Singled out! 

A glance back at 2003 and Indy critics pick their Top 10s

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2003 was a good, if difficult to map, year for music from pop to hip-hop. Music inevitably rears its booty in times of war and economic slump, when moralizing political hucksters try to gerrymander the soul of a culture. Brian Arnot (resident vogue rogue) and I discussed the niceties of popular music in 2003, the year the dance single was reborn and rock did yet another night of the living dead.

Noel Black: Brian, 2003 was a great year for the party single and commercial radio was far more exciting than it has been in years with Justin Timberlake, 50 Cent, Junior Senior, Outkast, et al. Why, Brian? Tell me why!

Brian Arnot: Well, Noel, generally, whole albums are expensive and shitty right now. It's a culmination of things; the Internet has something to do with it, but dance music in general doesn't work well in the album form, unless it's like 1981 and your name is Michael Jackson. I wouldn't necessarily attribute it to any one factor.

NB: College radio seemed to have lost all relevance where new, independent music is concerned. They seemed to be clinging to the zombie rock revival and the rather shruggable faces of the White Stripes and The Strokes. But indie music in general seems to have found renewed contentment in its bedside, lo-fi home on incredibly small labels. I'm thinking The Unicorns, Devendra Banhart, The Books, and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone.

BA: Yeah, the College Music Journal can't even be trusted any more (they were caught doctoring their charts this year). Locally, college radio is pretty bad. KRCC still thinks Ryan Adams is cool. Indie rock's been boring since about 1998. It's the same thing that happens all the time. Rock gets boring and so people turn to pop. The only worthwhile actual rock 'n' roll band I heard all year was The Darkness (Permission to Land), who successfully rocked only because they got everything right. People complain about their novelty/ironic status, but it was entirely necessary in this musical climate. Rock has problems. It tends to lose its steam really quickly after any burst it has, then gets subsumed. Pop, as a form, is more universal and gives you a lot more breathing room.

NB: I suspect 2004 won't be a spectacular year for commercial music. The industry seems to have shot its wad. But we can look forward to The Streets' new album, Johnny Cash's last album and something new from Morrissey. Do you have any premonitions?

BA: The Mountain Goats and Liars' new albums are the only two albums I've heard from 2004 so far, and they're both great, wonderful. As far as musical trends go, this is a long shot, but I think people are going to stop being afraid of ska, unless ska-punk ruined it forever, which is possible. I'm not thinking fourth-wave, but more of an early '80s-esque synthesis; even early this year, Ted Leo asked, "Where Have all the Rude Boys Gone?" The Jamaican influence is weighing very heavily on hip-hop right now, but I predict handclaps will be pass within three months. It's winter; who wants a Jamaican handclap?

Top 10s

Sticklers for year-end list making will undoubtedly note that several of the albums and songs that appear in the following Top 10 lists were not, technically, released in 2003 -- Justin Timberlake's Justified being the most glaring example. To this we pre-emptively respond: Yeah, so? Rather than try to assemble some kind of diluted compromise of our favorites, we've gone "buck wilderness" and allowed our critics to "run amok" (I know, it's crazy) and list their own, personal Top 10s for 2003. Enjoy.

Bettina Swigger:


10. The White Stripes, Elephant

9. Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

8. Mates of State, Team Boo

7. Ben Folds, Speed Graphic/Sunny 16 (2 EPs)

6. Cat Power, You Are Free

5. Missy Elliott, Under Construction

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4. The Postal Service, Give Up

3. The Shins, Chutes too Narrow

2. Junior Senior, D-d-don't Don't Stop the Beat

1. Justin Timberlake, Justified


10. Electric Six, "Danger High Voltage"

9. Ben Folds, "There's Always Someone Cooler Than You"

8. 50 Cent, "In da Club"

