The Journey

Personal Essay 2
By Caleb Knox

CMJ's Top 10 Albums of 2003
10) Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell
9) Yo La Tengo – Summer Sun
8) Ween – Quebec
7) Grandaddy – Sumday
6) Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism
5) Cat Power – You Are Free
4) Belle and Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress
3) Radiohead – Hail to the Thief
2) The Postal Service – Give Up
1) The White Stripes – Elephant

information compiled from

Ladies and gentlemen, strap on your helmets and buckle your seatbelts. We're about to take a voyage back in time – back to the year 2003. Life was simpler then. iPods were built without touch-screens and Howard Dean was the Democratic front-runner heading into election season. But some things never change. The music world was producing albums that would become all-time classics to college radio disc jockeys, and the College Media Journal (CMJ) was there keeping track of the best.

Each year, CMJ compiles a list of the Top 10 most-played albums on college radio. Believe it or not, the 2003 list included artists such as Radiohead and Death Cab for Cutie who hit it big with "In Rainbows" and "Plans" respectively. Some of the others, though, didn't fare so well. Keep your hands and arms inside the timecraft as we review the ups and downs of these artists' careers through the past five years.


Grandaddy – Sumday

Combining elements of folk and rock music with experimental keyboard work, Grandaddy's third full-length, "Sumday," hit number seven on CMJ's list. Amanda Petrusich, a contributing writer for Pitchfork Media, called the album "all glorious, throbbing heart."

That heart beats no longer, however, as Grandaddy is the only band on CMJ's Top 10 list that is now defunct. Grandaddy refused to be courted by major record labels, preferring instead to stick with their do-it-yourself approach. As a result, Grandaddy promptly ran out of money after releasing their final album, "Just Like the Fambly Cat," in 2006. They broke up and moved back to Montana.

Cat Power – You Are Free

The past five years have been tumultuous at best for Cat Power, the stage name of singer/songwriter Chan Marshall. She followed up the critically-acclaimed "You Are Free" with the polarizing "Speaking for Trees" DVD, a two-hour static shot of Marshall performing alone in a wooded area. The DVD polarized critics, perhaps because "songs begin tentatively, then drift off mid-verse; lyrics are forgotten and fudged; numbers are inexplicably repeated; sometimes the volume drops so low the cicadas and the breeze threaten to drown her out," Spin Magazine's Will Hermes said.

In January 2006, Marshall released her seventh studio album, "The Greatest." Despite the positive critical reaction to the album, Marshall canceled her American and European tours due to what the Cat Power camp described as "health-related issues." Those health-related issues turned out to be a nervous breakdown.

The time away served Marshall well, and she has since returned to the stage and the record store. On Jan. 22, 2008, Marshall released "Jukebox" to mixed reviews.

The Postal Service – Give Up

The Postal Service is often forgotten in a cloud of conversations about lead singer Ben Gibbard's other project, Death Cab for Cutie. But with the dreamlike coupling of Gibbard's golden voice and producer Jimmy Tamborello's smooth beats, this electronic duo refuses to go away despite only releasing one album.

While "Give Up" was the second most-played album in 2003, The Postal Service has not recorded a second album. The band has toured sparingly, as well as lending several new singles and remixes to soundtracks and compilation discs. Unfortunately, Death Cab for Cutie's increasingly hectic schedule has prevented Gibbard from spending much time with his side project. Tamborello has kept himself busy as well, releasing albums with his two other bands, Dntel and Figurine.

The White Stripes - Elephant

In his Top 10 recap, CMJ's Doug Levy called The White Stripes' "Elephant" "a beast of an album." Jack White and Meg White (no relation) spent two weeks in London with antiquated equipment and a list of songs, recording at a blistering pace. The experiment worked as "Elephant" rose to the top of CMJ's charts, as well as reaching number six on the Billboard 200 and number one in the U.K.

In his five-star review of the album for Rolling Stone magazine, David Fricke extolled the album's "raw grandeur." Fricke hadn't heard anything yet. The White Stripes have recorded two more albums since "Elephant." The experimental "Get Behind Me Satan" fell off of CMJ's year-end list in 2005, but the duo bounced back with the straight rock-and-roll album "Icky Thump," which ended up at number eight in 2007.

On Oct. 10 2007, George Ergatoudis, Head of Music at BBC Radio 1 called this "the biggest transitional period in the history of the music industry." Swirling controversies over formats and royalties, internet radio and digital piracy threaten to engulf the industry. But musicians like Death Cab for Cutie and Radiohead, Cat Power and The White Stripes roll on, writing great songs for tomorrow, regardless of what that day may hold.