Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Top 50 Albums Of 2007...

The benchmark of success in the music industry isn't getting your singles played on the radio, getting videos on TV or even racking up staggering numbers of units sold. It's the album. It's an artist's interpretation of what's going on in their life, put to music. Plain and simple, it's a diary of past experiences, future hopes and dreams; poetically sung over chords and packaged together to represent themselves creatively. Here's my fifty favorites of 2007.

How'd I rate these, you may be wondering? Well, taking into account several factors such as: (obviously) the music; how many times I listened to it (play counts are somewhat important), overall cohesiveness of songs, album artwork and packaging, then finally my interpretation of what's being said (or done) and what it means to me.

Without further ado, let's get into this massive undertaking.

50. Beastie Boys - The Mix Up
This is all new, straight-up instrumental funk of high quality, just like the soundtrack from one of those Blaxploitation films starring Pam Grier or Fred Williamson, circa 1973. If Curtis Mayfield was still alive, he'd be proud of this...

49. Memphis - A Little Place In The Wilderness
Debut album from Torquil Campbell of Stars and his good friend Chris Dumont, this album is rife with ghost songs of past lives and loves lost.

48. Laura Veirs - Saltbreakers
Known for her stark and sometimes sterile approach, this is the cathartic, if not classic, "everyone's got to write one" patented break-up record. Coming back with a much more focused and mature sound here, Miss Veirs takes much more time in her wonderful lyric writing and focuses less on music, leaving it up to her new backing band, The Saltbreakers, to hash out her ideas this time. And the formula clicks beautifully (and at times a bit awkwardly, but that's her plan now, isn't it?)

47. Kanye West - Graduation
I think hop-hop is in a gestation period right now, a pregnant pause before another explosion of real talent finally hits us again. I don't listen to a whole lot of it anymore, basically all I want is east coast, pre-1996 stuff, or underground, more intelligent rhyme-spitters. Kanye somehow can bridge the gap between the two, and as Graduation isn't as cohesive as I'd like it to be, it's still a pretty decent album.

Ween - La Cucaracha
Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo can't be stopped. The duo known as Gene and Dean Ween come back with their 11th studio release. Genre-bending tunes and style-spoofing a-plenty here.

45. Minus the Bear - Interpretaciones Del Oso
Minus The Bear allowed some DJs to rework Menos El Oso, my 2005 Album Of The Year, way back before I was "The Musicologist", and I'd have to say it's a 50-50 compromise. Some of the tracks on here have been so over-reworked they don't even closely resemble the original. But when it's good, it's really good.

44. White Stripes - Icky Thump
Okay, Jack and Meg are getting heavier. Basically, I'll reiterate what I always say about this band: if Led Zep had been born 30 years later, were from Detroit and went all prog-rock on us, and happened to be brother/sister/husband/wife? Icky Thump is a bit more bottom-heavy than previous offerings.

43. St. Vincent - Marry Me
Annie Clark was a former member of Sufjan Stevens' touring band, and judging from her talent she got way too big to be confined as a side-act. I got this album right before I saw her open for The National back in September, and was immediately impressed. Quirky without being weird, she's like Regina Spektor crossed with a happier version of Fiona Apple.

42. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Some Loud Thunder
One day, I'll learn to stop comparing bands to other bands and compare them to themselves. In that tradition, the only knock on this album is that it didn't have the cohesiveness that CYHSY's debut had. The actual songs are pretty decent, but it's not an album per se, it's just a bunch of songs thrown together.

41. Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare
The songs on Favourite Worst Nightmare fit that same vibe as their debut: the downtrodden young Brit, soiled apron, walking home in the rain: here's to you, keep your head up, never let those bastards get you down!

40. M.I.A. - Kala
Arulpragasam's electronically-infused experimental world dance music sets the standard as far as that genre is concerned, she's in a class by herself. Club bangers, soca-dancehall patterns, Pixies references, 1970s disco strings, borrowing from Bollywood jams, and mad flow abound whether it be in English or her native Tamil, it's a trip around the world and back on Kala.

39. Joan As Police Woman - Real Life
Silky smooth vocals over excellent instrumentation equals pop stardom. I often wonder aloud (much to the chagrin of anyone within earshot of me) how an act like Joan As Police Woman isn't ridiculously huge right now.

Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew - Spirit If...
Kevin Drew is Broken Social Scene, and after listening to this album on heavy repeat after its release I'm convinced he doesn't need the rest of BSS; they're merely his backing band. But nice guy that he is, they all share equal billing.
Technically, Canada is a socialist state, and so is Kevin's musical vision.

