Best music of 2007: The Ballots
For this year's best-of music poll, we asked the 19 writers who regularly contribute to our music coverage to spread 100 points across their favorite discs. No disc could receive more than 15 points per writer, and each writer's main list could be no longer than 15 items. Below you'll find each writer's individual ballot—which includes how they assigned their points—and some extra commentary and songs.
- Christopher Bahn
- Andy Battaglia
- Aaron Burgess
- Andrew Earles
- Scott Gordon
- Marc Hawthorne
- Jason Heller
- Steven Hyden
- Trevor Kelley
- Genevieve Koski
- Gregg Lagambina
- Michaelangelo Matos
- Chris Mincher
- Josh Modell
- Noel Murray
- Sean O'Neal
- Keith Phipps
- Nathan Rabin
- Kyle Ryan
1. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible (12)
2. Sloan, Never Hear The End Of It (11)
3. Iron & Wine, The Shepherd's Dog (10)
Sam Beam's third album as Iron And Wine continues his impressive evolution from lo-fi folker to refined popsmith. Clearly inspired by his stellar 2005 collaboration with Calexico, In The Reins, The Shepherd's Dog embraces a lushly gorgeous sound that wraps itself like a blanket around Beam's understated singing. It subtly shifts styles, too, mixing indie-folk with funk rhythm ("Wolves (Song Of The Shepherd's Dog)") one minute and sitar ("White Tooth Man") the next.
4. M.I.A., Kala (10)
5. Jose Gonzalez, In Our Nature (10)
6. Feist, The Reminder (9)
7. Cloud Cult, The Meaning Of 8 (8)
"Take Your Medicine" by Cloud Cult
On The Meaning Of 8, Craig Minowa and his band broaden both the sound and the thematic scope of 2005's Advice From The Happy Hippopotamus, though both albums have roots in the Minowa family's grief at the loss of their son Kaidin. It's an album about a delicate subject—finding meaning and joy in life while confronting the inevitability of death—and Minowa handles the subject masterfully. 8 is emotionally open without being maudlin, introspective without being navel-gazing, spiritual without being wooly-headed (the mystical significance of the number 8 is a unifying theme), and full of hard-won wisdom about how to deal with life's worst tragedies: "Look at all those skeletons running from their closets: Get them in the light."
8. Gogol Bordello, Super Taranta (7)
"Supertheory Of Supereverything" by Gogol Bordello
Laughing gypsy idol-smashers Gogol Bordello whipped up what may be the ultimate party album for atheists, anarchists, particle physicists, heavy drinkers, and men who wear scarves on their heads. (Anyone else that wants to join in is more than welcome.) Seriously, when's the last time an album that was this much fun referenced a book by Carl Sagan and included the lyric "la la la la, accelerate the protons"? On "American Wedding," singer and Ukrainian émigré Eugene Hutz complains that our country's wedding dances are stuffy, boring affairs: "The word celebration just doesn't come to mind." Super Taranta doesn't have that problem at all.
9. Tinariwen, Aman Iman: Water Is Life (6)
"Cler Achel" by Tinariwen
Where the hell do you plug in an electric guitar in the middle of the Sahara Desert? This band of nomadic Tuareg wanderers whips up a sizzling and hypnotic blend of droney Arabic and West African traditional music and blues riffs inspired by Led Zeppelin and Carlos Santana. Live, the band is even better, and turns the audience into a giant percussion machine—I literally clapped so hard that I bruised my hands.
10. Brother Ali, The Undisputed Truth (5)
"Take Me Home" by Brother Ali
Working once again with Atmosphere producer Ant, Rhymesayers rapper Brother Ali returned with a sophomore album that more than lived up to his earlier records. The combination of Ant's funky beats and Ali's politically conscious, anti-war lyrics sometimes make Truth a modern update of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, but there's also a deeply personal element here as Ali spills his guts about his painful divorce, his mother's death, and his love for his young son. Rap often falls into the trap of being self-involved, but when Ali talks about himself, it's much more than that; it's autobiography.
11. Low, Drums And Guns (4)
War and violence lie at the heart of the eighth album by Duluth trio Low, which moves at the minimalist pace of previous works but more than ever fills the silences with rumbling bass, booming drums, and rough-edged guitar squall, the better to capture the sound of destruction—both the kind made by 500-pound bombs and the more private dark night of the soul.
12. Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha (2)
Violinist, whistler, experimental loop artist, and consummate pop craftsman Andrew Bird created another album of unique, thoughtful beauty, aided and abetted by a troupe of Minneapolis musicians including electronic loop artist Martin Dosh and indie-folk singer Haley Bonar.
