15 years ago a collection of what can now be determined as “classic hits” were unleashed on a crowd that had an insatiable appetite for what was new and and considered “ROCK” music. This was sorta near the end of the Bye Bye Byes and I’m Not That Innocent, charting new territory into the popular spectrum by a bunch of bands not exactly ready for that sort of success. This was a pivotal year for music in general and in my opinion was that comeback Rock needed at the perfect time. As much as people needed their Nu-Metal, Pop, Rap/Hip Hop, Hard Rock, etc., those of us in the underground music scene desired something new and something different. These bands were just that and sparked a change in direction. This is my list. This is 2003. A snapshot of the greatest year in music post-new millennium. Make sure to scroll all the way to bottom for special IVM Playlist of songs from 2003. Be Strong, Believe……
1. Yellowcard – Ocean Avenue
15 years ago this album blew up and made a fan out of virtually everyone and across all spectrum of music fan. Simply put, Yellowcard put 2003 on the map. After a great debut full length (One For The Kids) and follow up Ep (Underdog) this band was definitely going places. Mixing in energetic pop-punk, melodic songwriting, and yes, a violin, there was just nothing quite like this band in the “scene” at that point in time. Led by the singles “Ocean Avenue” and “Way Away”, it was the track “Believe” that really brought an emotional response and tears to the eyes of virtually everyone especially during the early part of last decade when people were still recovering from 9/11. This whole album for me sums up the year perfectly, “Be Strong Believe”…..
2. Thrice – The Artist In The Ambulance
After two great full lengths, the band switched gears, fine tuned their sound and came back strong with “The Artist In The Ambulance” in 2003. The band had a large fan base even before this album (especially here in Southern California), but The Artist In The Ambulance put them on the map for a global audience. Every song flows together seamlessly and hardly any “Filler” tracks are present. Since I am a radio friendly type guy (sorry, not sorry) I was big on the songs “All That’s Left” and especially “Stare At The Sun”. But to be honest, my favorite song still to this day has to be “The Artist In The Ambulance”. Not sure why but I really dig the subject matter and story told through song. The vocals on this whole record are as strong as Dustin Kensrue has sounded. Don’t get me wrong, “Vehissu” and “The Alchemy Index” had an enormous amount of solid songs. From a nostalgic standpoint, this album has it all for me. Oh and for the record, “To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere” is the best comeback album any band has written in recent years.
3. Slow Coming Day – Farewell To The Familiar
This album came out at the perfect time. I had watched these guys from the time of their inception here in Orange County and even booked them a couple of times. Each time I saw them there was just something special in their music performance especially in Orion Walsh’s stage presence. He took his music very seriously and this first full length (and last) was a testament of an artist in pain but searching through the darkness to find hope. This album is mainly about the loss of a family member and the songs clearly reflect that sense of longing. Songs like “Captivated”, “Watching It Fall Apart”, and especially “A Part of Me Died” convey this emotional connection to the audience. The “emo” influence shines through and brings to mind bands like Jimmy Eat World, The Juliana Theory, Brandtson, American Football, Texas is the Reason, etc. So good and a reason this album ranks so high on my list.
4. AFI – Sing The Sorrow
This is a dark record much like the rest of AFI’s past discography. The band reached commercial success with the release of this, their first major label album. A lot of people and especially old school fans didn’t appreciate this shift in sound. I for one, loved it. In fact I didn’t really start listening to them until “Sing The Sorrow”. I guess I have that commercial music mindset. I don’t know what it was but there was just something special about the songs on this record. It had the perfect balance of energy, passion, great singing, and unforgettable melodies. The fact that this album has a staying power 15 years later shows how great this is.
5. Anberlin – Blueprints For The Black Market
Like with other bands on this list, the Anberlin debut record was one of the finest of that year and a great introduction to a band that literally came out of nowhere. Usually independent bands at that time released crappy debut records that showed much need for improvement but in the case of Anberlin they released a debut to make all other bands wallow in shame at their inadequacies. I have a special connection with Stephen and Anberlin. You see, when 3 of the future members of Anberlin were known as “Sagoh 24/7” I became a fan with “then I corrupt youth”. I started exchanging emails with Stephen, I then ended up booking them at our Church here in So Cal, flying them out from Florida (I know, I was crazy). I spent some time in conversation after hanging out that weekend and knew these guys would go on to do great things. I stayed in contact and when I heard there was this demo of a new band a few of the guys were starting, I had to hear it. I then got the crazy idea to follow up “I’m Your Biggest Fan” with a Vol. 2 and called up T&N at which time they accepted my plan. I put Anberlin on it and the rest is history. The funny thing is (and this is a little known fact) but I even exchanged emails with Brandon Ebel before he changed his address about “signing” Sagoh and got replies with their sales figures which was like zero on Rescue Records (LOL). So there wasn’t much interest in bumping them up to the big leagues. I think he had a change of heart once Anberlin formed. Oh and their name was first “Amberlin” but a certain “worker” in a shady industry went by that name so they changed it asap to “Anberlin”. Good move. So let’s talk about this record. It has incredible melodies, a balance between aggression, pop, and rock, while keeping their fingers on the pulse of a changing scene. “Blueprints for the Black Market” is certainly an album that holds up and although they refined their sound on future records, there is still something unforgettable about this “debut”.
