Top 20 of 2003 - Scott's Picks (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Top 20 of 2003

Scott's Picks (2003)

staff picks

A Great Year For Music, But A Terrible Year For Musicians

That soundbite has become rather cliche in recent months, but it's as true as ever. Take a look:

The music world lost numerous talents this year: Elliott Smith, Wesley Willis, Johnny and June Carter Cash, Matt Davis of Ten Grand, Warren Zevon, Barry White, Jeremy Ward of The Mars Volta, Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, Ryosuke Morimura of Kemuri, and Adam Cox, Matt Fitzgerald, and Jeremy Gage of the Exploding Hearts, among others. Let's also not forget the untimely death of Daniel Martin at the tragic Death By Stereo house show in Blacksburg, VA earlier this year. These are all truly terrible losses to the brotherhood of music that will be mourned for some time.

It seemed like a week wouldn't go by that a band didn't end it's life professionally. 2003 saw the demise of Dismemberment Plan, Elliott, Atom and His Package, The Control, Reach The Sky, The Jimmies, Living Sacrifice, Bis, Teen Idols, Small Brown Bike, This Day Forward, The Movielife, The Cost, Fairweather, Pele, Dr. Know, The Stryder, Forstella Ford, The Rocking Horse Winner, Kid Brother Collective, Gameface, Worthless United, Smogtown, Common Rider, The Scaries, Whatever It Takes, City Of Caterpillar, Bury Your Dead, Knockout, The Pattern, August Premier, The Ivory Coast, The Horde, Page Ninety-Nine, The Pavers, Count The Stars, The Curse, Whippersnapper, Tear It Up, 32 Frames, Will Haven, Narcissus, Penfold, Death On Wednesday, Consumed, Shai Hulud and Face To Face, among countless others.

And if your band survived the breakup epidemic, chances are you got your gear stolen [Slowride, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Hopesfall, F-Minus, Xiu Xiu, Murder By Death, Don't Look Down, Samiam, Leftover Crack, Big D and the Kids Table], got in a van accident [Eastern Youth, Bleeding Through, Thursday, Ester Drang, The Bronx, On The Might Of Princes], or just went through some potentially damaging lineup changes [Taking Back Sunday, The Æffect, Give Up The Ghost, Avoid One Thing, Boy Sets Fire, Since By Man, Between The Buried And Me, Stairwell, The Reunion Show, The Ghost].

But with all the troubles that plagued musicians, the music that they created was something different altogether. 2003 was a special year for music, and one that I don't see duplicated for a long time. If you made a list of your top 10 favorite bands that are still active, odds are at least one of them put out a record this year. That alone should make you happy.

With my year-end list this year, I decided to add a little something extra - a second opinion, courtesy of Pitchfork. Pitchfork, for those of you who don't know, is viewed by many as the golden standard when it comes to record reviewing. Where applicable, I've posted Pitchfork's score of the album in question after the label name, designated as the following: PS: x.x.

So, now that that's out of the way, let's get down to business:

The Top Twenty Records Of 2003

Blink-182 - S/T

Honestly, this record should be higher on this list than 20, but I don't want to face the wrath of you guys.

Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros - Streetcore
PS: 6.9

A near-perfect last will and testament from one of punk's forefathers. You're still missed, Joe.

On The Might Of Princes - Sirens

This band came out of nowhere and blew me away with their Revelation debut. It's really solid post-hardcore with no gimmicks.

The Postal Service - Give Up
[Sub Pop]
PS: 8.0

Ben Gibbard is the new Tim Kasher - everything he touches is gold.

Cursive - The Ugly Organ
[Saddle Creek]
PS: 7.0

Tim Kasher is the old Ben Gibbard - everything he touches is gold.

The Mars Volta
De-loused In The Comatorium
PS: 4.9

Hyped to the point of oblivion, but still an amazing album on it's own. Sure, it's not At The Drive-In, but at least it's not Sparta.

Against Me!
As The Eternal Cowboy
[Fat Wreck]

I've always liked Against Me!, but something always felt missing on their previous releases. With this record, they nailed it. This record makes me believe in punk rock again.