13. Tegan And Sara, The Con (2)
14. Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank (2)
15. Radiohead, In Rainbows (2)
Richard Thompson, Sweet Warrior
Richard Hawley, Lady's Bridge
Apples in Stereo, New Magnetic Wonder
Black Dice, Load Blown
New Pornographers, Challengers
REISSUE OF THE YEAR
Robyn Hitchcock, I Wanna Go Backwards
1. Melchior Productions, No Disco Future (15)
Thomas Melchior makes dance music that DJs turn to when they want to "go deep," which can mean all sorts of things depending on context. In Melchior's case, it tends to mean minimal house music marked by sauntering hi-hats, quivering patches of warmth, and the kind of delicately forceful repetition that makes you zone out of the material realm and slither into a province simultaneously suggestive of the earthly and the spiritual.
2. LCD Soundsystem, Sound Of Silver (15)
Everyone expected monumental beats and shrewd allusions from LCD Soundsystem's sophomore album, but nobody could have accounted in advance for its profound emotional heft. Bandleader James Murphy announced himself as a formidable songwriter with heartrending songs like "All My Friends" and "Someone Great," and he also managed to up his status as a disco-rock producer with a store of musical ideas yet to fully vest. He's complicated, too: Take "North American Scum," a rousing anthem that somehow both flays and celebrates Yankee provincialism while registering as funny, pathetic, defiant, and ambiguously on-point.
3. M.I.A., Kala (15)
M.I.A.'s Kala joined the ranks of that special brand of album that evokes not just an inimitable musical world, but, better and more resounding, a whole other planet. Song after song proves hot and colorful, and M.I.A. exhibits the kind of presence as a rapper-singer that shows no sign of flagging. No song this year did a better job than "Bamboo Banga" of summoning both the homey rock drone of The Modern Lovers and the spirit of Bollywood, and the party never dims from the opening track on. Extra credit, too, to an album that counts its one Timbaland-produced track as its weakest.
4. Fall Out Boy, Infinity On High (15)
Fall Out Boy's Infinity On High sounds like a record made in a factory—and proves all the better for it. Choruses soar, verses versify, bridges bow down and think out loud: Such songwriting doesn't come from dudes who don't know what they're doing. Whatever one thinks of his taste in hoodies and eyeliner, Pete Wentz wrote a body of lyrics that prove smartly earnest and self-aware, and the music masterminded by Patrick Stump does a lot to prop up all the withering ambivalence and outsized regret. It's misleadingly slotted as "pop-punk," especially in light of Stump's remarkable vocal delivery: Some of his better moments invoke the full-bodied passion and grace of old soul-music stars as much as the rage of mall-rats.
5. Gui Boratto, Chromophobia (10)
"The Blessing" by Gui Boratto
Brazilian producer Gui Boratto helped resurrect the story to be told about the German techno label Kompakt with an album as moody, melodic, and meticulously crafted as any the imprint has released thus far. Boratto's sound is sleek but not slick, drawing on minimal-techno details and bigger-picture sensations drawn from the rub of certifiable tunes.
6. Animal Collective, Strawberry Jam (10)
"Fireworks" by Animal Collective
Easy to underrate for its lesser standing in the Animal Collective catalog in terms of straightforward immediacy, Strawberry Jam still manages to sound different by the day, the week, the month—basically, whatever amount of time separates two given spins. How many other albums can boast the same?
7. Prinzhorn Dance School, Prinzhorn Dance School (5)
"You Are The Space Invader" by Prinzhorn Dance School
A formalist exercise that proves all the more affecting for what it's not, Prinzhorn Dance School's debut traffics in post-punk stripped to its absolute core. No song features more than just emaciated guitar, prim bass, and sparing drums, but the pent-up atmosphere goes a long way in seeding the strangeness of songs that sound at once painfully sane and patiently unhinged.
8. James Murphy & Pat Mahoney, Fabriclive 36 (5)
Between stints cold-rocking the scene as LCD Soundsystem's maestro and drummer, respectively, James Murphy and Pat Mahoney put together a disco mix that stands to tweak certain ideas about what disco was or stands to be still. The DJ set is drawn from mostly old material—prime '70s-'80s disco with a hint of weirdness to it, though not necessarily—and the way tracks fold into and out of each other speaks to skills beyond those of mere selectors.
9. Amy Winehouse, Back To Black (5)
It seems that Amy Winehouse has issues, but oh that voice!
10. Ewan Pearson, Piece Work (5)
"Don't Let The Stars Keep Us Tanlged Up (Ewan Pearson's Objects In Space Remix)" by Cortney Tidwell
A bit of a fudge for a 2007 list in that it collects remixes made over the past five years, Piece Work gathers some of Ewan Pearson's finest work. What's most appealing about it is that it's hard to slot—not exactly techno or house or trance, but also not exactly not. When he's in prime, Ewan Pearson simply makes big tracks even bigger, with lots of billowing effects and taut synth tricks falling into gears that run all the smoother when they grind.
