Top Ten 2003
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for updated lists of all years go music and movies.

best studio albums by one artist/group (no compilations or live albums)

10. autechre - draft 7.30 -- this new album finds them taking a bit of a step back from confield's abstractness, but in the process isn't as cutting edge. i didn't love confield but didn't mind the approach either. it's possible, though, that they need to be constantly pushing the envelope to get the creativity flowing enough to produce great records. this album didn't necessarily earn this number 10 spot... it's more like the academy giving al pacino an award for his performance in "scent of a woman..." he's had far better performances that haven't yielded a win so they give him one when maybe he didn't deserve it to try and even things out.
9. prefuse 73 - one word extinguisher -- technically, a better album than the others on this list - except maybe the chris clark or four tet. really hits a stride in the middle third of the album where every track is dense, melodic and well-produced. i sort of wish he had obsessed over this material (including the stuff he put on the extinguished ep) a little more - it would have been a top three album, i'm sure. at any rate, this is good, progressive hip-hop that defies the sophmore curse showing prefuse 73 is here to stay.
8. black keys - thickfreakness -- this is dirty/sloppy blues-rock and i like it that way. it's heavy and raw and just as unproduced as it should be. it's a great overall sound. it's not the yardbirds or savoy brown, it's more updated than that, but it's still rootsy enough to pass as blues-rock. now i have no clue what true blues fans might think of this record, and i don't really care. it's got good gritty vocals and nice enough hooks to keep me wanting more.
7. chris clark  - empty the bones of you -- a cross between the melody and abstract beats of autechre's album and the samplisitic approach of prefuse 73's; and more enjoyable than either.
6. radiohead - hail to the thief -- they get points for the album title, i suppose. i've never been a huge radiohead fan. some people seem to think that there are two kinds of people in the world - those who love radiohead and those who don't get it; i'm in between. i don't think that's there's one song on this album that is good all the way through - every song has something that i don't like, a bridge here or there, yorke's delivery of a line or two, the chorus... something. i'd like them to explore the electronic stuff more, like they did on amnesiac and kid a. and, like frank black, i'd love it if thom yorke learned to enunciate a bit more. it's easy for me to fault radiohead or this album in particular since i'm a critical person and i have a tendency to rail against things that are hip, and radiohead are the epitome of hip, but the truth is that it's a good album and even though i think it's a step or two back for them, there is plenty on the album to like, even if it only comes in bits and pieces.
5. four tet - rounds -- a really fresh sound. this guy is a sound engineer. sampling and looping to create soundscapes that are the equivalent of musical fireworks. there are at least two other albums from this year that a similar to this album - the new manitoba and the new chris clark, but neither is as beautiful as this one. as good as this album is, it's no match next to "pause," an earlier four tet album. check them both out.
4. zongamin - zongamin -- this album came out of nowhere. this is probably the best album of the year that no one will have on their list. it's an electronica record, but is unlike almost anything i've heard before. that's not to say that it's otherworldly or uses some new musical cloth, but it just has a very different sound. sometimes it has shades of !!! (chk chk chk) (tunnel music), sometimes of 60s james bond-esque cool music (j. shiver's theme), sometimes of LFO or other early "intelligent" techno (mummies) and sometimes it's wholly original. this album produces so many grooves and uses so many cool sounds that it's impossible not to like it at least a little bit. sure it's all over the place and some songs are weaker than others, but it's a very strong record on the whole.
3. cinematic orchestra - man with the movie camera -- this album gets into a groove and just doesn't get out. i haven't bothered to sync it up to the film to see how well it functions as the actual soundtrack...i don't think it's lively enough to match, to tell you the truth, but none of that really matters anyway because the instrumentation is just so good. i don't know how to describe the interplay between the piano, violin and drums...they just work well. it's a moody album, for sure; it's not a spring time party record, but it's a great autumn or winter lounging around the house record. it's jazz based, but it's not fully jazz. it has an old school sensibility, but it adds new school electronic ambience.
2. non-prophets - hope -- sage francis is the best poet in hip-hop least as far as my knowledge extends, and my taste is concerned. but he's only half of this record - joe beats works on the production of the album and provides an excellent complement to sage francis' raps. "can't we all just get a long...stick and beat the shit out of each other with it?" sage is all over the place....his raps can be as dense as those in "paul's boutique" and as dirty and brash as doctor octagon's. how about this gem: "no i'm not into oral beastiality, i'm just blowing spots." in one of the songs he says "i'm not left wing or right wing, i'm the middle finger." if you can stand that kind of philosophy in your music, then you might not like this album. he's kinda like eminem (not just because he's a white rapper) in that he spares no one in his rhymes - everyone is subject to his "verbal javelins" (as one rapper put it). "i go to fugazi shows requesting minor threat songs." it's one of those albums that you can nod your head to one minute, laugh the next and be amazed by the literary genius the next. "i don't strike a pose, i strike a poseur."
1. postal service - give up -- when i first heard this album i was unimpressed (even turned off) by the vocals, but enjoyed the music portion. after a few listens, though, the vocals grew on me. after a few more listens the weight of the lyrics hit me. after a few more listens i was convinced that this album was a damn good grouping of musical elements - the lyrics, music and vocals actually work very well together. just listen to the song "nothing better" and i'm sure you'll agree. it's such a sad, and just plain good, song. it avoids being too emo, but still strikes an emotional chord. there aren't many broken heart songs that allow the second party to give their account of the break-up. but that's exactly what this song does..."i feel i must interject here," she says "you're getting carried away feeling sorry for yourself with these revisions and gaps in history..." clearly, this album is very aware of the fact that it borders on emo (which nowadays is "so last year"). the song "clark gable" (possibly my favorite) plays off this knowledge again - likening the dramatic event to a film - "the script did call for rain, but it was clear that day - so we faked it." i even love the back cover of the bride on the wave with the presumed groom looking on from inside...good stuff. i've been hard for this album since last year when i got an advance copy so i know it stands the test of time and, thus, i have no problem placing it at the number one spot given this year's lot.

