October 8, 2015

Best of 2004

My top 20 for 2004 was pretty simple to put together, especially compared to 2003. Not sure why I like so many more albums from 2003, but 2004 definitely does not ave the depth and quality. I posted my original best of 2004 list on this blog in early 2005 and 9 of my top 10 of that time are still in this top 20.

As this was the year I truly began collecting vinyl, I'll include some photos of the vinyl versions of many of these albums (I did buy a few 7"s in 1995 and my first 12" in 1996, but my vinyl purchases were sporadic until 2004). All the photos in this post I found online as my collection is currently on the other side of the Atlantic from me.

Top 20 albums of 2004:

1. Brandtson- Send Us a Signal
First heard: Waiting for me at my parents' house in TN when I moved back from Zambia.

As I have written time and time again, I saw Brandtson play more concerts from 1998-2002 than any other band I listen to. In that 4-year-span, I saw them 12-15 times. Before this album Brandtson's recordings were good, but this is the first time they had the time and budget to really flesh out and album, and the result was remarkable. For the first time when listening to a Brandton CD I was surprised as the diversity of sounds they were able to create. Even my wife grew to love this album and she likes very little music in this genre.

From a vinyl perspective, this wasn't released until much later, and is actually the first project I ever backed on Kickstarter:

2. Lovedrug- Pretend You're Alive
First heard: I saw Lovedrug play at the Club Cafe in Pittsburgh, PA in July 2004, and I got this album either a couple weeks before this show, or maybe even at the show. (No vinyl version exists).

Last week I published a long story on Medium about Lovedrug and Kerith Ravine (both fronted by Michael Shepard). As I discuss in the story, I prefer Kerith Ravine as a whole, but this album is definitively my favorite release from Shepard.

Why do I like a band’s decade-old album better than their new one?

My discovery of Lovedrug was interesting. I was pretty active on the Northern Record message boards from 2000 to whenever they dissolved (2005?). In 2002 or so someone on that board started raving about the band Lovedrug, frequently talking about how they were "the next big thing" and how we all needed to be on the lookout. Honestly, I had no interest initially for a very shallow reason- I thought the band name was stupid. (Lots of band names are stupid and a great example is the next band below!)

Then in late 2003 or early 2004 I got the Lovedrug "Rock N Roll" EP free with another order from the Militia Group. I popped it into to my CD player, and after a couple songs, I thought, "Hm, this guy's vocals sound really familiar." Later I realized, "Hey this is the same guy from Kerith Ravine!" I think I went straight to the Northern Records board and posted "Kerith Ravine = Lovedrug!". Anyway, when I first made the connnection it was a radical realization, but looking back on it a decade later probably doesn't sound that interesting.

3. Jimmy Eat World- Futures
First heard: Downloaded a leaked version of the album in July 2004, months before it was actually released. My fiancé and I wore the album out in the months preceding our wedding. When I finally got the real version of the CD that fall, I was shocked, because they cut the song "Jen". One of my favorite songs on the album, and I just couldn't believe it. Zach Lind, drummer, actually years later said this is one of his favorite Jimmy Eat World songs of all time.

I have the original black vinyl with an etching on side "D", but here is the re-released version:

4. Arcade Fire- Funeral
First heard: When my wife and I got married, neither of us had a job, we had no car, and we had nowhere to live. We first found somewhere to housesit the first two months of our marriage, then we found good friends who let us borrow their car. When we picked up the car from them, they let us borrow a few albums, and this was one of them. (Another was the Be Good Tanyas, also our introduction to that band.)

5. Mindy Smith- One Moment More
First heard: If I followed my own advice in the name of my blog, I would have never heard this album. The car I mention above did not have a tape player, and the CD player was broken. So for the six months we had it, we listened to a lot of the radio, specifically Lightning 100 in Nashville. Mindy Smith was one of the artists we discovered during that time. (No vinyl version exists.)

6. Pinback- Summer In Abaddon
First heard: This was another album that someone gave me on a CD loaded full of MP3s while I was in Zambia in early 2003. Then I bought it on vinyl in early 2005.

