A little late, am I? Fuck off, I’ve been busy. Naturally, I do not claim to be the be-all end-all of 2007 music. There’s a myriad of supposedly music I entirely missed, among them albums by The National, Spoon, John Vanderslice, PJ Harvey, The Super Furry Animals, and Times New Viking.
“Favorite Albums of…” sounds a wee bit too subjective for my liking, whereas “Best Albums of…” far oversteps the boundaries of my authority; thus, I present a neutral subsitute: “The Top Albums…”. As always, my opinion is correct. Without further ado, I present to you:
THE TOP 21 ALBUMS OF 2007
1. Radiohead – In Rainbows: I admit, I am somewhat ashamed at such an *obvious* pick for Album of the Year.
Radiohead? What am I, Rolling Stone?
Admittedly, there’s very little I can say about In Rainbows that hasn’t already been said. Truthfully, when you get past the brilliantly revolutionary marketing scheme and webcasts and all that, you’ll find the most shockingly warm, even welcoming Radiohead album in years. While Hail to the Thief got points for pure unpredictability and ingenuity, In Rainbows is equally good, yet entirely brilliant. Don’t be fooled by the infectious 5/4 techno assault of “15 Step” or the filthy riff of “Bodysnatchers”; its heart lies in such melodic slow burners as “Reckoner”, as well as “Videotape”, a mournful acceptance of death, the most cathartic Radiohead closer since “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”. “I’m an animal, trapped in your hot car,” exclaims Thom Yorke on “All I Need”, yet he’s never sounded happier.
Here’s a “15 Step” interpretive dance, featuring my brotha, dog, and I:
Best track: “15 Step” or “Videotape”
2. Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam: I gotta hand it to this tribe of Brooklyn freaks. Most would agree the group came into their own with 2004′s Sung Tongs, a record I classified as “Beach Boys meets chanting Native American tribe + acid”. And just when I expected Animal Collective to never top such a masterpiece, they come out with a song like “#1″ and completely floor me. The omnipresent (yet oddly rhythmless) organ meshes with Panda Bear’s moaning to form a strangely haunting backdrop for the song’s melody. The rest of the album is nearly as good: Animal Collective’s melody has never been as rich, their chaos never as inspiring as now.
“The blood in the dark / will attrack the sharks,” cries Avey Tare in “Unsolved Mysteries”, atop the hypnotic tape loops (?) before leaping headfirst into the chorus, “Who are not violent / But we’ve all got hungry bellies.” With Animal Collective, what it comes down to is… I have no idea how they do it (who comes up with this music??), but they do it, and that’s what matters.
Best track: “#1″
3. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver: James Murphy released his self-titled LCD Soundsystem debut in 2005. The album was many things: a double album of biting electronic grooves for people who don’t really like electronica, arguably the finest relic of the shortlived dance-punk scene. Sound of Silver, however, is all that and more. More an album than a collection of songsl; it begins with the brilliantly slow-building “Get Innocuous!”, a dead-ringer for Brian Eno circa-1974 (and one of the finest opening tracks in recent memory), and ends with “New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down”, a cynical, Queen-esque ode to the city we love. The stuff in between is a funky, soulful, honest mess.
Best track: “Get Innocuous!”
4. Menomena – Friend and Foe: Mmmm hmmm. This is what pop music should sound like. The Portland, Oregon group uses a self-made computer program to aid in the songwriting process (called Deeler); the result sounds a bit like mid-90′s Flaming Lips with a whole lotta exuberant keyboard flourishes. Just take a look at the painstaking album cover for a hint of the group’s attention to detail. And then listen to the music – you won’t forget it. For the record, it’s pronounced “Mih-NAH mih-NAH,” not “MEN-o-MEN-uh.”
Best track: “My My”
5. Dr. Dog – We All Belong: Fact: there is nothing original about Dr. Dog’s sophomore record, so don’t bother searching. Rather, the group resembles the finest aspects of Beatles melodies, Beach Boys harmonies, and The Band Americana-vibe in a blend that somehow remains fresh and wholly melodic, but most of all, spontaneous and raw (hell, the group directly references The Beach Boys lyrically with “Worst Trip”). Yet, those who appreciate the rich rewards of pop melody without any pretensions of modern indie rock (Of Montreal, anyone) could do much worse than give it a try and enjoy the rustic charm of Dr. Dog.
