more sundancing
issue no.
  january 15
c o n t e n t s
RED Reviews
'Torque' Runs Out of Gas, Explodes, Cuts to T&A
Opening this Weekend

It's a Wonderful Ken: RED Locates Cool-Lookin' Ken Just in Time for the Holidays

The Staff and Others’ Best Albums of the Year In Various Numbers

Jeremy Mathews
RED editor

15. Luxor—Robyn Hitchcock
14. Mouthfuls—Fruit Bats
13. Shootenanny!—The Eels
12. quebec—Ween
11. Apple O’—Deerhoof
10. Dear Catastrophe Waitress—Belle & Sebastian
9. Fleeting Days—Dan Bern
8. Lullaby for a Liquid Pig—Lisa Germano
7. Transfiguration of Vincent—M. Ward
6. Dressy Bessy—Dressy Bessy
5. You Are Free—Cat Power
4. Her Majesty the Decemberists—The Decemberists
3. Chutes Too Narrow—The Shins
2. Solid Guild—The Joggers
1. Down with Wilco—The Minus 5

Jamie Gadette
RED assistant editor

16. Exit Seating—Blue Hour/Alchemy split EP
15. Lumber—Form of Rocket
14. Chutes Too Narrow —The Shins
13. Echoes—The Rapture:
12. lloR n kcoR—Ryan Adams:
11. Unearthed—Johnny Cash
10. New Sacred Cow— Kenna
9. Born in a Cardboard Box—Redd Tape
8. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below—Outkast
7. De-Loused in the Comatorium - The Mars Volta
6. Ima Robot—Ima Robot
5. Room on Fire—The Strokes
4. Elephant—The White Stripes
3. The Bed—Low Skies
2.Youth and Young Manhood—Kings of Leon
1. Hail to the Thief—Radiohead

Hayley Heaton
RED writer

5. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below—Outkast
4. Elephant—The White Stripes
3. Give Up—The Postal Service
2. Permission to Land—The Darkness
1. Hail to the Thief—Radiohead

Jordan Scrivner
RED writer

2. Master and Everyone— Bonnie “Prince” Billy
1. Supper—Smog

Stephanie Geerlings
RED writer

20. Chutes Too Narrow— The Shins
19. Her Majesty the Decemberists—The Decemberists
18. Transfiguration of Vincent—M. Ward
17. Soul Journey—Gillian Welch
16 thickfreakness—The Black Keys
15. Bazooka Tooth—Aesop Rock
14. Cast of Thousands— Elbow
13. Apple O’—Deerhoof
12. Shootenanny!—The Eels
11. Draft 7.30—Autechre
10. World Without Tears— Lucinda Williams
9. Fever to Tell—Yeah Yeah Yeahs
8.One Word Extinguisher—Prefuse 73
7. Master and Everyone— Bonnie “Prince” Billy
6. Mambo Sinuedo—Ry Cooder & Manual Galban
5. Bossas & Ballads—Stan Getz
4. The Lemon of Pink—The Books
3. Feast of Wire—Calexico
2. You Are Free—Cat Power
1. Rounds—Four Tet

Janean Parker
RED web designer

7. Close My Eyes—The Slackers
6. Chutes Too Narrow—The Shins
5. Dear Catastrophe Waitress—Belle & Sebastian
4. Fleeting Days—Dan Bern
3. Weather Systems— Andrew Bird
2. Transfiguration of Vincent—M. Ward
1. Mouthfuls—Fruit Bats

Brent Sallay
RED list fanatic

50. Yoko—Beulah
49. s/t—Black Eyes [Note: This is NOT the Black Eyed
48. Berlinette—Ellen Allien
47. Nouvelle Pauvreté—Jan Jelinek avec the Exposures
46. Band Red—Kaito UK
45. Room on Fire—The Strokes
44. Kish Kash—Basement Jaxx
43. Where Shall You Take Me?—Damien Jurado
42. From Left to Right EP—Boom Bip (w/ Boards of Canada, Venetian Snares &
41. Rounds—Four Tet
40. Think Tank—Blur
39. Castaways and Cut-Outs—The Decemberists
38. Magnolia Electric Co.— Songs: Ohia
37. Systems/Layers— Rachel's
36. Bazooka Tooth—Aesop Rock
35. Here Comes the Indian —Animal Collective
34. Hocus Pocus—Enon
33. Shades of Blue—Madlib
32. Shine a Light— Constantines
31. Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn— Do Make Say Think
30. No P. or D—Ms. John Soda
29. The Violet Hour—The Clientele
28. Empty the Bones of You—Chris Clark
27. Greetings from Michigan, the Great Lake State—Sufjan Stevens
26. The Meadowlands—The Wrens
25. Apple O’— Deerhoof
24. Hail to the Thief— Radiohead
23. You Are Here—+/-
22. Electric Version—The New Pornographers
21. Cedars—Clearlake
20. Sumday—Grandaddy
19. Burn, Piano Island, Burn—The Blood Brothers
18. Rings—Absinthe Blind
17. Take Me to Your Leader—King Geedorah (aka MF Doom)
16. Televise—Calla
15. Ether Teeth— Fog
14. The Magic Lantern—George
13. Chutes Too Narrow— The Shins
12. Phantom Power—Super Furry Animals
11. Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?—The Unicorns
10. Up in Flames— Manitoba
9. Echoes—The Rapture
8. I Am the Fun Blame Monster—Menomena
7. Afro Finger and Gel—Mu
6. Vaudeville Villain—Viktor Vaughn (aka MF Doom)
5. S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D.— Out Hud
4. Spring—Cyann & Ben
3. One Word Extinguisher/ Extinguished (The
Outtakes)—Prefuse 73
2. Dear Catastrophe Waitress— Belle & Sebastian
1. You Forgot it in People— Broken Social Scene