The photo I found for this one is someone who posted their entire Pinback collection (not me!) who has all the variants. Pretty amazing collection.

7. Tegan and Sara- So Jealous
First heard: I have written about this story before, but in the summer of 2004 there were free shows weekly on the Nashville riverfront. The only one my then-fiancé were able to make it to was Cake. We enjoyed Cake, but Tegan and Sara opened and absolutely blew them away! I actually don't own this album on vinyl (yet), only on CD.

8. Blindside- About a Burning Fire 
First heard: iTunes. This was the second full album I purchased on iTunes. (The first was the self-titled P.O.D. album, which followed an Eisley EP in late 2003 and a couple singles as seen below). Here are my first few iTunes purchases after discovering it in late 2003:
Blindside released two songs early, so it appears that I purchased each track from the album individually. (No vinyl version exists.)

9. Sufjan Stevens- Seven Swans
First heard: As popular as Sufjan Stevens is, and as much as I like him, I honestly have no recollection of the first time I heard him. I know I called him "Suff-jann" for the first year I knew of him, as it was awhile before I heard "Soof-yan". My friend who let me borrow the Arcade Fire and Be Good Tanyas albums may have also played Michigan for me. I bought a later version of this album on vinyl that contains a bonus 7" with two songs.

10. Tess Wiley- Not Quite Me
First heard: When Tess sent this album to me in 2004 upon it's completion she included a note that I was the first person outside of Germany to get it; which is funny because we are both Americans and I was living in Zambia. (No vinyl version exists.)

11. Jump (Little Children)- Between the Dim and the Dark
First heard: Shipped to me in Zambia in 2004.
This was the band's attempt at writing more straight-forward, less-experimental songs, and they were largely successful despite probably gaining no new fans. The dumbest decision they made was abbreviating their band name to JUMP for this release and dropping the "Little Children". I think it was temporary, as JUMP sounds very much like a boy band. (No vinyl version exists.)

12. Rilo Kiley- More Adventurous
First heard: I didn't buy this album until the last couple of years, but I heard songs from it on the radio in 2004 (once again, Nashville's Lightning 100). I don't own it on vinyl, and I couldn't find a good photo of the wax anywhere either. This was probably the peak of the band's popularity, although I assume Jenny Lewis' most recent solo album is by far her most popular, best-selling release.

13. mewithoutYou- Catch For Us the Foxes
First heard: Embarrassingly, not until 2007. I actually saw mewithoutYou play Cornerstone in 2001, before they had an album out. I had no appreciation for it. At Cornerstone 2002 I was given a Tooth & Nail sampler CD that had a mewithoutYou song on it that also did not pique my interest. Then in 2006 mewithoutYou released Brother, Sister and I purchased it because of Jeremy Enigk's contributions. It took awhile to grow on me, and I included it as an honorable mention outside my top 10 of 2006 when I wrote that list in early 2007. Eight years later and Brother, Sister is one of my favorite albums of all time, and a top-3 album from that year. All that to say, after Brother, Sister I went back and bought Catch For Us the Foxes and grew to love it as well.

14. Pedro the Lion- Achilles Heel
First heard: Pre-ordered and shipped to me in Zambia in 2004.
This was a pretty huge disappointment for me at the time, as it seemed so subdued and boring following the album Control. With time though the excellent songwriting made more of an impression. I still feel like the album is a little too bland from a production standpoint.

I couldn't find a photo of the actual wax for this release (there is a beautiful yellow version), but the gatefold cut-paper artwork for this packaging is great...

15. Patty Griffin- Impossible Dream
First heard: We had a house-mate in 2005 that gave my wife some CDs and this was one of them; Patty Griffin has grown into one of my wife's and I favorites. (No vinyl version exists.)
16. Neko Case- The Tigers Have Spoken
First heard: Absolutely no idea. The first Neko Case album I bought was 2006's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. I assume I got this on eMusic soon after. I have never owned any Neko vinyl because it is all out of print and crazy expense on eBay. But in November she will release her entire discography in a gorgeous box set called TRUCKDRIVER, GLADIATOR, MULE:

17. Demon Hunter- Summer of Darkness
First heard: Sometime in early 2005 I got the CD. Demon Hunter got a little more melodic with this album. As much as I like all Demon Hunter albums, they do all somewhat blend together for me. (No vinyl version exists.)

