Lifes a Pitch
We had high hopes for ourselves. Out of nearly thirty Pitch employees and contributors who offered their thoughts on the best albums of 2003, we figured we could come up with something earth-shattering. We would dazzle the world by picking five utterly obscure records as the best of the year. More than twenty albums earned multiple votes. The New Pornographers, the Dandy Warhols, Belle and Sebastian, the Strokes, Joe Strummer -- they all received nominations. But like Smog's Supper, which calendar editor Gina Kaufmann insisted was the best album of the year, none of them made the cut. In the end, like the "Hey Ya!"-listening sheep we are, we followed the lead of everyone else. Baaaaaa.
Outkast: Speakerboxx/The Love Below
We're enablers. We could have been strong and resisted the universal edict that you must drool all over whatever experiment this schizophrenic Atlanta duo cooks up and serves to the world. But we couldn't do it. We ate it up. It was just so fun. Plus, we needed some hot chocolate on a list filled with dry crackers.
The Shins: Chutes Too Narrow
Wily, soul-baring indie darlings from Albuquerque, New Mexico, make a solid sophomore album. Five, four, three, two, one ... we all swoon.
White Stripes: Elephant
You think the Wu-Tang Clan is something? The White Stripes Clan really ain't nothing to fuck with. Somewhere between brooding, breaking his hand, then breaking Von Bondies singer Jason Stollsteimer's face, Jack White spearheaded the all-time best album to feature a color-coordinated ex-husband-and-wife, garage-blues tandem from Detroit. Meg White just shrugs.
Kings of Leon:Youth and Young Manhood
Marty McFly fucks something up in the DeLorean again and brings three lost Allman Brothers back to the future for more long-haired high jinks from some Tennessee sons of a preacher, man.
Radiohead: Hail to the Thief
Everyone's favorite British weirdos abandon the whole prog thing to do covers of "Cherry Pie" and "I Can't Drive 55" before embarking on a club tour of West Virginia coal-mining towns with Ratt and Warrant. Or they just eliminate some of the squeaks, scribbles and peyote to make what passes as a straightforward Radiohead rock record.
There are sappy, heart-wrenching nuggets of songwriting splendor, and then there are just songs that make you want to fornicate with a complete stranger and maybe, maybe leave some cab fare on the dresser. These tunes fall into that cleavage between love and lust as the best bumping (and grinding) tracks you probably won't remember in six months.
Lil' Kim: "Magic Stick"
Lil' Kim shrugs off her seedy image to write an allegory about an orphan who exposes the ills of materialism in a capitalistic society. Just kidding. The song is about a big cock.
50 Cent: "21 Questions"
Nine words: I love you like a fat kid love cake.
Christina Aguilera: "Dirrty"
Nothing says purity quite like a filthy, sweaty Aguilera getting freaky in chaps.
Cold: "Stupid Girl"
This is actually a breakup song, but what the hell -- chicks like mean bastards.
Limp Bizkit: "Eat You Alive"
As much as women like dickheads, they absolutely adore tattooed dudes who stalk them, kidnap them, take them to the woods and shout vaguely cannibalistic threats at them with a bullhorn.
Mmmmm, milkshakes. No other frozen concoction could've been turned into such an ass-wagging ode to junk in the trunk. Somehow, "My iced, nonfat, triple-shot soy latte brings all the boys to the yard" isn't quite as catchy.
Paris Hilton featuring Rick Salomon: "An American in Paris"
Because "turn towards the camera so you can see how pretty you are" is the most heartfelt line on an amateur soundtrack since Tommy Lee groaned, "Oh, yeah ... baby ... I love you" to Pamela Anderson.
In Da Club
It is a rare track indeed that provokes someone with the Prairie Dogg's utter lack of coordination to bust out the White Man's Overbite and lay waste to the dance floor. With deference to 50 Cent's "In Da Club," a conscientious soliloquy on shorties, parties, Bacardi and all the hilarity therein, here are five more money-maker shakers.
Lil' Jon and the East Side Boyz: "Get Low"
To the window! To the wall! You don't need a third-grade education to write a hip-hop hit! Just some thumping beats! Infectious shouts! Lots of exclamation points! And sipping from one of those jewel-encrusted goblets doesn't hurt.
Chingy: "Right Thurr"
Slurring yurr wurrds is huge around hurre these days. Monsieur Chingy is cash money when it comes to raising the ante on Nelly's popularization of poor enunciation. Now if only somebody could make a lisp cool again.