Will Sartain
local celebrity

16. Spokes—Plaid
15. Chutes Too Narrow— The Shins
14. Dear Catastrophe Waitress—Belle & Sebastian
13. Magnolia Electric Co.—Songs: Ohia
12. De-loused in the Comatorium—The Mars Volta
11. The Decemberists: Her Majesty the Decemberists
10. Where Shall You Take Me?—Damien Jurado
9. Soul Journey—Gillian Welch
8. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below—Outkast
7. Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?—The Unicorns
6. Room on Fire—The Strokes
5. Hail to the Thief— Radiohead
4. Band Red—Kaito UK
3. Sumday—Grandaddy
2. Apple O’—Deerhoof
1. You Are Free—Cat Power

Tyler Bloomquist
local hip-hop/electronic expert

15. Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn—Do Make Say Think
14. Muted —Alias
13. Take Me to Your Leader —King Geedorah
12. Champion Sound— Jaylib
11. America's Most Blunted —Madvillain
10. Ether Teeth —Fog
9. Stars on my Ceiling— Caural
8. Oaklandazulasylum—Why?
7. The Lemon of Pink— The Books
6. Instrmntl—Dabrye
5. Modern Hits/More Modern Hits—Andrew Broder
4. Dosh—Dosh
3. Shades of Blue —Madlib
2. A Lil' Light —Dudley Perkins
1. One Word Extinguisher —Prefuse 73

Sarah Smylie
former RED writer

10. Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?—Metric
9. Bazooka Tooth—Aesop Rock
8. Televise—Calla
7. De-loused in the Comatorium—The Mars Volta
6. Chutes Too Narrow—The Shins
5. Want One—Rufus Wainwright
4. Apple O’— Deerhoof
3. You Forgot it in People— Broken Social Scene
2. Room on Fire—The Strokes
1. Hail to the Thief— Radiohead

  Brent Sallay’s Top 15 Films
of 2003

Preface: This was the year I decided I could no longer stand to see any movies billed as “epic,” “gripping,” “dramatic,” “visceral,” “honest,” “real,” “important,” or “inspiring.” Life’s too short and I’ve already learned all my lessons. Instead, all my choices are either life-affirming, hilarious, beautiful or deliciously disturbing (not just regularly disturbing).

1. “Lost in Translation” (Bill Murray’d better get the Oscar.)

2. “All the Real Girls” (changed my life, literally)

3. “Spellbound” (as good as a Christopher Guest film, but real)

4. “Big Fish” (made me cry)

5. “The Secret Lives of Dentists” (better than a root canal, unless they give you drugs)

6. “Down with Love” (must memorize Renee’s speech)
7. “School of Rock” (y’know, for kids)

8. “Matchstick Men” (But I’m not so hot on the ending.)

9. “The Station Agent” (a true character piece)

10. “American Splendor” (dead-on casting)

11. “Bad Santa” (heartwarming Christmas adventure)

12. “Elf” (I see a bright future for Mr. Will Ferrell.)

13. “À la folie...pas du tout,” or “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” (That girl from “Amelie” is just always so charming.)

14. “X2” (It's all about Magneto’s escape scene.)

15. “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the Four-Hour Movie” (But I only put it on the list so I won’t get hate mail.)


The Audio and/or Visuals You Shouldn't Have Missed

2003 Runs Over With Great films
by Jeremy Mathews

While it might not have been apparent through the year’s many dismal films like “Dr. Seuss’ The Cat and the Hat” (not Dr. Seuss’, not The Cat in the Hat) or “Charlie’s Angels 2: Full Throttle” (not a sequel, but a clone of the original), a look back revealed a year spilling over with fine films. Several films that I’d assumed would be on my top-10 list could not fit, and at one point I considered breaking with tradition and doubling the number of films.