6. Fall Out Boy – Take This To Your Grave
This was another one of those “came out of nowhere” debuts by a band just getting their start in the scene. I still remember going to one of their shows in 2003 in San Diego with Dismissed opening and the club was like 1/2 full. Fast FWD to now and the band sells out venues across the country, charts on all the major radio stations, videos featured online and off, magazine features, web features, etc. Simply put, they are a pop band that is still relevant among many fans and new kids alike. Back to this debut, it was a fine introduction to the band’s frenetic pop-punk energy and showcased a group with tremendous potential. You can argue about whether or not the band’s relevance has faded in recent years with the heavy “pop” influence but there is no escaping the awesome energy of the band’s early recordings.
7. MXPX – Before Everything and After
This was one of the band’s most controversial records. Controversial in the fact that the band flirted heavily with commercial, well polished production and recording that would have fit perfectly on any radio station at the time. Led by the single “Everything Sucks (When You’re Gone)”, the album found a band reaching their peak and hitting their strides in songwriting talent. All of this band’s albums are incredible in their own right but this one was a commercial hit that didn’t quite become a commercial hit. Does that make sense? MXPX have always been one of those bands that was right on the cusp of Top 40 major success but for whatever reason didn’t get picked up by the major stations and MTV. I could have totally seen MXPX on TRL back in the day alongside Blink 182, Sum 41, and Good Charlotte, but they got the cold shoulder. Don’t get me wrong, the band always had their inclusions on some video channels (FUSE) and had their songs played on some stations but I am talking about going huge at the time. It’s not their fault but for whatever reason got shafted. I do remember Scooby Do soundtrack right around this time which was a cool thing. Anyway, so many great songs on this record that have gone (mostly) forgotten. Check out the spotify playlist below to hear these great songs. Some of my faves include “Quit Your Life”, “Brokenhearted”, “First Day Of The Rest of Our Lives”, “Kings of Hollywood”, “You Make Me, Me”, and “You’re Not Alone”. Oh and for the record, this band still puts out incredible music and has that irreplaceable passionate energy. “Panic”, “Secret Weapon”, and “Plans Within Plans” are all amazing records!
8. Watashi Wa – The Love of Life
This wonderful little pop-rock band released one of my favorite indie hits of 2003 called “The Love Of Life” on Tooth & Nail Records. This was the album we’d all been waiting to hear and a fantastic progression from their more indie pop-punk releases on Bettie Rocket. Seth Roberts has a commanding but smooth voice that fit the music style just perfectly. “The Love Of Life” is one of those special kind of albums that only comes through once in a lifetime. What Acceptance attempted on “Phantoms” I feel was better executed by Watashi Wa on this record. That’s not to knock Acceptance at all because they are a tremendously loved and adored indie band but what I’m saying is that this came out 2 years before and had a similar vibe and was as catchy as you could possibly get. They had their sights set on commercial success but like all good stories, theirs sort of came to an abrupt end much too soon. Seth went in a slightly different direction on the next release which was really a different band at that point. Although we have gotten Lakes/Eager Seas in recent years, there will always be something uniquely individual and a special addition to the music catalog of Tooth & Nail Records.
9. Coheed and Cambria – In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3
This band was so far ahead of their time even though they dabbled in a bit of classic prog-rock (Rush), these guys were the real deal. I remember hearing this the first time and thinking “wow, this chick can really sing great rock music!” lol. Seriously though, Claudio has a voice in the upper register of vocal delivery and that is what makes them so unique. I remember cruising around Kauai on vacation one year with my family and all of us singing out to “Good eye sniper…..” (A Favor House Atlantic) and “Blood Red Summer”, two of the band’s big hits from this album. I know the rest of the album had a certain theme (as did most of their catalog) but I loved their “singles” and they were so dang catchy!.
