The List

So here it is, our list that's just like everyone else's, but it's ours! And four months late!

  1. echoes - the rapture

    album coverI refused to listen to this album for the longest time. Perhaps it was some preconceived hatred of the words 'dance' and 'punk' next to each other, or the fear that I might enjoy it. But soon, curiosity gave in, and I...wait. What's this? I. Just. Can't. Resist. Dancing. To say the album is 'moving' is some strange misinterpretation; it's a force no one can refuse. Who would have thought that I, of all people, would freely dance to music…even when I'm alone. Well I have...too many times to count. And repeated arguments with my friends over what tracks are the best only verifies the albums solidity. Echoes doesn't have a concept, all it has in mind is getting you off your ass. -- Andrew

  2. being ridden - cex

    album coverThis album marks a new era for Cex. It focuses much more on his rapping than on his beats. Cex certainly fits the category of the one that doesn't belong on this list. He is a white indie rapper who's self reliant, in that he's the one making all the music and beats for his tunes. He lays down a lot of solid tracks with lyrics ranging from funny to insightful to ones of mockery of the rapping industry. -- Vavoulis

  3. transatlanticism - death cab for cutie

    album cover"We Looked Like Giants," off Transatlanticism, was one of the best all-around songs of the year. The track, however, also happens to be accompanied by a brilliant album. Ben Gibbard’s perfect intonation is the centerpiece to this pop delicacy. He croons his youthful lyrics while guitars chime and melodies jangle along. The album barely touches upon the distorto of days past favoring, instead, indie-pop sensibility. As always, Gibbard writes his clever lyrics with both emotional and aesthetic meaning. -- Jacob

  4. i am the fun blame monster! - menomena

    album coverA truly independent band, releasing on their own this fairly outstanding debut. Sax plus piano plus catchy drum lines and smooth beats, wrapped in a big ball of simplicity. Upbeat and relaxing, with a good overall mix of bouncy fun. I see a promising future for this group, one likely full of style changes and plenty of wonderful tunes, suiting with their current course as set by I Am the Fun Blame Monster. -- Zeff

  5. mouthfuls - the fruit bats

    album coverMouthfuls, The Fruit Bats second, finds the lost puzzle piece of the alt-country movement. Where others mope, the Bats joyously pronounce the benefits of a sordid but redeemed life. Imagine stripped down Americana playing dress-up with the resplendent jewels available in lap-pop composition. Creating a well-crafted synth-folk that appeals as much to the mind as to the heart. The Fruit Bat’s Mouthfuls is just plain charming in its faux-twang simplicity and soaring melodies. -- Jacob

  6. one word extinguisher - prefuse 73

    album coverFreely spastic, yet head-noddingly understandable, One Word Extinguisher rolls through its 23 tracks with hip-hop mentality and ease. Prefuse 73, or Scott Herren, with his '03 release, reveals a unique ability to cut up the beat without losing it to sampling. Much of the album is lyric-less, and for the better, since the sample heavy nature often replaces the need for mc-ing. With each consecutive listen of the album the sophistication of the technical layers slowly unravels, revealing a record that is as playful as it is complex. -- Jacob

  7. happy songs for happy people - mogwai

    album coverSlow meandering complexity leading up, around and through the whole album in a depressed downbeat lull. Happy Songs for Happy People is anything but happy, so don't expect to dance the night away or impress a lover; this music is for introspective intensity of the individual. Very much of Mogwai's style, sharing close remnants to it's nearest release, Rock Action, as well as the earlier Come On Die Young, they take one more great stride in entertainment as they pull on further into this realm of vibrous engagement, strong and hard on the violins, cellos, and guitars. -- Zeff

