Great Albums from the Last 20 Years: 2003

Great albums from 2003 as we count down the last 20 years

2003 was an incredible year for music! There was lo-fi indie rock coming from right here in Canada, experimental sounds from over seas, and dreamy electronic beats from our neighbours to the south. These albums are in no particular order and are just a few of the great albums from 2003.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell

This was the debut album to come from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and was released on April 29th, 2003 through Interscope. The album was exactly what a band would hope for from a debut record – a total success. It charted on the Billboard 200 peaking at #55 and was nominated for Best Alternative Music Album at the Grammys. The LP’s 4 singles include “Date with the Night”, “Pin”, “Y Control” and “Maps”, which received numerous nominations for its video at the MTV Video Music Awards. The album pleased critics and the public, selling over 1 million copies world wide with New York Times naming it the best album of the year.


The White Stripes – Elephant

This is the 4th studio album to come from the White Stripes but marks their major label debut, distributed through V2. Speculation was that the shift from smaller to major labels could impact their sound, but thankfully it didn’t. They continued writing, recording and creating the same way they had in the past with their short and somewhat simplistic sounding rock sounds that can go from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye. Jack White was still the man behind the LP’s production and he deliberately strayed away from using computers during the album creation. The album landed them the 2004 Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album and was named the 390th Best Album of All Time by Rolling Stone. 


Death Cab For Cutie – Transatlanticism

Another 4th record to appear in 2003 but it also happens to be ‘Death Cab’s’ second concept album. The record was released on October 7th and was primarily written by lead singer Ben Gibbard with production duties going to Chris Walla. The LP peaked at #97 on the Billboard top 200 and went on to reach gold status, selling over 500,000 copies. During an interview Gibbard states “…unlike The Photo Album, I feel like this record is definitely more like a proper album. We’ve tried to construct it with transitions of songs going in and out of each other, and I think it’s a little bit more expansive than the last record.” This more complete sounding record garnered respect from critics, with NPR music naming it one of 50 most important recordings of the decade.


The Strokes – Room On Fire

This is the 2nd album to come from The Strokes following their very successful debut record Is This It?. Grammy award winning producer Nigel Godrich was set to be in charge of the LP’s production duties but The Strokes felt he made their songs seem “Soulless”. The group then brought in Gordon Raphael who they had worked with on the last record. The band was only given 3 months to finish the entire recording process of the album, guitarist Nick Valensi said, “the album would’ve ended up a lot better if we were given a couple more weeks.” Room On Fire reached #4 on the Billboard 200 and #2 on the UK charts. NME scored the record 9/10 and Pitchfork gave it a score of 8/10.


The New Pornographers – Electric Version

This is the 2nd record to come from The New Pornographers and was released on May 6th, 2003. On this album the group gets a little louder and their overall sound becomes a little more polished. The name of the LP derives from that; it’s a play on the direction they decided to go with for this record. The whole album came together in just under a year with the entire group taking the production credit. Electric Version did well with critics; Pitchfork gave it a score of 8.1/10 and Rolling Stone slotted the album at #79 on their Best Albums of the Decade list.


The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow

Another sophomore release to come out in 2003 – The Shins’ Chutes Too Narrow came out on October 21st. The album shifted from their previous keyboard driven work to songs that had more emphasis on guitars. The LP was produced by both the band themselves and Phil Ek who had worked with groups like Built to Spill and Modest Mouse in the past. Ek’s influence made the album a little cleaner than their “lo-fi” predecessor Oh, Inverted World. Most of the LP was recorded in singer James Mercer’s basement in a rough neighbourhood of Portland, Oregon. This was a more cost effective option for the group with Mercer saying “it only costs sixty bucks to buy deadbolts for the doors.” The record was well received by fans and critics alike with Pitchfork rating it a 8.9/10 and slotting them #46 of the Top 200 Albums of the 2000s.


Constantines – Shine A Light

This is the 2nd full length album to come from prolific indie rockers, The Constantines, and was released on August 19th, 2003. It’s the the first record to feature new member Wil Kidman who replaced Evan Gordon as the band’s keyboardist. It was also the first to be released outside of Canada and was distributed by Sub Pop Records. Pitchfork gave the album a rating of 8.3/10 and named it the 172nd Best Album of the 2000s.