7. Outkast, "Hey Ya!"

6. The Shins, "Saint Simon"

5. The Faint, "Take Me To The Hospital"

4. The Rapture, "House of Jealous Lovers"

3. Cat Power, "He War"

2. Justin Timberlake, "Seorita"

1. Junior Senior, "Move Your Feet"

Aaron Retka:


10. The Locust, Plague Soundscapes

9. Missy Elliott, Under Construction

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8. Bright Calm Blue, A Direct Approach to Casual Conversation

7. Junior Senior, D-d-don't Don't Stop the Beat

6. Pelican, Australasia

5. The Postal Service, Give Up

4. David Cross, Shut Up, You Fucking Baby!

3. Ben Folds, Speed Graphic

2. Lightning Bolt, Wonderful Rainbow

1. Justin Timberlake, Justified


10. Ben Folds, "All You Can Eat"

9. Daughters, "Mike Morowitz, the Fantasy Fuck"

8. Pretty Girls Make Graves, "All Medicated Geniuses"

7. Hot Hot Heat, "Le Le Low"

6. The Postal Service, "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight"

5. A Trillion Barnacle Lapse, "Faceless Cowboy"

4. Justin Timberlake, "Rock Your Body"

3. The Thrills, "Don't Steal Our Sun"

2. Dimmu Borgir, "Progenies of the Great Apocalypse"

1. Junior Senior, "Shake Me Baby"

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Noel Black:


10. The Thermals, More Parts Per Million

9. (tie) Devendra Banhart, Oh Me Oh My ...

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Twinkle Echo

8. The Books, The Lemon of Pink

7. The Neptunes, Neptunes Present the Clones

6. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Master and Everyone

5. Willie Nelson, Crazy: The Demo Sessions

4. The Unicorns, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?

3. Randy Newman, American Songbook Vol. 1

2. Missy Elliott, This Is Not a Test!

1. Justin Timberlake, Justified


10. Missy Elliott, "Pass That Dutch"

9. Rufus Wainwright, "Oh What A World"

8. Snoop Dogg, "Beautiful"

7. The Darkness, "I Believe in a Thing Called Love"

6. Pharrell Williams, "Frontin'"

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5. Junior Senior, "Move Your Feet"

4. Outkast, "Hey Ya"

3. Missy Elliott, "Work It"

2. Justin Timberlake, "Seorita"

1. 50 Cent, "In Da Club"

Brian Arnot:


10. The Microphones, Mount Eerie

9. The Exploding Hearts, Guitar Romantic

8. The Thermals, More Parts Per Million

7. The Decemberists, Her Majesty the Decemberists

6. The Pernice Brothers, Yours, Mine, and Ours

5. (tie) Menomena, I am the Fun Blame Monster

The Books, The Lemon of Pink

4. Dizzee Rascal, Boy in da Corner

3. Justin Timberlake, Justified

2. Sufjan Stevens, Michigan

1. The Unicorns, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?

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10. Missy Elliott, "Work It"

9. The Postal Service, "Such Great Heights"

8. Dizzee Rascal, "I Luv U"

7. The Darkness, "I Believe in a Thing Called Love"

6. Justin Timberlake, "Cry Me A River"

5. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Maps"

4. The Rapture, "House of Jealous Lovers"

3. R. Kelly, "Ignition (Remix)"

2. 50 Cent, "In Da Club"

1. Outkast, "Hey Ya!"

Chris Selvig


10. The Reverend Charlie Jackson, God's Got It

9. Keiji Haino, To Start With, Let's Remove the Colour!

8. Peter Brotzmann Trio, Never Too Late, Always Too Early

7. Jerry McCain and His Upstarts, Jukebox Singles (7" series)

6. The Dirtbombs, Dangerous Magical Noise

5. Birchville Cat Motel/Bruce Russell, S/T

4. Deerhoof, Apple O

3. Phill Niblock, Touch Food

2. Keith Rowe/John Tilbury, Duos For Doris

1. Comets on Fire, Field Recordings From the Sun


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