I had to rearrange this list and the 2004 a list a bit. Two titles from 2003 made it on to the 2004 list, so I’m putting them back to where they’re supposed to be. Likewise, a few 2004 titles showed up on the 2005 list, et cetera.
Honestly, Shiina Ringo’s Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana just about overshadows every other title on the list, which is a big deal given the number of really quality releases that came out in 2003. I’m almost wondering if 2003 is the pinnacle year of this decade. It sure isn’t 2005.
In 2003, I made way back to the corporate world, taking a job with another technology company, while still working at Waterloo Records. If anything, the next two years would be dominated by work.
Musicwhore.org Favorite Edition 2003
Shiina Ringo, Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana
The Flaming Lips and Belle and Sebastian can only begin to dream of the sonic palette Shiina Ringo employs on this landmark album. If Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana were a US or UK release, the critics would shit themselves trying to make sense of it all. Everything is fair game on this album. Jazz swing driven by fuzzy electric guitars. Koto and shamisen mixed with lush strings. Found sounds, drum machines and orchestras woven into a dense and epic texture. I love Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, one of the most critically-acclaimed albums that year, but it’s amateur hour next to Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana.
I didn’t listen to Sigur Rós till after I encountered Irony, so I thought I was hearing something altogether new. Still, this album is such a far cry from ACO’s earliest works, it’s a wonder they were done by the same singer. Take the experimentalism of Björk, the atmospherics of Sigur Rós, a contribution by Múm (on "Machi"), filter through ACO’s wispy voice, and this album is the result.
Molotov, Dance and Dense Denso
Molotov’s second album, Apocalypshit, on the surface sounded like the debut, ¿Dónde Jugarán las Niñas?, but it was missing something. Whatever it was, Dance and Dense Denso found it. In spades. It’s Molotov’s most tuneful album to date, perhaps it’s most varied, and certainly one of the hardest.
Café Tacuba, Cuatro Caminos
After the experimental introspection of Reves/Yosoy, Café Tacuba came roaring back on Cuatros Caminos with a stronger sound and tighter songwriting. Usually a wildly eclectic group, Café Tacuba do more studio experimentation on this album, dirtying up the guitars and employing more distortion. They leave the kitchen sink approach for the more recent Sino.
I didn’t get around to listening to LOVE/HATE till 2004, but had I encountered it before the end of 2003, Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana might not have had such a strong foothold in the top spot. LOVE/HATE is an ambitious work, tautly constructed and stuffed to the hilt with infectious hooks. Main songwriter and singer Kinoshita Riki had a real moment of clarity on this album, and the chemistry of the band’s original line-up telegraphed in the performances.
Sasagawa Miwa, Jijitsu
No one really sounds like Sasagawa Miwa. Inspired by church hymnals, Sasagawa manages to find the intersection between Japanese and Celtic music. Her melodies somehow exhibit the influence of Scottish waulking songs and traditional Japanese folk at the same time. Jijitsu has its feet planted in both the ancient and the modern. It’s multicultural and multitemporal.
bloodthirsty butchers, Kouya ni Okeru bloodthirsty butchers
After a six-year hiatus that ended with a mild return (yamane), bloodthirsty butchers got back its messy energy with a whole lot of melody to go with it.
Bonnie Pink, Present
2001’s Just a Girl was a mess, so Bonnie Pink spent 2002 collaborating with other artists, particular in the R&B field. It was just the break she needed to recharge with Present, a return to the more introspective side exhibited on 2000’s Let Go. The R&B work would find its way on this album, with drum machines and synthesizers hinting at a more danceable sound without turning into dance music. Present is also one of Pink’s most filler-free albums.
downy, untitled third album
I think this album is what you get if Radiohead decided to become Mogwai.
Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Speakerboxxx and The Love Below — yes, they are two separate albums — are not Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana, but they’re still incredibly ambitious and remarkably complementary.
I probably should just make this a list of 15 or 20, because really, there was a lot to like about 2003:
- NIRGILIS, Tennis Moyo Satake is sorely missed.
- NUMBER GIRL, Sapporo OMOIDE IN MY HEAD Joutai The last live performance of an incredibly important band.
- Bleach, Bleach The Okinawan hardcore trio crafts its most melodic album yet, but it still kicks you in the teeth.
- Onitsuka Chihiro, Sugar High Onitsuka dashed this album off while on a hiatus, and it’s a lot better than This Armor.
- Death Cab for Cutie, Transatlanticism "Title and Registration" did it for me.
- Explosions in the Sky, The Earth Is Not a Cold, Dead Place Not as crunchy as the albums that come before and after, but somehow, I can easily see this music played by an orchestra.
- Original Cast Recording, Avenue Q The Internet is for porn.
- Emmylou Harris, Stumble Into Grace Harris’ Nonesuch debut, Red Dirt Girl, was a bit too beautiful, but this album manages to ground that beauty.
- Rufus Wainwright, Want One How gay is that quote of Ravel’s Bolero?
- Hayashi Asuca, Saki EMI attempted to position Hayashi Asuca as another Utada Hikaru. I think I perceive her more as an answer to Hajime Chitose.
- Caitlin Cary, I’m Staying Out A quick follow-up to the already strong While You Were Sleeping.
- The Postal Service, Give Up I think I dig this album more for Dntel than for Ben Gibbard.
- The Bad Plus, These Are the Vistas More structured like pop songs than jazz music, and who can resist those covers?
- DJ Krush, Shinsou ~Message from the Depth~ Holy shit, is DJ Krush pissed off.