Best track: “My Old Ways”
6. Panda Bear – Person Pitch: The magic of Person Pitch is simply impossible to describe, so I’ve given up trying. Basically, we’ll just say it’s been a good year for the freaks of Animal Collective. Because I have no idea how Panda Bear created this album.
Okay, fine. To start, a lot of echo. A Brian Wilson fetish. More echo. In fact, on a shitty stereo system, it’s nothing but echo. With a few drawn out voooccaaalll eefffeeccttss (“Im Not”) fit in for good measure. Bizarre, looped field recordings (“Take Pills”). Tornados samples (“Bros”). Infectious chanting, a thousand billion voices at once (“Comfy In Nautica”). Yes, that’s it, Panda Bear is all about voices! And sound! And beautifully echoed ambient outlines of melody, so vague and beautiful and dense and intensely fucked-with you might miss it (“Search for Delicious”). But please – don’t miss it. Search for delicious. Search for delicious.
Best track: “Search for Delicious”
7. Koop – Koop Islands: Continue searching delicious and you might land at this sophomore offering from the Swedish production duo (and a nicely selected revolving door of jazzy guest vocalists). The convergence of jazz and electronica has never been quite this natural, ya know? “Come To Me” may very well be the cross-over hit of 2007 that never was.
Best track: “Come To Me”
8. Eddie Vedder – Into the Wild: In 1992, Christopher McCandless stumbled into the Alaska wilderness alone, reckless, clutching his favorite Thoreau and Jack London books. Fifteen years later, Sean Penn filmed the movie, based on Jon Krakauer’s book of the same name. About that same kid, who was declined entry to the Phi Beta Kappa club, on the grounds that honors and titles are irrelevant.
Eddie Vedder’s soundtrack adds a haunting complement to the film’s breathtaking landscapes and themes of desparate human longing – both musically and physically. With lyrics like “Have no fear / For when I’m alone / I’ll be better off / Than I was before”, Vedder’s not writing about McCandless; he’s writing from McCandless. Or trying to. The album’s placement on this list should make it clear that it’s vastly superior to the last three, perhaps four Pearl Jam records.
Best track: “Society”
9. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible: Bigger than ever (both musically and literally), the Montreal group avoid the sophomore slump with style, turning their focus outward rather than inward on such politically-charged anthems as “Keep The Car Running”. And isn’t that organ opening on “Intervention” the most beautiful thing ever?
But don’t be fooled, the real magic lies the closing three songs, truly one wonderful climax after the next, “between the click of the light and the start of the dream.”
Best track: “No Cars Go”
10. Deerhoof – Friend Opportunity: About 1:30 AM on January 27, 2007, I emerged from New York City’s Irving Plaza a sweaty mess of dirty hair and ineffective earplugs. Seeing Deerhoof for the second time had been pure physical workout, with a casualty count of two (or three?) bass drums. Indeed, Deerhoof is a real spectacle, that ancient marriage of violent noise and childlike melody. With Friend Opportunity, the trio (formerly a quintet) continues a string of endlessly brilliant albums that began with 2002′s “Reveille”, like Elmo fronting a garage band. Their longest break between albums was worth it: 2005′s The Runners Four mostly stuck to visceral guitar rock, whereas Friend Opportunity expands into funk jams (“Believe E.S.P.”), brassy pop (“+81″), and orchestral interludes (“Whither The Invisible Birds”). I dig.
Best track: “Believe E.S.P.”
