Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Best Albums of 2007

I know I know…I haven’t kept up with this like I thought I would. Also, my year end list is coming over three weeks after the next year has started. For these reasons, I apologize. But for now, let’s get to the top albums of the year.
Due to the amazingness of the music this year, I ended up making a top 20 list. Even then I was sad at how many I had to leave off. All the same, here we are. It’s a long list, so hold on tight…

20. Marissa Nadler Songs III: Bird on the Water
I went back and forth on this one. Should it be in the top 20? Should it be just outside? In the end, though, Marissa won me over. This album is beautiful…and more than a little spooky. This is an amazing album to listen to in the winter. Or when you’re reading. Or mourning. It’s really very versatile.

Favorite Song: “Feathers”

19. The New Pornographers Challengers
Catchy, poppy stuff. I’m always a sucker for a good pop album (more evidence of that to come). There’s nothing really too special about what they do. They are not a groundbreaking band by any stretch of the imagination. They just make great pop music. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

Favorite Song: “All the Old Showstoppers”

18. SpoonGa Ga Ga Ga Ga
I would like to say that I’ve never been a big Spoon fan. Sure, I kind of liked a couple songs, but I’ve never loved them. And, by glancing at this title, I didn’t think that would change. Well…it did. They tried a lot of new(ish) stuff on this album, and it really paid off. It is a rock album, through and through. From the production to the instrumentation to the songwriting. However, they were not afraid to try some new stuff, like the haunting, piano-driven “The Ghost of You Lingers”. Let’s hope to hear more albums like this from Spoon in the future.

Favorite Song: “The Underdog”

17. The Shins Wincing the Night Away
I often forget about albums released so early in the year. Looking back over the year’s albums, I could’ve sworn that this was released in 2006. After being lukewarm on their first couple of albums, I was glad to see them put it all together for this album. I’m still not a huge fan of the lead singer’s voice, but I can look past it because this album is just so good.

Favorite Song: “Turn On Me”

16. FeistThe Reminder
Yeah yeah…the iPod girl. She’s also a former member of the Canadian super-collective, Broken Social Scene. She’s also a fantastic songwriter. She also has a voice that can do pretty much any style you want to hear. This album is simultaneously fun and beautiful. How’d she pull that off?

Favorite Song: “I Feel it All”

15. Keren AnnKeren Ann
I enjoyed her first two albums a great deal, but I was in no way prepared for the extreme beauty of this album. Her voice has that effortlessly beautiful quality to it. I could listen to her sing about nothing in particular for days on end.

Favorite Song: “Between the Flatlands and the Caspian Sea”

14. Bloc PartyA Weekend in the City
A rock album with so many different twists and turns that I don’t even know where to start. The intro to “The Prayer” is a combination of stomping, clapping and humming that erupts into some sort of new wave/Sonic Youth-ish breakdown. “Uniform” starts out slow and plodding (the opening line is “There was a sense of disappointment as we left the morgue”), snakes its way through some great harmonies, before finally exploding into thundering drums, raging guitars, and the words of a lead singer that you can almost see freaking out in the studio as he’s singing. All in all, one of the most creative rock albums in recent memory.

Favorite Song: “Uniform”

13. Elvis PerkinsAsh Wednesday
After listening to the first minute of this album, I assumed it would be another folkish-pop coffee-shop singer-songwriter. I was sorely (and thankfully) mistaken. The first song (“While You Were Sleeping”) eventually becomes a full-on music extravaganza, with all sorts of instruments blaring by the end of the song. While he does fall into the standard folk-pop set at times, it’s not really a big deal. Partly because the rest of the album is so creative, beautiful and entertaining that those moments can be forgiven, but mostly because even those songs have an amazing amount of feeling poured into them.

Favorite Song: “While You Were Sleeping”

12. Josh RitterThe Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
Over the span of just a couple of albums, Josh Ritter has gone from “pretty good singer-songwriter” to “one of the most creative forces in music.” How did that happen?! The signs were all there, but most people just weren’t looking for them. With this album, Mr. Ritter leaves little doubt that he will be making great music for years to come. It couldn’t have happened to a better guy.