My Morning Jacket – It Still Moves

my morning jacketIt Still Moves
The 3rd album to come from My Morning Jacket but the first to feature new drummer Patrick Hallahan, It Still Moves was released on September 9th, 2003. The 12 song LP was recorded in Shelbyville, Kentucky with producer Jim James at the helm. The artwork from the record features a giant stuffed bear, the same ones they have as stage props when performing. Hallahan said “The bears are our spirit animal guides. They make sure we’re going in the right direction.” It Still Moves peaked at 121 on the Billboard 200 with the album cut “Run Thru” named one of the “100 Greatest Guitar Songs” by Rolling Stone.


Radiohead – Hail to the Thief

Hail to the Thief was released through Parlophone records on June 9th, 2003. This was the group’s 6th full length record and also marked the 6th time they had worked with long time producer Nigel Godrich. On this LP, Radiohead combined their old guitar driven sound with the electronic elements they’d been working with more recently. The album’s recording process was quite a change of pace compared to previous sessions, it was done live from the floor to give it more of a “spontaneous” feel. The album leaked on the internet a week early and still managed to debut at #1 in the UK and #3 in the US. Hail to the Thief was praised by critics, landing it Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Album.


The Postal Service – Give Up

This is the debut record to come Ben Gibbard’s new project, The Postal Service, and was released on February 19, 2003. It was the second Sub Pop record to go platinum and their best selling album since Nirvana’s Bleach. This project came together after Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello worked on Dntel’s album Life Is Full of Possibilities together. They got into the studio and started to work on their own material with Tamborello with Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla taking over the production duties. The LP spawned three singles including “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight”, “Such Great Heights” and “We Will Become Silhouettes”. The album was featured on multiple year end lists including the #107 spot on Pitchfork’s list of the top 200 albums of the 2000s.


Blur – Think Tank

This is the 7th studio album to come from Brit-rockers blur, and it was released on May 5th 2003. Think Tank picked up where their previous record 13 left off. This time around there’s more sampled loops, heavy electronic sounds, and a prominent Hip-Hop influence as Damon Albarn continued to display his wide variety of musical interests. It was the 5th consecutive album to debut at #1 on the UK charts and the album was featured on over 10 year end lists for best albums including Rolling Stone, NME, BBC and more.


The Unicorns – Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re

This is the third record to come from lo-fi indie rockers The Unicorns and was released on October 21st, 2003. The album was recorded in the months of June and July in the same year, quickly mixed and made available only a couple of months after. The album consisted of reworked material they had released earlier in the year as well as several new songs. Their albums gained the group somewhat of a cult following, being referenced in an episode of How I Met Your Mother for how obscure it was to find another person who owned a Unicorns album. The gruelling tour schedule that came after the release of this album would ultimately prove problematic for the trio, and lead to their demise in 2004. Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? received glowing reviews from NME, The Village Voice and a rating of 8.9 from Pitchfork.


Manitoba – Up in Flames

Up In Flames was released by Daniel Victor Snaith under the alias Manitoba on March 31st, 2003. The 10 track LP impressed Pitchfork enough to rate it 8.6/10 and include it on their list of the top albums of the 2000s, landing at #107. The record was reissued two separate times, once in 2006 with a bonus disc that included 6 extra songs and again in 2013 under his latest alias – Caribou. 


Sufjan Stevens – Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lake State

Michigan, or Greetings from Michigan, the Great Salt Lake State, is a concept album released by the indie folk singer-songwriter on July 1st 2003. The theme throughout the record was all things Michigan; songs about places, events and people related to the state. It’s the first in Stevens’ “The 50 States” project, which was a planned series of 50 albums to cover each state. Stevens only got around to releasing 2 before admitting the project was merely a “promotional gimmick”. The LP was recorded and produced entirely by Stevens and was recorded in multiple locations: churches, schools, his apartment, and more. It received favourable reviews from Allmusic and Pitchfork noting its “lush production”.