18. Modest Mouse- Good News for People Who Love Bad News
First heard: Thanks to Lightning 100 radio for this one as well. I first heard Modest Mouse on a mix tape someone game me in the late 90's, but honestly never enjoyed them. This is the only Modest Mouse album I own (and I don't have that gorgeous vinyl below).

19. The Spirit That Guides Us- North and South
First heard: This one definitely slipped through the cracks. I listened to the band quite a bit in 2003, but then never even heard about this album until years later. (No vinyl version exists.)

20. The Lassie Foundation- Face Your Fun
First heard: I followed Lassie Foundation from the beginning (when the Prayer Chain broke up). I am assuming I got this album off eMusic. Some great pop-rock songs here, but I definitely miss the noise from the earlier Lassie Foundation albums. Thankfully they returned to the noisey shoegaze for their final 3-song EP in 2008.(No vinyl version exists.)

Most disappointing release of 2004:

R.E.M.- Around The Sun
I don't often include this category, but this album so awful I must mention it. What in the world happened to R.E.M. here? One of the greatest rock bands in history, but this album is just horrible. Stereogum ranked the 16 R.E.M. albums from best to worst and this is in its right place. The list is mostly good with the exception of my favorite R.E.M. album Up being inexplicably ranked 14th.

Other 2004 releases I own and enjoy in alphabetical order:

A.C. Newman- The Slow Wonder
Aaron Sprinkle- Lackluster
The Autumns- The Autumns
Avril Lavigne- Under My Skin (Loved this album at the time, which is hard to believe)
The Beautiful Mistake- This Is Who You Are
Blonde Redhead- Misery Is a Butterfly
Cake- Pressure Chief
Chevelle- This Type of Thinking Could Do Us In
Cool Hand Luke- The Fires of Life
Danielson- Brother Is To Son
Dead Poetic- New Medicines
El Ten Eleven- El Ten Eleven
The Emergency- Enemy Ships
Eskimohunter- Fast Trak Holy Nova Symphony
For All the Drifters- For All the Drifters EP (Pre-Paper Route)
Further Seems Forever- Hide Nothing 
The Get Up Kids- Guilt Show
GRITS- Dichotomy A
GRITS- Dichotomy B
Headlights- The Enemies EP
The Innocence Mission- Now the Day is Over
Iron & Wine- Our Endless Numbered Days
Katie Herzig- Watch Them Fall
Mates of State- All Day EP
Mutual Admiration Society- Mutual Admiration Society (Glen Phillips from Toad the Wet Sprocket with Nickel Creek)
Old Canes- Early Morning Hymns
The Reputation- To Force A Fate
Sandra McCracken- Best Laid Plans
Starflyer 59- I Am The Portuguese Blues
Starflyer 59- The Last Laurel EP
Stavesacre- Bull Takes Fighter EP
They Sang As They Slew- Get Well
Via Audio- Via Audio EP
Viva Voce- Lovers Lead The Way
The Weepies- Happiness

October 6, 2015

Does musical nostalgia prevent me from appreciating new music?

Lovedrug in Atlanta, July 2005. Photo by me.
Over the last couple weeks I wrote and published a 2500-word story on Medium about the bands Kerith Ravine and Lovedrug, both fronted by Michael Shepard.

Why do I like a band’s decade-old album better than their new one?

In the essay I discuss the many theoretical and real reasons why I prefer Shepard's original band Kerith Ravine to his current band Lovedrug. One of the possible reasons is "Neural Nostalgia". The concept I have been aware of for years, but the actual term can be credited to this terrific Slate article that I found while researching my Lovedrug/Kerith Ravine piece.

