I started 2003 as a college senior in Ann Arbor, and ended as a college graduate in Los Angeles moonlighting as a bassist in a (soon-to-be signed) band called The City Drive. To say that 2003 was one of the most important years of my life is a horrific understatement, but to say that the year 2003 doesn’t get the credit that it deserves for its fantastic musical catalog is a sad fact. It just doesn’t. I hope that this article brings to light many albums that should be re-listened to immediately or discovered for the very first time.
Here are twenty reasons why 2003 just plain rocked (in release order):
- The Juliana Theory – Love (February 4, 2003)
Cleveland wasn’t that far from Ann Arbor, so my buddy Dave and I I went on a Rock and Roll of Fame trip that fortuitously turned into a musical obsession. We stumbled upon a free acoustic show by The Juliana Theory, a band that I often heard a lot about but was unfamiliar with, and from that moment on, I became a super fan. To put icing on the cake, we were also given free tickets to see TJT with Something Corporate, Vendetta Red, and Steel Train at the Agora Theater. “Love” is The Juliana Theory’s lone major label release, and I don’t hear enough love about it. Please change that.
- The Ataris – So Long, Astoria (March 4, 2003)
One day before I turned 22, The Ataris also released first and only major label record “So Long, Astoria”; 2003 was certainly a year that Warped Tour bands started getting super mainstream notoriety. While the band had a minor hit on “So Long, Astoria” with its Don Henley cover, the rest of this record is a pop-rock/pop-punk masterpiece with heartfelt lyrics and ultra-catchy melodies. Fun fact: After this record helped catapult The Ataris to more fans than ever before, I had the chance to watch them on a headlining run at Clutch Cargos with my new obsession The Juliana Theory as direct support.
- AFI – Sing The Sorrow (March 11, 2003)
A Fire Inside released its first major label (and eventually first platinum selling) album just before the spring of 2003, and the world still owes it quite a debt. “Sing The Sorrow” has the rare statistic/badge of honor of being produced by two different members of rock royalty, as Butch Vig (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) and the late-Jerry Finn (Rancid, blink-182) both handled the record behind the boards. Proving this record’s staying power to this day, three of AFI’s top five most played live songs (“Girl’s Not Grey,” “The Leaving Song Pt. II,” and “Silver and Cold”) come from “Sing The Sorrow”. Also, it’s still my favorite AFI album, and that says a lot.
- Linkin Park – Meteora (March 25, 2003)
“Meteora” may be (by far) the biggest selling album on the list, but it’s more than well deserved. Linkin Park proved that rap-rock was far from dead with its 2000 diamond-selling powerhouse debut “Hybrid Theory,” and “Meteora” was the polar opposite of a sophomore slump: The rock was heavier and louder, the raps were angrier and more rhythmic, and the overall sonic landscape of “Meteora” was far more diverse and multi-faceted than its predecessor. On a sad note, Chester Bennington’s voice will be forever missed.
- Fall Out Boy – Take This To Your Grave (May 6, 2003)
I covered this album in my Top Ten Pop Punk Albums of All Time article and listed “Take This To Your Grave” as the silver medalist. I truly own up to that ranking, and I forever stand by the record that introduced FOB to a bourgeoning underground. FOB was just two years shy of becoming one of the biggest bands in the world with its follow up “From Under The Cork Tree,” but “Take This To Your Grave” was a twelve tiered knockout blowout that successfully married aggression and melody.
- NOFX – The War On Errorism (May 6, 2003)
Fall Out Boy wasn’t the only band that made May 6, 2003 a great day for the punk scene: NOFX also released a political and hilarious 14-track masterpiece known as “The War On Errorism” on that same day. The record was NOFX’s first release on Fat Mike’s label Fat Wreck Chords, and the band truly tried something different this time around with a political theme. Fat Mike’s negative stance on the Bush administration was so strong that the album cover even featured an image of George W. Bush as a sad clown, and the lyrics on the record weren’t exactly kind towards him as well. Give this record a listen in 2019 and yearn for a different band to give it a go towards #45.
- The Mars Volta – De-Loused in the Comatorium (June 24, 2003)
The death of At the Drive-In caused the birth of two separate bands with
huge shoes to fill: Sparta and The Mars Volta. But Sparta just wasn’t my bag, baby. The Mars Volta certainly was! Easily the most unique album on this list, The Mars Volta’s loud debut “De-Loused in the Comatorium” sounds like a frenetic blend of Santana shredding and catastrophic noise. I LOVED it from the second the album was released, and listened to it more than any other record on the drive from my native New York to my eventual home in Los Angeles. Fun fact: Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea played bass on the record.
- Eve 6 – It’s All In Your Head (July 22, 2003)
Sometimes a band releases its best record AS it gets dropped from its label. It’s a sad truth. “It’s All In Your Head” did not have the radio play, record sales, or overall megahits that its two predecessors had, but it did not lack in memorable songs. Sadly, due to poor album sales and a shrinking fanbase, the band broke up a year after the record came out for a few years. Happily, Eve 6 was not completely finished by any stretch, and the band released another underrated full-length in 2012 called “Speak In Code”. Think twice.
- Thrice – The Artist In The Ambulance (July 22, 2003)
I covered this album in my Top Ten Screamo Albums of All Time article, and listed “The Artist In The Ambulance” as the bronze medalist. I truly own up to that ranking. What a major label debut. Seriously. “The Artist In The Ambulance” definitely fucking rocked and introduced many to the dirty word known as “screamo”. I had the chance to see Thrice the year before at Saint Andrew’s Hall in Detroit, and I knew that the world was going to be shaken up in the loudest way possible.
