So this is the New Year. Time to look back one last time at the music that turned our collective cranks here at The Inlander during 2003. It's a tradition that we enjoy sharing with each other and with you, steady reader. Be assured that these, our personal recommendations, are based on nothing more than opinion. Like waiters in aprons, we are here with suggestions to tempt you.
Typically, the highly coveted top prize, The Inlander Album of the Year, is awarded to the album that, through unexpected consensus, makes its presence felt on at least a few of the lists. This year, that album just happened to be...
Cat Power, You Are Free (Matador)
You Are Free represents the first collection of original material from Cat Power's Chan Marshall in almost five years. Needless to say, it was well worth the wait. This collection reflects a personal reality so singular and enigmatic that exploring it is like pawing through a cigar box full of someone else's childhood treasures, marveling at the overwhelming richness and speculating about the secret significance of each bauble. It's a rare and fragile thing, a true indie rock anomaly, to say nothing of its unique place in the ever-expanding popular music cosmos at large.
The haunting, spare instrumental arrangements (often consisting of just the singer and her piano or guitar) fully surrender to Marshall's lush and agreeably raspy vocals. She emotes with simple inflections and wide-ranging dynamics. Her warm, approachable delivery is often in stark contrast to the frequently dark nature of the material: fatally flawed relationships, personal violence and external threats of a more abstract nature. You Are Free's ecstasy of sorrow is for those who live with unrealized possibilities, who are knocked out by the beauty and terror of existence. So take up a position in that place you go to lick your wounds and allow the quiet urgency of these songs to remind you how cathartic and liberating an introspective afternoon can be.
1. Kaito, Band Red (SpinArt)
Nothing could have prepared me for this album, which I stumbled onto this season purely by accident. And nothing I heard over the course of the entire year has stuck to me with such super-strength adhesion as Kaito's Band Red. Wildly unpredictable, raw and exuberant, the latest from this two-boy, two-girl UK quartet is a descent into remarkably jagged and damaged pop terrain that provokes thinking as well as gyrating. The lovely noise herein is achieved through a combination of punk basics (guitar, bass, drum), squirming electronics and growling lo-fi atmospherics. Chaotic arrangements swoop and veer as singer singer/guitarist Nikki Colk's vocals alternate between insinuating chants and immediate, gossamer croons. Modern and exciting as hell, Kaito's fearless demolition of convention may be just the thing to clean out the pipes. And, oh my, do they need cleaning.
2. Ted Leo & amp; the Pharmacists, Hearts of Oak (Lookout)
3. Cat Power, You Are Free (Matador)
4. Saturday Looks Good to Me, All Your Summer Songs (Polyvinyl)
5. The Thermals, More Parts Per Million (Sub Pop)
6. Turbonegro, Scandinavian Leather (Epitaph)
7. Death Cab for Cutie, Transatlanticism (Barsuk)
8. Stephen Malkmus & amp; the Jicks, Pig Lib (Matador)
9. The Clean, Anthology (Merge)
10. Ween, Quebec (Sanctuary/BMG)
Arts & amp; Culture Editor
1. Gillian Welch, Soul Journey (Acony Records)
I get some grief from friends every time we do the top 10 because I'm so damn predictable. Chances are my No. 1 is going to be a woman, and chances are she's going to be some iconoclast of the country music world. Chances are, if Gillian Welch released an album earlier in the year, she's going to end up not only on my top 10 list but most likely wind up at the top. I can't help it. She gets better with each new album, and Soul Journey is her most autobiographical, most revealing album to date. Deeply and irretrievably in love with the past, Welch retains the stillhouse whiskey drawl, Depression-era grit and hickory-smoked ghost stories of her earlier work, but here she delves more into her own history.
Soul Journey moves between the beautifully minimal compositions created by Welch and longtime collaborator David Rawlings to fleshed-out arrangements with Son Volt bassist Jim Boquist, guitarist Mark Ambrose, Greg Leisz on dobro and Ketch Secor on fiddle. Unlike any previous Welch album, this one occasionally rocks. "Wrecking Ball" (no relation to the Emmylou Harris song) is a bittersweet but jubilant meld of organ, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and fiddle. Welch knows how to end an album, and this one, like her others, leaves you feeling as if you'd spent time in the company of ghosts. These ghosts, however, might be as familiar as your own.
2. Cat Power, You Are Free (Matador)
3. The Weakerthans, Reconstruction Site (Epitaph)
4. Rosanne Cash, Rules for Travel (Capitol)
5. Quasi, Hot Shit (Touch & amp; Go)
6. Death Cab for Cutie, Transatlanticism (Barsuk)
7. The Decemberists, Her Majesty (Kill Rock Stars)
8. The Jayhawks, Rainy Day Music (Universal)
9. Emmylou Harris, Stumble Into Grace (Nonesuch)
10. White Stripes, Elephant (BMG)
1. Radiohead, Hail to the Thief (Capitol)
Once again proving their vision, neuroses and electronic beats are better than anyone else's, Radiohead ascended to further greatness with Hail to the Thief. Atmosphere reigns supreme on this album, but the band achieves it with songwriting prowess, attention to subtle detail and a return to the long-since-vacant six-string guitar.
The dynamic interplay between Thom York's cynical lyrics and Jonny Greenwood's guitar playing provides a lush foundation for the other band members to compliment. Standout tracks include the deceptively cataclysmic "2 + 2 = 5" and one of the band's more stirring and structured compositions, "Where I End and You Begin."