Instead, here are the most impressive films of an impressive year. There is still the opportunity to see many of them in the theater, and others make excellent rentals.

1. “Lost in Translation”

Sofia Coppola established herself as one of the best new directors with “Lost in Translation.” In only her second film, she demonstrates keen observational abilities in her story of two alienated people in an alienating city.

In the performance of the year, Bill Murray plays an aging Hollywood star who comes to Tokyo to appear in commercials for Japanese liquor. He still has his sense of humor, but it’s cut off by feelings of loneliness and uselessness. Scarlett Johansson plays a newlywed whose photographer husband has become overly involved in his glamorous life while she skeptically watches from a distance. The two people find desperately needed connection in the most touching and humorous film of the year.

If Coppola’s beautifully restrained direction wasn’t enough, her screenplay shows a real understanding of what her characters need. Many times you can see what direction a lesser film would have taken when Coppola makes it emotionally true. If this is the beginning of greatness, I can’t imagine what will come next.

2. “City of God”

In a whirl of vibrant style, director Fernando Meirelles captures the chaos of growing up in the projects in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Combining the story of a young boy who’s an aspiring photographer with the rise of young teenage drug dealers and a building gang war that the boy witnesses, the film is dizzying in its sharp and observant storytelling.

With a series of brilliant scenes, from a criminal kid nervously hiding in a tree and later attempting to flee the city to a violent eruption on a strobe-lit dance floor to a bloody gang war, “City of God” brims over with unforgettable scenes that introduce one of the world’s most promising directors.

3. “Elephant”

Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” looks at high school violence similar to that of Columbine not with an urge to explain it away but with an effort to understand the tragedy. Casting his film with non-professional actors from a Portland, Ore., high school, Van Sant talked to the kids about what high school is like and delivers neither a typical shock film nor the sort of fluff you see in most mainstream portrayals of teenagers.

Van Sant looks at the ill-fated day of a high school with a wandering camera that examines the various social structures before the killings and loss of innocence. Van Sant squarely refuses to offer easy answers, and while it may be disconcerting, it’s the only way to make the film truly responsible.

4. “Monster”

Charlize Theron revealed that she had a performance in her that no one ever expected to see in Patty Jenkins’ “Monster.” An almost unrecognizable (although that’s not what makes the performance great) Theron depicts Aileen Wuornos, often described as America’s first female serial killer (though probably incorrectly). Jenkins tells the engrossing story of a street prostitute who finally finds love in a young lesbian from a Christian fundamentalist background (Christina Ricci, also excellent). At the same time of this chance for a happy life, she’s going off the deep end and changing from prostitute to murderer.

Jenkins and Theron observantly study what made Wuornos do the things she did. An act of self-defense slowly morphs into blind murder as retribution for a scarred life. This powerful film offers insight into a vilified person’s pain. (Opening next weekend)

5. “All the Real Girls”

In just two films, 2000’s “George Washington” and this year’s “All the Real Girls,” David Gordon Green has established himself as a wholly unique writer/ director. He has an attention to poetic pacing that recalls Terrence Malick (“Days of Heaven,” “Badlands”) and a resounding range of emotional experience for a director who isn’t even 30. When its characters feel pain, “All the Real Girls” transmits every ounce of it and is absolutely heartbreaking.

In one of the year’s finest and most overlooked performances, Zooey Deschanel plays a young woman who just returned from school to a small town in Alabama. Paul Schneider plays her older brother’s best friend, a 20-something with a reputation for womanizing. The two experience love for the first time with one another, but also experience the authentic turmoil that results from it.

The film has the emotional impact of two films—one about the older brother coming to terms with his friend dating his sister, the other going where few films go and truthfully looking at love’s affect on both characters.

6. “American Splendor”

With “American Splendor,” writer/directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini found the perfect way to present the life of cult comic book icon Harvey Pekar and, in the process, redefined the biopic. The film is part drama, part documentary and part animation, at one point cutting from Paul Giamatti as Pekar leaving the backstage greenroom to archival footage of the real Pekar on “Late Night with David Letterman.”

Giamatti and Hope Davis, as his eccentric wife Joyce Brabner, bring emotions and humor to their roles and succeed in the challenge of having their performances compared to the real people who also occasionally show up on camera.

7. “The Man on the Train”

Patrice Leconte’s “The Man on the Train” revealed the director once again at home with his characters and visual style. Jean Rocheforte and Johnny Hallyday play an old man in a small town and an aging criminal who arrives in the town. The local invites the criminal to live in his house, and the both men see the nice parts of the other’s life. From its vibrant opening to its poetic end, Leconte gives the film the perfect balance of grace and insight.