Thomas Fehlmann, Honigpumpe
Dirty Projectors, Rise Above
TOP 30 SONGS
LCD Soundsystem, "All My Friends"
Gwen Stefani, "Early Winter"
M.I.A., "Bamboo Banga"
Fall Out Boy, "Thnks Fr Th Mmrs"
Soul Capsule, "Beauty And The Beat"
Brad Paisley, "Online"
Animal Collective, "Peacebone"
Partial Arts, "Trauermusik"
Beck, "Cellphone's Dead (Ricardo Villalobos Remix)"
Gui Boratto, "The Blessing"
A Mountain Of One, "Freefall"
LCD Soundsystem, "Someone Great"
!!!, "Heart Of Hearts"
Spoon, "Don't You Evah"
Animal Collective, "Chores"
Radiohead, "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi"
Prinzhorn Dance School, "You Are The Space Invader"
Shackleton, "Blood On My Hands (Ricardo Villalobos Apocalypse Now Remix)"
Bjork, "The Dull Flame Of Desire"
Of Montreal, "The Past Is A Grotesque Animal"
Elk City, "Los Cruzados"
Panda Bear, "Bros"
Thomas Fehlmann, "Bienenkonigin"
Cassy, "Soul Saviour"
Matthew Dear, "Neighborhoods"
Boundzound, "Louder (Henrik Schwarz Remix)"
Dirty Projectors, "No More"
Beirut, "A Sunday Smile"
1. Deathspell Omega, Fas—Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeternum (13)
2. Battles, Mirrored (12)
3. Melechesh, Emissaries (10)
4. Pig Destroyer, Phantom Limb (10)
5. The Dillinger Escape Plan, Ire Works (9)
6. Grinderman, Grinderman (8)
The raw, lecherous energy spewing from Nick Cave's new splinter group had nostalgists popping wood over the prospect that the taskmaster behind The Bad Seeds' oeuvre might've at last rediscovered the abandon he pioneered with The Birthday Party. And for the first few tracks, at least, that's just the payoff Grinderman promises. (The brutally funny midlife-crisis seizure "No Pussy Blues" is worth the admission fee.) But Cave has come too far as an arranger to lapse into chaos and noise for their own sake, and those who stick around for Grinderman's latter portion—a blend of blues, ballads, and bristling atmospherics—will witness the far scarier power of the man's restraint.
7. Neurosis, Given To The Rising (7)
8. Oxbow, The Narcotic Story (6)
9. Car Bomb, Centralia (6)
10. Anaal Nathrakh, Hell Is Empty And All The Devils Are Here (5)
11. Cephalic Carnage, Xenosapien (4)
12. Behold… The Arctopus, Skullgrid (3)
13. Wold, Screech Owl (3)
14. Psyopus, Our Puzzling Encounters Considered (2)
15. KTL, 2 (2)
1. Thurston Moore, Trees Outside The Academy (15)
Thurston Moore has spent most of his extra-Sonic Youth career either making free jazz and noise or critically exalting the free jazz and noise of other musicians. (He also edited a book, Mix Tape: The Art Of Cassette Culture, which can be found in the "Books For People That Don't Read" section of your nearest Urban Outfitters.) It's a shame that Moore hasn't directed more energy toward a skill he's well-suited for: writing the perfect pop song. Those who fondly remember his previous solo rock set, 1995's Psychic Hearts, will be nothing short of blown away by the more personal Trees Outside The Academy.
2. Electric Wizard, Witchcult Today (15)
Amazingly, this album bests Electric Wizard's own Dopethrone, released in 2000. These violent hippies might or might not be the heaviest band on the planet, but they certainly know how to simultaneously make heavy music exhilarate and terrify.
3. Bear In Heaven, Red Bloom Of The Boom (15)
"Slow Gold" by Bear In Heaven
Surprise! A band with an animal in its name has made a fascinating record out of Ambrosia, The Alan Parsons Project, Final Cut-era Pink Floyd, and This Heat.
4. Jesu, Conqueror (15)
Jesu may be the heaviest band on the planet, or at least the heaviest pop band on the planet. If they ever surpass Conqueror's title track or "Medicine," heads will explode.
5. Liars, Liars (10)
"Plaster Casts Of Everything" by Liars
6. Mouthus, Saw A Halo (10)
This duo saves the free-noise genre by operating outside of its strict confines. "Your Far Church" is the most haunting song recorded in 2007.
7. The Ponys, Turn The Lights Out (5)
8. Pelican, City Of Echoes (5)
The most boring live band ever can still make a nice mood piece, and made a more rocking one this time out, thankfully.