no, i'm not lazy...the list is only three films long because only three films interested me enough to put them on this list. intolerable cruelty, matchstick men and mystic river were good films, but weren't good enough to put on the list. nothing else that came out this year inspired or entertained me enough to make the list.
3. Kill Bill Vol. 1 -- i like lots of different kinds of films. most of my films, as melanie has remarked before, are "depressing" films, but i enjoy a good comedy and a good action/adventure film as well. kill bill falls into the "fun" genre. tarantino just does it for me. pulp fiction and kill bill are pure fun. from the first frame to the last i was smiling - literally. maybe i'm desensitized to violence (even though i think that most of the violence in the movie was pretty cartoonish) or maybe i'm a callous person, whatever it is i wasn't the least bit disturbed by the film. it's a film that is clearly made by someone who is in love with film and i love that about it. you see, i love film too and i think that tarantino and i have pretty similar tastes, overall. i was just so entirely entertained by this film.
2. Matrix Reloaded -- now here's the thing - i may have enjoyed this film more than return of the king, but these films aren't islands. i think the philosophy is more accessible and at least as deep. i think that the action sequences are at least as good - i'll put the freeway chase up against anything in film, ever. but the downside to this film is what followed - the third installment. now on the one hand i shouldn't take this into account, but on the other i have to. the last five minutes - where neo stops the sentinels and the infiltrator is in the same sick bay as neo were okay so long as the third installment successfully explained them and dealt with them. but it didn't. the only other thing i'll concede about the film is that the beginning (in zion) was a bit slow, but ultimately i didn't mind it. it should have been edited a bit, but i could definitely live with it.
1. Lord of the Rings: Return Of The King -- it's the ultimate cinema epic. the story, characters, action sequences were all great. there was a lot of heart in this film and it managed to not get too precious. really this film is just a symbol for the entire trilogy so there's no way i could put it anywhere other than the number one spot.