8. “The Barbarian Invasions”

The emotions of Denys Arcand’s Quebecois film “The Barbarian Invasions” have a way of sneaking up on you. The film examines the last days of Remy, a dying English professor (Remy Girard). His estranged son, who became a businessman in England instead of pursuing the arts, and the old man’s friends, all portrayed by the same actors who portrayed them in Arcand’s 1986 hit “The Fall of the American Empire,” come to help him get through his dying days.

The film is told with such cynicism, humor and lack of manipulation that I was almost embarrassed that I was crying at the press screening full of hardened critics during the Cannes Film Festival—until I heard the man next to me and then most of the audience sniffling as well. (Opening next month).

9. “The Fog of War”

Errol Morris, one of the greatest documentarians of all time, applied his mesmerizing interview capabilities to an intense dialogue with former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who was involved in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and was considered a war hawk because of his involvement in the Vietnam War. Through his sharp visual style and willingness to simply let his subject speak, Morris reveals a man who was never as hawkish as people thought and, in revelations of rather apt timing, learned a lot about the risks and consequences that come with any decision to go to war.

10. “The School of Rock”

“The School of Rock” beat out three or four other major contenders for the No. 10 spot with its extreme energy and smart humor. Director Richard Linklater, writer Mike White and the exuberantly perfect star Jack Black take what could have been a syrupy disaster—a failed rocker crashes a fancy private school posing as a substitute and teaches a class of impressionable kids the value of rock and roll—and turn it into brilliant comedy. The kids feel real as Black teaches them the various lessons of rock and roll. And Black…well, his a capella performance of the hilariously awful epic “So You Think You Can Kick Me Out of the Band” and his improvised lesson on how to write a song that results in him wailing, “Step off!” will still be classics in 3003.

Eleven Tied for 11th Place

While the spots at the very top were easy, 2003’s top 10 was considerably more difficult to narrow down than any of my past lists. When I finally narrowed it down, cutting several fine films, I had 14 on the lists. This turned out to be quite a year, and these films are in the same league as those above them. History may never forgive me for leaving some of them off.

Billy Bob Thornton played a hilariously vulgar shopping-mall Santa in Terry Zwigoff’s Christmas film for those who hate Christmas, “Bad Santa.” José Padilha’s documentary “Bus 174” tensely recreated a Brazilian bus hijacking and used it as a jumping-off point to explore the chaotic politic situation in Rio de Janeiro.

Andrew Jareki’s “Capturing the Friedmans” was a stunning and disturbing documentary about a family torn apart by a sex scandal that, it becomes clear, was at least partly fabricated by paranoid law-enforcement officials. In another political film, this time fiction, Stephen Frears examined the lives of illegal immigrants and a sinister organ trade in London with “Dirty Pretty Things.”

The Pixar animation studios created another humorous, visually stunning computer-animated triumph with the underwater family film “Finding Nemo.” Jim Sheridan's personal “In America,” written with his two daughters, told an emotional story about a family of Irish immigrants coming to the United States for work while still mourning the death of their youngest child.

An effort of a sheer love for film, Quentin Tarantino's “Kill Bill, Vol. 1” didn't have much of a story, but is a series of extraordinary action scenes with an exhausting performance by Uma Thurman. Peter Jackson's “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” ended his ambitious trilogy on a high note, with the story coming into full view and his vision following through.

A brilliant cast and strong direction by Clint Eastwood made “Mystic River” a heartfelt look at emotional scars and haunting childhood memories. The Polish brothers’ hypnotic “Northfork” masterfully combined the story of a town about to be drowned by a dam with a story of angels to create a beautiful meditation on death and lost dreams.

In his debut “The Triplets of Belleville,” French writer/ director/ animator Sylvain Chomet uses an animation style not based on Japan’s or America’s, but all his own. With little dialogue, he tells a wonderfully odd and engrossing story about a kidnapped Tour de France bicyclist, his caring, whistling grandmother and his pet dog.

Honorable Mention

As you might suspect, a lesser year might have put some of these works at higher spots, and are all worth viewing: “L’Auberge Espagnol,” “Better Luck Tomorrow,” “Blue Car,” “Down with Love,” “Gerry,” “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” “House of Sand and Fog,” “Irreversible,” “Love Actually,” “The Magdalene Sisters,” “Master and Commander: Far Side of the World,” “Matchstick Men,” “Morvern Callar,” “Owning Mahony,” “Raising Victor Vargas,” “Russian Ark,” “The Secret Lives of Dentists,” “The Shape of Things,” “Shattered Glass,” “Stevie,” “Spellbound,” “The Station Agent,” “Sweet Sixteen,” “Swimming Pool,” “Winged Migration” and “Whale Rider.”
And special mention also goes to two restored classics and one inconsequentially re-edited classic, all of which everyone should have seen in the theater this year: Fritz Lange’s “Metropolis,” Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Cercle Rouge” and Ridley Scott’s “Alien: The Director’s Cut.”