9. Big Business, Here Come The Waterworks (5)
"Grounds For Divorce" by Big Business
10. Shocking Pinks, Shocking Pinks (5)
The world won't be lucky enough to experience a widespread revival of mid-to-late-'80s Flying Nun Kiwi-Pop, but Shocking Pinks are trying, bless their hearts.
1. The National, Boxer (15)
2. Amiina, Kurr (15)
"Rugla" by Amiina
3. Ted Leo And The Pharmacists, Living With The Living (15)
4. The New Pornographers, Challengers (15)
5. Rob Sonic, Sabotage Gigante (10)
6. PJ Harvey, White Chalk (10)
7. Robbie Fulks, Revenge (5)
"Busy Not Crying" by Robbie Fulks
8. White Rabbits, Fort Nightly (5)
"Kid On My Shoulders" by White Rabbits
9. Big Business, Here Come The Waterworks (5)
"Grounds For Divorce" by Big Business
10. El-P, I'll Sleep When You're Dead (5)
The 1900s, Cold & Kind
Bald Eagle, Hot Shoulders
Bottomless Pit, Hammer Of The Gods
Broken Social Scene Presents Kevin Drew, Spirit If…
Bill Callahan, Woke On A Whaleheart
Celebration, The Modern Tribe
Explosions In The Sky, All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone
Marla Hansen, Wedding Day EP
Holy Fuck, LP
Maritime, Heresy And The Hotel Choir
The Midwest Beat, The Midwest Beat EP
Pale Young Gentlemen, Pale Young Gentlemen
Travis Morrison Hellfighters, All Y'all
The United Sons Of Toil, Hope Is Not A Strategy
Stuff I haven't had enough time to chew on but would likely give an honorable mention to if I had
Call Me Lightning, Soft Skeletons
Dillinger Escape Plan, Ire Works
Goodnight Loving, Crooked Lake
No Age, Weirdo Rippers
1. Rilo Kiley, Under The Blacklight (15)
After a three-year break spent tending to side projects, Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett returned to Rilo Kiley with a bold statement, one that removed them from the indie-rock ghetto and left some fans behind. But those who stuck around know that Under The Blacklight is the most exciting, eclectic pop album of the year, effortlessly jumping from sultry rock to disco to an LL Cool J-like slow jam while touching on everything from sex to post-relationship freedom. Rilo Kiley has actually gotten more adventurous here, unafraid to blow out a chorus with gospel singers, release an anomalous Heart-like rocker as the first single, or get all Fleetwood Mac when the mood strikes. Even when things get serious, there's a playfulness that makes the twists and turns fun to follow, and the whole band (especially Lewis) exudes the confidence necessary to pull it off.
2. Bloc Party, A Weekend In The City (14)
They say that you have your whole life to write your first album, and a sr for your second. While that may seem daunting, even more intimidating is having to follow up a wildly popular left-field debut that had people calling you the next version of an international phenomenon. The Franz Ferdinand comparisons now seem kind of silly, as does the assumption that Bloc Party would suffer a sophomore slump: A Weekend In The City doesn't have a perfect single like "Banquet," but it's more interesting than Silent Alarm, offering lots of energized, epic moments and clever hooks to go with Kele Okereke's bleak pictures of the world around him. But as with all good pop creations, a song like "Hunting For Witches" can be enjoyed simply for its driving guitar, electronically assisted danceable beat, and catchy chorus, even as Okereke sings about racism and blood.
3. Tegan And Sara, The Con (13)
On their fifth studio album, the twin-lesbian-sisters-from-Canada team of Tegan and Sara Quin has really hit its stride, matching every unorthodox impulse and otherworldly vocal with little magical hooks made extra sharp by co-producer Chris Walla (Death Cab For Cutie). Some of the keyboards give The Con an '80s flavor, but for the most part it's a modern pop-rock classic filled with unshakable sentiments like "Maybe I would have been something you'd be good at / maybe you would have been something I'd be good at / But now we'll never know / I won't be sad but in case I'll go there every day to make myself feel bad."
4. Band Of Horses, Cease To Begin (12)
It was hard to believe that Band Of Horses' debut album was filled with Ben Bridwell's first attempts at songwriting, and naturally it begged the question: Was Everything All The Time a product of beginner's luck, or did he have more tricks up his sleeve? Cease To Begin proves the latter, and erases any fears that Bridwell's move back to South Carolina would turn BOH into a freedom-rock band. There's still some country twang, but Cease To Begin leans toward dreamy indie rock propelled by Bridwell's wonderful voice, which melts any room confronted by "No One's Gonna Love You."
