Top 20 Albums of 2007
It takes me awhile to catch up with a year's output of movies, and I'll never be able to grasp a year's worth of books. Music is really the only art form that I can make sense of by the end of the year; that's why I'm posting my top 20 albums of the year, and no other lists.
Flea mocked my posting this list by calling it self-aggrandizing -- perhaps it is, but then so is maintaining a public blog. Compiling my top albums each year is a way for me to get a sense of how my musical taste changes with time, and of how the splintering music world is evolving. And maybe I'll encourage one of you to listen to something they wouldn't have otherwise, and vice versa. My list in 2005 led me to listen to albums recommended in the comments section that I wouldn't have found otherwise.
One more thing: I didn't post a list in 2006 because I was woefully behind in music discovery due to my employment at Nevada's Question 7 campaign. If you're curious, my top 5 from 2006 is here. Now, onto 2007:
20. The Arcade Fire -- Neon Bible
The disappointment of the year (next to maybe the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah followup), yet it still barely qualifies for my top 20 by virtue of several killer tracks. There's no room for me in this Bruce Springsteen revival, but excise the Boss and you have a pretty good album.
Favorite tracks: The Well and the Lighthouse, No Cars Go
19. Iron & Wine -- The Shepherd's Dog
It was initially offputting for me to hear Sam Beam add tropical and African rhythms to his compositions while maintaining his soft and measured vocals, but I eventually came around. Perhaps it was the realization that this album resembles 1980's Paul Simon only superficially.
Favorite tracks: House by the Sea, Resurrection Fern
18. The Field -- From Here We Go Sublime
Another grower. I don't usually give uhn-tse-uhn-tse electronic albums repeat listens, but the glitchy repetition and floating vocals kept me interested. It's Fennesz with a backbeat.
Favorite tracks: The Little Heart Beats So Fast, Silent
17. Caribou -- Andorra
How does one assign Caribou to a genre? He started off with jazzy electronica, moved to shoegaze and psychedelia, and played around with motorik. allmusic.com uses the term "Dream Pop" -- sure. I'll just say that it's melodic, percussive, and infectious. And "Irene" is one of two songs from 2007 that make me feel drunk just listening to it.
Favorite tracks: After Hours, Irene
16. Spoon -- Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Even Stranger than Fiction -- the mediocre Will Farrell film -- couldn't ruin Spoon. They can still make an album where every single darn song is catchy.
Favorite tracks: Rhthm & Soul, The Underdog
15. Eluvium -- Copia
Nearly every track on this ambient & piano album sounds like the score behind the cathartic final scene of an emotionally wrenching movie. I guess that's why the Brian Eno comparisons keep on flying around.
Favorite tracks: Indoor Swimming At The Space Station, Prelude For Time Feelers
14. Beirut -- Flying Cup Club
Forget Eastern Europe, Beirut's Zach Condon makes French music now. Maybe he'll be working Bavarian Folk next -- I don't really care. Just give me more of that trumpet love.
Favorite tracks: Guyamas Sonora, In The Mausoleum
13. Okkervil River -- The Stage Names
I kept on playing this album in the background, thinking, "Hey, that's pretty good," and then forgetting about it. Finally, my mind was able to meld the phrase "Okkervil River" with the music and I realized, "Hey, that's really good." I still don't know what their earlier work sounds like, even though I've heard it played by friends -- my brain has always had a hard time with straightforward indie rock.
Favorite tracks: Unless It's Kicks, Title Track
12. The New Pornographers -- Challengers
After 2005's Twin Cinema was phoned in, I had nearly given up on The New Pornographers. But Challengers brings back everything I learned to love from this pseudo-supergroup. Man, do I love that Neko Case/A.C. Newman vocal teamwork -- and the Dan Bejar tracks are good again, too.
Favorite tracks: Challengers, All the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth
11. Radiohead -- In Rainbows
This is the album that everyone was expecting from Radiohead after they released OK Computer -- thankfully, they veered into Kid A territory instead. But even if they had come up with In Rainbows back then, Radiohead would be considered today only slightly less great. Which is to say this is a good album, even if it doesn't show much growth. Still, it's new Radiohead, and as the kids say in that "15 Step" sample: "Yay!"