The Blood Brothers
Burn Piano Island, Burn
PS: 9.1

One word: sasscore. Just remember that I coined that term.

There Must Be Some Way To Stop Them

This disc has grown on me exponentially since I first heard it. Their live show is second-to-none, too. Who would've thought Volcom would put out a good record?

Beneath Medicine Tree
[The Militia Group]

This is a debut? Wow. Copeland is sincere and heartfelt without being sappy and cliche, and while most of you would refer to them as "emo," I simply describe their album as "real music."

Mates Of State
Team Boo

PS: 7.3

I dance to this record. You probably do, too.

The White Stripes
PS: 6.9

The blues are back, and how. I never was a really big fan of the Stripes, but this record has made me a believer.

Volume & Density

[Asian Man]

Dear Josh Caterer: I don't care what you sing about, please just keep singing. Love, Scott Punknews

Desert City Soundtrack
Funeral Car

[Deep Elm]

It's like Black Heart Procession meets The Blood Brothers. And it works. Boy, does it work.

Rainer Maria
Long Knives Drawn

PS: 4.4

A complete reinvention of sound, and the best album of the band's career.

En Garde


Stephen Pederson shows just why the first two Cursive albums kicked so much ass, with 10 straightforward, hard-hitting indie rock songs that don't rely on a cello to sound majestic.

Brand New
Deja Entendu

[Triple Crown]
PS: 6.9

Evolution barely describes what happened with this band. With the masterful lyricism of this disc, Jesse Lacey has become thousands of teenage boys' muse [and thousands of teenage girls' rockstar crush], whether he likes it or not.

Mando Diao
Bring 'Em In

PS: 8.0

Pushing the boundaries of mod rock just like countrymen Refused pushed the boundaries of hardcore. I have a feeling this record doesn't even create a ripple in Mando Diao's talent pool.

Death Cab For Cutie

PS: 6.4

Absolute beauty, both musically and lyrically. Name one other band that could get away with repeating the phrase "I need you so much closer" for 6 minutes straight and make it work. That's what I thought.

The Weakerthans
Reconstruction Site
PS: 5.6

John K. Samson is the Bob Dylan of our generation, and something tells me he's only getting started. This album is beyond essential. In a perfect world, this would sell a million copies, but I guess I'll just have to spin the album a million times over to compensate. And the thing is, after a million listens, I still wouldn't get sick of this record.

The Top Five EPs Of 2003

Bullet Train To Vegas
Profile This


This band reeks of potential, and the unbridled energy on this EP only hints at what to come.

The Realistics
Go Ahead


The best-kept secret in New York City.

Small Brown Bike
Nail Yourself To The Ground
[No Idea]

This EP is all the more bittersweet, knowing that the followup LP stunk.

Translating The Name

[Death Do Us Part]

I hate believing the hype as much as anyone else, but this shit is dope, yo.

This Thought Process


The only thing I hate more than believing hype is creating hype, but I assure you, this quartet out of Minneapolis is worth your full attention. Knowing that some of the songs on this EP were written within a half hour of the band's first practice sends chills down my spine.

The Top Ten Biggest Disappointments Of 2003

Matchbook Romance - West For Wishing / Stories and Alibis [Epitaph]

Mr. Brett promised so much from this band that, as of yet, hasn't delivered. There's definitely talent, though, so we'll see what happens.

Teen Idols - Nothing To Prove [Fueled By Ramen]

The final nail in the coffin of a band who peaked on their first CD.

Mad Caddies - Just One More [Fat Wreck]

Weak. Just plain weak.

None More Black - File Under Black [Fat Wreck] / Paint It Black - CVA [Jade Tree]

It's not Kid Dynamite, and I just can't get past that.

Diffuser - Making The Grade [Hollywood]

My, how the mighty have fallen to the level of shitty pop-punk. Why, Diffuser, why?

5. Cave In - Antenna [RCA] - PS: 6.1

A commercial and artistic flop. I'm not sure if I'm happy or embarassed for them.