5. Vanessa Carlton, Heroes And Thieves (11)
You know it's going to be an uphill battle when your biggest and best song is released before you even have an album out, but more than five years after the success of "A Thousand Miles," Vanessa Carlton continues to make gorgeous piano pop for a fan base that's big enough to have a nickname (members call themselves Nessaholics). Like 2004's Harmonium, Heroes And Thieves—which, oddly enough, is on Irv Gotti's The Inc. Records—features Carlton's now-ex Stephan Jenkins (Third Eye Blind) in the production chair, as well as Linda Perry on a couple of tracks and Stevie Nicks adding vocals to "The One." There's definitely some high-school poetry on here and it's certainly not edgy, but Heroes And Thieves is one of the prettiest things released this year.
6. 1997: …A Better View Of The Rising Moon (9)
If you're out of high school and hang out with people your own age, it might be tough to get anyone you know to give 1997 a fair shake, unless, of course, you mention that the young Chicago group sounds like the version of The Anniversary that made Designing A Nervous Breakdown. The female component on …A Better View Of The Rising Moon has already been replaced, so who knows if 1997 will still be worth listening to in 2008, but in 2007, its poppy emo is downright addictive.
7. Mark Ronson, Version (8)
True, it's hard to go wrong when you pack your album with covers of tried-and-true gems like The Smiths' "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before," Radiohead's "Just," and The Charlatans UK's "The Only One I Know," but producer and DJ Mark Ronson isn't just riding coattails here. His horn-blasted second full-length sports all sorts of creative revisions and great guests, including Lily Allen on Kaiser Chiefs' "Oh My God," Amy Winehouse on The Zutons' "Valerie," and Robbie Williams on "The Only One I Know."
8. The New Trust, Dark Is The Path Which Lies Before Us (7)
"A Spoiled Surprise, A Cheap Reveal" by The New Trust
The New Trust isn't new, but this is the first full-length from the band led by former Velvet Teen bassist Josh Staples. The most atheistic group in indie rock specializes in driving melodic blasts that share some characteristics with pre-embarrassing emo, and it's not afraid to admit that it's cut from a different cloth: "And you'll see, all through the annals of history / motherfuckers just like The New Trust / keeping a lid on the mystery / of what makes motherfuckers like us, us."
9. The Pipettes, We Are The Pipettes (6)
Like The Spice Girls for the indie-rock set, The Pipettes are a bunch of cute Brits who sing about dancing, kissing, and one-night stands to an updated version of '60s-girl-group pop. We Are The Pipettes has been out overseas since last summer, but the remixed U.S. edition has a pair of extra tracks, including one of The Pipettes' best songs, "Dance And Boogie."
10. Robert Francis, One By One (5)
"Little Girl" by Robert Francis
Wise beyond his years, 20-year-old singer-songwriter Robert Francis plays engaging folk that gets even better as it gets dreamier, bringing to mind everyone from Conor Oberst to For Stars to Jason Lytle. On his debut album, which includes appearances by Ry and Joachim Cooder, Francis doesn't shy away from examining the darkness that inspires him: "I wanna kill myself / just to kill the pain / but then you know you'd feel like you're the one to blame."
1. Jesu, Conqueror (15)
2007 was Justin Broadrick's year. The former Napalm Death member and Godflesh mastermind rode in on January's Conqueror, a full-length that somehow upgrades the greatness of 2006's Silver EP from stunning to celestial. Broadrick followed the album with three incredible EPs and a compilation of previously unreleased songs, but Conqueror remains the apex: No metaphorical allusion to outer space, arctic wastes, or plate tectonics can do justice to the disc's heaviness, vastness, loneliness, and elemental grace. It took 16 years for someone to touch My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, but Broadrick pulled it off.
2. Nina Nastasia And Jim White, You Follow Me (15)
"I Write Down Lists" by Nina Nastasia and Jim White
As indie-rock grew even more massive—both commercially and sonically—this year, songwriter Nina Nastasia made a hushed, unassuming record with Dirty Three's unparalleled percussionist Jim White. One voice, one acoustic guitar, one tiny drum kit: That's the entire recipe for You Follow Me. Yet within that cramped framework Nastasia and White thrive, even sprawl. White's jazzy intuition has never been more sympathetic and skittish, and Nastasia tumbles breathlessly with space, painterly chords, and plainspoken poesy. The disc's highpoint, "In The Evening," just so happens to be the song of the year: As simple as a scalpel and equally clean, it cuts into tender reservoirs of memory, drunken joy, and sublimated desire.
3. Pissed Jeans, Hope For Men (15)
Slathered in dissonance, misanthropy, and every manner of glandular discharge, Pissed Jeans' Hope For Men is a fucking wreck. But its homeliness doesn't just funnel the hardcore-spawned muck of Flipper and Scratch Acid, it's the ideal antidote to 2007's overabundance of bland indie-pop. "Wish I was a people person!" gibbers Matt Korvette on Hope's opener "People Person," but don't believe it for a second; throughout the album, a pustulant loathing of human idiocy and insipidness builds and bursts, over and over. Hand sanitizer, anyone?