10. Less Than Jake – Anthem
Oh my gosh, you can’t mention 2003 and forget to throw Less Than Jake’s name into the mix. “Anthem” was an insanely catchy piece of work driven by hit songs like “The Science of Selling Yourself Short”, “She’s Gonna Break Soon”, “The Ghosts of Me and You”, and “Plastic Cup Politics”. Musically this was some of the band’s finest work and the culmination of years of talent and songwriting perfection. If I were to pick any favorite ska-punk record of last decade that I thought ranked as a “favorite”, it would be “Anthem” without a doubt. It had that punk rock beat and ska influence with a perfect dose of small horn section. I loved it, still do.
11. Further Seems Forever – How To Start a Fire
No one knew how big this band would end up being with the addition of Jason Gleason after the departure of Chris. This album was huge for the band and you heard the songs everywhere in the scene back in the day. It’s amazing what the former members of Strongarm came up with and how they continued to push boundaries for melodic emo meets rock n’ roll music prestige. There is just something entirely special about this record and the way it came out. From the songs “The Sound”, “Pride War”, and even the title track, it just had that perfect balance between singing, aggression, and melodies that were unforgettable. Even though the band had 3 different singers in like 5 years, it didn’t matter for each album was a unique piece of art by a band that possessed so much talent that they put most of their peers to shame. This album is still an amazing piece of work and I’ve learned to appreciate the songs so much more now.
12. Beloved (US) – Failure On
You can’t mention 2003 and forget Beloved. This band only released an ep and this full length but they have forever cemented themselves in the halls of melodic hardcore legends. “Failure On” carefully traversed the ropes of melody and hardcore aggression. This heaviness and singing parts established the band as something entirely original and something 2003 wasn’t ready for. This was back in the day of music videos and radio and for this band to have a couple off one album was unheard of for an indie melodic hardcore band just getting their start. This is how well loved this band was and has become. Songs like “Aimless Endeavor”, “Death to Traitors”, and “Failure On My Lips” are some of my faves.
13. Relient K – Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right, But Three Do
Relient K have crafted catchy pop-punk/rock for years and this band’s 3rd full length was no exception. This was the perfect album as the perfect time. While the band soaked in commercial success on their next album, this one found the band breaking free from production/songriting quality that was sort of juvenile and underwhelming. Sure, the tongue in cheek in humor radiates on this record but there was something commercially appealing about the album that set them apart from so many others in the scene. They had more in common with The Beach Boys and those favorite pop-rock bands of the 90’s than they did with Bad Religion, Pennywise, Face to Face, Green Day and other “punk rock” bands. That was a good thing because this album shared a certain uniqueness that kept them from falling into the trap of repetition.
14. Story of the Year – Page Avenue
“Until the Day I Die, I spill my heart for you…..” Oh yes friends, 2003 was all about the mighty Story of the Year. The videos, the songs, this album was EVERYWHERE. Remember FUSE Channel? Yeah you probably don’t but I sure do. This band was so smart to connect with John Feldman (Goldfinger) and together they made beautiful music together and further pioneered a scene of young people pumping their fists in the air with pent up aggression. This band literally came out of nowhere was this “first” album was “Page Avenue”. Love it or hate it, this band knew how to write catchy radio friendly pop-screamo songs.
15. Spoken – A Moment of Imperfect Clarity
2003 was a solid year for music and this band put out one of my favorite albums of that year and one of the finest Spoken albums ever. Their next record was incredible as well but this one established their sound and was a huge step up from “Echoes of the Spirit Still Dwell”. That “Promise” song still gives me chills when I listen to it. Everything about this album is a commercial hit in my mind. Matt’s vocals bordered that “Used” sound (the band) but was still unique and set apart from the pack. It came out at the perfect time. “Promise” and “Sleep Well Tonight” are still some of my favorite songs ever by the band. There was just so much positive and spiritually engaging songs that you can’t help but be brought in to the sound of Spoken. Plus the production was on FIRE with this album. I just love Spoken and 2003 wouldn’t be the same without this record.
Well that wraps up my little write up on this look back on 2003 and a 15th anniversary time capsule. Feel free to agree or disagree with my choices. Remember, I am not giving a stamp of approval on the content of any single one of these records. Musically, these were my jams back in the day and something I felt interested in. These are not all “IVM” related material nor do I agree with all their beliefs and content. Personal taste only.
15 Honorable Mentions:
Something Corporate – North
Dismissed – Taking The Good With The Bad
Dogwood – Seismic
Much The Same – Quitters Never Win
Blink 182 – Blink 182
Mae – Destination Beautiful
Forgotten Arrival – Through Your Eyes
Next In Line – Traffic
Gameface – Four To Go
Comeback Kid – Turn It Around
Slick Shoes – Far From Nowhere
Rise Against – Revolutions Per Minute
Hangnail – Transparent
Brave Saint Saturn – The Light Of Things Hoped For
The Bouncing Souls – Anchors Aweigh