- Yellowcard – Ocean Avenue (July 22, 2003)
Featuring releases from Eve 6, Thrice, and Yellowcard, July 22, 2003 was the release date for three albums on this list, making it my personal “biggest” day for rock that year. I covered “Ocean Avenue” in my Top Ten Pop Punk Albums of All Time article, and I’m forever impressed by the title track’s staying power. It’s pretty wild how the song has resonated through the years and it’s rare to go to an alternative or pop punk show that doesn’t blast “Ocean Avenue” on its speakers in between bands. The other twelve tracks are no slouch either! HERE I GO!
- Muse – Absolution (September 15, 2003)
I starting listening to Muse when “Showbiz” came out in 1999, but I became a super-fan when “Absolution” came out. I can’t say enough good things about this record: Front to back perfection. Period. If Muse comes to your town (or even an adjacent state), see them. No questions asked. It’s quite a sight and NO band sounds as huge in a live setting. I’ve had the pleasure of catching Muse live on four separate occasions, and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. “Absolution” was a perfect prologue to Muse’s global domination album “Black Holes and Revelations”. Hysteria.
- Billy Talent – Billy Talent (September 16, 2003)
I still wish that Billy Talent was huge here in America… or even played frequent shows in America. In Europe and Canada, Billy Talent regularly performs for tens of thousands of people. No big deal. In America, the band is virtually undiscovered. It’s a shame. No one sounds like Billy Talent and few bands that I’ve seen live have the guitar/composition prowess of Ian D’Sa. If you play guitar, you know exactly what I am talking about. D’Sa plays extremely unorthodox chords and riffs so frequently, it’s hard for us normies to keep up. Much much respect to a true unsung hero band.
- Saves The Day – In Reverie (September 16, 2003)
Speaking of an unsung hero, Saves The Day’s “In Reverie” is a true unsung hero album. The band may have alienated casual emo-punk fans with this Beatles-esque album, but Saves The Day’s hardcore fans often claim “In Reverie” as their favorite STD release. It’s pretty close to mine as well, being my second favorite (“Through Being Cool” comes out on top), but that ain’t too shabby considering the band has NINE full length albums. Nine. Let’s keep listening so they can make nine more.
- The Dresden Dolls – The Dresden Dolls (September 26, 2003)
The Dresden Dolls described their unconventional two-piece sound as “Brechtian punk cabaret”. Say that five times fast. I just think that they fucking rocked. I had the chance to catch The Dresden Dolls live for the first time at South By Southwest 2004, and I’ve yet to see a band as more unique since. Amanda Palmer’s low biting vocals sounded like no one else, and Brian Viglione’s manic Keith Moon-esque drumming pounded like no one else. I wish that The Dresden Dolls still played regular shows. Even if you haven’t seen ‘em (or heard of ‘em), YOU wish that The Dresden Dolls still played regular shows.
- Coheed and Cambria – In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 (October 7, 2003)
Claudio Sanchez certainly has the unique vocalist market corned, and Coheed and Cambria’s sophomore album “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3” is a 70-minute cinematic masterpiece that eventually went gold. This band definitely doesn’t fit the typical Equal Vision Records/Warped Tour sound, but for some reason, truly prospered on the tour. Rock fans young and old still come in droves for C&C, and the band’s upcoming buzzing summer tour with Mastodon and Every Time I Die will prove just that.
- Anti-Flag – The Terror State (October 21, 2003)
Sometimes ten-year anniversary shows are (unfortunately) underwhelming, but Anti-Flag’s “The Terror State” ten-year celebratory show at the Troubadour was far from it! The band did NOT let up on the energy front for a tenth of a second, and neither did the crowd. “The Terror State” was the band’s last full length before signing to RCA Records, and the band did not leave the indie world without a fight on these thirteen songs. Fun fact: Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello produced “The Terror State”.
- Zebrahead – MFZB (October 21, 2003)
I don’t know if you know this, but Zebrahead is HUGE in Japan. Like huge huge. I first saw the band opening for Reel Big Fish with Teen Heroes (CHECK THEM OUT NOW) at NYC’s Irving Plaza in 1999, and I was an extremely impressed high school senior. I’m still impressed. I described their sound to a friend as 311-meets-a-punk-band, and “MFZB” was the band’s best version of such. Sadly, this album was vocalist Justin Mauriello’s last with the band, but happily, the band released a new album called “Brain Invaders” two months ago!
- The Living End – Modern ARTillery (October 28, 2003)
Like Zebrahead (and Billy Talent), The Living End is way bigger overseas than stateside. In fact, The Living End has often been called Australia’s equivalent to Green Day, and “Modern ARTillery” remains one of the more underrated albums in the band’s catalog. The drums shine bright courtesy of new (and current) drummer Andy Strachen, the basslines bleed low with Scott Owen’s sterling stand-up bass, and the guitar licks blow the mind of the collective planet thanks to guitarist/vocalist Chris Cheney. Who’s gonna save us?
- Against Me! – Against Me! as the Eternal Cowboy (November 3, 2003)
There are few rock documentaries that I enjoy more than Against Me!’s “We’re Never Going Home”. If you haven’t seen it, change that. The documentary documents the band on tour for “Against Me! as the Eternal Cowboy” and showcases the amount of label and national attention the band was getting. I firmly believe that the band wouldn’t have gotten half of the notoriety from “suits” had it not been for the A-level quality of the compositions on the record. It’s TRULY where the band came into its own.
- blink-182 – blink-182 (November 18, 2003)
“Fate fell short this time
Your smile fades in the summer
Place your hand in mine
I’ll leave when I wanna”
Hope you’re “feeling this” article. Here’s a playlist with one song from each album listed: