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PCR #196 (Vol. 4, No. 52). This edition is for the week of December 22--31, 2003.
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2003 wasn't at all what anyone expected. It wasn't the much-heralded year of garage-rock at all. In fact, most garage bands proved they couldn't hack it against the true stars of 2003, the indie rockers. Indie rock probably came the closest this year to going mainstream than any other year since the late '80's (that heart-crushing moment when the Pixies and R.E.M.-type bands didn't quite capture the mainstream's attention). Ted Leo, Jack White, Bob Pollard, The Strokes, Interpol, became dance club favorites and voted most likely to be on an employee's Walkman (yeah, it's been an odd year alright). With the rise of Indie rock, we sadly saw the death of its figurehead, Elliott Smith, who pioneered most of the lo-fi indie genre. Dance punk/electro-clash also saw a burst of interest as Ladytron, The Rapture, and the awful Electric Six became the Kraftwerk, Gang Of Four, and Dead Or Alive of the millenium. Where all this will leave us in 2004 is anyone's guess. My prediction is that the dance-punk craze will grow ever more, eventually be co-opted by Justin Timberlake and eventually ruined. Hey, that's life.

Top Ten Albums of 2003 (Least to Greatest)

The Sleepy Jackson10. The Sleepy Jackson -- Lovers
The Aussie rockers who slam through alt-country, garage rock, electro-indie, and Rolling Stones homages in less than an hour. Luke Steele and comrades produced perhaps this year's biggest sleeper (no pun intended).

The Decemberists9. The Decemberists -- Her Majesty The Decemberists
Forgoing some of the indie cliches on the debut album the band instead goes all out into wacko pirate tales-irish pub song-madness. Kinda like The Pogues if they had depth and emotion. If nothing else it proves that Colin Meloy is one of the most orginal lyricists since Frank Black.
The Mars Volta8. The Mars Volta -- De-Loused In The Comatorium
At The Drive-In had ceased to exist as a band and half of the remaining members went on to form the less-than-spectacular Sparta. So how in the hell could we have predicted the other half, Omar and Cedric, would explode our minds with space guitar and prog-punk.They rocked it in 2003 like King Crimson never existed. A record based on the death of one friend that ended with the death of another (bandmember Jeremy Micheal Ward) who sadly played such an instrumental part in the album's sound that we may never hear its like again.
The Strokes7. The Strokes -- Room On Fire
No it wasn't a leap forward, no it didn't rock the casbah like a punk infidel, but yes it was different than Is This It. The boys' sophmore effort has way more melody (can they write a bad tune?) and a lot more guitar heroics. If Is This It was the wild party record, Room On Fire is the heroin/coke-induced come-down. It's that moment when all the fun's exhausted and you stagger home.
Radiohead6. Radiohead -- Hail To The Thief
For all Kid A's experimentation it took one lie of an album and a year for ol' limpy eye Thom to show the fruits of all those Warp records homages. Songs like "There There", "Backdrifts" and the hectic "Myxomatosis" prove that Autechre could be huge if only they had the sensibilty to add a dose of The Bends to their electroblips. Oh well, Yorke and the boys beat them to it. Enjoy, next time they will sound completely different.
The Rapture5. The Rapture -- Echoes
So the Liars ripped it off as did countless others. Thing is though, despite the fact that this album had been circulating as a bootleg for almost a year and ripped off to death, it still came out and whipped everyone's asses like an extra tight pair of jeans to the nuts. "Olio" soothes, "Heaven" calms, then "The Coming Of Spring" and "House Of Jealous Lovers" makes all us indie snobs want to pick up our heads and dance. And you thought it couldn't be done (um....for the record, that never happened).
The White Stripes4. The White Stripes -- Elephant
Robert Johnson discovering heavy metal after blacking out in a field is the best description one can give. Not only are you rewarded with the heavenly voice of Meg White (you will be saved) but you get the greasy Muddy Waters blues "Ball and Biscuit" and the amazing "Hardest Button To Button". This is the apocalypse of garage-rock. Everything else is just dust in the wind.
Cat Power3.Cat Power -- You Are Free
Chan Marshall has shown more emotion on one record than an entire stadium of Emo kids. If the suicide piano ballad of "I Don't Blame You" doesn't get you, then surely the vague emptiness left by "Fool" will have you bawlin' for mommy. On "Free" and "He War", Marshall kicks it up a notch and even uses Eddie Vedder on backing vocals with good taste (yeah it can be done boys and girls). As for whatever emotion and memories Chan has dug up on "Names", I can tell you that I never want it. A true statement in an age of posing. Makes Dashboard Confessional sound like summer fun.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- Fever To Tell
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. New York's greatest contribut since Patti Smith and Sonic Youth made art-punk vital again and still had pop sense. Karen O, the frontwoman from heaven, showed up all the cock rockers by acting more slutty pissy and raunchy than a boatload of Ryan Adams and Brian Moloko clones combined. Nick Zinner's jagged guitars cut holes all through Nick Valensi's amps and make Jack White seem like a big bully with an IQ of 5. Yeah, songs like "Date With The Night" and "Tick" blow any future Courtney Love rock tunes back into the dusty '90s, but it's the lullaby punk of " Y Control" and "Maps" that draw you in like a evil-ass sect. After two EPs, I cut my wrists, set up shrines, worshipped at the alter of Karen O and what I was rewarded with was the best rock album of the year. Jack White had nothing on this baby. Nothing. Forget what you tell yourself now, when the time comes you will drink the Kool-Aid.
The Kills1. The Kills -- Keep On Your Meanside
From the clicking feedback scarred amp noise of the opening track you know this the real thing. Then, Allison Mosshart's voice creeps in like a snake and during the guitar-sludge chorus screeches like a dying vulture. Blues written in an apocalypse, this is. Grinding destructive songs laced with vignettes of a woman's (junkie?) ramblings all make for an atmosphere of doom and defeat. "Cat Claw" punches you in all the right wounds and then attacks with the chorus of "you got it I want it" and The Kills mean it . In the past, bands like Korn fueled the younger generation's angst and hatred into a violent orgy, but The Kills put theirs into hate and apathy for that missing generation before Korn and after grunge. The song "Fuck The People" says more about 2003 than a thousand protests against the goverment ever could. Modern blues has arrived. No, it never did before, despite what they told you. This is the album Jack White wished he could make. This isn't just rock, it isn't just blues, it's vital.

The Top five that weren't quite as hung as Jack White:
1. Ted Leo/The Pharmacists - Hearts Of Oak

2. My Morning Jacket - It Still Moves

3. Ryan Adams - Love Is Hell pt.1 & Love Is Hell pt.2  E.P.s

4. The Postal Service - Give Up

5. Blur - Think Tank

This issue's Digital Divide was composed by Terence Nuzum, ©2003. Webpage design and all graphics herein, except where otherwise noted, are creations of Nolan B. Canova.    All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2003 by Nolan B. Canova.