The Definitive Top 25 CDs of 2003

While 2003 might not have been a year with one hands-down standout album, it was a year filled with promising newcomers and a few returning veterans. While many on staff felt it was a weak year, this top 25 reveals a healthy number of albums by artists willing to experiment and break new ground.

Mad mathematician Brent Sallay created and executed the point tabulation system for the list. The following non-RED staffers also contributed lists to the tally: hip-hop expert Tyler Bloomquist, local celebrity Will Sartain of Redd Tape fame and former RED writer Sarah Smiley.

1. Chutes too Narrow
The Shins

The musical equivalent of a fine champagne, The Shins’ Chutes too Narrow bubbles with fine songwriting, clever arrangements and impassioned playing. The melodic hooks and clever lyrics burrow into your head while the instrumental sequences reach glorious heights.

Produced by the band and Phil Ek, the album delivers feelings of happiness, loss, confusion and frustration, and that’s just on the opening track, “Kissing the Lipless,” which builds marvelously from a guitar and vocal part. The spooky epic centerpiece “Saint Simon,” the rocking “So Says I” and pretty much all the other songs are carefully arranged for strong effect.

Like the band’s first album, this one improves with age. The band’s show at Kilby Court a month before the new CD’s release generated an over-capacity crowd that more than doubled that of the Kilby show supporting Oh, Inverted World more than a year earlier (a crowd one Jeremy Mathews disdainfully referred to as Johnny-come-latelies). The breakthrough debut had percolated in the year following its release, and James Mercer and company could have simply ridden the hype machine to move the next CD, but instead went for a new but still difficult-to-pull-off sound.

Stripping down the textured effects of Oh, Inverted World, the band relied even more heavily on their performance. It may sound merely rawer, but a change like this was key to avoid creating a carbon copy of the first album, and soon the music calls to you to give it another listen and another as you try to unravel its elaborate majesty. You may become tipsy after too many listens, but you won’t care.
—Jeremy Mathews

2. Hail to the Thief

I know for a fact that many Radiohead "fans" weren't too thrilled with the band's most recent effort, Hail to the Thief , but let me tell you all something—you're dumb. I know that calling all of you dumb because you don't agree with me is a bit juvenile, but my New Year's resolution was to cut down on the cussing, so dumb is as nasty as I can get. I'm sick to damn (oops) death of people that spout out this constant drivel about how everything of Radiohead’s would be good if it were more like OK Computer. If you can relate to this description, Hail to the Thief isn't for you. 

True fans understand that the reason the members of Radiohead is so great is that they’re always doing something a bit different. These guys don’t write music, they compose it, push it around and kick it in the teeth until they get a nice tempo.

Hail to the Thief is just their latest example of where they are kicking things. Sure, it’s not as nihilistic as Kid A or Amnesiac.  In fact, it’s not nihilistic at all.    Instead, it verbalizes the anger and the objection felt living in a world of terrorist attacks and stolen presidential elections. 
This album is certainly for advanced listeners.  It takes effort, but it will not be wasted.  Every single time I listen to this CD, I find that it reveals something different, which is why it’s been in my car stereo since it came out.
—Hayley Heaton

3. Apple O’

Deerhoof—now there’s a band. The four members perform live as if entirely unaware of each other—the drummer forever locked in 20-minute encore mode, the two guitarists playing stop-start with themselves as if still only learning how to play, and vocalist/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki delivering nursery rhymes to preschoolers in a Tim Burton film. And yet there is a certain mad genius to it all, culminating in Apple O' (as in "apple o' my eye"), the band's most cohesive album yet. Who knew the perfect allegories for love lie in card games, tea parties, the creation story and portabello mushrooms? I'll tell you who. It was the children. The children knew all along.
—Brent Sallay

4. You are Free
Cat Power

Cat Power has always been a great production, but Chan Marshall has become more coherent in You Are Free. The pieces of herself scattered throughout the album are accessible and are of pure lyrical goodness. With more structure than many of her albums, Marshall shows precise rocking skill. Still, the diversity throughout the album is brilliant and all of her songs are in the perfect didactic position.