As the article explains, we all prefer music that we heard during our impressionable years; essentially when we were a teenager. This has always been obvious to me, as I have written time and time again my favorite year in music is the year I graduated from high school (1995).

As I get older though, this concept becomes more and more thought-provoking. I do tons of music research, I try to listen to as much music as I can, and I buy a ton of records. I love new music, and my hope is that I am going to hear sounds better than I have ever heard before. But is that even possible?

I recommend reading all the Slate article (and my essay on Medium!), but here are some pull quotes from Slate:

-The music I loved as a teenager means more to me than ever—but with each passing year, the new songs on the radio sound like noisy nonsense.

-And researchers have uncovered evidence that suggests our brains bind us to the music we heard as teenagers more tightly than anything we’ll hear as adults—a connection that doesn’t weaken as we age. Musical nostalgia, in other words, isn’t just a cultural phenomenon: It’s a neuronic command.

-Listen to a song that triggers personal memories, and your prefrontal cortex, which maintains information relevant to your personal life and relationships, will spring into action. But memories are meaningless without emotion—and aside from love and drugs, nothing spurs an emotional reaction like music.

-Music lights these sparks of neural activity in everybody. But in young people, the spark turns into a fireworks show. Between the ages of 12 and 22, our brains undergo rapid neurological development—and the music we love during that decade seems to get wired into our lobes for good.

September 23, 2015

New music to stream this week: Chvrches, Low & Behold, Ryan Adams

The new Chvrches album Open Every Eye is streaming on NPR's First Listen this week:

Jason Martin of Starflyer 59 and Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter have a project called Low & Behold and the album Uppers releases on Oct. 31:
And then finally, the most talked about album in the world this week is Ryan Adams full-album cover of Taylor Swift's 1989. All the songs are on YouTube. Here is my favorite:


September 11, 2015

Best of 2003

2003 was the year I launched this blog. My original Best of 2003 was the first best-of list I posted here. As I have discussed, I published best-of lists prior to that one, but not in this manner. So this is my first re-write of a best-of blog post, as that original one was only a text list. (Currently the 2004 and 2005 lists are the only ones without detail; which will change soon.) (Also, most of the blog in the first year was about all aspects of my life, not just music; don't explore it unless you want to be bored.)

I am happy to say my opinions of the albums that were released in 2003 have changed little in the 12 years since. The order is a bit different, and only one of my original top 12 will not been seen in my top 30 (!) below. (That one is The Jealous Sound. While I still like Kill Us With Kindness, my appreciation of that band plummeted when I saw them perform a poor live show in 2009. They opened for Sunny Day Real Estate--which is very unfair to compare any band to--but the Jealous Sound was just bad, bad, bad. So sorry Jealous Sound, hopefully your live shows were better in 2003.)

Thirty albums is a bit extreme, and the longest list I have ever put together. Rather than write a lot, I decided to focus on finding live video performances for each album. YouTube continues to become a better and better resource for watching live concert videos from all eras. More live videos from 2015 shows makes sense, but what is also happening constantly is people finding and uploading videos from the past that had been VHS or other formats. This is where the real gems are.

While researching this post, I made some great finds. The best of the best I have embedded so you can watch them on my blog, but the rest I just provided as links. And then I went ahead and made a YouTube playlist of all 30.

Top 30 Albums of 2003:

1. Fountains of Wayne- Welcome Interstate Managers
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Valley Winter Song" live on NPR's Tiny Desk Concert, October 6, 2011(below)
Before I had a blog the only avenue I had for posting public lists was on music message boards, which were incredibly popular at the time (late 90's through 2002 or so). I have a funny memory about how someone on a message board (who apparently respected my tastes and lists) was SO upset that I ranked this album number one. Considering I had ranked the Gloria Record #1 in 2002, it was inexplicable to him that I could rank Fountains of Wayne #1 in 2003, especially since the song "Stacy's Mom" had it "goin' on" about that time. Of course, he had not heard the rest of this spectacular album.