Reggie and the Full Effect - Under The Tray [Vagrant] - PS: 3.7

James Dewees really isn't that funny. I wish it wouldn't have taken me 3 CDs to realize that.

Further Seems Forever - How To Start A Fire [Tooth & Nail]

A better voice doesn't always equal better songs, I guess.

Small Brown Bike - The River Bed [Lookout!] - PS: 7.7

Outside of a couple of tracks, the Bike's last effort came off rather flat [no pun intended].

Saves The Day - In Reverie [Dreamworks]

Two words: shit sandwich.

The Top Five Records I Just Didn't "Get" In 2003

The Constantines - Shine A Light [Sub Pop] PS: 8.3

Adam loves it; I just can't get into it like he does.

The Rapture - Echoes [Universal] - PS: 9.0

Okay, so you can dance to it in hipster clubs. So?

AFI - Sing The Sorrow [Dreamworks]

Even though their singer is pretty hot for a goth chick, the music is still pretty much defanged and tame.

Thrice - The Artist In The Ambulance / Thursday - War All The Time [Island]

Okay, don't get me wrong - I'm a fan of both bands, I own both albums. I just don't see any ground being broken in either.

Coheed and Cambria - In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 [Equal Vision]

Long songs do not equal good songs. The end.

The Best Compilation Of 2003

Various - OIL: Chicago Punk Refined [THICK] / Various - Bad Scene, Everyone's Fault: Jawbreaker Tribute [Dying Wish]

Two of the best things in the world were honored this year: Chicago and Jawbreaker. 'Nuff said.

Most Improved Band Of 2003

Gatsbys American Dream - Ribbons & Sugar [Rocketstar]

It's almost impossible to believe this was the same band that was ripping off Lagwagon on their debut record just a year ago. Kudos for evolving.

Best Comeback Record Of 2003

Suicide Machines - A Match and Some Gasoline [SideOneDummy]

A dynamite return to form, and it would be giving Destruction By Definition a run for it's money for the title of best Suicide Machines album had they not completely ripped off "The Killing Blow" for "The Politics Of Humanity." For shame.

The Best Music DVD Of 2003

Tenacious D - The Complete Masterworks [Epic]

Give it up for KG, give it up for JB, and give it up for the D-VD.

The Best Remix Record Of 2003

Dismemberment Plan - A People's History Of The [Desoto] - PS: 6.0

It's slightly hit-and-miss, but there's enough goodness here to give this disc the nod. Plus, it was created largely by the fans! How cool is that?

The Best Re-Issue Of 2003

Motion City Soundtrack - I Am The Movie [Epitaph]

A great album got even greater with it's slight tweaking. The three new songs are great, and - shock of shocks - you can hear the bass now!

The Best Cover Art Of 2003

The Bronx - S/T [Ferret]

It's like the Rocky Horror Picture Show gone horribly awry. I love it.

The Best Record Of 2003 By Andrew WK

Andrew WK - The Wolf [Island]

This category is kind of premeditative, because I believe in the future AWK will be putting out multiple albums a year. But still, this is the best record by Andrew WK of 2003, no question.

The Best Solo Record That Was Unfortunately Packaged With A Incredibly Subpar Second Disc

Outkast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below [Arista] - PS: 8.0

Andre 3000 is a genius. Many people are comparing this double disc to the Beatles' White Album, but I view it as more of a John Lennon/Ringo Starr pairing than anything else. The Big Boi CD makes a great coaster, though.

The Best Record Of 2003 Had It Not Contained A Really Awful Country Song

Fountains Of Wayne - Welcome Interstate Managers [S-Curve] - PS: 7.5

Seriously. This record is fantastic, but that goddamn country song makes me want to cut off my ears every time I hear it.

The Best Record Of 2003 Where Every Single Song Sounded The Same, In A Good Way

Limbeck - Hi, Everything's Great [Doghouse]

Well, yeah.

