1. The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow (Sub Pop)
[play it on Rhapsody]
Here it is — in my opinion, the best album of 2003. Unlike The New Pornographers’ 2003 outing, Chutes Too Narrow is a brilliant pop record that foregrounds the lyrics. James Mercer’s tenor floats over even the wickedest changes on “Saint Simon”, spilling forth words that match the music: “After all these implements and texts designed by intellects so vexed to find evidently there’s so much that hides.” That’s the line that gets quoted in every review of this record, it seems, but it encapsulates the loose-though-intricate feel of the album. Some other moments of lyrical perfection come in “Turn a Square” when Mercer sings, “Just a glimpse of an ankle and I / React like it’s 1805″ and in “Those to Come” with “Eyeless in the morning sun you were / Pale and mild, a modern girl / Taken with thought still prone to care / making tea in your underwear”. It seems hopelessly wordy, but Mercer pulls it off; the melodies fit the words so well that you don’t notice the verbal complexity.