“True romance when you dance,” she sings, untouched by the parade of pop musical massacres. The music she makes is for herself and for the art. And through it all, her sultry voice solicits innocent intrigue.
—Stephanie Geerlings

5. Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Belle & Sebastian

From the completely inappropriate office hijinks of “Step Into my Office, Baby” (“I took down all she said/I even took down her little red dress”) to the resigned complacence of “Stay Loose” (“I was choking on a corn flake/ you said have some toast instead”), Stuart Murdoch and his Belle and Sebastian bandmates have composed 12 quintessential anthems for the aging hipster trapped in a white collar and dreaming of a life more like one in the movies.
—Brent Sallay

6. One Word Extinguisher
Prefuse 73

Scott Herren, Atlanta's other “experimental hip-hop” artist—and only two and a half albums to his credit—has already established himself as nothing short of a genius (if he hadn’t done so before).

One Word Extinguisher is as much a soul-filled heartbreak record as it is a relentless exercise in manipulated hip-hop beats. Diverse and Mr. Lif rap on two tracks, but the real show here is Herren’s production, which is for the most part allowed to roam freely, unencumbered by lyrics. Plus, it should say something that Extinguished, the 40-minute disc of outtakes released a few months later, is every bit as engaging as the album proper.
—Brent Sallay

7. Room on Fire
The Strokes

Although Guitar World recently voted The Strokes as third-worst band of 2003, the New York City hipsters’ album Room on Fire offers proof to the contrary. Sure, these tight-jeaned pretty boys are often overrated, but their music is not nearly as atrocious as that of Creed (who placed second on the list). In fact, the group’s sophomore effort is a catchy album sure to please, save for elitists too proud to retract initial knee-jerk criticisms (i.e., that the band is a product of trust-fund love and thus immediately despicable).

Room on Fire kicks off with a fluttering Stevie-Nicks-one-winged-dove guitar while Julian Casablancas does his best impression of a passionate Beatle. The opening track, along with all that follow, is laced with both apathy and neuroticism, as if the ultra-cool musicians have finally had it up to here with negative feedback. “You don’t miss me, I know,” Casablancas self-deprecates, then fights back, stating, “I don’t want to do it your way/I don’t want to give it to you, your way.” There’s no question that this band is self-involved, but these indulgent brats still know how to rock.
—Jamie Gadette

8. Her Majesty the Decemberists
The Decemberists

The literary songwriting of Colin Meloy came into full force in Her Majesty the Decemberists, The Decemberists’ second album following the fine Castaways and Cutouts, which received wide release this year.

With emotional songwriting and powerful production, the band delivers some of the finest storytelling of the year in songs like “Los Angeles, I’m Yours” and “Billy Liar,” which captures the hesitant dreams of youth from John Schlesinger’s 1963 British film. Combining humor and storytelling, the songs are poignant and irresistible, and the ambitious album does them justice.
—Jeremy Mathews

9. Rounds
Four Tet

Familiar as your face and at the same time independent, autonomous and new, the paradoxical album Rounds, generously created by Four Tet, is my favorite for the year. It juxtaposes noisy, course friction with sweet lullaby melody.

The purposeful post-modern imperfections treat the album like a classical landscape built on tempting every emotion and any scenario. A music box tune carries through the mechanical breathing and lifts up. Rounds offers songs that will bring you to tears—or to climax. It feels true. It sounds like memory, body and the living dream.
—Stephanie Geerlings

10. Transfiguration of Vincent
M. Ward

As we were standing close together in the crowd beneath the air conditioner at Kilby Court, a young man entered the stage and began playing an acoustic guitar—a catchy but wordless song. When he started to sing I was surprised by the raspy tenor that emerged. As I listened, I became aware of the sounds and segments of words, individual phonemes and precise consonants, as if I’d never heard English before. I felt myself rapidly becoming a fan of this hitherto unknown, M. Ward. That night I bought his new album: Transfiguration of Vincent. The album recalls the great folk songwriting of the past with Ward’s unique style and outlook.
—Janean Parker

11. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

It's no wonder that the members of the appropriately named Outkast have topped many a list for their albums Speakerboxxx and The Love Below. Without all the bling or bullet-proof vests of their contemporaries, Outkast has challenged the mainstream ideas of what hip hop is and made something all their own. This two-album set is creative, fun, naughty and above all, it made me want to dance—and folks, if you know me, I'm not really into dancing. If an album can make me “shake it like a Polaroid picture,” it full well deserves to be on the top somewhere.

12. Bazooka Tooth
Aesop Rock

Damn lyrics, damn! This boy is always talking. Aesop Rock is intensely on time and there is a promise that something pertinent is being said. There’s none of the bullshit rime riche (rhyming the same word). The music is more than just beats and the voice fills the rhythms.
Aesop Rock is more push-shove in Bazooka Tooth than in earlier albums. I don't want to see the band calmed or quieted. I wish I had a car that could do justice to these deep beats.

13. Master and Everyone
Bonnie "Prince" Billy

A friend of mine refers to Bonnie “Prince” Billy (aka Will Oldham, aka Palace Brothers, aka Palace Songs or aka just simply Palace) as “the guy whose voice is very gentle.” Another friend nods to his latest album, Master and Everyone, and comments, “Yeah, I remember lying down a lot whenever I would listen to that.”

