Yet another month passes us by and, before you know it, fall will be here. That really has nothing to do with anything regarding our newest addition to MEB Ranks, so let’s get to it, shall we? 2003 was a bombastic year filled with magnificent albums crusading over the many years that have since passed. While my personal choice just so happens to be my all-time favorite, I was partially irritated by all of the other albums I was unable to mention. Luckily for me, you and anyone else out there, we have other participants in the form of staff members willing to bring us insight into their choices for the top spot that year. As usual, enjoy.
Jarrod Church’s #1 Album Choice – Sing The Sorrow by A.F.I.
Considering this brilliant work of art will more than likely go down as my all-time favorite album forever and ever, there was really no other choice for me to review in 2003. One of the few records AP Magazine gave a five-star review to, Sing The Sorrow borders several different genres and molds them together as one beautiful compilation. Davey Havok is a mastermind of a poet. That goes without saying; just listen to the 12 tracks (don’t forget the hidden gem “This Time Imperfect”). From its onslaught, the album sucks you right in with “Miseria Cantare – The Beginning.” The dark and eccentric style blends perfectly with their recent poppish addition. The addition was mildly concerning considering their California punk roots – which had carried them more than a decade – but all’s well that ends well, right? While this will forever be a staple in A.F.I.’s career, everything before and after has always shown a delicate and precise sense of direction and structure. This one just happened to hit it perfectly on the head – which is something that no album, by any band…ever, could ever lay claim to.
Jacob Testa’s #1 Album Choice – Heavier Things by John Mayer
With Heavier Things, John Mayer turned away from the mostly straightforward pop-rock of Room For Squares to develop a more bluesy sound, demonstrating his skill and growth as a guitarist, singer, and songwriter. The album’s easily accessible, but has the ability to transfix and force listeners to feel what he feels. Between “Something’s Missing,” “Split Screen Sadness,” and “Home Life,” there’s an incredible amount of emotion put into this music and, somehow, Mayer managed to write lines that made sense in 2003 and hit so much harder nearly a decade later. From the opening lines of “Clarity” to the final moments of “Wheel,” it’s clear that this is the point in his career that he went from being any number of pop acts to becoming a seriously respectable musician. The record covers a variety of tempos, emotions, and textures, and accomplishes each adeptly. There’s still a lot that’s undeniably “pop” about this album, but it’s pop that cares. It’s not only there to sell, but to feel – to make the listener feel. That’s what makes the difference. Best album of 2003, hands down.
Jason Gardner’s #1 Album Choice – Take This To Your Grave by Fall Out Boy
I feel like I’m cheating the system a bit here. Sure, 2003 had some stellar albums from Coheed And Cambria, Rufio and The Early November, but that’s just scratching the surface. And to be even more fair, I never even gave this album a fair shake until some five years past its release. An album like Take This To Your Grave can’t be overlooked though; it sparked the career of four pop-punkers from Chicago who took the genre to dizzying heights while still managing to reinvent themselves. But this album is so important to the heart-on-sleeve musical tapestry that it’s often considered the go-to breakup album – and with good reason. Between snide, unapologetic lyricism and energetic, hook-ridden pop-punk cuts, it’s arguably one of the best albums of its kind regardless of genre.
Eric Schulz’s #1 Album Choice – Cryonics by Hot Cross
I always struggle when I want to write something about one of my favorite albums. There is a shade of something intangible and indescribable that transcends them, created by lively nostalgia episodes, ingrained emotional liaisons or just impressive and memorable musicianship that blows minds and manipulates body movement. The debut LP of the hardcore punk legends Hot Cross kind of applies to each of those criteria, but if I had to pinpoint one, it would be the latter. From a musician’s perspective there is so much awesomeness going on in each of the ten songs that it’s hard to keep track of all the tasty instrumental proficiency. Cryonics may have been one of my first screamed obsessions, a record that provided my unconfident teenage days with a bagful of one-liners I could yell in utter devotion, but in its essence, it is and will ever be the best jam to shred your guitars to. Musical prowess trickles inexorably through the framework of jangly riffs and asthmatic rhythms, placing every reviewer in a forlorn dilemma when he wants to pick some favorite parts; literally every second riff rips your face off or gets you air-guitaring at the very least. Not one minute goes by without sick guitar licks and frenzy offbeat delicacies while everything is captured in claustrophobic urgency and extolled by three voices of malice, cynicism and poetry. “Fuck not lest ye be fucked”- this is pure punk rock.
