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My Top 20 Albums of 2003

As always, this is a list of the music that I've listened to the most over the course of the past 12 months. Once again, I found myself diving even further down the rabbit hole in terms of what genres I try to stay in touch with and cover, and once again I'm sure that I missed out on some good releases while trying to keep up the site (but that's where you come in). I'd have to say that this is the year that pop music definitely made a huge comeback in my mind. It's nothing overt that you would most likely hear on the radio, but there's definitely more of a pop sensibility in much of what the artists below have done, and much moreso than in past years. Once again, I find that the groups who are doing the most unique things with blending organic and electronic instrumentation the most to my liking, and once again you are free to agree or disagree with me. The Readers List has gotten more popular each year that I've done it, so I'm continuing it as well. Thanks for reading!

1. Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It In People (Arts And Crafts Records)
Yes, I know that this one technically came out in 2002, but it wasn't released much of any place else until this past year. There isn't much to say about this album that hasn't been said elsewhere. It's an absolute masterstroke of experimental pop that pretty much came out of nowhere from some of the best Canadian musicians working today. Buy it already. full review

2. Do Make Say Think - Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn (Constellation)
Just when I think that this group can't get any better, they go and release another album that blows me away. This release contains a couple of the most sonically moving tracks that I've heard all this year. Easily the most widely-reaching album for the group (with moments of downright experimental pop), they once again prove that you don't need vocals to stun. full review

3. Sufjan Stevens - Greetings From Michigan, The Great Lake State (Asthmatic Kitty)
I'm not sure if his plan to do a release for every state in the union is a joke or not, but as an opening statement he really doesn't need to say any more. An epic release that is equal parts tragedy and inspiration, this is an ode to the Great Lake State that you can appreciate wherever you're from. full review

4. Ellen Allien - Berlinette (Bpitch Control)
A kickback to an almost techy, old school electronic sound, Berlinette is another one of those releases that came out of nowhere and knocked my socks off. Glistening production on a release that makes me wish I was double-jointed so I could dance to it even better. If you can't remember where you left the part of your brain that likes to bust a move, this is the release that will help you find it. full review

5. Matmos - The Civil War (Matador Records)
Easily the most accessible release that this group has put out, The Civil War is also their statement proving that they're some of the best sound designers working today. A head-on collision between Medieval music, found-sound, and digital deconstruction, this is one of those releases that again makes no sense when describing it on paper but makes perfect sense when tickling your eardrums. full review

6. Four Tet - Rounds (Domino)
Although he still hasn't cracked the mainstream consciousness completely, 2003 was the year of Four Tet. With enough remixes to fill a couple CDs, production work for Beth Orton and another freaking stunning release with Rounds, Kieren Hebden is off and rolling as one of the most talented young artists working in electronic music today. I'd say "Fridge who?" but I only hope he finds time to do another release with his mates soon. full review

7. The Books - The Lemon Of Pink (Tomlab)
Their last album was such a beautiful fluke that I figured there was no way the magic could be recaptured, but somehow this duo managed to do just that. Although it's not quite as stunning as when you hear their beautiful and unique sound for the first time, it shows them moving in a slightly different direction (working with vocals and more of a structure) that works well. I hope they do it again and again. full review

8. 1 Mile North - Minor Shadows (Ba Da Bing!)
This release came out of absolutely nowhere and moved me with some of the most subtle sonics that I've heard in a long time. This is an album where the silences between the sounds are just as important as the sounds themselves. Easily one of the best ambient albums that came out this year, and probably one of the better of the past several. full review

9. Manitoba - Up In Flames (Leaf)
I don't know that anyone could have predicted the stylistic jump that Dan Snaith made from his first release to this one, but given his prolific and varied output (everything from quiet sampled electronics to blistering two-step fuckup), I guess nobody should have been surprised. A sampledelic dream recording that mashes Wall Of Sound production with the digital age quite nicely. Essential. full review

10. B. Fleischmann - Welcome Tourist (Morr Music)
A double CD of what is easily B. Fleischmann's most realized work to date. Amazing production and a widely-varied sound moves this one up into my favorite releases ever on the Morr Music label (alongside Manual's Until Tomorrow and Lali Puna's Scary World Theory). Absolutely stunning music, and a 2nd disc that is one of the best 45-minute tracks I've ever heard. full review

11. Rachel's - Systems/Layers (Quarterstick)
In the works over the course of several years, this newest effort by Rachel's is their most ambitious work to date. Encorporating found sound samples and lots of unique instrumentation, the group has broken out of their categorization as simply a bunch of post-indie kids playing chamber music and moved into a realm all their own. full review

12. Matt Elliot - The Mess We Made (Merge Records)
Matt Elliot called Third Eye Foundation quits just over a year ago, but I'm really glad that he's back already because his bleak soundscapes are one of a kind and perfect for playing when the winter snow is swirling. This is a much more organic release than his earlier work, but still moves in many of the same, eerie directions. Haunting and great. full review

13. The Blood Brothers - Burn, Piano Island, Burn (Artist Direct)
I arrived to this one late but there's something about this over-the-top release that punches me in all the right places. Screamed vocals, amazing dynamics, and a completely bizarre sense of humor make this one of the best releases to blast and sing along with. Crazy. full review

14. Decemberists - Her Majesty (Kill Rock Stars)
The Decemberists expanded their sonic palette with this second release, but still stayed tried and true to what they did best, which is write great songs. Collin Meloy is proving himself to be one of the better storytelling lyricists out there, and the group just seems to keep coming up with great backdrops for him to spin his yarns. full review

15. Polmo Polpo - Like Hearts Swelling (Constellation)
It was just about a year ago that Sandro Perri entered my radar with his Science Of Breath release, and honestly I was expecting something like this from him. A mind-bogglingly dense excursion into swirling melodies both organic and electronic, this is a release that will envelop you. full review

16. The Postal Service - Give Up (Sub Pop)
I'm probably discrediting myself as a reviewer by having such a blatantly pop album in my year-end list, but I can't help it. This is one of those little records that has stuck with me all year and I still find it on fairly regular rotation. Sometimes silly and other times a little too serious for its own good, this one is a fun little listen from the guys behind DNTEL and Death Cab For Cutie. full review

17. Explosions In The Sky - The Earth Is Not A Cold, Dead Place (Temporary Residence)
After they blew away everyone with their sophomore release, Explosions In The Sky released a third album that backed away from the louder moments just a bit and explored the more delicate moments. Although it's not quite as sonically overpowering as their last release, it's one that will grow and weave its way into your head. full review

18. Giddy Motors - Make It Pop! (Fat Cat Records)
Perhaps it's because I'm getting older, but I just don't like as much of the really loud rock music that comes out anymore. Giddy Motors defied my listening habits, though, with their angular and attacking sound that absolutely slays in places. The fact that this is just a debut leaves me hungry for what they'll cook up next. full review

19. Prefuse 73 - One Word Extinguisher (Warp Records)
Although it didn't blow me away as much as it did some people, I've still got to give Scott Herren some serious props for another great release. Along with his Extinguished EP (and not including remixes or side projects) he was responsible for grooving my lily-white midwestern ass with over 100 minutes of fresh beats and chopped-up goodness. full review

20. Clue To Kalo - Come Here When You Sleepwalk (Mush)
Although it seems like I went through a phase where I was burnt out on pastoral electronic music, this disc came along and really warmed me up again in a hurry. Pretty melodies, soft vocals, and enough gauzy atmosphere to hopefully stave off your seasonal affective disorder until it's sunny outside again. Ahhh. full review