Favorite tracks: Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, Jigsaw Falling Into Place
10. Saul Williams -- The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust!
When I heard NIN's Year Zero earlier this year, I thought it was a good listen but felt that Reznor's instrumentation and drum programming didn't vary enough throughout the longish album. But take that same production and add Saul Williams's voice and contributions, and you get the much better Niggy Tardust, which just barely makes my top ten. I love it for its raw, creative energy.
Favorite tracks: Tr(n)igger, No One Ever Does
9. Justice -- †
Who cares if Justice is two guys from France who make music that sounds exactly like Daft Punk at their prime but aren't Daft Punk? Michel Gondry should make a music video for one of their songs and make us all more confused.
Favorite tracks: Let There Be Light, Phantom Pt. 2
8. Elliott Smith -- New Moon
A posthumous double album is the sort of thing where I would expect to find one or two good tracks and a bunch of filler. (cf. Jeff Buckley's Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk.) But these tracks, recorded during Smith's fertile mid-90's period, could have been released as an album between Either/Or and XO and it would've been regarded as a classic. These are outtakes and extras? Damn, that man could write songs.
Favorite tracks: Angel in the Snow, Looking Over My Shoulder, Riot Coming, Big Decision
7. Animal Collective -- Strawberry Jam
Part of the love/hate element of Animal Collective has always been their banshee-like vocals, but until Strawberry Jam, they've usually been in the middle in the mix. Now that the vocals are consistently featured, I can say that there's no hate: I love it when they scream at me. Noisy, clashing, and tribal as usual, but Strawberry Jam is the first Animal Collective album where I've been able to locate the emotional core.
Favorite tracks: For Reverend Green, Fireworks, Winter Wonder Land
6. Amon Tobin -- Foley Room
The title references the place where movie sound effects are made, a nod to the field recording samples that make up much of this album. But it's a testament to the skill of Tobin that I don't think of those samples when listening to Foley Room -- instead, I feel like I'm in a haunted carnival run by Tim Burton and Chris Cunningham. "Ever Falling" is the other song from 2007 that makes me feel drunk just listening to it.
Favorite tracks: Keep Your Distance, Ever Falling
5. Battles -- Mirrored
This album sounds like a marching band of prog-loving robots is coming to blow up a bridge over the Khwae Yai River. I thrive on loud, repetitive, mechanical music when I'm programming -- this is that part of my brain's #2 album.
Favorite tracks: Race: In, Atlas, TIJ
4. M.I.A. -- Kala
The party album of the year. I'm a sucker for Bhangra-influenced music, but that's only where M.I.A. begins. Then she layers gunshots, sirens, her dynamic voice, and whatever else she has lying around -- but there's always an infectious underlying hook. Her "Haaaa" in "$20" is like crack.
Favorite tracks: Bamboo Banger, Jimmy, $20
3. Kanye West -- Graduation
Find one good sample and stick with it. That's the philosophy behind nearly every track on Graduation, and it works beyond all expectations. I was fearful that Kanye would take an Eminem/Encore turn with his third album, but he went in the other direction, stripping out the weak tracks, the interlude filler, and going straight for the jugular. He even managed to use Chris Martin in one of my favorite tracks of the year.
Favorite tracks: Can't Tell Me Nothing, Flashing Lights, Homecoming
2. Dan Deacon -- Spiderman of the Rings
Remember that repetitive, mechanical part of my brain that Mirrored appealed to? This is its number #1 album. Spiderman of the Rings gives me false memories of listening to it in friends' basements in 5th grade. Sure, Dan Deacon wasn't my childhood friend, but I can pretend that he was.
Favorite tracks: Wooody Wooodpecker, Trippy Green Skull, Pink Batman
1. Andrew Bird -- Armchair Apocrypha
I have no idea who Andrew Bird is, except that he plays the violin and the guitar. I don't remember why I originally downloaded this album, or what I thought when I first listened to it. What I do know is that throughout 2007, I kept playing it over and over again, eventually obsessing over every musical detail: the whistling, the violin plucks, the glockenspiel, the hand claps, etc. There's nothing fancy here, nothing revolutionary, which is maybe why I never bothered to find out much more about Bird. (I finally listened to Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs only recently.) It's not the sort of album I expected to be my favorite of any year, yet here it is. Listen to the first 30 seconds of "Plasticities" -- it has it all.
Favorite tracks: Fiery Crash, Dark Matter, Plasticities, Scythian Empire
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