11. Ween – La Cucaracha: To most people, brown is merely an unpleasant color; to Ween fans, it’s a way of life. La Cucaracha undoubtedly asserts itself as the brownest Ween record since… Chocolate and Cheese? La Cucaracha treads a thin line between gay techno (“Friends”) and Blink 182 parody (“Shamemaker”); somewhere in between, you’ll find a smooth jazz ditty featuring no less than David Sanborn (“Your Party”), and an opener that seemingly belongs on a Mexican gameshow theme (“Fiesta”). Then there’s “Object”, a stalker-turned-murderer anthem of infinitely creepy proportions. During their two-night stint at NYC’s new Terminal 5, Ween successfully interpreted the album live, and in the process, only repeated one song both nights (“Fiesta”). Believe in Boognish.
Of, and those fans disturbed at the disarmingly somber vibe of 2003′s Quebec? Just check out “With My Own Bare Hands”. Sample lyric before devolving into somehow vulgar gibberish: “She’s gonna be my cock professor / Studying my dick! / She’s gonna get a Master’s Degree / In fucking me! / Du nuh nuh nuh nuh!” Yeah! Party on, Garth!
Best track: “Friends”
12. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky: Poor Wilco. Cast your memory back to 2004 and you may recall A Ghost Is Born – an album borne out of Jeff Tweedy’s painkillers addiction, disturbingly quiet, home to 12-minute migraine aural representation. Naturally, the album was bashed for its inaccessible, opaque nature. Fast forward to 2007, and Jeff Tweedy is sounding more clear-headed, more goddamn healthy than he’s sounded in years. Enter Sky Blue Sky, an album as NORMAL and ACCESSIBLE and CAPS LOCK as A Ghost Is Born was the opposite. “Maybe the sun will shine today / Maybe the clouds will go away.”
And naturally, the general music-listening public ignores the wonderful songwriting contained within and bashes it for being bland dad-rock of The Eagles-inspired variety. Goddamn, you really can’t win, can you?
Best track: “Impossible Germany”
13. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha: The short version: Armchair Apocrypha isn’t quite as magical as The Mysterious Production of Eggs… but that Andrew Bird hunk sure knows how to whistle!
The long version: He also knows how to write a melody gorgeous enough to knock out a fully grown dog, and lyrical imagery dense enough to add insult to injury. He does both on “Heretics”, (Held our breath for too long till we’re half sick about it / Tell us what we did wrong and you can blame us for it / Turn a clamp on our thumbs, we’ll sew a doll about it”), with a gorgeous vocal melody and harmonies adding to the layers. Fast forward to “Armchair”: “I dreamed I was a cartographer of the tangles in your hair”. Consider me aroused.
Best track: “Heretics”
14. Apples in Stereo – New Magnetic Wonder: Dear Apples in Stereo,
Just because you tour with a member of Olivia Tremor Control (holy shit, Bill Doss!) doesn’t mean you are them. Ditch the pointlessly pretentious interludes (“Mellotron 2″, “Non-Pythagorean Composition 1″), and concentrate on the orgasmic 3-minute pop melodies; “Energy”, “Skyway”, “Same Old Drag”, and countless could-be singles prove this as your talent.
I can actually pinpoint the exact second I became an Apples in Stereo fan. June, Central Park, they were opening for Television. The pouring rain was refreshing, damn near redemptive. So the group launched into “Sun Is Out”, bright harmonies and all; thing is, it sounded 100% sincere, devoid of irony.
Best track: “Energy”
15. Battles – Mirrored: For the record, “Atlas” is my personal pick for best song of 2007. From the tribal drums to the semi-coherent alien voices, the song simply screams epic! immense! energy! important! Don’t let the indie audience fool you, Mirrored is essentially a futuristic loveletter to prog-rock, highlighted by complex drum patterns, robot voices, intertwining guitar grooves, and the like. The fact that these guys can even approximate this record live is stunning to me.
Best tracks: “Atlas”
16. Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero: Bravo to Trent, by the way. Two years in between albums? Is this a record?
Admittedly, I haven’t been a die-hard Nine Inch Nails fan since the angst-filled days of 8th grade, so I haven’t analyzed Year Zero as much as some. Trent claims it’s a dystopian, paranoid, 1984-inspired concept album awaiting a sequel; I hear it as a delicate balance between densely-detailed electro soundscapes and delicious techno-noise freak out, with a hint of exciting viral marketing (until In Rainbows showed up and stole the day, that is). And this is all fine with me, since that’s all I was looking for in a new Nine Inch Nails record anyway.