2. Death Cab for Cutie- Transatlanticism
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Passenger Seat" live on NPR's Tiny Desk Concert, April 7, 2015
Last year I published my top 20 Death Cab songs (prior to Kintsugi's release, so it needs updating), and I wrote that my top three Death Cab songs are three straight tracks on Transatlanticism: "Tiny Vessels", "Transatlanticism", and "Passenger Seat". Those three songs provide the meat of this, the band's best album. In that post I embedded a spectacular video of the first two of those songs, and now here is the third.

3. Nada Surf- Let Go
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Inside of Love" live at Rockwood Music Hall, January 25, 2012 
As I mentioned in my 2002 best-of list a couple months ago, it is a coin-flip on whether this is a 2002 or 2003 release, depending on what part of the world you lived in. I got it in 2003, and pre-ordered it for its US release. (I may have even ordered it and Transatlanticism together, as they are both on Barsuk Records.) These were the first Nada Surf songs I had ever heard (other than that irritating radio hit they had in the 90's) and I was blown away.

4. Thrice- The Artist in the Ambulance
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Paper Tigers" and "Stare at the Sun" live in Pomona, May 13, 2015
This was the album in which Thrice morphed from "the band that had a pretty good second album" to the band with their third album became one of the best rock bands on the planet. As I selected a video here I picked one that had two songs from a back-to-back performance this year, on Thrice's "welcome back" tour. (I could have selected my video from Hevy Fest last month which has better sound quality, but you can find it a couple posts back). Interestingly, Thrice has been playing more songs from this album than any of their others in 2015.

5. Appleseed Cast- Two Conversations
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Fight Song" live in Moscow, November 3, 2013 (below)
This album was a radical departure from their double album post-rock masterpiece "Low Level Owl" as it is full of short, catchy indie rock songs. This video features the best of those songs, and it is a spectacular performance. The Appleseed Cast went to Moscow in 2013 for their only show ever there. "Fight Song" wasn't in the set, but Chris came back on stage and played it solo as the encore.

6. Elliott- Song in the Air
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Away We Drift" from 2004's Last Realize DVD
Elliott was one of the most amazing bands to see live. Thankfully they released two DVDs after they broke up so there is no reason you can't see and hear them perform. Although these DVD to YouTube rips are not ideal. Have written tons about Elliott on this blog over the years, and sadly this was the band's final studio release.

7. Zwan- Mary Star of the Sea
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Lyric" live in 2003? Details unavailable.
Zwan is one of my favorite Billy Corgan eras. I find it silly and weird that he didn't just call it Smashing Pumpkins, and long-term it is also sad because it means he doesn't perform these songs live (along with the Pumpkins songs from the last 25 years). I love the melodies on this album, and it's overall "happy" and upbeat vibe. Paz's female vocal harmonies here are just awesome.

8. Cursive- The Ugly Organ
First heard: I think I bought this in 2005, which was actually very early in my vinyl-collecting. Although in MP3 form I think someone shared it with me in 2003.
Video: "Driftwood: A Fairy Tale" live at the Triple Rock in Minneapolis, MN in 2003 (below)
In 2001 or 2002 Cursive added a cellist as a member of their band, and that ended up resulting in a radical change in sound, and resulted in an incredible group of songs. This video is incredible because it is around the time the album was released, and the cello and piano are so heavy in the mix.

9. This Beautiful Mess- Temper the Wind to the Shorn Lamb
First heard: Bought in Flevo Festival, Netherlands, August 2003
Video: "Up the Barricades" Live at Flevo Fest in the Netherlands, August 2004
Strangely, I discovered this album at Flevo Festival 2003, but This Beautiful Mess didn't play the fest that year (they did the year after, as you see above). When I was at Flevo Fest I spend a ton of time in the merch tent. Not that I bought that much, but they had couches, and it was a good place to meet people and listen to music. They played this album over and over that week, as it was just released. It didn't take me long to buy it, and as I did so I was told I was the first non-Dutch person to own it!

