Rated | Alphabetical
| Highest Rated 2006
Ten Albums Worth
Mentioning From the First Half of 2003
Best of 2000-2004 | 2004
Posted: July 7,
the first half of 2003 has passed into our rearview mirror, leaving us to
look back on a time of war, uncertainty and ever-present dread. Yes, the
Recording Industry Association of America has taken up arms against music
downloaders, Metallica has returned from hibernation with an absolute
stinker of an album, and as yet there's no reason to believe that Madonna
will shut up and go away (although to most of us, it certainly seems as
if she already has). But there's a lot to appreciate about the year so far,
as well. Our crack team of historians here at Shaking Through -- okay, so
it's really just Laurence Station and myself -- have combed over the
significant music releases of the last twelve fortnights or so, and we've
come up with a list of albums that give us hope for the future of the music
industry. We've left out some higher-profile albums (Hail
to the Thief, for instance) that don't need our help, focusing instead
on ten discs you may not have heard but that we feel are deserving of your
attention. So go out and buy (that's right, buy) one or two (or ten)
of 'em, and let us know what you think, or send us your own list of the
year's best so far. In the meantime, here's wishing you a happy second half.
Kevin Moreau, Head Coach
"Prince" Billy: Master and Everyone (Drag City)
Will Oldham, performing as Bonnie "Prince" Billy, doesn't make music
for the 21st century. His songs come from a much older period, a time of
rural isolation and violent encounters, where love and death are
inextricably intertwined and blood is the primary currency. Master and
Everyone transports the listener to a place that Cormac McCarthy's
characters would find grave confederacy with.
Feast of Wire (Quarterstick)
Building on the sonic blueprint first conceived by composer Ennio
Morricone, Calexico's Joey Burns and John Convertino add a social
conscience into the mix. Feast of Wire is the Tucson, AZ-based
band's best achievement to date.
Quicksand/Cradlesnakes (Thrill Jockey)
Bizarre Americana blazes to life courtesy of one of Chicago's most
interesting and musically inventive bands. Quicksand/Cradlesnakes
is at its best hinting at loss and regret, teasing the listener with odd
percussive bursts and strange carnival sounds as it presents a travelogue
of the oddly beautiful freaks decorating America's heartland.
Truckers: Decoration Day (New West)
Proving that the much-acclaimed
Southern Rock Opera was no
fluke, the Athens-based Truckers deliver a tighter, more consistent
collection that touches on love, death, blood and regret with impressive
depth and clarity. The classic three-guitar Southern Rock sound lays a
blue-collar blueprint for tunes both pissed-off and poignant.
The musical structures are more subdued than on
past Eels efforts, the
better to match frontman E's deadpan, often droll meditations on the
unbearable darkness of being. "Somebody Loves You" aside, E's too smart to
sugarcoat these depressing tales with fairy dust, although the record
rings with a stoic, almost hopeful resignation to keep going.
Keep It Together (Palm/Reprise)
The Massachusetts-based trio delivers a platter of indelible melodies
more contagious than the common cold. Together lacks the occasional
sparks of artistry that distinguished 1999's Lost and Gone Forever,
but its tuneful charms are no less difficult to resist.
Microphones: Mount Eerie (K)
Main Microphone Phil Elvrum goes on a cosmically contemplative
expedition, and what he finds at the top of the summit may be a little too
head-trippy for most. Still, his brazen willingness to venture where other
artists don't is refreshing.
Historical Society: Us (Blanco y Negro/Beggars Banquet)
One-man band Colin MacIntyre builds on the promises inherent in his
bedroom-pop debut Loss. Us doesn't quite deliver on
MacIntyre's promise as a songwriter and singer, but its breezy tunes set
the stage for a pure-pop masterpiece that suggests the unholy union of
Brian Wilson and Badly Drawn Boy.
Ohia: Magnolia Electric Co. (Secretly Canadian)
If Didn't It Rain was Jason Molina's Nebraska -- a
stretch, we know, but go with us on this one -- then Magnolia Electric
Co. is his Born in the U.S.A.: a powerful, rocking ramble
through the Midwest. The sound is bigger, the hooks more memorable, the
rock-band vibe accentuated. The result is his best album to date.
Thorns: The Thorns (Aware/Columbia)
Three overlooked singer-songwriters -- Pete Droge, Shawn Mullins and
Matthew Sweet -- combine their strengths to create an
oh-so-slightly-guilty pleasure. If the songs ultimately prove less
important than the crystalline three-part harmonies they're written to
support, they still add up to an imminently enjoyable (and hummable)
summer pop record.
Albums We're Looking Forward To:
Enon: Hocus Pocus (Touch and Go) (September)
Last year's excellent High Society raised the bar for this New
York-based outfit. We're curious to hear whether or not Hocus Pocus
blasts them beyond the critical and popular stratosphere.
The Fire Theft (Rykodisc) (September)
Three of the four former members of Sunny Day Real Estate reunite. Will
the new album continue in the progressive vein of SDRE's last album (The
Rising Tide), or veer off into an entirely new direction?
Modest Mouse (Sony) (September)
Following-up the excellent Moon and Antarctica has to be
intimidating enough. Throw in a new drummer and you've got a recipe for a
stumble. But Isaac Brock's track record so far has us hedging our bets
that Modest Mouse will still deliver the goods.
OutKast: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (LaFace) (August)
The idea of twin solo albums from
Andre 3000 and Big Boi (and let's
face it, that's what this double-disc set amounts to) could prove
disastrous, but we're still interested in hearing where hip-hop's
brightest innovators are headed, alone or together.
Josh Rouse: 1972 (Rykodisc) (August)
The critically respected singer-songwriter ruminates on the year of his
birth. Song samples from Rykodisc's website confirm a seriously retro
Super Furry Animals: Phantom Power (XL) (July)
Will the Welsh quintet return to the offbeat pop experiments that
dominated their pre-Rings Around the World work, or further refine
a more conventional pop approach?
Ween: Quebec (Sanctuary) (August)
Early signs indicate that this long-awaited follow-up to 2000's
polished White Pepper may return to the overtly lysergic antics for
which this duo is best known.
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