We don't give a damn, and the Youngbloodz don't give a fuck. We won't start no shit, so it won't be no shit. Bing, bang, boom. Out comes a delirious, bass-thumping mess of crunk funk and riot chants that will either get your ass laid or beat down.
Chingy: "Holidae In"
Illiteracy is a tragedy. But with the right friends and a bathtub full of Hennessy, it can also be a hotel party, in this case at a Holiday Inn. Chingy goes ka-ching! again, thanks to Snoop Dogg and Ludacris, whom we owe for bringing phrases such as Call me Mr. Wiggles, far from little, make ya mammary glands jiggle into the lexicon. Tragically, nobody has yet to do the same for the Super 8.
Ludacris: "Stand Up"
Maybe it's our junior high humor. Maybe it's Ludacris' Shakespearian turns of phrase. Or maybe we just like bumping tracks about boobies. Let's just say that when he moves, we move. Just like that. Hell yeah, DJ, bring that back. Plus, it's hard to sit down when you have a soundtrack that inspires you to do the one-leg-shorter-than-the-other pimp limp.
Thanks to some funky-ass alignment of the planets, our top local albums of 2003 happen to mirror those of the dude from The Kansas City Star.
Conner: The White Cube
Solid, retro-garage squalor from a Lawrence quartet that definitely does not sound like the Strokes. We mean it. No, really. Why are you laughing?
Deep Thinkers: Necks Move
Because all great socially conscious, mildly militant hip-hop should come out of Kansas.
The New Amsterdams: Worse For Wear
It is written in the Talmud, the Torah, the King James Bible and on the back of select boxes of Cap'n Crunch that any list pertaining to local music must include either the Get Up Kids or a derivative. The penalty for failing to comply is death -- or at least some nasty rug burns.
Josh Powers: Sceneboostersoundsystem, Volume 1
DJ JP enlists a little help from friends such as Approach, Johnny Quest, Taha and Joc Max to serve up the smoothest head-bobber around.
These Songs are Fabulous
The pants-wearing half of our good friends in the Unambiguously Gay Duo took the time to rattle off a few of the most flamingly ab-fab songs of 2003 as he cruised the streets of Southern California in a shiny Lexus, looking for a latte and a seaweed mask.
Beyoncé: "Crazy in Love"
[Mimics the beat.] "Uh, yeah. I should point out that these are all club mixes."
Madonna: "American Life"
"You gotta go with the divas."
Sugar Ray: "Mr. Bartender"
"My personal favorite. [Yelling at traffic.] Get out of my pretty car's way! [Ed: So why do you like these?] Oh [in a faux fem voice], they just make you want to daaaannnccee!! What, I have to know something about them? I'll call you back, I have to go to Starbucks. [Stifled giggling. ] What's so funny, bitch?"
Copping somebody else's tunes is generally a blank check for capable musicians. (If people bought that tripe once, they'll do it again.) Some such versions are better, some are worse, and sometimes the songs are beyond saving to begin with. In 2003, two fallen giants led the way with a pair of painfully beautiful renditions. Pour out some liquor for JC and JS.
Johnny Cash: "Hurt"
Only the Man in Black could turn an aching tale of heroin woe by the Pale Man in Black Mascara (Trent Reznor) into his own devastating epitaph.
Joe Strummer: "Redemption Song"
The former Clash frontman transforms a Bob Marley slow-burner into his own gruff acoustic ode that manages to be as sad as it is triumphant.
Foo Fighters: "Darling Nikki"
Somebody explain this to us. Is Nikki masturbating with the magazine in the hotel lobby or to the magazine? Or did Prince meet her while he was masturbating with a magazine in a hotel lobby? Not that it matters at this point. Prince is knocking on doors for Jehovah, and the Foos are adding serious snarl to the eau de groupie.
Dixie Chicks: "Landslide"
This was released in 2002, and it isn't exactly an improvement on the Stevie Nicks original. But fuck it, the Dixie Chicks rule. FUTK.
The Ataris: "Boys of Summer"
Some boys of summer are too young to have intricate knowledge of Don Henley. The Ataris take Henley's "Boys of Summer" and slap a Black Flag sticker (punk rawk!) on the otherwise shiny, polished Cadillac.
Kid Rock: "Feel Like Making Love"
Odds are, things aren't all Bawitdaba and haven't been Bawitdaba for a while when you start dipping into the Bad Company catalog. It's still a decent drinking song, even with Kid crooning. But they all are when you're an alcoholic.
Doug Kuberts Top Five Socially Unacceptable Albums of 2003
Doug Kubert is a man who needs no introduction ... but what the hell, he's the phenomenal design editor here at the Pitch, a snappy dresser, a finder of lost children and one badass, cornhusking motherfucker.
Agoraphobic Nosebleed: Altered States of America
One hundred songs in nineteen minutes (a possible Guinness record), featuring song titles such as "Fuck Your Soccer Jesus," "Drive-by Blowjob on a Bicycle" and "Bong Hit Wonder."
The Phantom Limbs: Displacement
Dark-synth carnival punk that magically fuses to brain cells.
The Locust: Plague Soundscapes
The clearest and best recording of this San Diego musical clusterfuck.
Germbox: Fraction of Exaggeration
Criminally underrated and forgotten Kansas City band finally gets a proper release a decade late (and on a Nebraska indie label, Caulfield).
Old-school art-punk redux that sounds fresh and isn't embarrassing.
The "women's revolution" that peaked a few years back with the Lilith Fair is deader than Sarah Mc-what's-her-face's career. Sure, Ani DiFranco is still playing intimate theaters for espresso-sipping neofeminists, but a slew of former granola crunchers have gone all Britney on us. These freshly baked ho-cakes could've swiped their strategies from any number of highly respected male artists who let ego and the promise of a fat paycheck cloud their sound and vision. Here are four of the most egregious from both sexes.
Liz Phair: Liz Phair
No sellout got more attention this year than Liz Phair, whose unabashed bid for Avril Lavigne fans alienated everyone who was ever exiled in guyville.
Hush-hush deal inked with a major label? Check. Collaboration with forgettable pop chanteuse? Check. Ever get the feeling you've been cheated? Double check ... and out come the wallets.
Paul McCartney: Let it Be ... Naked
Sorry, Paul, but you just don't fuck with the Beatles. Even when you were one of the Beatles.
Looking to regain her footing on the pop charts, Jewel hired Shakira's producer and got bootylicious on the video screen. What's next, a trip to the dentist?
Worst of the Best
The best-of album is always a sure sign that a music career is officially on the skids. Heavy hitters such as Sheryl Crow, Tori Amos and No Doubt issued their first compilations this holiday season. Meanwhile, we got the 4,751st disc of previously released Red Hot Chili Peppers material. But five others take the prize for going out with a whimper.
Bob Seger: Greatest Hits 2
Containing all the lukewarm leftovers that didn't make the first volume, Seger's second serving of trailer-park slop includes such essentials as "Shakedown" from Beverly Hills Cop II. I'd rather listen to an Eddie Murphy album.
Erasure: The Very Best of Erasure
A dozen of these twenty tracks are already on Erasure's 1992 career-spanning retrospective. Maybe they should have called it Very Best of the Greatest Hits.
Bon Jovi: This Left Feels Right
Actually, these half-baked remakes of BJ's beloved hair-metal anthems feel very, very wrong.
Wyclef Jean: Greatest Hits
Music-biz rule book, chapter 1, page 1: No greatest-hits album until you've released at least two CDs that anyone cares about. Can a Pras best-of be far behind?
The Eagles: The Very Best of the Eagles
I've got a creepy, uneasy feeling that this album's been released before.
Six Albums You Wont Give a Shit About in Five Years
Critics acclaimed, masses swooned, millions purchased. And five years from now, used-record stores will have hundreds of them in the 99-cent rack, right next to all those copies of To the Extreme and Cracked Rear View.
Metallica: St. Anger
Lars and company find a cure for that dreaded Napster disease: Make an album so bad, they won't have to sue anyone to keep it from being downloaded.
John Mayer: Heavier Things
The only guy who consistently makes Dave Matthews look like a musical genius.
The Strokes: Room on Fire
Greenpeace should give these shaggy-haired hipsters an award for recycling.
Ruben Studdard: Soulful
Clay Aiken: Measure of a Man
So bad, they don't even merit separate spots on the list. The real reason America is hated by the rest of the world.
Fannypack: So Stylistic
Fans of misogynistic hip-hop take note: Girls can rap just as well as ... um, never mind.