Nick Moffitt’s #1 Album Choice – Give Up by The Postal Service
The Postal Service is the unlikely duo of Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello creating a masterpiece of beautiful pop combined with intricate electronica. Gibbard, known for his work in Death Cab For Cutie, delivered poignant, poetic lyrics rooted in the lonesomeness of the grey Pacific Northwest while the man known as Dntel created soundscapes around him. Songs like “Sleeping In” capture that brief hour of light Saturday daze when you’re fighting getting out of bed. They examine the two sides of a confused relationship on “Nothing Better,” showcase the isolation of an entire culture on “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” and project a fearful hope on “Such Great Heights.” In a time when the emo craze was striking teenagers, The Postal Service was glorifying the romantic. In a song named after one of film’s most historic lovers, “Clark Gable,” Gibbard cries, “I want so badly to believe that ‘there is truth that love is real,’” a cry so real we’ve all related to it. Their only album, Give Up is a modern landmark and there hasn’t been an album that combines electronica and beautiful pop quite as well since.
Tim Dodderidge’s #1 Album Choice – The Beautiful Letdown by Switchfoot
When I was 11 years old, my family went on a road trip through the southwestern United States. For that entire trip, I listened solely to Switchfoot’s The Beautiful Letdown. Seven years later, this album turns itself on within my subconscious every time I recollect that journey. The metallic guitars of “Meant to Live” pay their dues to the red rocks and empty highways with a chorus that thunders its way towards understanding and fulfillment. “Gone” is a reminder of the inevitability of death, being a representative element of the car trip that gave me a wider appreciation for life itself. Spending days on end looping through The Beautiful Letdown during that summer vacation is one of my most vivid memories. I doubt I’ll ever again encounter the meditation, optimism, or peace with the world that this record brought me then – and still continues to bring me today.
Dylan Powell’s #1 Album Choice – Blink 182 by Blink 182
There really hasn’t been an easier choice for me thus far in this MEB Ranks feature. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of fantastic releases from this year but personally no other record even stands close to Blink 182’s fifth studio album. The progression from Take Off Your Pants And Jacket to this was immense and I am still shocked at the maturity between the two records. The lyrics are better, the guitars are more creative, the mood is a lot more unique – this record is just the band’s magnum opus and is likely never to be topped. As a fan of pop-punk music, this record really led in me in the right direction as far as my standard for pop-punk bands today. Sure simple, fun pop-punk has its place but it’s those who do what Blink did with the genre who are remembered.
Megan Ammer’s #1 Album Choice – Elephant by The White Stripes
Elephant dominated 2003. Upon its release, this album was granted five out of five stars from Rolling Stone, reached #6 on the Billboard charts, and even won a Grammy. However, this album’s appeal goes beyond public fame. Its true attraction lies in its dark contents. Elephant is just raw, angrier and more paranoid than other White Stripes material, displaying a whole new side. This album’s difficult manner is intriguing and spontaneous – a true display of The White Stripes’ versatility. The “pissed-off” vibe isn’t overpowering or annoying, but liberating and alluring. Also, its two week-long recording process led to odd freedoms, making this album better and bolder. It is just stunning, but in a twisted sort of way. Its differences are pleasing, while it remains honest and mysterious. This is a masterpiece, a true White Stripes work of art.
Landon Defever’s #1 Album Choice – In Time: The Best Of R.E.M. by R.E.M.
Until their departure just last year, I always had assumed that Athens, Georgia trio R.E.M. was going to forever be a driving force in the music industry. No matter how old their members get or how much trends shift, R.E.M. would always be there to keep things beautiful and relevant as the godfathers of their genre. Alas, their breakup has come and gone, and somehow, most of us are still intact. However, if there’s any reason you didn’t get to experience their music the first time around, make sure you listen to their best-of album In Time: The Best Of R.E.M. The album gathers together the group’s finest moments up until 2003 on Disc 1, as it features everything from “Losing My Religion” to “Everybody Hurts” as well as a variety of rarities and b-sides on Disc 2. Add in a little material from their work on the 2002 flick Man On The Moon, and you’ve got yourself a perfect package by one of the greatest bands of all time, and the best record of 2003 to boot.
Corey Hoffmeyer’s #1 Album Choice – The Artist In The Ambulance by Thrice
Though not necessarily their best release (for me, their next album Vheissu wins that esteemed award) The Artist In The Ambulance is Thrice’s last true “heavy” album. The vocals, the guitar work – hell, pretty much everything was firing on all cylinders on this album. Even when matched up against greats like Deja Entendu, The Artist In The Ambulance stands out, at least in my mind, as the best album of 2003. Highlights include “Cold Cash and Colder Hearts,” “Paper Tigers,” and “The Melting Point of Wax.”
John Frazier’s #1 Album Choice – Deja Entendu by Brand New
Can’t say I ever really went through an “emo” phase but I’ll be the first to say that, that bygone pop culture era of bad hair and sad poetry was worth it just for this album. All those years ago, I sat on my couch watching that rare hour of MTV where they played music and sure enough, “Sic Transit Gloria…Glory Fades” came on and I loved it. Normally bands like Linkin Park dominated my stereo at the time, but I could not resist the sound of this band. I figured that I might get into this genre of music if bands sounded like this. Naturally I failed to find anyone that could match their style; the builds, the calm, the intensity, this CD made me a fan of Brand New for life.