Favorite Song: “The Temptation of Adam”

11. Pharoahe MonchDesire
There are so many elements that make this a great album. Musically, Pharoahe nods towards rock, blues, soul, gospel, funk, and more. All of this while still paying homage to the old school hip-hop that he so obviously loves. What really drives this album forward, though, is Pharoahe’s style. There’s an anger and urgency in his voice that reminds me of Chuck D in his prime (which is most evident in his cover of Public Enemy’s “Welcome to the Terrordome”). It’s hard to pay a higher compliment than that.

Favorite Song: “Free”

10. MinipopA New Hope
I haven’t heard a noiseish-pop album like this since Morella’s Forest’s The Tiny Lights of Heaven…or, at the very least, since The Lassie Foundation’s El Dorado LP. Layers upon layers of guitars and keyboards create a perfect backdrop for Tricia Kanne’s beautiful vocals. This album was widely overlooked this year, which is extremely unfortunate. If you haven’t heard this album yet, you really need to do so in the not-too-distant future.

Favorite Song: “Generator”

9. Bishop AllenThe Broken String
Pop music that is both catchy and quirky. Again, there’s nothing necessarily groundbreaking on this album…it’s just a great album full of fantastic pop songs. You can find Bishop Allen nestled somewhere between the older pop generation (like The Kinks) and the newer pop generation (like The Shins).

Favorite Song: “Rain”

8. The Good, The Bad & The QueenThe Good, The Bad & The Queen
This was an early number one pick for me this year. Oh how the mighty have fallen. It ends the year at number eight, which is still pretty darn good. Two things make this album a great listen: 1.) the long absent bass lines of Paul Simonon (formerly of The Clash) making their triumphant return, and 2.) the production of Danger Mouse. And the percussion of Tony Allen (formerly of Africa 70). And the guitar playing of Simon Tong (from The Verve). Oh yeah…that Damon Albarn guy isn’t so bad, either.

Favorite Song: “History Song”

7. William FitzsimmonsGoodnight
Another widely (and criminally) overlooked album. It’s a shame, as this is a beautiful and heartbreaking story of a family that is falling part, as seen through the eyes of all of its members. It is set to music that grabs influences from folk, pop, and even a little electronica. This album is a lyrical and musical masterpiece.

Favorite Song: “Everything Has Changed”

6. Lupe FiascoLupe Fiasco’s The Cool
Lame album title aside, this is the hip-hop album of 2007. It might belong higher up than #6 overall, but it came out late in the year and I haven’t listened to it as much as some of the other albums on this list. As little as three weeks ago, this album was sitting at #10. Just goes to show how good this is. There’s a little bit of everything on here: pop (“Superstar”), faux-disco (“Hi-Definition”), guitar funk (“Gold Watch”), and, of course, hip-hop. He also has the smoothest flow I have heard in quite some time. It’s fun. It’s creative. It’s Lupe. If you care about hip-hop at all, you will love this album.

Favorite Song: “Streets on Fire”

5. Iron & WineThe Shepherd’s Dog
Ol’ Sam Beam finally got sick of people saying that his songs were boring and never went anywhere. He added a ton of percussion, layers of instruments, and even threw some effects on his voice. The result is an album that brims with texture and is infinitely listenable. He hinted at a transformation in this direction with Woman King and In the Reins (his collaboration with Calexico), but I don’t think anyone saw something this fantastic in his immediate future.

Favorite Song: “Flightless Bird, American Mouth”

4. Andrew BirdArmchair Apocrypha
I didn’t like Andrew Bird’s previous albums, and only listened to this one to say that I gave him a fair shot. But, as it turns out, I liked this album. A lot. Aside from his obviously huge music IQ (and equally huge vocabulary), he has an amazing voice, and he really shows it off on this album. There are moments when he sounds like a reincarnated Jeff Buckley…and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Favorite Song: “Armchairs”

3. The NationalBoxer
Dark and thundering and gorgeous…this album is all of those things. This is one of those albums that shows you something new with each and every listen. For that reason, it only gets better with every listen.