4. Les Savy Fav, Let's Stay Friends (15)
"There was a band called The Pots And Pans / They made this noise that people couldn't stand / And when they toured all across the land / The people said, 'No, no, no' / But the drummer said, 'Yes, yes, yes' / This tour is the test." As barely veiled self-mythology, a statement of intent, and a smoldering anthem, "Pots And Pans"—the opening track of Les Savy Fav's Let's Stay Friends—is nearly perfect. The rest of the disc follows suit: The influential band's first full-length of new material since 2001, Friends cements Les Savy Fav's position as a band that paid its dues, stayed grounded, and never forgot how to deftly assemble prismatic, brainy pop.
5. No Age, Weirdo Rippers (15)
"My Life's Alright Without You" by No Age
In the '90s, everyone from Hood to Guided By Voices left clumps of injuriously distorted pop bobbing in lakes of acidic static. No Age, though, has updated the formula for a far more fearful and wired world. Cobbled together from a handful of EPs, the duo's debut Weirdo Rippers is aptly fractured and intriguingly inconclusive. Veering from washes of noise to nursery-rhyme punk—often in the span of a minute-and-a-half song—Dean Spunt and Randy Randall whip up an ionosphere full of coruscated feedback, fanged riffs, and fog-drowned melody.
6. Minus The Bear, Planet Of Ice (1)
Minus The Bear has always taken itself seriously, but that fact didn't use to be so obvious. As if humbly undermining its own majesty, the group's previous releases trafficked to some degree in silliness—but with Planet Of Ice, Minus' sinewy tangle of post-hardcore and classic prog finally came into its own. With open sonic acknowledgements to Yes, Pink Floyd, and King Crimson—and an ambitious overextension of its titular metaphor—Planet is bleak, sexy, brooding, and complex.
7. Dirty Projectors, Rise Above (1)
"No More" by Dirty Projectors
Songwriter isn't quite the term for David Longstreth: The Dirty Projectors leader is much more of a composer and arranger, and Rise Above is his boldest and biggest accomplishment yet. Using airy harmonies, organically disjointed structures, and tightly wound instrumentals, the disc is a sparse-yet-lush stunner that shuffles somewhere between Scott Walker and Xiu Xiu. More than just a conceptualist, though, Longstreth is a mind-bending singer and guitarist—and Rise Above shivers around his alien voice and knotty virtuosity. Oh, and the album is also a radical, nearly unrecognizable reworking of Black Flag's Damaged. But really, who cares? Rise Above's songs stand on their own sure beauty and brilliance.
8. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky (1)
The gripes leveled at Wilco's Sky Blue Sky mostly center around Jeff Tweedy's apparent backslide into the classic-rock gospel. No argument there—but his sedate, loose-limbed jamming (aided by the godlike Nels Cline) is what makes Sky Blue Sky such an effortlessly warm, inviting listen. And the disc isn't nearly as conventional as some folks claim: While "Hate It Here" sounds like Glenn Tilbrook crying in Robbie Robertson's beer, there's still plenty of unraveled weirdness, and the disc's closer, "Let's Not Get Carried Away," rides on spine-scraping riffs, delicious tension, and one of Tweedy's greatest vocal disintegrations.
9. Dillinger Escape Plan, Ire Works (1)
Anyone who's heard "Unretrofied"—the almost Nine Inch Nails-like track from Dillinger Escape Plan's 2004 disc Miss Machine—shouldn't be that surprised about "Black Bubblegum," the pop-inflected oddity on the group's new Ire Works. Still, Machine only barely prepared fans for Ire's overall scope and ambition; with sweeping song arcs and an even broader sonic palette, the band picks up where Faith No More fell apart while conducting its own experiments in intricate, melodic aggression. There's still a grip of scorched, tooth-loosening tech-metal rockers, too, lest anyone try to claim that Dillinger has lost its killer instinct.
10. Parts And Labor, Mapmaker (1)
"Fractured Skies" by Parts And Labor
A band's choice of cover songs can say a lot about its character. Parts And Labor picked the Minutemen's "King Of The Hill" on its recent full-length Mapmaker, and the result is an example the kind of avant-rock deconstruction that would've made D. Boon and crew proud. Like their heroes, the three men of Parts And Labor bypass the path of least resistance while yanking out contorted hooks and racket-rattled synths. Co-leader BJ Warshaw continues to indulge his fetish for Brian Eno's slashing early output—a fixation he wallows in on the recent debut of his solo project Shooting Spires—but Mapmaker transcends its influences like a rocket outracing Earth's gravity.