The Best Record Of 2002 That I Didn't Hear Until 2003

Hot Hot Heat - Make Up The Breakdown [Sub Pop] - PS: 8.7

This CD holds the honor of being the only CD I was so in love with that I actually walked to class listening to it on my discman. In 4 years of college, I've never done that with any other album.

The Best Record Of 2002 That I Didn't "Get" Until 2003

Glassjaw - Worship and Tribute [Warner Bros.]

So I liked a couple songs off the record last year, but this summer was the summer of Glassjaw for me. This record was like audio crack, I couldn't get enough of it.



Bands like this make me wish I had a record label, as I would do everything I could to put out this band's full-length. The talent these kids posess blows away most of your favorite bands, and they're just getting started. If you haven't downloaded their new demos yet, you're missing out. Get them here and learn the words, because you'll be shouting along soon enough.

The Punknews.Org Mixtape, 2003 Edition

This was almost as hard to put together as my Top 20 list above. Every one of the records I picked for that list contains at least one song that could make this year's mixtape, but I wanted to showcase other bands. The songs picked here are from releases that are not neccessarily the best of the year, but each song can stand on it's own two feet, without the support of a good album behind it. Thus, I bring to you my mixtape for 2003. Click on the song title to download, where applicable.

Side A: Side B:
1. Rise Against - Gethsamane
The opening track on OIL opens my mixtape; it's better than every song on Revolutions Per Minute, no question.
2. Cave In - Inspire
3. Moneen - Start Angry... End Mad
The ultimate breakup song.
4. Thrice - Silhouette
5. The Strokes - Under Control
A perfect soul ballad from the New York hipsters.
6. The New Trust - I'm A Sucker For Backwards Drums
"You ask me what's my motivation? How 'bout your fucking head on a stick!"
7. Northstar - To My Better Angel
Off the Beer: The Movie compilation, this is the best song the band's ever written.
8. Reggie and the Full Effect - MOOD 4 LUV
9. Hey Mercedes - Oh Penny
10. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Babe, I'm On Fire
A barn burner of a song from an album that was severely lacking.
1. The Rocket Summer - Cross My Heart
Cheez-pop at it's finest, but catchy as hell.
2. The Few - Blue Eyes
3. Spitalfield - Kill The Drama
This song sounds so good in my car stereo, it's disgusting.
4. Less Than Jake - She's Gonna Break Soon
Fuck you guys, I really like this song.
5. Let It Burn - On Angels Wings
Ever get that feeling that guitar strings are going to break just listening to a song? Yeah, this song does that to me.
6. The Honor System - The Sound Of Sinking
7. The Kinison - The Way I Used To Be
8. The Æffect - Boxcar
Hearing Aaron Feibus sing "You're not punk, and I'm telling everyone / save your breath, I never was one" sums up the Æffect quite nicely.
9. Settlefish - Breeze
10. Bob Nanna - Lost My Lights
The closing track on OIL closes my mixtape; one of the best songs of Bob Nanna's career.

The Most Anticipated Records Of 2004

2003's musical output makes 2002 look like the kid's stuff, but 2004 could easily make 2003 it's bitch, if all these bands come through with dynamite records: Social Distortion, The Pixies, Descendents, Green Day, Bad Religion, Jimmy Eat World, Weezer, Get Up Kids, Schatzi, Modest Mouse, Mr. T Experience, The Ghost, David Singer, Tsunami Bomb, Onelinedrawing, Millencolin, Pedro The Lion, Somerset, Bluebottle, Saosin, Faultlines, Haymarket Riot, and who knows what else.

Things I'd Like To See Happen In 2004

Somerset get signed.
A Tuesday/Death On Wednesday/Thursday/Saturday Looks Good To Me/Taking Back Sunday nationwide tour. Just for kicks.
Adam Levin sending me the Slow Gherkin t-shirt I paid him for back in October of 2002. If any of you know this man, please make him send it. I'll put out a 20 dollar reward for the person who can get him to send it to me [I really want the shirt].
Honestly, would it kill you to buy me a gift off my wishlist? For real, yo.