Suffice it to say, if it’s not best album of 2003, Master and Everyone is certainly the most lackadaisical, the most relaxing and possibly the prettiest. It is simple without being simplistic, sad sans sentimentality. Listening to this album feels like floating on a raft down a slow, lazy river.

You should listen to this album (1) When you are staring at the ceiling in your room, (2) when you are driving down a long country road, (3) when you are kissing someone on the lips for the very first time, (4) when you are floating down a slow, lazy river, (5) when you wake up at 11 a.m. on a Sunday and it is too late for church and too early to really get up.

Master and Everyone was engineered by Mark Nevers, the guitarist from Lambchop. It features a country singer from the film “O Brother Where Art Thou?” named Marty Slayton, who acts as Billy’s back-up vocals on some of the best tracks. Her voice is. Just. Incredible. She is the best part of the best song, which is called “Wolf Among Wolves.”
—Jordan Scrivner

14. Thought for Food
The Books

The Books’ Thought for Food is a good, fun album for your mixed CD. Not to mention, I love the whimsical cover on this album. The most impressive qualities for the album are not the tight clever samples—though really stunning and funny at times—but the mesh of many musical styles. Ragtime settles next to folk snuggling into electronica holding Africa in a French New Wave film. Small details are placed in every beat. The balance of the album nears a dreamlike perfection.

15. You Forgot it in People
Broken Social Scene

Forgot what, you ask? If this album is meant to make up for whatever was “forgotten” in us, then there must have been plenty missing in the first place. You Forgot it in People has a little bit of something for everyone—gorgeous instrumental soundscapes, hard-rocking numbers, minimalist indie lo-fi tracks, folk songs and stadium ballads.

All of this is backing some of the most curious and surreally vulgar lyrics this year. That an album from a 10-member collective (whose notable side projects include Do Make Say Think, KC Accidental, Metric and Stars) would be all over the place was to be expected. That it would all somehow congeal into one definitive document of the current human condition was as unexpected as it was sorely needed.

16. Sumday

Though not as daring as its predecessor, 2000’s sublimely crafted The Sophtware Slump, Grandaddy’s Sumday gradually reveals itself as the more sincere of the two albums. Head daddy Jason Lytle says he wanted to call the album Sumday (sic) so it could be named a word that had never been used before (besides by second graders who didn’t know any better). But this is an album grounded in tradition—from the OK Computer-esque robot laments to the ELO keyboard flourishes, you have all heard this album before, and yet you have not (unless you actually have). The future has never sounded so sad and yet so beautiful. And oh, that cover art. What I wouldn’t give for a view like that. Here’s hoping, someday.

17. Ether Teeth

Hailing from the new hotbed of musical genius, Minneapolis, Minn., Andrew Broder (aka Fog) puts a new twist on turntable music. Broder knows hip hop—as is apparent from his amazing remixes of said music’s classics on this year’s Modern Hits EP—but here takes his influences in a different direction, fusing piano, horns, guitar, organs and drumming by Martin Dosh with the turntable being a simple beatbox or simply a sampler. Ether Teeth sounds like the bastard child of folk, four-track rock and a dash of cut-and-paste sampling. I’m not sure what that means, but I know that I mean it. The songs range from up-tempo to melancholy, but nothing on the album sounds out of place. Purchase on sight, that is all.
—Tyler Bloomquist

18. Shades of Blue

The Madlib invasion continues. This time, he can be seen remixing the catalogue of legendary jazz label Blue Note on Shades of Blue. Sounding more like an homage than a simple remix album, Madlib digs deep, creating beats that both hip hoppers and jazz fans alike can appreciate. Shying away from the usual horn sample over a beat, Madlib seamlessly mixes elements from all eras in jazz to create something sounding more like live musicians than one man armed with a sampler. My only qualm is that it was too short—no worries though, I'll just pop in artists he collaborated with like Yesterday’s New Quintet, Dudley Perkins, Jaylib, Madvillian or The Beat Conductor…2003, year of the Mad!

19. Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?
The Unicorns

Though they're occasionally tone deaf and lacking in stereo clarity, when you chance upon a unicorn, you should consider yourself lucky. If, however, you should happen upon a whole group of them, you'd best put on your wranglin’ boots. Being trumped by Vice Magazine as "the greatest band ever," The Unicorns can get away with using a killer riff or phrasing for only a few measures, because another one is always right on its heels, resulting in approximately 3.28 great songs per listed track. Plus, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? is about coming to terms with death and loss of infamy, complete with one of the most hilarious and apropos dropout endings you'll ever hear.