10. Brown Feather Sparrow- Wide Awakens Everything (5 Euros on Bandcamp!)
First heard: Bought in Flevo Festival, Netherlands, August 2003
Video: "She Writes Her Name" live in 2009. Details unavailable.
Of my top 30 albums of 2003, I could not find videos for songs two of them, as they are both incredibly obscure. I could have easily linked to streaming audio from this album, but this live performance from Brown Feather Sparrow's third album Brave is so good. Brown Feather Sparrow was active from 2003-2008 and released three albums in that span. I saw them perform at Flevo Festival in 2003 and absolutely loved them. Wide Awakens Everything is more raw and experimental (which I prefer) than the two albums that followed, highlighted by the "explosion" in last two minutes of the song "A Box of Spring" (I'll make you do some work; look it up!). If you are unfamiliar with these two Dutch bands that sit at #9 and #10, they actually share a lot of members. This Beautiful Mess' lead singer/songwriter Arjen van Wijk performs with Brown Feather Sparrow, as does Brown Feather Sparrow's lead/singer songwriter Lydia van Maurik-Wever with This Beautiful Mess. The also both are are part of the band People Get Ready and both write and perform with the How To Throw a Christmas Party group.

11. Over the Rhine- Ohio
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Ohio" from Musica in Akron, Ohio on Friday, April 16, 2010.
This album has unfortunately dropped in the rankings over time, but not because it's own merit. Over the Rhine's releases after Drunkard's Prayer have been largely disappointing to me, but the stretch from Good Dog Bad Dog to Ohio was phenomenal. The double vinyl for this release is at the top of my vinyl wishlist.

12. The Fire Theft- The Fire Theft
First heard: Shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Heaven" live TV performance on Fox Rox #97, March 18, 2004 (below)
Pretty cool video here, as I am surprised The Fire Theft ever played on TV. I have mixed feelings about this album. Obviously it was really great, but it could have been spectacular. Sunny Day Real Estate, welcoming bass player Nate Mendel back into the band, then broke up AGAIN because guitar player Dan Hoerner left the band to play with Dashboard Confessional. I mean, it would have been one thing if he had left the band to join U2 or something, but Dashboard Confessional!? ARGH!!! Anyway, the remaining three members of SDRE wrote this album, which, once again while good, was such a huge let down from The Rising Tide. "Heaven" is my favorite Fire Theft song, and I wrote a detailed post about it a few years ago.

13. Explosions in the Sky- The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
First heard: Saw the film Friday Night Lights in early 2004 and soon after ordered this album on vinyl.
Video: "Your Hand In Mine" live at Metro Theatre in Sydney on December 11, 2011
The is my favorite Explosions in the Sky song, and was the first post-rock song that emotionally grabbed me. At the time I never knew songs without lyrics or vocals could have such an impact on me, but this song blew me away when I first heard it and even more so today. Now, bands like Mogwai and Hammock are able to do the same thing and I love how much they are able to convey and communicate in the same way as classical music.

14. The Postal Service- Give Up
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Nothing Better" live at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, CA, captured over two nights (July 26th & 27th, 2013)
Still crazy to me that Ben Gibbard helped compose this great album and Transatlanticism during the same time period.

15. Cat Power- You are Free
First heard: The Greatest was my first Cat Power purchase, when it was released in 2006. Probably wasn't until 2008 or 2009 that I finally got this.
Video: "He War" official music video that someone recorded of MTV2
Had no idea this video existed until I began writing this post. The quality is not good, but still worth watching. Had no idea Cat Power was being shown on MT2 when this album was released.

16. Radiohead- Hail to the Thief
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "2+2=5" live at Glastonbury 2003
This was the first Radiohead album I pre-ordered. I love the artwork and I found this opening track stunning and perfect.

17. Sleeping at Last- Ghosts
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Currents" live at the Union, October 6th, 2006
Once upon a time, Sleeping at Last was a rock band. I saw them at Cornerstone in 2001 and I would give anything to have video of that show. This is the oldest video I could find of the band, and of a song from Sleeping at Last's best rock album. Sleeping at Last is now a cinematic, orchestrated solo project from Ryan O'Neil, and his work is prolific and spectacular. He releases at least one song per month and has for years.