2. The Mars Volta, De-Loused In The Comatorium (Universal)
3. Vincent Gallo, The Brown Bunny Soundtrack (Tulip)
4. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Greatest Hits (Warner)
5. The Postal Service, Give Up (Sub Pop)
6. These Arms Are Snakes, This Is Meant To Hurt You (Jade Tree)
7. Azure Ray, Hold On Love (Saddle Creek)
8. The Rapture, Echoes (Universal)
9. The White Stripes, Elephant (V2/BMG)
10. Madonna, American Life (Warner)
1. Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos, Requiem Aeternam (Jade)
It was a bad year for classical music (with the notable exception of Ethel's self-titled album, which was a revelation of a contemporary string quartet). Listening to this CD was the most musically heady experience I had all year. The service, first recorded in 1959, and unreleased on CD until now, is old school: in Latin, and sung for worship and prayer -- not to sell albums. Children can be heard playing in the distance. Every moment of this disc, from the monastery bells opening the mass, to the serenely ecstatic (and rarely-recorded) chants that accompany the body as it's carried to the sepulcher, is a revelation. It's an achingly sincere and liberating performance, which is something rare in any genre.
2. Johnny Cash, UnEarthed (Lost Highway)
3. Pete Rock, Lost & amp; Found Hip Hop Underground Soul Classics (Rapster)
10. Chemical Brothers, Singles '93-'03 (Astralwerks/EMD)
1. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Pig Lib (Matador Records)
Former Pavement front man and slacker dreamboat to thinking women everywhere, Malkmus has made an incredibly moody, complicated and intellectual album that is, above all else, heartbreakingly beautiful in both its seriousness and its goofiness. Malkmus and the Jicks have become a stalwart indie rock force, working together to create amazing, addictive and important records that are the soundtrack for wise and slightly jaded hearts everywhere. No, this isn't Pavement. Many fans cannot get past that fact. But it is (dare I say it?) even better. Watch out, world: The Jicks' mix of surrealism, love and theory is here to stay. One listen and you'll be in love.
2. Ted Leo & amp; the Pharmacists, Hearts of Oak (Lookout Records)
3. Ryan Adams, Rock N Roll (Lost Highway)
4. Cat Power, You Are Free (Matador Records)
5. Rufus Wainwright, Want One (Dreamworks)
6. All Girl Summer Fun Band, 2 (K Records)
7. Belle & amp; Sebastian, Dear Catastrophe Waitress (Sanctuary Records)
8. Mates of State, Team Boo (Polyvinyl Records)
9. Death Cab for Cutie, Transatlanticism (Barsuk)
10. The Decemberists, Her Majesty the Decemberists (Kill Rock Stars)
1. Dandy Warhols, Welcome to the Monkey House (Capitol)
The Warhols are mega-celebrities in Ireland and draw hoards to their shows in England. But with their fourth album, the Portland-based group finally started to see the attention they've sought since 1993 in their home country. Maybe it's because the quartet had Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes and David Bowie in its artillery of producers, and a mandolin cameo by Parker Posey on one track. Those influences took the album on a different path than the others -- changing styles from '70s garage rock to '80s UK glam. That said, the album still oozes with the Warhols' trademark style: plenty of woo-hoo's and a whole lot of Northwest flavor.
2. Outkast, The Love Below (La Face)
3. Maktub, Khronos (Velour)
4. David Bowie, Best of Bowie (EMI)
5. Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime (boxed set, Warner Bros.)
6. Johnny Cash, American IV: The Man Comes Around (Universal)
7. The Mars Volta, De-Loused in the Comatorium (Strummer/Universal)
8. The Clash, Essential Clash (Sony TV)
9. Laurel Brauns, Periphery (Red Trail)
10. Tori Amos, Tales of a Librarian (Atlantic)
1. Cody ChestnuTT, The Headphone Masterpiece (Ready Set GO!)
Before he became Cody ChestnuTT (yes, the Ts are capitalized), his name was Antonio Thomas of the funk/soul band the Crosswalk. After being dumped by his record label, Thomas bought a cheap four-track recorder which he set up in his bedroom, changed his name and set out to record his masterwork by himself. The result is a sprawling, genre-defying, 39-song double disc, which he calls The Headphone Masterpiece (so titled because it was recorded mostly at night using headphones, so as not to wake his housemates.)
The lo-fi sound, complete with tape hiss and occasional out-of-tune guitar, adds to the almost uncomfortably intimate and personal feel of the songs. It's definitely not radio-friendly, full of foul-mouthed spoken-word poetry and slightly sex-obsessed lyrics which you probably don't want to play if there are little kids in the room. He's been described as everything from the black Beck to Brian Wilson in a pimp hat. Listen and you can hear all the voices in his head: Sly Stone, Hendrix, Big Star, '60s soul, Public Enemy, Dylan, Prince and Love. This is art before it gets cleaned up and is turned into a product: honest, disturbing and brilliant.
2. Rufus Wainwright, Want One (Dreamworks)
3. The Decemberists, Her Majesty
(Kill Rock Stars)
4. Visqueen, King Me
5. Belle & amp; Sebastian, Dear Catastrophe Waitress (Rough Trade)
6. Yo La Tengo, Summer Sun (Matador)
7. Four Tet, Rounds (Domino)
8. Lucinda Williams, World Without Tears (Lost Highway)