37. Elvis Perkins - Ash Wednesday
Losing his famous actor/father to AIDS (Anthony Perkins, of Psycho fame) and his mother to the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Elvis had plenty to write about while coming to terms with burying both parents before his 26th birthday. Sad and emotive, tinged with country revelry, this is a very heavy album.

The Sea & Cake - Everybody
Late night dream-pop inflected with jazzy elements, both playful and elegant. Lead singer Sam Prekop's mellow voice takes you home and puts you into bed as sparse, yet funky bass lines carry the tempo under a pleasantly reverbed and mildly delayed guitar. All this while the Fender Rhodes makes minor excursions into another world of sleepy jazz jams that all sit atop excellent and understated drum beats.

35. Jay-Z - American Gangster Soundtrack
There were only two good hip-hop albums this year, and this was the better of the two. I can't understand why everyone puts Lil Wayne on their records nowadays, his flow is like a river in the arctic during January, virtually non-existent. But the Jigga also had the sense of mind to put both Beanie Sigel and Nas on this album. Thanks for coming out of retirement and erasing the bad memory of your last album...

Air- Pocket Symphony
Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin serve up some new fare which can be described as both silky and smooth, light and creamy, with just a hint of trip-hop-adelica.

33. Jose Gonzalez - In Our Nature
The formula for In Our Nature is the same as Veneer, his last album; weird open-cord guitar tunings,
Jose's lovely voice, understated basslines, hand drumming, and the hiss of the two-inch tape are all that Gonzalez ever needed to make an album. No need to ever differ even slightly from the formula he's concocted, I hope it'll be a long time before he stoops down by using electricity.

32. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
Jeff Tweedy and Co. are back, with a new line-up and a slightly modified sound. This offering is a little more raw and stripped-down from A Ghost Is Born; meaning: no 10-plus minute prog-rock excursions like Spiders (Kidsmoke) and Less Than You Think, actually, no song on here is longer than 6 minutes. It has a homier feel to it, hearkening back to early-Wilco, a la A.M. and Being There, when their primary focus was writing concise and polished songs in the alt-country vein.

The Pipettes - We Are The Pipettes
Direct from the UK, these three reformed riot grrrls take on an updated version of 60's girl pop, and it's as refreshing as it's alarming- not only because they lie to guys, because they have a whole lot of fun doing it!

30. Of Montreal- Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
Thinking backwards and borrowing from the past just as much as it thinks ahead and re-invents itself, Hissing Fauna's lo-fi psych-chamber folk-pop dizzily spins you in place while taking you to the far reaches of the cosmos and back again, all in the span of 51 minutes.

29. Elliott Smith - New Moon
Basically a reissue here from Kill Rock Stars Records to mark their 10th anniversary, and what a better way to do that than release an album of Elliott's tunes from the vault. Not a reissue per se, it's just that a lot of these are on the Basement II Demos album, or are demo versions of other songs appearing throughout Smith's impressive catalog. It's exactly what to expect, acoustic melancholia, beautifully melodic and stripped bare both emotively and technologically. Four-track bedroom recordings capture something a booth in a studio never could...

28. Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
Making a coherent concept album, which seems to be Modest Mouse's modus operandi, is a tough task. But they tackle competently the ills and woes of modern living, from war to global warming to checkered pasts- we Americans love our heroes to have checkered pasts.

27. Bright Eyes - Cassadaga
Excellent production values, lushly orchestrated string sections, more "adult" themes here- the growing up album that everyone in music has to make eventually. Maybe all that hanging with Bruce Springsteen and Michael Stipe forced Conor Oberst to grow up a little quicker than he wanted to.

Patrick Cleandenim - Baby Comes Home
Cabaret-inflected jazz/pop/rock from New York City's East Village via Lawrence, Kansas; Patrick Cleandenim made one hell of an album right here. Big band and swingy rhythms bounce out of the speakers and gently assault listener's ears, kind of like what you'd hear in an old campy spy movie or what you'd twirl your dame to at the Cotton Club circa 1933 alongside wanna-be Fred Astaires and Ginger Rogers while Cab Calloway leads the band into another number.

The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse
The Besnard Lakes are just another example of the rampant creativity floating around in the cold air of Montreal, Canada. Imagine atmospheric/dream-pop, like Brian Wilson fronting My Bloody Valentine. Call it baroque-pop, chamber-pop, whatever you want. I call it amazingly good music.

24. Sondre Lerche - Phantom Punch
What Mr. Lerche does do so well (and I'm calling him Mr. Lerche out of respect, a respect well deserved, mind you) is crafting beautiful pop melodies. Not as twee as previous releases, he seems to be hitting his stride here, and it's all thanks to his backing band, The Faces Down. He allows them to let go a little; perhaps a wilder, less refined backing band makes for a really great album...