  8. who will cut our hair when we're gone? - the unicorns

    album coverThe Unicorns just recently canceled their tour date that would lead them into Houston because of something as silly as not getting their passports on time to leave Canada. But really, from a band as wacky and strange enough to sing about ghosts and unicorns of all things, I shouldn’t have expected any better. Still, I was extremely disappointed. The Unicorns’ Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? was not only one of the catchiest pop albums released in 2003, but it also had the courage to be extremely experimental, therefore, extremely original. It’s jangly synth-ness and dueling vocals are as exciting and playful as they are startling and curious, and hopefully, the Unicorns won’t forget to make another album as great as this one. -- Andrew

  9. everyone down here - earlimart

    album coverThis album has a very solid and smooth vibe to it. Laid back rhythms with melodies covered by keyboards, piano, guitar, and, of course, the relaxing voice not unlike that of the late Elliott Smith's. They also manage to cover some ground and get into a little more fast tempo rocking with songs like "Lost at Sea," but, I do have to say, the slower laid back tone is their strong suit. -- Vavoulis

  10. hearts of oak - ted leo and the pharmacists

    album coverTed Leo writes impossibly catchy pop songs that don't make you feel dirty for liking them, and what more can you ask of anyone? Hearts of Oak is, from start to finish (with an exception or two), horribly likable and invigorating stuff. Most people will see Hearts of Oak as either non-offensive fluff or a fantastic album showcasing immense songwriting talent and energized delivery - either way, the album is undislikable, except by the horrible/soulless. (People who find it non-offensive fluff are only subpar or soul-deficient.) -- Noah

  11. rounds - four tet

    album coverBeat-heavy, almost dance electronic with a twist of lemon. Oh and what a lemon it is. Certainly not your traditional techno, no. Realistic in it's construction; natural, if you will. Rounds flows from glitchy synth to hip-hop to ambient simplicity (etc.) in the way that all previous releases had been so perfectly leading up to. Certainly the most experimental of them all, Kieran Hebden has exceeded himself in excellence with this stunningly perfect release, shaping, I can only hope, the future of electro-based DJ-style music for all time. -- Zeff

  12. you forgot it in people - broken social scene

    album coverThe only thing more amazing than the story of Broken Social Scene’s fifteen members, and their post-rock/experimental/art origins, is how they managed to blend mind-blowing pop sensibilities and ultra rock hooks with the spacious reverberation of experimental noise to form music that feels not only extremely new but also classic. You Forgot it in the People homes in on your brainwaves and instantly imbeds itself in your cheek, reeling you into a blissful grasp that will never let go. With tracks like "Almost Crimes" and "Cause = Time," among others, the album is entrancing and floating with the superb pop that your soul desires, whether you'd admit it or not. -- Andrew

  13. hail to the thief - radiohead

    album coverEveryone who knows what music is, knows Radiohead. Certainly a big influence on most every one of the artists in this list, in one way or another, they deserve some credit. With the coming of Hail to the Thief comes a bit of the new and a lot of the old. From OK Computer to Kid A, it's all there. A mix only Radiohead could pull off, and they do so with enough fine-tune precision to make it truly a worthy release. Not the best they have to offer, but grand enough to be a hopeful glimpse of the future for this well-aging band of infamous roots. -- Zeff

  14. her majesty the decemberists - the decemberists

    album coverCastaways & Cutouts established the Decemberists as a band it was easy to love on principle, but who only really pulled their weight on a few brilliant songs. Her Majesty the Decemberists showed them at a far more consistent level, and cemented them as one of the most exciting bands in operation today, fusing such eclectic themes as pirate sea shanties and Neutral Milk Hotellish songwriting. Their penchant for the unusual takes nothing away from what are, at heart, pop sensibilities, and the bizarre stories they tell through song only endear the listener to their unique brand of pop music. -- Noah

  15. michigan - sufjan stevens

    album coverA radical change of pace from Sufjan Stevens's past albums, Michigan is a genuinely affecting tribute to Stevens's home state, full of literate songwriting and unique instrumentation. Its songs range in sound from Nick Drake-like vocals and guitar to jazzy, upbeat, wonderful combinations of a wide array of underused instruments, no less than twenty performed by Stevens himself. His steadfast loyalty to his home state, as well as his uncanny skill at turning a standard banjo into a beautiful and emotional instrument, will move you. -- Noah

