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Thursday, March 4, 2004

Neumu's Top 20 Of 2003: It's Cat Power, By A Whisker

Neumu's Steve Gozdecki writes: At long last, the lists submitted by Neumu contributors have all been run and the pertinent numbers dropped into a spreadsheet to bring you what you need: the top 20 albums of 2003 according to the Neumu Nation.

The methodology I used to compile the top 20 was simple. Looking at each Neumu contributor's list, I assigned points to each album according to where writers ranked them, with each critic's #1 album being worth 10 points, each #2 worth 9, etc., down to 1 point for 10th place. In cases where writers didn't rank their lists — and, unlike your children, you're allowed to rank albums since you didn't create these particular loved ones — each entry was worth 5.5 points. For lists that were longer than 10 items, I only included the top 10.

The 22 writers included in this exercise (sorry, John Darnielle and Joseph Larkin, your lists didn't meet our stringent entry requirements) managed to squeeze a total of 131 different albums into their top 10s. No album appeared on more than eight lists.

I won't go all Christgau on you and try to interpret what it all means — this is, after all, "just" a comprehensive look at 22 music enthusiasts' faves from last year presented for your enjoyment. So, here's the list. (Note that the first number shown after each title is the total points it received, while the number in parentheses is the number of Neumu-ies who included it on their lists. Each top 10 also includes one of my colleagues' comments about the album from their own individual lists.)

1. Cat Power, You Are Free (Matador) 47 (8): "Whereas on earlier releases, Chan Marshall seemed to stumble upon melodies by accident, here she attacks them like a tiger, extracting their tiniest messages and moments with a voice so vividly expressive that they don't stand a chance of escape." (Neal Block)

2. The Postal Service, Give Up (Sub Pop) 44 (8): "The sound of sunlight bending, fog refracting, leaves falling upwards. Give Up is what all emo should be but never is: sharp, woozy, clever, gut-wrenching, hopeful, gorgeous, unafraid to have a fucking beat. This very moment, that little chump from Saves the Day is somewhere scratching his head and trying to figure out Pro Tools." (Tom Breihan)

3. Radiohead, Hail to the Thief (Capitol) 43.5 (7): "Like a 'greatest hits' album with all new songs, this record is a good summation of all the sonic territory Radiohead have covered over the last decade. The oft-imitated, never-duplicated voice of Thom Yorke returns to the fore, reiterating the main reason this band is so great in the first place." (Ryan Dombal)

4. The Wrens, Meadowlands (Absolutely Kosher) 41 (5): "It came out of left field and smacked me in the face, and I love it. This album makes me want to cry and yell and shout and laugh, then yellingly laugh while crying. It is perfect in every way a record about heartbreak, exhaustion and almost giving up can be." (Kate Guay)

5. OutKast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (La Face) 37.5 (6): "I'll admit it — I heard 'double album' and figured 'bloated, ego-driven, career-killer that won't top Stankonia.' Goodness gracious was I ever wrong. Thankfully. It's so good that it almost is worth it to speculate on an OutKast breakup, since this set seems impossible to top. Then again, I thought that about Stankonia as well." (Randy Reiss)

6. White Stripes, Elephant (V2) 36.5 (6): "It ain't easy to move forward while looking backwards, but here's where Jack and Meg show us how to move in two directions at once. Turns out the only way to do it is to loosen up, and defuse all the hype with a bit of humor.... In the end, it seems like Jack knows that his strengths can be limitations and Meg's figured out how to turn her limitations into strengths." (Jim Connelly)

7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell (Capitol) 33 (6): "As uncool as it may sound, it was very nice to have a couple of groups like The Strokes and the Yeahs come along. It had been some time since some real wild rock 'n' roll had stirred things up, for better or for worse. It was even nicer to see them make a second coming, proving the so-called revival's lasting power. The Yeahs toned things down just slightly on their second release and debut album to reveal the power of love, l-u-v, mixing a couple of gorgeous, spine-tingling ballads into their ferocious, growling punk spasms and quivering, trashy seductions." (Jenny Tatone)

8. The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow (Sub Pop) 28 (5): "What's changed since the Shins' smash debut: The sound's a little clearer and a little quieter — and this time they even try their hand at twang. What hasn't changed: James Mercer's supple voice, his gift for melody, and his knack for squeezing complex concepts (and words, and phrases) into bite-sized pop songs — in other words, everything that matters." (Anders Smith Lindall)

9. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, Hearts of Oak (Lookout!) 27 (4): "Pure pop genius from New Jersey's finest, Ted Leo.... [E]very song bristles with huge hooks and ants-in-your-pants energy. Sure, he's probably doomed to be an irrelevant indie icon, which is too bad, because I can't think of a better man to play the fatherly Nick Lowe role to this generation's emo punks." (Matt Helgeson)

10. Broken Social Scene, You Forgot It in People (Arts & Crafts) 23 (3): "A great indie-pop record — solid songs, great production, tens of hooks — and it's pretty obscure too. All the makings of a critic's favorite, really. I hope for everyone's sake that this band is discovered and that, consequently, this great, great record can be shared like so many cheap hostel beds." (Ben Gook)

11. The Decemberists, Her Majesty, The Decemberists (Kill Rock Stars) 22.5 (3)

12. New Pornographers, Electric Version (Matador) 21.5 (3)

13. The Strokes, Room on Fire (RCA) 21 (5)

14. Jay-Z, The Black Album (Rock-a-Fella) 20 (5)

15. Death Cab for Cutie, Transatlanticism (Barsuk) 19 (2)

16. Songs: Ohia, The Magnolia Electric Co. (Secretly Canadian) 17 (3)

17. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Pig Lib (Matador) 17 (3)

18. Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros, Streetcore (Epitaph) 15 (3)

19. The Rapture, Echoes (DFA) 15 (2)

20. The Concretes,The Concretes (Licking Fingers)13 (2)

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