18. Mates of State- Team Boo
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Ha Ha" from the band's Just the Two of Us DVD
I saw Mates of State in Paris in August of 2003, and that experience along with this album pushed them into the upper levels of my favorite bands. They have been their ever since, and my 7-year-old son is obsessed with their latest EP You're Going to Make It.

19. Beloved- Failure On
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Failure on My Lips" from the Kiss It Goodbye: The Final Show DVD (available as a DVD on Netflix)
This NC hardcore band only released one album unfortunately. Thankfully I saw their impressive live show at Cornerstone in 2002.

20. Forget Cassettes- Instruments of Action
First heard: This album was on an mp3 CD my brother sent me while in Zambia. Didn't get the actual CD until much later. And then a couple years ago my brother actually started playing in this band!
Video: "Instruments of Action" live (Embedded below. Details unknown, but probably around the time this album was released. It is an obscure Nashville venue that I forget the name of, but I saw Brandtson play there in 2002).
This is definitely one of the more obscure albums on this list, but so, so good. It on Bandcamp and I recommend you buy it immediately.

21. The New Pornographers- Electric Version
First heard: This band was definitely an eMusic find, back when eMusic was the cheapest and best way to get mp3s from indie bands. I think 2005's Twin Cinema was my first New Pornographers album, and then not long after that I downloaded this and Mass Romantic.
Video: "From Blown Speakers" live at the Music Box Hollywood, Henry Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, CA, on September 20, 2007
The New Pornographers are always great, but are at their best when Neko Case is singing of course!

22. Evanescence- Fallen
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Imaginary" live at Rock am Ring 2003, Germany
Unlike 99.9% of the Evanescence fans in the world, I had been a fan for years before this album was released. This is actually their second album, and I bought their debut Origin back in 2000. I still remember watching eBay prices climb into the hundreds of dollars for that CD while my copy sat in storage across the Atlantic. Origin is better than this album, but this is still excellent. All the band's music after this greatly declined in quality, as co-founder and co-songwriter Ben Moody left the band. When I toured Europe in August 2003 Evanescence was everywhere! I specifically remember a music store in Madrid that had a huge window display for this release.

23. Sufjan Stevens- Michigan
First heard: I started buying albums primarily on vinyl in 2005 (the first vinyl album I bought was in 1995, but I rarely purchased that format for a decade) and this was one of the first LPs I got.
Video: "For The Widows In Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti" live on a farm in Texas, 2004 (below)
Really cool video with almost 2 million views on YouTube; just too bad the quality is so low:

24. Rosie Thomas- Only With Laughter Can You Win
First heard: After seeing Rosie Thomas in 2007 at Cornerstone I really fell in love with her, and I probably got this on eMusic soon after.
Video: "All My Life" live in a fan's living room, Washington, DC, Sep 21, 2010
This Rosie Thomas album is probably the one I listen to the least; not because it isn't good, just because I forget about it.
25. Starflyer 59- Old
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "Underneath" live at Cornerstone Festival, Bushnell, IL, July 2003
So honestly Starflyer live post-2003 is pretty terrible. Jason Martin stopped using a band, and usually it was just him, a drummer, and a recorded track for the bass, keys, etc. This Cornerstone performance is probably one of the last times he used an actual bass player (Jeff Cloud). Now, with this album on the other hand, he had a ridiculous studio band including Richard Swift and Frank Lenz (seen on drums and with some great/hilarious backing vocals in the video).

26. All Things Bright and Beautiful- Love and Affection
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: Lee Bozeman playing Luxury's "To You Who Gave Me Hope And Were My Light" live at the Cactus Cafe in Austin, TX on September 28. 2012
All Things Bright and Beautiful was the first of many solo projects from Luxury frontman Lee Bozeman. Most of the stuff Lee put out under this moniker was lo-fi and recorded at his house. This album is the exception, as it was produced and recorded by Andy Prickett for Northern Records. I could not find a live video performance of any song on this album, so I decided to just use what could be the most recent live performance Lee has done period. I would guess that this is the most obscure, "rare" album on this list.