20. Mouthfuls
Fruit Bats

Late one Wednesday night, while working on the RED Magazine Web site, I was listening as usual to “Local Imposters” on KRCL. A mellow, dreamy song soothed my frantic mind as I feverishly formatted every article for the Internet. I listened for the song title but didn’t hear it in the set list so I called the station. Renee (or was it Dawn?) willingly told me that it was by Fruit Bats and that I should buy their albums. I took her advice and ordered Mouthfuls right away.

This is an album of heartbreakingly beautiful poppy folk songs that carry the listener from one to the next. Fruit Bats, whose earlier work has been compared to Velvet Underground, recalls such influences as Phil Spector and Rumors-era Fleetwood Mac. This is good background music, good lying-on-the-bed-doing-nothing music, good jumping-around-the-house-and-singing-along music. This is an album that deserves to be set on ‘repeat all’ whenever it is played.

21. De-loused in the Comatorium
The Mars Volta

The Thom Yorke Award for Sonic Innovation does not actually exist. However, The Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodriguez would be very likely to obtain such high honors. The two former members of post-punk outfit At The Drive-In left their original band to pursue more experimental venues. The resulting sound is an intelligent, convoluted blend of hardcore and free jazz.

De-Loused in the Comatorium is the group’s first official album, one that only hints at the sheer brilliance burgeoning within its lithe, bespectacled and afroed inventors. Each song is thematically inspired by a close friend whose life ended too soon, but the stories are thickly veiled by intricate instrumentation and Bixler’s screaming injured-animal incoherencies. The album is first jarring, then intriguing, then completely, hypnotically captivating.

22. Take Me to Your Leader
King Geedorah

In my book, Daniel Dumile (aka MF Doom) gets artist of the year. Because unlike Coldplay (thanks, Spin Magazine)—a fine band, mind you—he actually released some original material this year—five full-length albums and counting, actually. There was his work as MF Doom for Special Herbs, Vol. 3-4 and MM Food, his collaboration with Madlib as Madvillain, his foray as ironic gangsta doppelganger Viktor Vaughn, and easily one of the most accessible, fun and best hip-hop releases of the year: the B-horror-movie-sample-happy Take Me to Your Leader.

Like all of Dumile’s aliases, King Geedorah has designs to destroy hip hop from the inside, this time as a 30-story, lego-constructed dragon with the body of Godzilla and the emceeing powers of Flavor Flav. Plus there's remarkably little to no swearing, something of a rarity these days in a hip-hop release. If you didn't have this album blaring from your car speakers this summer, then, well, there's always next year to make up for it.

23. I Am the Fun Blame Monster

Wow. How can I possibly sum up all that Menomena is in just one paragraph? One of the band’s members designed a computer program to aid in the construction of loop-based rock songs. I Am the Fun Blame Monster is an anagram for “The First Menomena Album.” The cover art to the album is an 80-page flipbook that reveals this fact. One of the band's members personally e-mailed me to thank me for purchasing the album. The band's Web site,, has given me (unequivocally) the best seizures of my life.

But none of this would matter if the music itself didn’t meet the same standard of excellence and innovation. But even just a cursory listen to I Am the Fun Blame Monster reveals that all these delicious little quirks are less gimmicks than priceless trinkets from an extremely passionate and creative band. (Find it at

24. Elephant
The White Stripes

Ten years ago, the concept of a musical duo was about as appealing as Sonny and Cher. Thanks to the work of Meg and Jack White, minimalism is the name of the game. The Detroit duo gained some widespread credibility with 2002’s White Blood Cells, but it wasn’t until Elephant that a broader audience began respecting the power of one drum kit and a guitar.

Both musicians display an increased confidence, with Meg pounding, rather than thumping, her skins and Jack preaching holy rock and roll in his most compelling voice. Elephant more obviously shows the influence of traditional blues, a feature that endows this group with a certain amount of longevity.

Unlike other so-called next-wave garage rock bands, The White Stripes are less concerned with being different than with staying true to their roots. Songs such as “Ball and Biscuit” and “In the Cold, Cold Night” (featuring Meg on vocals) are straight tributes to a sultry heritage. Tradition aside, all of the work on Elephant carries the a vibe that is distinctly White Stripes—and one that destroys old stereotypes of the musical duo.

25. Up in Flames

Apparently, Canada native Dan Snaith recorded this album entirely at home on ACID (the recording module, not the drug, though the apple don’t fall far from the latter). A far cry from his last album, the excellent but decidedly less groundbreaking Start Breaking My Heart, Up in Flames came out of nowhere (or as I like to see it, from the center of the earth), determined to make every single moment of listening the absolute awesomest possible. Excellent song titles, loads of fireworks, and Ewok village drum circles abound.



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