Irony Loves Company
We dislike rock stars who mean what they say, which is why most hipsters wouldn't piss on that Dashboard Confessional guy if he were on fire. Perhaps it's just as well. Here's the All-Irony Top Ten -- because either they don't really mean it or you don't really like it. Or worse, because you secretly do.
Mandy Moore: Coverage
Just imagine eternally dour XTC mastermind Andy Partridge when he pops in this teen-pop cash grab and hears his "Senses Working Overtime" recast as a demonic Jazzercise routine (One! Two! Three! Four! Five!) with turntable scratches. Dear Mandy wouldn't know half these artists if they bit her on the ass (which they might). Her Blondie is unspeakably hideous, but her Joe Jackson ain't half bad. Whoops! Just kidding! Never mind!
The Darkness: Permission to Land
They oughta set up a Betty Ford wing for rock critics who overuse Spinal Tap references (guilty!), but goodness gracious, do these English hype titans ever crank their amps to eleven and send you back to Bitch School with Stonehenge-caliber butt-rock that spontaneously combusts like a drummer choking to death on someone else's vomit in a bizarre gardening accident. You will weep openly upon hearing it, but instead of "Lick My Love Pump," the operative words are now Get your hands off of my woman, MOTHERFUCKER! Two words: Shit sandwich.
MC Honky: I Am the Messiah
Indeed, that last Eels album sucked. Yes, this burrowing-merrily-under-the-radar E side project redeems it. Freed of the squirrelly Eels frontman's usual cocktail of jet-black melancholy, this effervescent little instrumental adventure slaps earnest self-help gurus and cooing lovermen over goofy, ramshackle beats -- a welcome respite now that Beck is a heartbroken Serious Artist. Utterly insincere and strangely lovable.
Macho Man Randy Savage: Be a Man
Kings of Leon: Youth and Young Manhood
Listen: Rock-crit chumps who fixate on hairstyles deserve to be kicked in the taco, but the coifs here are just fucking magnificent and far more evocative of that whole Southern-rock-as-glorious-religious-conversion jive than this bandwagoneering sub-Allman Brothers hoo-hah. More songs about having just killed a man from absurdly rail-thin sensitive boys too squeamish to squash spiders with their dog-eared copies of The Idiot's Guide to Freedom Rock.
The White Stripes: Elephant
Is this all starting to feel a little bizarre to anyone? Too calculated, too prefabricated, too self-consciously weird? Could this all be a nefarious hipster marketing scheme -- ooooh, they're brother-sister/husband-wife; ooooh, they're from Detroit; ooooh, they reference obscure art movements and cover Dolly Parton? The real White Stripes are butt-ugly fifty-year-old shoe salesmen from Eugene, Oregon, right? This is the neogarage Milli Vanilli, right? Has the whole world been punk'd?
Electric Six: Fire
To save disco, we must destroy it. Call this Saturday Night Herpes, a deliberately hideous cock-rock-with-a-drum-machine sonic atrocity that allows low-riding badasses the unique opportunity to blast tunes titled "Gay Bar," "Improper Dancing" and "Naked Pictures (of Your Mother)" without impunity or apology. Clothespin your nostrils, dive in and learn why the funniest words committed to tape this year were Stop! Continue!
Turbonegro: Apocalypse Dudes
These sublime Swedish meatballs look like Marilyn Manson Mouseketeers, write like giggling Blink-182 disciples ("Rendezvous With Anus") and inexplicably rock like Fugazi before old age and crippling self-righteous artiness finally set in. Song title of the year: "Don't Say Motherfucker, Motherfucker."
Fountains of Wayne: Welcome Interstate Managers
These thirtysomething übernerds penned "Stacy's Mom," a soul-obliteratingly infectious ditty about an underage chump lusting after his classmate's maternal guardian. Get the fuck out of town. Not one second of this hyperliterate wiseass-fest doesn't drip pure smarm, but with pop this sharp, the smirks feel like smiles, the kicks like kisses.
Randy: Welfare Problems
If Mountain Dew finances an Animal House sequel set at an NHL playoff game on nickel-beer night, Randy's "A Man in Uniform" will be blaring over the PA as the inevitable brawl breaks out. A fabulously stupid fist-pumping anthem for mooks too self-medicated to ball their hands into fists, "X-Ray Eyes" is also a far better Strokes song than anything Room on Fire puked out. This is either smart people pretending to be spectacularly dumb or vice versa. But then again, aren't we all.
For Those About to Rock
Clear out the kiddies. We're throwing on some of 2003's best, and they're going to rock. Hard.