11. Georgie James, Places (1)
It rained indie-pop in 2007, and most of it was of the shrill, one-note, overwrought variety. Georgie James, though, accomplished luxury on a budget with Places. The Washington D.C. duo—which features former Q And Not U member John Davis alongside singer-songwriter Laura Burhenn—crafted its debut full-length out of a laundry list of vintage power-pop, piano balladry, high romance, and the kind of rich, languorous melody that turns inherently stiff indie-rock into something that sighs, shudders, and hyperventilates. And the disc's lashes-batting take on Saint Etienne-style Euro-disco knocks it out of the park.
12. Do Make Say Think, You, You're A History In Rust (1)
With its faded-in drum shuffle and plunked piano chords, Do Make Say Think's You, You're A History In Rust introduces itself in much the same way Ziggy Stardust did. But DMST's spacious introduction quickly establishes its own route to epic: The Canadian ensemble's fifth full-length is earthy and spacey at the same time, teeming with rustic grit and hymnal wonder. And it isn't post-rock business as usual—for the first time, the instrumental group solicited vocals from members of Great Lake Swimmers and Akron/Family, both of whom also released excellent albums in 2007.
13. Neurosis, Given To The Rising (1)
Since 1996's career-topping prog-sludge opus Through Silver In Blood and its nose-to-the-grindstone follow-up Times Of Grace, Neurosis has been content to stew in its own gloom. Given To The Rising isn't any different—it's just better than anything the band has released in years. Impossibly thick and atmospherically oppressive, the disc unearths every detonation of synthesizer and shard of corroded melody in its arsenal. But instead of an assault, Rising is a hypnotic and ultimately paralyzing immersion in Sabbath-worthy riffs and Swans-level noise. Finally finished with looking forward, Neurosis is now thankfully content with probing and refining its own primordial enormity.
14. Bill Callahan, Woke On A Whaleheart (1)
"Have faith in wordless knowledge," deadpans Bill Callahan on Woke On A Whaleheart's "From The Rivers To The Ocean." He sounds as sage and salty as Lou Reed—and while that might have been a bit uppity of Callahan earlier in his Smog career, he's settled into his encroaching middle age with ragged dignity. Whaleheart is Callahan's first record under his own name, and that forthrightness cuts to the album's bone: Set against lush instrumentation and even a flash or two of pure pop, songs like "A Man Needs A Man Or A Woman To Be A Man" and the stiffly funky "Diamond Dancer" conjure plenty of ghosts alongside a sick laugh or two.
15. Battles, Mirrored (1)
It takes a while to get used to Tyondai Braxton's singsong, heavily processed vocals on Battles' debut Mirrored. But once that bit of weirdness is properly digested, the album opens up into sheer magnificence: Amid antiseptic textures and maze-like arrangements lies what might be the apotheosis of math-rock, a cerebral batch of songs whose components interlock with abstract, seamless complexity. Even when it rocks and grooves—which it does hard and often—Mirrored is fragile in its gemlike exquisiteness. And while you'd expect the son of Anthony Braxton and former members of Helmet and Don Caballero to be fairly progressive, Battles obliterates and utterly rebuilds, molecule by molecule, the whole idea of jazz-rock fusion.
Against Me!, New Wave
Best punk-rock sellout since Jawbreaker's Dear You.
The Apples In Stereo, New Magnetic Wonder
Crystal clear and teeming with gee-whiz, The Apples are aging amazingly.
Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
Yes, I actually loved it—just not half as much as Funeral, and not quite enough to make my top 15. A nice batch of majestic radness to tide us over 'til they make their Rattle And Hum.
Art Brut, It's A Bit Complicated
Eddie Argos keeps the wit and hooks in the red on Art Brut's sophomore effort. I can stand this sound the second time around.
Beaten Awake, Let's Get Simplified
Dudes from The Six Parts Seven, The Party Of Helicopters, and Harriet The Spy try their hand at roots-rock. The result is very drunk, very weird, very wobbly, and a whole mess of fun.
Between The Buried And Me, Colors
Dillinger Jr.? Nonetheless, these guys beat their own weird path to metalcore pomp and circumstance.
Big Business, Here Come The Waterworks
Great, galloping thunderbolts from 50 percent of Melvins. Freakin' catchy, too.
Black Cross, Severance Pays and Coliseum, No Salvation
Two of Louisville's finest kept the heavy, horrifying vibe going strong.
Botch and Coalesce reissues
Thanks, Hydra Head! Now can you beat up Atreyu for me?
brakesbrakesbrakes, The Beatific Visions
British post-punk and, uh, countrified folk? Brakes are no Mekons, but they still get the job done.
The Broken West, I Can't Go On, I'll Go On
The greatest sandy-eyed, sandy-shoed pop record since The Tyde first rolled in.
Die! Die! Die!, Die! Die! Die!
