In 2003, charts may have been topped by the likes of Black Eyed Peas, Sean Paul and 3 Doors Down, but somewhere behind the scenes a huge number of fantastic music was released. In the first article of our Dept. of Forgotten Songs series, we decided to take a look at some of our favourite 2003 songs that are just about to reach their teens.
Camera Obscura: I Don't Want To See You
Underachievers Please Try Harder, released in 2003, is a hugely underrated album by Scottish band Camera Obscura. While the record in its entirety is beautifully composed, one of its best songs is found only as a bonus track on the US and Japanese versions; 'I Don't Want To See You' is a perfect blend of delicacy, simplicity and honesty.
Yo La Tengo: Today Is the Day
Yo La Tengo released two versions of 'Today Is the Day' in 2003 – one on their Summer Sun album and the other on their EP Today Is the Day. Both have their own merits, and while they are different in terms of style and perhaps atmosphere, the general feeling they convey is the same: both versions are characterised by a heavy, deep sadness, with a mixture of melancholy and perhaps a level of acceptance, especially on the album version. Indeed, 'Today Is the Day' is the kind of song that you think might leave you an emotional wreck, but instead it drains you, making you feel immensely empty when the song finishes - in the most comforting way possible.
Clearlake: Trees in the City
All of Brighton-based Clearlake's three albums encompass a range of different styles. Their second full-length album, Cedars, came out in 2003 and is by far their most coherent and consistent album. Often considered a standard indie rock band, Cedars reveals a different side to Clearlake. The album finishes with 'Trees in the City', which continues directly from 'Treat Yourself With Kindness', and its echoey ambience paired with singer Jason Pegg's somewhat monotonous vocals creates a unique lo-fi-meets-choral sound.
Cursive: Some Red-Handed Sleight of Hand
Post-hardcore band Cursive's fourth album, The Ugly Organ, received critical acclaim upon its release in 2003, and to the delight of fans and critics alike was remastered and reissued in 2014. The Ugly Organ is thematically focused, discussing the issues bands – and likely frontman Tim Kasher himself - face creating art. 'Some Red-Handed Sleight of Hand', which merges into 'Art Is Hard', is explicitly about the complexities that come with the creative process, while trying to maintain some kind of integrity as an artist: “This is my body, this is the blood I found on my hands / After I wrote this album / Play it off as stigmata for crossover fans”. 'Art Is Hard' follows in these footsteps, talking about the need to recreate pain in order to produce the kind of music that is wanted of you. Of course, the album itself is, then, kind of ironic; Kasher's anger is what the listeners want and he is giving them exactly that, thus becoming what he seems to strongly detest and avoid.
Sufjan Stevens: Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)
Sufjan Stevens' plan – that he later decided not to follow through with – to write an album on all of the US states started with Michigan in 2003. As his home state, Michigan seems perhaps more personal than Stevens' other work, making it a deeply impactful album. 'Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)', especially, reflects this approach with its melancholy.
Ainslie Henderson: Take Out Time
Musically best known as a Fame Academy contestant in its first cycle in 2002 (otherwise perhaps for his BAFTA-winning animations), the Scottish singer-songwriter released his single 'Keep Me a Secret' shortly after exiting the Academy in March 2003. While many might remember the A-side, the single's B-side 'Take Out Time', which was co-written by members of James, also reached the Top 5 in the Singles Chart. While Henderson left his label soon after, wanting to take his music to a different direction, 'Take Out Time' was and remains catchy and interesting – even if the artist's later material was much more understated.
M. Ward: Helicopter
M. Ward's third album, Transfiguration of Vincent, is mainly about death, but also about life – both broadly and more specifically, relating mainly to his friend Vincent O'Brien. Thematically, of course, there is nothing original about the album, however it is Ward's take on such heavy topics that sets it apart from others. The record's often upbeat and celebratory yet not corny tone makes it an interesting, unique listen. 'Helicopter' is a perfect illustration of this.
Lou Reed (featuring Antony Hegarty): Perfect Day
Lou Reed's nineteenth solo album The Raven is based on Edgar Allan Poe's works. The album consists of recountings of Poe's poetry and prose, as well as new versions of Reed's previously released material. These include 'Perfect Day' – the original 1972 version of which needs no introduction – performed with Antony Hegarty, whose shivering falsetto transforms the song completely. Her distinctive vocals, combined with the haunting backing that is reminiscent of church music, make for a chillingly beautiful listening experience.