Mars Volta: De-Loused in the Comatorium
A redefinition of prog rock that pries the scene from the death grip of pasty dudes in Rush shirts, De-Loused adds some swing to a stilted subgenre and gets it laid for the first time. Frontman Cedric Bixler could sound heartfelt ordering a Big Mac. Here, he's backed by flame-throwing guitars, maracas, congas and a bunch of other instruments we can't pronounce. De-Loused is unabashedly ambitious. And yeah, it's pretentious. So was Led Zeppelin, bitch.
Led Zeppelin: How the West Was Won
Speaking of which ... this live set is as essential to longhairs as oxygen and Old Milwaukee. Captured at the band's apex, a pair of California gigs in 1972, this package is the best thing to happen to stoners since the advent of pizza delivery.
Dimmu Borgir: Death Cult Armageddon
Taking its cue from the Apocalypse Now scene in which trigger-happy GIs gun down women and children accompanied by Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries," Death Cult Armageddon blends beauty and sadism. Black metal's black sheep continues to piss off the purists with a sound that's inspired by Genesis as much as by Gorgoroth. Horns, synth, piano, guitar, an angelic choir and black-metal vocals that sound like Vincent Price trying to dislodge a chicken bone from his windpipe.
Cradle of Filth: Damnation and a Day
Cradle used the major-label coffers that Beyoncé's backside built to hire a 40-piece orchestra and a 32-piece choir to fill Damnation with grandiose haunted-house harmonies. The result is the headbanger's equivalent of 20-inch rims. The band teeters near self-parody: Frontman Dani Filth occasionally sounds like an angry grandma with his cat-in-heat shrieks, and Anne Rice could have bested his gothic lyrics when she was still in a training bra. But for a band that made its name on shock value (remember "Jesus Is a Cunt"?), the real shock is how great these Brits have become.
Superjoint Ritual: A Lethal Dose of American Hatred
With an ego rivaled in size only by his long-suffering liver, Phil Anselmo has finally dropped an album worthy of his incessant chest-pounding. With Pantera down and Down out, Anselmo's other projects offered more comedy than horror until he teamed up with a stellar Superjoint lineup to record a bar fight on wax. Metal as it's meant to be.
Hip-hop dominated the pop charts in 2003, but it also led to one of the lamest record crops (barring Outkast, God bless them) in recent memory. Even the ever-lovable Snoop Dogg was cranking out hip-pop bullshit like "Beautiful" to satisfy the suburban kids lapping up his gangsta fantasies. The underground had little to offer, either, besides quixotic musings (Aesop Rock's Bazooka Tooth, Beans' Tomorrow Right Now) and criminally ignored flights of fancy (Lyrics Born's Later That Day). Here are some of the year's hits and misses above and below the hip-hop surface.
Jay-Z: The Black Album
We like Jay-Z. He's extremely talented. But doesn't anyone remember when KRS-One rhymed, If you were to rule or govern a certain industry/All inside this room right now would be in misery/No one would get along nor sing a song/'cause everyone would be singing for the king, am I wrong?
S.A. Smash: Smashy Trashy
Despite gallant challenges from a handful of other labels, the Definitive Jux fam has ruled the hip-hop underground for two years. It took this universally loathed (and, in some ways, unfairly maligned) would-be tribute to the party-thug formula for the label to finally lose its crown. Who's next? Maybe it's ...
Atmosphere: Seven's Travels
White kids love 'em, black kids respect 'em, critics tolerate 'em. It seems like nothing can go wrong for Slug and Ant. So why haven't they produced a masterpiece worth buying yet?
Ja Rule: "Loose Change"
We know, we know -- Ja Rule fell off. Murder Inc. is finished, et cetera. But we can't forget his missive missile directed at Eminem on "Loose Change," one of the cruelest disses in recent memory: You claim your mother's a crackhead/And Kim is a known slut/So what's Hailie gonna be when she grows up?
You know the South is running shit when strip club anthems like Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz's "Get Low" and David Banner's "Like a Pimp" get rave reviews in The New York Times.
Little Brother: The Listening
Feel-good story of the year. The unheralded North Carolina trio signs with Oakland's ABB Records; drops an amazing debut; sparks a major-label bidding war; and becomes a hot underground act in the tradition of Dilated Peoples in 1998, Mos Def in 1999 and Slum Village in 2000. Little Brother just might make 2004 worth looking forward to.