Band Of Horses - Cease To Begin
SubPop Records consistently finds the best bands, and they never have to look very far, in fact their home backyard of Seattle is overflowing with talent. After forming a few years ago they relocated to South Carolina, which kind of fits their alt-country-indie-rock sound a bit more than the Pacific Northwest, historically known for heavier, grungier acts that like to growl lyrics instead of actual singing. However, lead singer Ben Bridwell is one of my favorites right now, and yes; I'm familiar with who he's often compared to...

22. Bloc Party - A Weekend In The City
Musically, it's much more polished and refined, a less-dance-more-rawk formula. Lyrically, there's still a good amount of venom in Kele Okereke's poisoned pen. My guess is that's him casting off his past towards the end of the album, which is his transformation to the next stage of life- the more "adult" phase realized in the late 20s, the eventual shift away from isolation towards intimacy.

21. Peter Bjorn and John - Writer's Block
Technically an '06 release, it didn't hit stateside until February 6th of last year, so that's why it's here, just in case you're wondering. What else can be said of this album that hasn't already been said by getting Kanye West's attention a la remix and getting a song into a Hewlett-Packard ad? Sweden keeps pumping out amazing songwriters and bands and PB&J are near the head of the class with this fine offering. The only problem is getting these tunes unstuck from your head.

20. Stars - In Our Bedroom After The War
Sharing lead singing duties, Montreal's Stars' Amy Millan and Torq Campbell's self-effacing lyricism provides a comfortable and healthy form of
therapy, whether it's internal strife or relationships that got you down, allow yourself to be healed by their melodic and wonderfully crafted brand of indie pop. It's an exercise in diametrically opposed viewpoints; both eloquent and at times understated, unassuming and over-reaching, it's as complex as it's simplistic.

19. Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog
Sam Beam must've enjoyed playing and recording with Calexico so much that his sound has undergone such a transformation, moving away from guitar-and-vocal constructions that permeated his last few releases and come to
realize himself as a member of a fully-functional band. Here on The Shepherd's Dog, he's built himself a new niche which he can call home, and we're all invited.

18. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Recorded in the icy confines of
a northern Wisconsin log cabin during the unforgiving winter months, this album has both a warmth and a chill to it. Depending upon Justin Vernon's mood at the time, whether it's bitter, reticent, or alarmingly forthright, it's one of my favorite debut albums of 2007.

17. Cass McCombs - Dropping The Writ
Third full-length release from Chicago-based Cass McCombs, and judging from all the places he's lived around this country, his styles are as varied as his former locales. Written and recorded in SoCal, he grew up in NorCal, later moving to Baltimore, then settling in New York (where he lived during the 9-11 attacks), back to SF, then southern California, then finally Chicago. Go where the music takes you, and after a few listens through Dropping The Writ, you'll feel as if you've been to all those places. I actually have been to all those places, but I can throw on a pair of headphones and revisit whenever I want.

16. Do Make Say Think- You, You're A History In Rust
An excellent album- only to be listened to from start to finish, each song in context to the next. And as an album, each song stands alone as nothing; but together, as eight. Do Make Say Think goes way out on a limb by eschewing any association to the "mainstream" by placing a different focus on sound, for example the concept of sound as color.

15. Devendra Banhart - Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
The Naturalismo movement is alive and well, and for me it begins and ends with Devendra. Acoustic folk ramblings that sound like they've been spawned around a late-night campfire, then brought into a recording studio/hippie commune that Banhart calls his home somewhere in the hills of southern California. There's also more of an electric feel on here, with some proggy excursions, Spanish love songs crossbred with late '60s folk-rock, tunes that could've been chart-toppers on 70s AM radio, it's as Devendra as it gets...

14. Beirut - The Flying Club Cup
Travelling through France last year, Beirut's wunderkind Zach Condon pieced together another beautiful album, using as his backdrop the same formula from Gulag Orkestar. Infusing a different part of Europe into his repertoire for this album, the gypsy melodies are still intact, and I imagine a cafe in Nantes full of revellers raising a glass to toast the fall of the Reich circa 1945.

13. Deerhunter - Cryptograms
Deerhunter wants you to take them serious. As in "dead" serious- it's an album wrought with the imagery of death, which makes for a sad trip of an album, going back and forth between light and dark until finally eschewing the grief and moving towards the light.

12. LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver
LCD Soundsystem isn't the beatbox, synthesizers/sequencers and turntables of yesterday, here he's going for a full-band approach, relying more on live instrumentation than previous efforts. It seems as if James Murphy has gentrified his act a bit, but still retaining his edge.

11. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala
I've been calling him The Morrissey Of Scandanavia since we discovered each other a few years ago, because Jens' lyrics speak to me on an entirely different level. He's so human it's scary. He can take the most mundane of situations and put such a sad, romantic or witty spin on it and make almost anyone relate, if you don't relate a little bit, check yourself to see if you actually have a soul in there. If you don't like him, chances are you sold your soul to Milhouse for five bucks.

10. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
This is exactly what good rock music is supposed to sound like. There's horns and tambourines all over the place, and singer/songwriter/producer extraordinaire Britt Daniel hit the nail right on the head here. This band keeps getting better and better with every release, it's only a matter of time before they're a household name.

9. !!! - Myth Takes
Dance-punk's finest outfit come back with one of the most supreme offerings of the year, blistering listeners' eardrums with popping basslines and some of the most heavily dance-able grooves ever laid to tape.

8. Feist - The Reminder
No one else's voice melts me quite like Leslie Feist's. The way it breaks, the way her vocals always sit upon the music perfectly, her timbre, her lyrics... Emotions abound here, happy, sad, longing for love, losing at love, she's picking up exactly where she left off with Let It Die, there's something for everyone, hell, even my mom loves Feist.

7. Explosions In The Sky - All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone
Explosions In The Sky sets out to create lovely music sans lyrics by enveloping you in the imagery of their world of bursting clouds, dying supernovas, crashing waves, gently rising suns, melting lava flows and the lost days of youth; those long summer days when you played and played and the sun didn't set until almost nine o'clock, when we had to finally go in for our nightly baths.
This is music to read to, to write to, to paint to, to draw to, to fall in love to, to watch those sunsets to- all in hopes of capturing what you lost by growing up...

6. Radiohead - In Rainbows
More than four years since Hail To The Thief was released, the most anticipated album of 2007 had to be In Rainbows, and the lads from Oxford seemingly can do no wrong. Dark and brooding, at times heavy, at times sparse and open, it's exactly what I expected and more. And Thom Yorke's as always stunning lyrical imagery and creepy falsetto add a terrifying dimension to the mix. Also, mad props to Radiohead for giving a big middle finger to the music industry by giving this record away for free. I paid $10 for it, and still feel like I ripped them off.

5. The Shins - Wincing The Night Away
Going in a new direction sometimes will get you lost. The Shins' new album sets out in this "new" direction but manages to still embody all the elements that make The Shins, well, The Shins. While many bands try to eschew their old sound by completely overhauling it, Wincing The Night Away presents a fuller, more self-realized sound without abandoning the New Slang slash Pink Bullets sound we've come to know and love.

4. Menomena - Friend & Foe
Portland's Menomena is an all-hands-on-deck three piece that share instrumental duties as well as singing, so there's no real frontman here. Swapping guitar, piano, live drum-kit and bass duties
all back and forth while recording and their live shows, this album's also full of drum machines and looping technology. It's hard to believe there's only three of them, at times it sounds like a carnival of sound. Quiet, loud, acoustic, funky, rawky, it's all here- which makes them hard to categorize. And for me, that's a good thing. Actually, it's a great thing- and this is a great album.

3. Sigur Ros - Hvarf/Heim
Nevermind that I can't speak Icelandic- it's all about the music with Sigur Ros. They always warm me from the inside with ambient and textural sounds cut right from the volcanic landscape of their homeland. It's a pianos by the fireplace vibe here, sharing smiles from another time when people didn't feel the need to louse up a good time with words. Jonsi Birgisson's beautiful falsetto sits atop the music, in and of itself becoming an integral and fully realized instrument, just as the bass, guitar and drums are. The
Heima DVD that complements Hvarf/Heim is as visually stunning as the music.

2. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Lyrically, Win Butler is as emotionally open as the wounds he's trying to heal through his art. It's a cathartic yet healthy soul-bearing journey, and musically, it's exactly what I expected, as in: pure excellence. Stylistically speaking, it's full of what Arcade Fire does so well; churning organs, soul-wrenching strings, and the ballads composed seemingly from an entirely different world.

1. The National - Boxer
No other album I've heard this year got me like this one. From the opening piano riff to the last fade-out, lead singer/songwriter Matt Berninger's lyrics cut right through me, turning over rocks to expose things inside of me that I didn't even realize were there. Some listens through this album made me uncomfortable, while other times I took solace in the fact that someone else felt like me and could put to words all the overwhelming emotions I've felt all these years. Thanks for making a little more sense of my world, thanks for being there for me, Boxer.

There it is, in all of its sickening glory. It took forever by the way, and if anyone out there's interested, I'm expanding the content on this site, so if you're interested in submitting anything music/movie/culture related, hit me up...

Next up: The Ten Most Disappointing Albums of 2007...

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