home | music | movies | other years: '01 '02 best of 2003
  1. Dean Wareham & Britta Phillips - L'Avventura Dean Wareham & Britta Phillips
    Most albums take the direct approach to mass appeal: record company invests in marketing and promotion, plebeians accept their fate and spend. Others spread virally and become unexpected hits without any promotion, and then there are those which insidiously sneak into our brains without our knowledge. Songs off of this Dean Wareham and Britta Philips' side project have been picked up on a number of TV shows (most notably Queer Eye) for their sultry, sophisticated tone and the inseparable voices of the two Luna members. Even if you haven't heard this album, I'm sure you have, and I'm sure you liked it (also big props their covering a Silver Jews song). This album gets my number one pick simply because I've listened to it a ridiculous amount in every state of mind and I never grow tired.
    Best heard: sipping a martini in a swish lounge
  2. Jaylib - Champion Sound Jaylib
    Champion Sound
    The meeting of two hip-hop masterminds, Jay Dee on production and Madlib on vocals (get it? Jay Dee + Madlib = Jaylib!!), this collaboration draws both artists into territory both familiar and new. Take a dash of Madlib's psychosis-inducing self-conversations, a pinch of Quasimoto's ridiculous antics, blend with Jay Dee's speaker-blown beats and serve with a garnish of weird and exotic samples ("Webster's new collegiate dictionary.. la la la la la.."), and 50 minutes later you'll know the taste of the Champion Sound.
    Best heard: bumpin' in an ironic Escalade
  3. Jay-Z - The Black Album Jay-Z
    The Black Album
    I can't deny Jay-Z... the man is a hip hop powerhouse that continually releases catchy hooks lingering on pop stations and billboard charts for months. Somehow I missed the hype on this album and my naked ear was unprepared for the sophistication of his self-pronounced final solo endeavor. Every track on the disc is radio material but it stands out as an album from conception to execution: as the title implies, this is not some arbitrary stopping point to make money off of a couple of hits and some filler (or a double-CD with a couple of hits and some filler, ahem). This album will mature with age and certainly not reduce his chances at admission into the hip hop hall of fame.
    Best heard: on a boombox on a Brooklyn stoop on a warm Saturday night
  4. Ricardo Villalobos - Alcachofa Ricardo Villalobos
    Sometimes an artist comes to represent a sound, and in this case I'm talking about the German minimal techno sound, and the man is Ricardo Villalobos (who, ironically, hails from Chile). Using his recent dancefloor hit What You Say Is More Than I Can Say as a jumping off point, Ricardo has crafted a perfectly produced set of fresh tracks despite the strength of his recent catalog (which would have made a stellar album in its own right). After years of pushing the microhouse scene from its conceptual periphery, Villalobos has created a genre-defining album.
    Best heard: warming up or cooling off the dancefloor
  5. Freescha - What's Come Inside You Freescha
    What's Come Inside You
    Freescha is a band with surprisingly devoted followers. I was indoctrinated by one such person, and later found that Moby and This American Life producers are in the same camp. After a change of direction on their sophomore album Slower Than Church Music, the Los Angeles duo returns to their course making lazy, meandering melodies, only this time atop a slightly less drunken beat. The addition of nearly unparsable lyrics gives this album a completeness that I would expect to lead them to newfound popularity. Until then I'll confer with Moby: " there is a band from l.a called 'freescha'. i can't recommend their records more highly. very simple and melodic electronic music."
    Best heard: passing in and out of consciousness
  6. Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It In People Broken Social Scene
    You Forgot It In People
    The popularity of the band-collective has led to a number of stage-filling acts: the progenitors Godspeed, Lambchop, etc., etc. Toronto-based Broken Social Scene has has followed this trend with some exponential growth over the past couple of years, but instead of using their size to create a dense, layered sound, they instead produce a staggering amount of variety. You Forgot It In People is almost like an anthology of a band that continued to evolve over years of playing together, only accomplished in just one album. Hey... Kottke likes it... what more need I say?
    Best heard: off your anti-schitzo medicine
  7. Dizzee Rascal - Boy In Da Corner Dizzee Rascal
    Boy In Da Corner
    No Top 10 of 2003 is complete without Dizzee. The mistake that was the Streets on so many top 10's last year (ahem, including mine), we can thank East London's new delegate for correcting us. For an 18 year-old, Dizzee has an amazing amount of clarity and depth in his lyrics that comprise the centerpiece of his sound resting gingerly atop some abstract, minimal production. I was skeptical about the hype this album was getting initially, but the more I listened to it, the more I realized that my ears were untrained to his voice. What once sounded harsh and unmusical now simply feels original unique.
    Best heard: sitting in a corner with fingers like horns
  8. Four Tet - Rounds Four Tet
    Bands have been blending electronic production and live instrumentation, well, since electronic production was created. But few people have discovered the gestalt of both forms and blended them so seamlessly as Kieran Hebden. In his third full length as Four Tet, he drives deeper into uncharted territory of the one-man electronic producer, with all of his live sensibilities intact. At a staggering age of 26, Kieran will undoubtedly find his way onto a number of my future lists (this is number 2, but only because I wasn't making lists in 1999).
    Best heard: at a moment in need of inspiration
  9. The Clientele - The Violet Hour The Clientele
    The Violet Hour
    After about three repeat listens The Violet Hour had me saying to myself, "I can't believe that I like this, but it's so good." I mean this is really guilty pleasure music, full of whispers, emotion and slow, folky guitars: some might call it fairy music (including me). But somehow, it works... and it works well on me. As long as the other people in your office can't hear what you're listening to, it's good stuff... and it's far and above the best bedroom music of 2003.
    Best heard: naked with soft kisses (from someone else)
  10. Matthew Dear - Leave Luck to Heaven Matthew Dear
    Leave Luck to Heaven
    When listening to double-pack LPs in a record store it's difficult to justify the steep price for what usually amounts to a few hits and a lot of filler. While most artists fill their albums with songs that didn't make the cut for preceeding dance singles, every once in a long while there comes an album on which every track is a raw dancefloor filler. Detroit tenderfoot Matthew Dear has been releasing tracks on the highest profile tech-house labels (Perlon, Plus 8, Spectral), but with the release of Leave Luck to Heaven shows that he's ready to make a statement. When a DJ pulls an album like this in a store, with such dance sensibility and attention to detail, it has you shaking with excitement at the turntable. "Does anyone else know about this album? How many are there in the store? Could I have the only copy?!" To say the least I was giddy with my purchase and have worn some grooves into every track since.
    Best heard: with three other DJs trainspotting

Honorable Mention