27. Copeland- Beneath Medicine Tree
First heard: shipped to me in Zambia in 2003
Video: "California" live at the Hawthorne Theater, Portland, OR on March 23, 2010.
This was my introduction to Copeland, and I really enjoyed it. But then from 2005 to 2014 I pretty much forgot about the band altogether. In early 2015 I got Ixora, which is spectacular, and I now like Copeland more than ever.
28. Tegan and Sara- If It Was You
First heard: Saw Tegan and Sara at a free show on the Nashville waterfront in 2005 as they were touring in support of So Jealous. My wife and I walked away from that show as HUGE Tegan and Sara fans, and got this and So Jealous immediately.
Video: "Living Room" live at the Austin City Limits Festival 2012
Tegan and Sara's only song featuring banjo?
29. Further Seems Forever- How to Start a Fire
First heard: I remember listening to this online upon release, but being mostly uninterested. Didn't get and appreciate album until a couple years later.
Video: "The Sound" live at Furnace Fest, Sloss Furnace, Birmingham, AL in 2003
I had forgotten about Furnace Fest until I found this video, but it was a great, small festival that went on for a few years in Alabama. I went a couple times, but I was in Zambia when this performance took place.

30. Stars- Heart
First heard: Probably 2007 or 2008, once again in the "heart" of my eMusic days.
Video: Elevator Love Letter live at York University Sept. 17, 2008 (below)
It wasn't until years later that I became a huge Stars fan, but this is a great song from this album.

Top 5 EPs of 2003:

1. Eisley- Marvelous Things EP and Laughing City EP
First heard: Via iTunes in 2003! These were Eisley's first releases without the "Moss" prefix, and as the band didn't put out an LP until 2005, they released tons of EPs.

2. Jeremy Enigk- United States of Leland Soundtrack
First heard: By bootleg downloading in 2003, as the soundtrack has never officially been released. This is only 5 tracks, but three are some of the best songs Enigk has ever written.

3. Pinback- Offcell EP
First heard: Not until at least 5 years later. Potentially my favorite Pinback release despite the fact that it is only 5 songs. If you have never heard Pinback before this is actually where I would recommend someone starts.

4. Ashen- Pull and Repel EP
First heard: Mailed to me in Zambia in 2003. The second and final release from this obscure Atlanta band.

5. Brandtson- Death and Taxes EP
First heard: Mailed to me in Zambia in 2003. Brandtson's final release on Deep Elm.

Other 2003 releases I own and enjoy in alphabetical order:

Absinthe Blind- Rings
The Be Good Tanyas- Chinatown
Celldweller- Celldweller
Cool Hand Luke- Wake Up O Sleeper
Cush- Spiritual EP 2
Damien Jurado- Holding His Breath EP
Denali- The Instinct
Derek Webb- She Must And Shall Go Free
eastmountainsout- eastmountainsouth
The Emergency- EP
Fiona Apple- Extraordinary Machine (Jon Brion produced unofficial version was put online in 2003; official release is in my top 10 of 2005)
Glassbyrd- Open Wide This Window
The Innocence Mission- Befriended
The Jealous Sound- Kill Them With Kindness
The Juliana Theory- Love
Logh- The Raging Sun
Lori Chaffer- 1Beginning
Mae- Destination: Beautiful
Michael Knott- Hearts of Care
Mogwai- Happy Songs for Happy People
My Little Dog China- User Friendly
P.O.D.- Payable On Death
Pretty Girls Make Graves- The New Romance
R.E.M.- In Time The Best of R.E.M.
Rainer Maria- Long Knives Drawn
The Shins- Chutes Too Narrow
Steven Delopoulos- Me Died Blue
Sufjan Stevens Ding! Dong! - Songs For Christmas Volume III
Thursday- War All The Time
Viva Voce- The Heat Can Melt Your Brain
Watashi Wa- The Love Of Life
Wayne Everett Kingsqueens

2003 albums I wish I owned but don't:

The Decemberists- Her Majesty The Decemberists
Grandaddy- Sumday
Hem I'm Talking With My Mouth EP