Monday, December 31, 2007

My Favorite Albums of 2007

[Start checking out the Favorite Songs Lists here with Part 1]

Let's get right to it, shall we...This was extremely difficult to compile. I must have listened to at least 50 good-to-great albums in 2007 that were considered for this list...

21. White Rabbits, Fort Nightly

These guys make experimental indie pop that's also totally accessible. I'm thinking this might even be easy to dance to if I had any natural ability in that area. On first hearing this album, I was reminded of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but this is better than that band's 2005 debut (and far better than their lame 2007 entry, Some Loud Thunder). Long-time readers will also recall my bias towards rock with piano, which helps explain my immediate fondness for The Rabbits.

20. Calla, Strength in Numbers

This is a heavy, brooding guitar rock that's remarkably consistent, both in tone and quality. I love the fuzzed-out, distorted, almost tortured guitar noise on "Simone" in particular, which sounds like a Garbage song performed by a less self-conscious, male lead singer.

19. Windmill, Puddle City Racing Lights

I can't tell if I like this record in spite of its cheesiness or because it's so unapologetically cheesy. They're operatic to such an extent on every track, Windmill somehow moves beyond cheese, like U2 did on Joshua Tree (and Achtung Baby, and then never ever again.) I mean, take the song "Fit." It's ridiculously sweet and also ridiculously silly, from the swelling horns at the opening to the "Guitar for Dummies" riff over the chorus. It's hard to imagine Windmill even performing it with a straight face. It sounds like something from a musical. And not a rock musical. Like one of those Tim Rice jobs.

18. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible

Probably my most anticipated album of 2007 (I didn't know Radiohead had anything coming out), so I guess it's surprising this comes in so far down the list. Some songs are great - "Intervention," "Keep the Car Running," "Windowstill" - but there's also a sameness to a lot of the songs that got to me after a while. It certainly didn't hold up to repeat listens like the band's phenomenal "Funeral" from a few years back. And I'm sorry..."No Cars Go" is just a bad song, and the band has now put it on two separate albums.

17. Ween, La Cucaracha

These guys don't get 1/8 of the respect they deserve, so I'm always eager to shower them with praise...but even a superfan like myself must concede "La Cucaracha" was not their best-ever effort. Opener "Fiesta" is just boring, the falsetto on "Spirit Walker" grates after a listen or two and the suitably brown "Blue Balloon" goes on about two minutes too long. This album, in fact, makes the list because of three songs: "Your Party," which made my Favorite Songs of the Year list, "Object" and one of the most hilarious filthy tracks in the band's entire discography, "My Own Bare Hands."

16. Aesop Rock, None Shall Pass

There's so much going on in this album, lyrically and sonically. Even if it weren't so entertaining and listenable, you'd have to admire the sheer amount of effort that went into None Shall Pass. Aesop's rhymes are the polar opposite of the party anthems and club music that dominates the radio - intricate, detailed, absurdist, reference-heavy narratives and rants alike, they could probably be transcribed and published as a short story collection.

15. The New Pornographers, Challengers

First off, the Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer) songs on this album are among his best contributions to any New Pornographers album to date. "Myriad Harbour" in particular. The remainder of Challengers feels a bit less ambitious than Twin Cinemas, my favorite of their LP's, but does include some great indie pop songs. "Failsafe," "All the Old Showstoppers" and "Mutiny, I Promise You" are the highlights.

14. Busdriver, RoadKill Overcoat

Most of the albums on this list won over a lot of fans this year besides me. Many of them made Pitchfork's Best of the Year List, and a slew of other Top 10's from around the Web. But RoadKill Overcoat came out really early this year, and I'm not sure I've heard anyone praise it other than myself. (Granted, I haven't been paying close attention). Anyway, I know Busdriver raps very fast with a very weaselly, high-pitched voice, and that half of the songs on here find him leaving his comfort zone and singing, but I still can't imagine why this isn't more popular, at least with music bloggers.

13. Blitzen Trapper, Wild Mountain Nation

Blitzen Trapper pull off a wide variety of sounds and styles on Wild Mountain Nation and never once sound less than totally confident. You'd swear the title track was written by Jerry Garcia, then it segues neatly into the contemporary indie pop of "Futures & Folly," then suddenly you find you're listening to lo-fi garage rock (interrupted by a harmonica solo) and on and on and on. All Music Guide refers to the style as "schizophrenic," but that implies that it's somehow out-of-control, when nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the band sounds incredibly accomplished and tight here, particularly Erik Menteer on guitar.

12. Dinosaur Jr., Beyond

I was a bit young for Dinosaur Jr. the first time around (You're Living All Over Me dropped when I was 8 years old), and actually only discovered the band after developing something of an obsession with bassist Lou Barlow's follow-up project, Sebadoh. So this Dinosaur Jr. "reunion" is actually my first chance to be a real fan - seeing them play together at the Wiltern was definitely the best time I had at a rock show in '07. And it's all particularly gratifying because the new songs are so good, reminiscent of the music they've always made but not outdated or predictable. The Dinosaur Jr. Reunion kicks The Pixies Reunion's ass.

