December 1, 2003
1. The Postal Service, Give Up
When a project includes Ben Gibbard of DCFC (Largehearted Indie Man Of The Year) and Jimmy Tamborello (Dntel) and draws on the services of Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley for backing vocals, expectations are high. Fortunately, the end result doesn't disappoint, blending Gibbard's pop sensibility with Tamborello's melodies and beats into my favorite release of the year.
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2. The Thermals, More Parts Per Million
From my contribution to donewaiting's Tuesday Three: This record allegedly cost only sixty dollars to produce, but like most great art, its value lay in the substance, not the trappings. Fuzzed out pop with glittering hooks and danceable rhythms, the songs are a testament to a lack of pretense, no demographically calculated post production here. This band is all circumstance and no pomp. The first single, "No Culture Icons" gets repeated regularly at full volume in my car, where I scream along with the lyrics, "Hardly art, hardly starving, hardly art, hardly garbage," to the consternation of passersby who just don't get it.
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3. The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow
The Shins' sophomore effort found them recording in a basement and working with a producer bent on paring down their sound. The net effect was frontman James Mercer's songwriting being pushed to the forefront, and a pop masterpiece was achieved.
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5. Bishop Allen, Charm School
From my 75 or Less review: Bishop Allen brings to mind at different times the Kinks, the Velvets and the Pixies, but with strong songwriting and crisp production (and a whole lot of talent), "Charm School" is simply amazing on its own merits without seeming too derivative. Clever lyrics, jangly guitars and soothing harmonies make the band's debut album a pop masterpiece, solid from the first track to the last. This is pop music that makes the perfect summer soundtrack.
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6. Deerhoof, Apple O'
Deerhoof added a second guitarist, Chris Cohen, for this album, but two guitars didn't just add to the systematic joyful noise meltdown that is this band. Instead, he helped pare down the sound, making this album slightly less cacophonous than Reveille, but more approachable.
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7. Drive-By Truckers, Decoration Day
From my 75 or Less review: Here in the American south, decoration day refers to placing bouquets of flowers on loved ones' grave sites. A more fitting name couldn't be found for this brilliantly crafted collection of songs covering dour and depressing topics with southern boogie, insightful lyrics and country wisdom. Whether it's a song about an incestuous brother and sister ("The Deeper In"), an ode to a father and his advice to an unheeding son ("Outfit") or the reaction to a friend's suicide ("When The Pin Hits The Shell"), "Decoration Day" manages to flesh out its stories while never losing its dignity.
8. Blackberry Belle, Twilight Singers - Greg Dulli returns with his second Twilight Singers album and focuses on songwriting while bringing in experienced session men to handle the musical load. The resulting album makes me fondly remember the Afghan Whigs, but look forward to Dulli's growth as both a songwriter and arranger. Look for the third Twilight Singers in this spot next December.
9. Exploding Hearts, Guitar Romantic
Powerpop with an edge, this record was most likely to make my wife ask me to turn down the volume. The band tragically lost of two band members this year in an automobile accident, and they will be missed.
10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell
This was the most anticipated album of the year for me. Slightly less gritty production (compared to their EP's) actually works in the band's favor, and the band continues to be greater than its estimable parts.
11. Wrens, Meadowlands
It took the Wrens seven years to record the followup to Secaucus, and Meadowlands is worth the wait. Intimate and strong from the opening song to the last, you'll be hooked from the first listen.