This is my official Top 10 album list for 2003:
1. The Dears No Cities Left
2. Songs: Ohia The Magnolia Electric Co
3. Metric Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?
4. The Coral Magic And Medicine
5. Sixteen Horsepower Olden
6. Danko Jones We Sweat Blood
7. Gord Downie Battle Of The Nudes
8. The Organ Sinking Hearts
9. Radiohead Hail To The Thief
10. Geoff Berner We Shall Not Flag Or Fail, We Shall Go On To The End
I must say, this is a mighty great year.
My #1 record this year was No Cities Left and it still holds up just as well all this time later. “Lost In The Plot” was the big single, a signature song which I love, but it was the double-shot epic tracks “Expect The Worse/Cuz She’s A Tourist” and “Pinned Together, Falling Apart” which really did it for me. They’re epic, sophisticated and they rock, all while maintaining their uniquely “Dears” narratives. These two songs done live at the time were particularly amazing, as they’d get stretched out into trance-like adventures. “Don’t Lose The Faith,” “Warm And Sunny Days,” “Never Destroy Us”… I know these songs inside out. Within the confines of “Canadian rock” or “Canadian indie” or whatever descriptive you want to use this remains one of the best records of the last decade.
The Dears “Pinned Together, Falling Apart”:
It would’ve been a heated internal debate for me at the time to put Songs: Ohia The Magnolia Electric Co. at #2. This was the transition record where Jason Molina, the mostly one-man band as Songs: Ohia became Magnolia Electric Co., a down-to-earth trucker-rock band in the vein of Crazy Horse. The change was weird to take at first, but over time the songs on this album emerged and they’re heart-striking works. There’s an internal struggle going on in this album that’s both intimately personal and universal to the human experience.
I love the playing around with the classic song trope of John Henry doing something. Songs: Ohia “John Henry Split My Heart”:
Ah, Metric’s Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? We were so young and innocent and unaware of Emily Haines’ prickly fits back then. It was all about dancing along to “Dead Disco” late at night. If time had stopped and Metric never did anything else ever the world would’ve probably been a better place.
Metric “Dead Disco”:
The Coral’s Magic And Medicine remains a totally slept on record here in the North of America. This record’s so hard to define. It’s sort of triangulated by the works of The Boo Radleys and Space, but at the same time remain totally outside of their worlds.
The Coral “Talking Gypsy Market Blues,” their slight Dylan return:
Clearly 2003 was the year I finally understood Sixteen Horsepower. Olden was a compilation record made up of a few different EPs, which usually makes for uneven listening, but I was completely shook and I now follow the works of band leader David Eugene Edwards closely. Olden is also one of the records that has helped me become more self-aware about the music I like. It’s not necessarily about genre anymore, but rather about intensity, purpose, gravity. I no longer care about half-measures and comfortable singalong songs. If I can’t see through to your soul in your music you’re just a circus performer.
Sixteen Horsepower “American Wheeze”:
It takes a lot for me to consider a song a match for the best of the Thin Lizzy catalog, but for simple balls-out rockers Danko Jones’ “I Love Living In The City” from We Sweat Blood is right up there.
Danko Jones “I Love Living In The City”:
My affection for Gord Downie’s solo work would continue with Battle Of The Nudes. It wasn’t quite the speak-to-me album that Coke Machine Glow was, but I still consider it a bold and brave work, complete with Sonic Youth moments and weird punk diversions. Downie could easily play out his career doing cash register rock in The Tragically Hip, but he continues to go for it. These are the ideals I respect in musicians.
Gord Downie “Pascal’s Submarine.” Not my favourite track on the record, but this album’s not well-youtubed.
I’m kinda bummed The Organ didn’t quite rule the world like I thought they would, but Sinking Hearts is still solid in a hey-it’s-the-girl-Smiths way. Haters on this EP were weird. It may not be perfect but it’s got passion.
Radiohead Hail To The Thief at #9? I think I let myself be run over by the hype train on this one. I never listen to Radiohead anymore and if I do, it’s certainly not this album.
Geoff Berner We Shall Not Flag Or Fail, We Shall Go On To The End was a pretty unexpected inclusion for me because, well, let’s face it, I’m not known as a klezmer-punk kinda guy. How We Shall Not Flag gets me is with the storytelling. “Volcano God” is brilliant and beautiful and “Maginot Line” is a valuable life lesson.
Geoff Berner “Maginot Line”:
Other album lists…
2015 Top Ten — SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart is #1
2014 Top Ten — Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is #1
2013 Top Ten — M.I.A.’s Matangi is #1
2012 Top Ten — Dirty Ghosts’ Metal Moon is #1
2011 Top Ten — Timber Timbre’s Creep On Creepin’ On is #1
2010 Top Ten — The Black Angels’ Phosphene Dream is #1
2009 Top Ten — Gallows’ Grey Britain is #1
2008 Top Ten — Portishead’s Third is #1
2007 Top Ten — Joel Plaskett Emergency’s Ashtray Rock is #1
2006 Top Ten — My Brightest Diamond’s Bring Me The Workhorse is #1
2005 Top Ten — Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Howl is #1
2004 Top Ten — Morrissey’s You Are The Quarry is #1
2003 Top Ten — The Dears’ No Cities Left is #1
2002 Top Ten — Archive’s You All Look The Same To Me is #1
2001 Top Ten — Gord Downie’s Coke Machine Glow is #1
2000 Top Ten — Songs: Ohia’s The Lioness is #1
1999 Top Ten — The Boo Radleys’ Kingsize is #1
1998 Top Ten — Baxter’s Baxter is #1
1996 Top Ten — Tricky’s Maxinquaye is #1