The Soundtrack of Our Lives

The Best Albums in the World Ever!! Okay, Maybe Just in This Town, Circa 2003

"Call it what you want, but this city is mine," Lucky Jeremy said on his latest rock opus, and half the musicians in town believe it's true--though not necessarily about him. Hip-hop philosopher Brother Ali declares his rule over the "Twin Cities American Heartland" in his rear-window rant "Room with a View." Happy Apple stake their claim on a small Minnesota town in the sprawling jazz epic "The Landfall Planetarium." The snowy aural landscape conjured on "Lost Christmas" by instrumentalist duo If Thousands seems to represent the emotional state of the entire Midwest--without the band ever saying a word.

Which leads us to wonder: How can a person judge the state of the local music scene when the city belongs to everyone and no one?

"This city's taken all I know." A-Bomb Nation said that on the local hardcore compilation No Hold Back...All Attack!!! The statement felt true for many of us critics as we emptied our brains onto this page in the service of our favorite local albums of 2003. Arguing over our choices, we forgot our manners. Then we forgot what we were talking about. Eventually, after passing the peace pipe around, we forgot our own names. Which might explain why even the strangest lyrics from the albums on the top 10 list below seemed to take on profound new meaning.

"Aw, crud, what a dud/A fuddy duddy/That's funny, that mummy/I hate you wall." Fog's Andrew Broder said that on Ether Teeth, and far be it from me to judge whether it's true. I have no friggin' clue what it means. So instead, I'll leave you with these final words of wisdom:

"Local musicians only record albums because they can't publish top 10 lists."

I said that. It's probably not true.

Read on and judge for yourself.

--Melissa Maerz


Brother Ali, Shadows on the Sun (Rhymesayers Entertainment)

I used to think that this album's producer might be deficient with the R in R&B, but Ant has just been slowly honing his own very weird, very minimalist B. The hermetic soulscapes he creates here couldn't be more different from the original blues he samples elsewhere: Even more than on Atmosphere's Seven's Travels, which he also produced, Shadows on the Sun sounds like a machine's memory of '60s roots music. Which works perfectly for Brother Ali, a high-strung voice attached to a reflective mind, who puts to practical use the Islam that the '60s birthed. Ali sounds like a premature adult sitting back with a stack of soul records and a copy of the Koran, his kids playing on the floor nearby, writing raps to make himself laugh. He saves Ant's juiciest aural nostalgia for satire worthy of Randy Newman: "Prince Charming" is his impersonation of pathetic, possessive machismo--Biz Markie meets "Every Breath You Take." --Peter Scholtes


Cloud Cult, They Live on the Sun (Earthology)

Both Big Boi and Craig Minowa included their toddlers' recording studio debuts on albums this year, but with entirely different motives. While OutKast encouraged a future hip-hop star, Cloud Cult frontman Minowa used the little voice of his late son as bittersweet therapy. They Live on the Sun is the bipolar soundtrack to a broken-hearted man losing his mind. One moment, you're doubting that such candid agony has been released to the public in recent times. The next, you're listening to Minowa spit adolescent Spanglish, wondering Is this Ween? Minowa's bandmates diligently support him through his mood swings with a motley pop sound somewhere between Pavement and the Flaming Lips. Given Minowa's torrent of self-proclaimed madness and irreparable loss, it's reassuring to know that he didn't go through this catharsis alone. Though if Cloud Cult were a solo effort, we'd have to stage an intervention to save this talented songwriter from himself. --Lindsey Thomas


Fog, Ether Teeth (Ninja Tune)

"See It See It?" Fog's Andrew Broder asks in a song title. Listen and you'll find what he's pointing to: mechanical birds twittering past dump trucks, gum-commercial models hidden in television static, SuperAmerica stations steeped in loneliness. Invisible memories etched in sound. Ether Teeth plays like a chance street-corner encounter between DJ Shadow and Jeff Mangum, a junction where backward records warble beneath dime-store guitars and educational-film sound bites comment on Broder's cracked chirpings. ("It is said that no two robins ever sing exactly the same," notes a 1950s schoolhouse baritone on one track. "Robins are like small boys when their voices are changing.") Somewhere within Fog's folk oddities, humming over a broken beat, lives the ghost of that voice, along with all the anonymous vocals ever culled from forgotten tunes. It's a record-store basement's unheard song. Hear it hear it? --Melissa Maerz


Happy Apple, Youth Oriented (Universal)

In circles in which the not-your-average-piano-trio the Bad Plus is semi-famous and the not-your-average-sax-trio Happy Apple is only quasi-semi-famous, the latter is known as "Dave King's other band." Of course, we Minneapolitans know that this epithet isn't accurate, both because the increasingly aptly named King plays in 312 bands, and because Happy Apple is a resolutely democratic collective. Now if I were forced at gunpoint to play favorites, I might throw in my lot with Erik Fratzke, who I'm pretty sure has the warmest and weightiest electric bass tone in all of jazz. He's the William Parker of youngish electric jazz-rock bassists, and his wandering tunes and bubbling lines are on some sort of Zappa-Stravinsky-Dolphy-Jaco-Black Sabbath tip that I want more of. May 2004 bring them as much deserved hype as Dave King's other band. --Dylan Hicks

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