11. Feist, The Reminder

The Reminder sounds like a lost gem from another era. It's hard to believe the same airwaves crowded with shrill, guylinered emo bands and fucking Fergie nightmares actually broadcast these simple, perfect little Feist melodies. I liked Let It Die largely because of Karen Feist's beautiful vocals, but The Reminder gets pretty much everything right.

10. Okkervil River, The Stage Names

Not much to say about Okkervil River I haven't said before. These guys continue to impress with their expert musicianship, Will Sheff's phenomenal singing and deft lyricism and their outsize ambition. This may not be quite as memorable as the haunting Black Sheep Boy, but it's fantastic nevertheless.

9. Battles, Mirrored

I really should have put "Tonto" from this record on my Favorite Songs list. Not sure what I was thinking on that one. Anyway, it's an understandable mistake, because I never once put on an individual Battles song - I always listened to the entire album straight through. It's so easy to just get into the groove of these songs and let my mind drift, I had to remind myself after giving Mirrored about 10 listens to actually pay attention to what I was hearing. The way these guys just develop little melodies and then let them play out and mutate over the course of 7, 8 minutes is truly awe-inspiring at times.

8. The Ponys, Turn the Lights Out

Hands down, the guitar-rock album of the year. "Everyday Weapon," "Small Talk," "Poser Psychotic"...those are my favorites, but Jered Gummere and Brian Case just shred their way through 12 straight tracks. By the time they finish with the epic 6 minute plus finale, "Pickpocket Song," I typically need a nap.

7. The Fiery Furnaces, Widow City

A fine return to form for The Furnaces after several years in a kind of experimental daze, lost in the Friedberger Siblings esoteric and frequently unlistenable artistic impulses, like King Lear if he'd taken become addicted to ether during his travels. Only two songs, "Clear Signal from Cairo" and "Navy Nurse," drift around between several melodies and tempos like Blueberry Boat or Rehearsing My Choir. But rather than allowing the more clipped style to limit their palette of styles and sounds, the Furnaces just zip around more quickly. It makes for an exhilarating, always intriguing hour of music.

6. Bat for Lashes, Fur and Gold

This is late-night music, to be listened to on headphones with the lights out. I'm not sure how Natasha Khan put together such a delicate, quiet collection of songs that's this riveting. Also, what the hell is up with "The Wizard"? " Trembling midnight lands/I travel with the wizard/
Drink his blood and he's our leader"? It scares the hell out of me, and yet I can't stop listening to it.

5. The National, Boxer

I'm not sure what these guys do that other bands don't do, but I can listen to these songs A TON and not get tired of them. "Mistaken for Strangers," "Ava," "Guest Room," "Apartment Story"...I'm not even close to getting tired of these songs. Also, as they did on Alligator, The National have managed to put together a collection of songs that feel like they're about a common theme...but damned if I know what that theme is. And what it has to do with boxers. Also, I don't know how to talk about Matt Berninger's singing without making it sound like I have a mancrush on him. So let's just leave it at that.

4. M.I.A., Kala

At work, my friend Travis and I were both listening to this album obsessively all year, and it felt almost wrong somehow. Like this intensely immediate, exciting music - full of violent anger but also this powerful optimism and humanity - being listened to by a couple of guys sitting near-motionless at computers all day. But it's not really all that strange, because in addition to a good soundtrack for a convenience store robbery and/or block party, Kala is also the most compelling album of 2007, rewarding careful listening and close attention. A fucking masterpiece.

3. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Maybe Spoon's best album ever, there I said it. This is seriously up there with Girls Can Tell and Series of Sneaks, people. Every single song is good, and quite a number of them are exceptionally good. In fact, the four songs that close it out - "The Underdog," "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case," "Finer Feelings" and "Black Like Me" - are my favorite part of any album of the year. How's that for obsessive listing!

2. Radiohead, In Rainbows

Radiohead's best album since Kid A. I'm sure you're all sick of hearing me talk about Yorke, Greenwood & Co. at this point, so here's the Safety Dance.

1. Panda Bear, Person Pitch

Yes, I have the same #1 album of the year as Pitchfork. I am a poseur. But seriously...listen to this 6 or 7 times, and it just automatically becomes your favorite album of the year. It's that good. Person Pitch is like a puzzle box - at first it's confusing and you don't know what the hell's going on, and then you slowly start to investigate and figure things out and then, suddenly, everything falls perfectly into place. "Oh, wrapped up tightly inside all these sound effects and stray noises are warm little pop songs!" Gradually discovering Panda Bear's hidden melodies was one of the highlights of 2007 for me.

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