Best track: “Zero-Sum”
17. Lupe Fiasco – Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool: Honestly, Kanye can suck it, because Lupe Fiasco really is the finest solo hip hop artist around. He raps about Japanese manga comics atop the bizarre voice loop of “The Gold Watch”; he flirts his newly-acquired celebrity status with just the right sarcasm on “Superstar”; he laments the blinding violence of modern culture on “Little Weapon”. Seemingly hundreds of producers, guest stars, references, sounds, attitudes converge on The Cool. If it’s too long, too much, sensory overload, it’s a forgiveable flaw: Lupe Fiasco’s social conscious lyrics and colorful pop production have provided us with 2007′s most memorable hip hop album.
Best track: “Fighters”
18. Gruff Rhys – Candylion: Who needs the Super Furry Animals? Irritating 15-minute closing track be damned, Candylion is a mellowed-out declaration of independence, drenched in the same sunshine psychedelia of just about every Super Furry Animals record. Basically, groovy acoustic songs about “painting people blue (hoo hoo, hoo hoo, hoo hoo)” and “Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru!”. Welcome to Candylion.
Best track: “Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru”
19. Thao – We Brave Bee Stings and All: Can Kill Rock Stars do no wrong? Thao is the newest artist, a folky Virginian beat-boxing songwriter of Vietnamese origin. Her backing band, The Get Down Stay Down, adds a rich musical layer to her hummable choruses and oddly impenetrable lyrics.
Best track: “Geography”
20. They Shoot Horses Don’t They? – Pick Up Sticks: I confess, after my initial excitement died down, Pick Up Sticks doesn’t quite live up to the jittery, seasick brass madness of Boo Hoo Hoo Boo. Yet, search in between the anthemic hysteria-on-tape of “A Place Called La” and the horribly creepy falsetto “What Is That?” (“Wouldn’t it be so nice / If we got some sunshine?”) is a pretty nifty album, perhaps even more frightening than the debut, equal parts Brian Eno, Mr. Bungle, and Captain Beefheart.
Best track: “What Is That?”
21. Neil Young – Live at Massey Hall 1971: You know the worst thing about Live at Massey Hall 1971? Neil can’t seem to shut the fuck up in between songs. And it’s not like he’s saying anything meaningful, either: no Wayne Coyne-esque song-inspiring scenarios of spiders and ambulances and psychiatric-fetus-explorations. No, no, NEIL WASTES PRECIOUS TAPE TIME COMPLAINING THAT THE PHOTOGRAPHER’S CAMERA CLICKS ARE OUT OF TIME WITH THE MUSIC. YES, REALLY.
Someone I know (*cough* my father *cough*) actually spent hours creating a new edit of the album sans Neil rambling. Just ask if you want a copy.
Anyway, if “Massey Hall” don’t rock as much as the first entry in Neil’s newly began archives project, “Live at the Fillmore East”, I suppose that’s alright, since this ain’t Crazy Horse and, like most acoustic Neil Young, it’s damn beautiful. Many have described it as the missisng link between After the Gold Rush and Harvest. The setlist is mostly standard, yet enriched by such rarities as “Ohio” (Kent State shooting = depressing), “Bad Fog of Loneliness” (loneliness = depressing), not to mention killer acoustic takes on “Down by the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand”. Unsurprisingly, it’s all lovely.
Best track: “See The Sky About to Rain”
Santa Dads – Anima Mundi
Benny Sings – Benny… At Home
(Basically, I just got these albums this week and dig `em a lot… but I have not listened enough to scope out their proper position on this list. Nor did I want to delay its publication any longer.)
On a goofy final note, the best non-2007 albums I discovered in 2007 were:
Jellyfish – Spilt Milk
The Books – Food for Thought
Tindersticks – Tindersticks II
Frank Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim – Sinatra/Jobim