Fingers). Sadly three members of the band were killed in a van accident shortly after the record came out.

15. LAPTOP / Don't Try This At Home (Gammon)
More 80's new wave revivalism - this time from New York and the reference points are Heaven 17, OMD, and most of all, the Human League. Along with the loads of synths are crunching guitar chords and droll Bowie-esque vocals that half sing, half speak the always interesting lyrics.

16. BEULAH / Yoko (Velocette Records)
Combine Wilco's Summerteeth with Spoon's Girls Can Tell and you're in the ballpark of Beulah. Every song's great individually, but the it plays out better as an album. They jump genres a bit, but the record has a slightly melancholy flow that is captivating.

17. THE FLESHTONES / Do You Swing? (Yep Roc Records)
This album breaks no new ground and doesn't even rank in the better half of the Fleshtones repertoire, but a by-the-numbers Fleshtones album is still something to celebrate. Party garage music made to be danced to and sung along with.

18. THE TYDE / Twice (Rough Trade)
California pop that mines the same reference points as the Thrills, but with a better ratio of catchy summery songs. Think later Byrds mixed in with the Church and Felt. Three of the guys are from Beechwood Sparks, but this is much better than anything that band did.

19. BOSS MARTIANS / The Set-up (MuSick Records)
Garagey punk/pop from Washington state that sounds like an adrenalin charged Graham Parker.

20. REDWALLS / Universal Blues (Undertow)
Less than two years ago they were in their teens and called the Pages and sounded exactly like Hamburg-era Beatles. Now they comfortably shift between the early fabs and the more relaxed feel of early 70's John Lennon, the Faces, and a looser Traffic. Depending on your perspective, they either steal riffs like crazy or reference their heroes frequently. The music is so damn sincere I vote for the latter.

21. EL GUAPO / Fake French (Dischord)
Electro art punks making angular grooves that are at times mesmerizing and always intriguing. They sound like a catchier Suicide or a less angry Gang of Four.

22. THE HEAVENLY STATES / The Heavenly States (Future Farmer Recordings)
Textbook American indie rock somewhere between Archers of Loaf and Pavement.

23. THE SPACE TWINS / The End of Imagining (Raga Drop)
Side project from Weezer guitarist Brian Bell that is mostly laid back but catchy.

24. SLEEPY JACKSON / Lovers (Astralwerks)
The first song sounds like George Harrison leading the Flaming Lips. The next song is like a rootsier indie rock Stones. The next song is different from those. The band genre jumps and dabbles in everything - usually to great effect.

25. THE ORANGES BAND / All Around (Lookout! Records)
Edgy, jangley guitars and some delightfully off-kilter rhythms with an ear for a memorable pop hook.

26. ROONEY / Rooney (Geffen)
Generic college radio power pop that still managed to spend a lot of time in my CD player.

27. BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB / Take Them On, On Your Own (Virgin)
They tone down the Jesus and Mary Chain influence (let the Ravonettes carry that torch) and turn up the love and Rockets influence this go around.

28. FORTY FOOT RINGO / Funny Thing (Atenzia)
Big guitar radio friendly pop that delves into the same terrain as Enuff Znuff. I'm a little leary of even admitting this, but I recently found out that the two main guys in the band were from 80's hair metal goons Trixter.

29. MYRACLE BRAH / Treblemaker (Rainbow Quartz)
Every other MB record has ended up in my top 10, but this go around the songs are a little flatter and the record lacks charm. But there are still some songs so great I kept returning it.

30. IGGY POP / Skull Ring (Virgin)
After two misfires Iggy returns with a records that rocks and has a lot of memorable hooks. With the exception of Peeches all of the collaborations work well - and the Stooges reunion manage to live up to expectations (well, two of the Stooges cuts do).