Favorite Song: “Slow Show”

2. Arcade FireNeon Bible
Up until about 30 seconds ago, this was my #1 album. I can’t tell you what changed, but something did. So here it sits at #2…but not by much. This album is mind-blowingly good. Funeral is very good…I will not debate that. But, in my mind, this album blows that album out of the water. The absolute hugeness of the organ on “Intervention”; the perfect explosions of noise at the end of “Ocean of Noise” and “My Body is a Cage”; the upbeat craziness of “(Antichrist Television Blues)”; I love it all. There is not a flaw on this album.

Favorite Song: “Ocean of Noise”

1. RadioheadIn Rainbows
I know I’m predictable. But I can’t help it. This album was amazing to begin with, and then, when the second disc came out, it pushed it right to the top. Here’s the real question: is this album #1 because Radiohead is my favorite band, or is Radiohead my favorite band because they continue to put out albums that are so good I have no choice but to rank them #1? I’m almost positive it’s the latter.

Favorite Song: “All I Need”
Have a problem with my list? Have one that you think is better? Leave it in the comments.


Matthew said...

I thought you hated Bloc Party. You made fun of me for liking the first one. And Marisa Nadler also made my list, but she was number 16. So sad for her.

Dusty said...

I don't know that I ever said that I "hated" Bloc Party. I found their first album to be severely boring and intensely overhyped, though. I do remember making fun of you for liking it. I don't apologize for it.
They have come a long way since that album. "A Weekend in the City" is light years better than "Silent Alarm".

CatfishMaw said...

Do you ever feel as though you have too much music to listen to? Perhaps with something of a utilitarian desperation for self-betterment, I have obtained more albums than any human could ever hope to listen to before I'll have to get all of the next few releases.

Part of the problem is how much I love music. I enjoy listening to good songs and albums so much that I feel I'm wasting my time by enjoying old favourites, and disheartened when it takes me some time to get to know an album.

As I've digressed into rambling, I suppose my real question is this: do you feel the same anxiety as I do, or have you managed to catch up with your music enough for it not to matter?

Dusty said...

I have not now, nor will I ever catch up with music. It's just the way things are, I suppose.
I don't know that I ever feel a sense of anxiety about it, but I sometimes get sad that I forget about my old favorites. For instance, I listened to Sonic Youth's "Goo" for the first time in 3 years last week. It is still a fantastic album, but I often forget about it in the face of all this new stuff.
Some years are better than others, though. This past year, for instance, was an absolutely tremendous year for music. Some really amazing stuff was released. I made a top-twenty list and felt bad for leaving so many off! I'm bracing myself for a down year this year.
So, to answer your question, I often get overwhelmed, but seldom do I suffer anxiety; I save that for school.

I also have a system worked out. I will listen to an album three (sometimes five) times (unless I can't stand it on the first listen). If I like it, it enters my rotation. If I don't really pick up on it after three listens, I normally throw it to the side. Sometimes I'll revisit it, and sometimes I won't.
It helps to have a system in place...

CatfishMaw said...

I suppose it's typical of my neuroses that your comment made me worried, because I haven't listened to Sonic Youth at all, and a number of my friends who share my love of The Smiths, Radiohead (and Interpol, Joy Division, My Bloody Valentine, etc) highly recommend them.

I'll bear your system in mind. It seems to be bearing fruit already - I got "Challengers" by The New Pornographers just yesterday, and I can already identify most of the songs on it. Needless to say it's a great album (though, I must say, I prefer Myriad Harbour to All the Old Showstoppers, but maybe that's just my appreciation of Destroyer bubbling up).

Dusty said...

Hope the system works out for you!
I'll be the first to say that, while I love Sonic Youth, they're definitely not for everyone. It is also pretty crucial that you start with the right album.
I may do more with this later, but here's a list of albums of to check out, in order of when you should listen to them:

1. Goo
2. Daydream Nation
3. Washing Machine
4. Dirty
5. A Thousand Leaves
6. Rather Ripped
7. Sister
8. Bad Moon Rising

Start with "Goo", and work your way down.
Now, don't misunderstand me: I'm not saying that "Goo" is better than "Daydream Nation". I'm just saying that, as a whole, it is more accessible. Also, "Goo" is the album that got me into Sonic Youth, so I have a soft spot in my heart for it.
Let me know if you get into them, and what you think.