  16. dead cities, red seas and lost ghosts - m83

    album coverIf I were going to make music, this is how it would sound. A journey of epic proportions smashed into one album, full with a spectrum of emotion and imagination. I’d make the most electronically cheesy sounds propel the most moving moments, and somehow it would all feel so organic and natural. But M83 beat me to it. And they pulled it off with awe inspiring poise. -- Andrew

  17. chutes too narrow - the shins

    album coverEveryone eagerly awaited the follow-up to Oh, Inverted World, expecting a rehash of The Shin's lo-fi retro-pop. Well, what was in store, with Chutes Too Narrow, was a highly polished, and lovable pop album. It's as if these guys create their songs out of the entirety of music history spanning the last fifty years, without ever sounding contrived. Bliss. -- Jacob

  18. up in flames - manitoba

    album coverBrilliantly lush and immersive, Up in Flames combines the shoegazey walls of sound of My Bloody Valentine and the sugary retro-pop of the Elephant Six collective with electronic glitches and blips, and adds in a little bit of eight-year-old boys' choir and glockenspiel for good measure. The result is breathtaking, especially on highlight tracks such as "I've Lived on a Dirt Road All My Life", "Jacknuggeted", "Twins" and "Every time She Turns Round It's Her Birthday" - ethereal, psychedelic, natural and beautiful. -- Noah

  19. neon golden - the notwist

    album coverUnderstandably, people will be confused and wanting to complain seeing Neon Golden on this list, what with its German release being in 2002 and all, but too bad; Ich bin nicht Deutch. [Ich bin kein Berliner ? -- ed.] With a passion for fun, The Notwist lay down a smoothly synthesized techno mix of low-tone pop, a level of goodness which will not go unnoticed by this site. -- Zeff

  20. the lemon of pink - the books

    album coverThe Books' 2001 debut, Thought for Food, was fascinating, but The Lemon of Pink is an improvement in every way - an unerringly original mash-up of modern electronics and warm acoustics, bizarre sound clips and absorbing ambience, and supremely listenable and enjoyable throughout. Even the lowest points of the album are still intriguing, and the highest points - "Tokyo", "There is No There", "The Future, Wouldn't That Be Nice", etc. - are amazing, beautiful, transcendent. So filled with disarming beauty and unexpected feeling, but keeping a bizarre sense of humor about itself, The Lemon of Pink was 2003's album to beat. -- Noah

Other Notable Albums

debut of the year

  • No P. or D. - Ms. John Soda [Zeff, Noah, Andrew]
  • Young Liars EP - TV on the Radio [Jacob]

most surprising of the year

  • Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts - M83 [Zeff]
  • You Forgot It in People - Broken Social Scene [Noah]
  • Apple O' - Deerhoof [Jacob]
  • Wetheads Come Running - Single Frame [Andrew]

most disappointing of the year

  • Monday at the Hug and Pint - Arab Strap [Zeff]
  • Mount Eerie - Microphones [Noah]
  • Hot Shit - Quasi [Jacob]
  • Hail to the Thief - Radiohead [Andrew]

most fun of the year

  • I Am the Fun Blame Monster - Menomena [Zeff]
  • UFO - Need New Body [Noah]
  • Electric Version - New Pornographers [Jacob]
  • Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? - The Unicorns [Andrew]

best cover art/packaging of the year

  • Happy Songs for Happy People - Mogwai [Zeff]
  • Chutes Too Narrow - The Shins [Noah]
  • Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? - The Unicorns [Jacob]

worst cover art/packaging of the year

  • Mount Eerie - Microphones [Zeff]
  • The Stolen Singles - Arab on Radar [Noah (Jacob)]
  • New Romance - Pretty Girls Make Graves [Jacob]