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   Wednesday, December 31, 2003  
And so, just before the annual champagne-fuelled orgy of excess obliterates the senses, it's the year-end list. Hardly any surprises since they've all been flagged up here across the year, but of those discs which through a random combination of prejudice, predisposition and instinct managed to gain a hearing, these are reallyrather's favourites of 2003...

Everything mentioned below has and still receives serious attention but it's a Top Ten so reasons have been found to eliminate the following:
Joss Stone / The soul sessions - totally recommended for the first 3 cuts alone. Great debut effort from the blonde kid from Devon but they're all cover versions. [See/hear her in session recently courtesy of KCRW]
Richard Hawley / Lowedges - standards maintained but rr still prefers the previous two albums
The Long Winters / When I pretend to fall - great step up from their debut; bold pop strokes but this blog plays only 7 of the 12 and actively avoids the rest, unlike the Top Tenners which all have an at least 90% hit rate hereabouts
Haley Bonar / The size of planets - even less (6 out of 13 tracks) do the business here but those half-dozen hit a spot found by no-one else this year. Unfussy singer-songwriting with spare leftfield arrangements and brooding restraint
Broken Social Scene / You forgot it in people - plays like the eclectic rock radio station of your dreams but strictly speaking an '02 release
Limbeck / Hi, everything's great - More accurately, everything's really good; uncomplicated, solidly enjoyable driving jangle but a bit one-paced over the distance

And so...

10. Oranger / Shutdown the sun
Hey, how can Oranger be here and not Grandaddy and not The Shins and not the FoW?, you cry. Guess it's that hard-to-pin-down affection factor which makes the individual warm to one and not the other. 'A concise, surprisingly strong, nearly flawless album,' declared Splendid a few days ago. Steady on, chaps. What we have here is the SF band's most collected effort to date, reining in the overt (and expert) 'B' band references of yore to produce an album of comtemporary pysch-pop with no weak moments. Vocally a bit indistinct but the stiff-with-pop-treats 34-track 'rare+unreleased' bonus disc pushes this album into the list

9. Centro-matic / Love you just the same
A great record, the band's 6th(-ish) and best yet so why on earth is it only no.9? Maybe because it's so familiar-sounding. It's a tidier refinement of a sound we already know, rusted indie rock which remains as deeply pleasing as ever and never more consistently realised.

8. The Tyde / Twice
"I have nothing but good things to say about this disc..Every track is golden and the musicianship is fantastic." Not this blog's words but another's; track down this little baby and you, like reallyrather will be powerless to demur. Opening up with a reminder of the hazy, spacey jangle of their debut the band then goes up through the gears and never looks back. The (so-called) Thrills be gone, this is the sound of our SoCal dreams. Sparkling, acidic pop which could easily have placed higher but, hey, the ink's now dry.

7. James William Hindle / Prospect Park
Pleasantest surprise of the year. Choice folk-pop tunes deftly fleshed out by friends of the Yorkshire singer-songwriter. The whole thing's pitched just right, soft-but-definite vocals with an occasional instrumental hint at beefiness. The last song still shouts 'Homeward bound' every time but can't detract from the constistent pleasures which precede it.

6. Norfolk & Western / Dusk in cold parlours
Only properly released in November but reallyrather is confident this one has legs. Don't know about you but reallyrather does a lot of music-listening late in the evening, headphones on and glass of red not uncommonly to hand. It could be argued that that time of day at this time of year is the optimal moment to appreciate the delights of Norfolk & Western. It's certainly dark brown but light of touch. Spacious 'hand-made' arrangements and organic(?) instrumentation render tunes which, tho' generally sombre-sounding, are regularly infused with sweetness and occasionally with crashes of electricity. Could easily place higher.

5. Kings of Leon / Youth & young manhood
Ignore all that 'southern boogie rock revisted' drivel trotted out by jaded music hacks, crank up the volume and - technical term - shake yo' ass to this snappy, sharply honed debut from the Followill family. Yes, it's a little bit Strokes, it's a little bit Dr Feelgood, it's a little bit Creedence - but who cares? Certainly not reallyrather. Get yourself a tambourine and bash along with this whip-smart set marshalled with superb economy and immediacy by Ethan John.

4. Wheat / Per second, per second, per second..every second
Oh, controversial! Do a quick search and you'll find this long-overdue third album from the Massachusetts trio has received some fearful kickings due to it's perceived sell-out / money-shot glossiness. Well, not from reallyrather it didn't (nor, interestingly, from big-hitters like Pitchfork and Allmusic). Closer to the mark is this from The Stranger: "Why more bands can't sell out like Wheat does on Per Second... is beyond me. When it comes to cashing in your indie cred for major-label chips and then betting the whole damn farm on a slick Dave Fridmann-produced record, Wheat has made the right call." This is gleaming pop-rock with just enough Wheat to aid digestion. Not quite direct and neatly-packaged enough for pan-global mainstream saturation but way too direct and neatly-packaged for indieville cult success, it falls down the cracks in between, ending up in places like, well, this.

3. M. Ward / Transfiguration of Vincent
Why on earth isn't this no.1?, reallyrather is still asking and still not really coming up with a reasonable answer. Folky, croaky and luminously melodic, Matt Ward does pretty well everything right on this third album. At any one time over the months at least eight of these tracks have been this blog's favourite. Stuffed to the gills with beautiful tunes in a hatful of styles, Ward draws from all the best wells of 20th century American music to fashion a warm, cracked contemporary classic. If you haven't already, do buy it (and copies for you friends).

2. Sufjan Stevens / Greetings from Michigan..
"Not another art-folk concept album from a guy given to performing in Boy Scout's uniform," we cried as we stumbled across this wonder back in the summer. A minor sonic miracle, this suite of songs+sounds inspired by Stevens' home state is as fine a piece of music-making as you could surely wish for. Like a visit to a choicely curated gallery show or a walk in the hills, Greetings.. is by turns arresting, contemplative, bracing. Writing, arranging and performing most of it himself, this is an astounding sounding record, a Steely Dan aesthetic for the DIY indie-folk generation. Ranging from the sparse and moving to sprawling, multilayered impressionistic opuses, at comfortably over an hour long it stetches this listener's attention span into alien territory with ease. It misses out on the No.1 spot only be because ultimately half of it's appeal is to the head not the heart, unlike...[cue fanfare]

1. Nadine / Strange seasons
An album which fits this listener like a glove. After months gently chiding the St. Louis band over their tardiness in getting this recording out, it only turns out to be a near-perfectly realised set of heartfelt pop-rock. Comfort music, maybe? reallyrather cares not. Sure, no barriers are being broken; in its assembly, all envelopes remained resolutely unpushed. Which is absolutely fine because this is a band which knows (or sounds like it knows) precisely what it's about. Almost every note here, every chord change, every word punches it's weight, satisfies. The mellow, vaguely rootsy, vaguely Beatle-y songs are judged to a tee, never outstaying their welcome, all (save the final afterthought-sounding rocker which rr never plays) delivering in some way. And Adam Reichmann gets to apply his affectingly yearning vocals to plenty of the finely judged, unshowily expressive lyrics we've come to expect. Their choice of friends is telling, too (Centro-matic's Matt Pence produces, Will J. guests); if you haven't already, you should make Nadine one of yours...
   posted by SMc at 4:52 AM |