The upcoming disc from these Kiwi noiseniks is a wee bit of a letdown, but this one rips. Wire guts Unwound.
Steve Earle, Washington Square Serenade
Rebounding from a few years of missteps, Earle got back on the horse he rode into El Corazón on—Serenade brims with joy, bile, and one of the best voices God ever let rip.
Listen to this while watching Planet Earth with the sound turned down.
Fucked Up, Year Of The Pig
Two massive, amazing tracks that somehow wound up being more satisfying than 2006's full-length Hidden World.
Gallows, Orchestra Of Wolves (Epitaph)
If the hype is to be believed, Gallows is the second coming of Refused—but really, they play hardcore on their own terms: pissed-off, rock-fueled, and jittery.
The Go, Howl On The Haunted Beat You Ride
I'll never understand the savage underrating this band constantly gets. Glam-splattered garage rock that's oddly progressive and nourishingly meaty at the same time… Yes, Jack White used to be in this band, and he clearly learned a lot about pop songwriting from them.
PJ Harvey, White Chalk
Another PJ Harvey album, another lump of my heart down the shitter.
I Am The Ocean, And Your City Needs Swallowing
Not sure why this one didn't get more attention: Ambitious, textured post-hardcore that carves huge chunks out of your insides.
Did you see these guys on that episode of Food Network's Throwdown!, the one where Bobby Flay took on the singer of Red Aunts in a cupcake-making contest? That was sweet.
Jason Isbell, Sirens Of The Ditch
Isbell exited Drive-By Truckers as gracefully and tunefully as he entered. Immaculately grit-pocked roots-rock.
Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings, 100 Days, 100 Nights
If you caught them live this year, you probably picked up on the vibe: Slower, slinkier, duskier, and deeper than ever.
Lewis & Clarke, Blasts Of Holy Birth
Lou Rogai finally puts the lame-ass freak-folk label to rest by making an album that's as grounded in real life as it is sublimated in ether.
From 108 to Damnation A.D., 2007 was all about East Coast '90s hardcore comebacks. But Lifetime put its name to the test and passed with flying colors, pumping out one more gem of melodic fury for the kids. Probably their own kids.
Minmae joins The Go in the consistently, inexplicably underrated department. Remember when Yo La Tengo wasn't just good, but really good?
The Octopus Project, Hello, Avalanche
I'm gonna throw a rave in a preschool and see how many times in a row I can play this before I get arrested.
Old Time Relijun, Catharsis In Crisis
Consistently kick-ass ethno-mysticism and free-rock (free-folk?) overload from the verdant brainstem of Arrington De Dionyso and friends.
Third-eye, bass-and-drums drone from these ex-Sleep stalwarts. The meditative yin to Big Business' pants-down yang.
Pinback, Autumn Of The Seraphs
Another dose of Pinback's same old math-pop genius. I'll take a lifetime subscription.
Prize Country, Lottery Of Recognition
Portland boys make with the Jehu, and mostly succeed at removing my face.
Pylon, The Slits, and Young Marble Giants reissues
Just in time—since my early '80s, girl-staffed post-punk LPs have been worn to the bone over the last five years in an attempt to drown out Karen O.
Releases from Cave In-related projects—Clouds, Zozobra, Pet Genius—flew like crazy this year, but this one is the best. And the Cave In connection is only peripheral: Ringfinger is mostly the vehicle for Tracy Wilson of '90s emo powerhouse Dahlia Seed, the band that, for better or worse, planted the seeds for Rainer Maria, Denali, and Pretty Girls Make Graves (don't worry, I won't say Paramore). Here she goes digital and icy, and it's a gorgeous.
Ruiner, Prepare To Be Let Down
Thick, mean, fast, heavy, self-loathing rock. They used to call it hardcore.
Shellac, Excellent Italian Greyhound
Everybody has a Steve Albini story. What's that one about him bowling in the middle of the street in his bathrobe outside a rock club just to prove that his naked ankles were a bigger draw than the band playing inside? Did I just make that up?
Shooting Spires, Shooting Spires
BJ Warsaw gets back at his main band Parts & Labor—recipient of the coveted number-10 spot on my top 15—by making a solo record that soars like an eagle. An eagle, that is, fed through a lot of distortion pedals.
Songs Of Green Pheasant, Gyllyng Street
Bliss sells, but who's buying? I am. Claustro-folk of the highest, and I do mean highest, order.
St. Vincent, Marry Me
As nerdy and art-wrecked as Kate Bush, Annie Clark's debut is a fluttery, cluttered pop wallop.
Amy Winehouse, Back To Black
Besides confessing my ceaseless fascination with this woman, Mark Ronson's peerless production, and that utterly unearthly voice, I have nothing to add.
I saw these kids play a few years ago when they were, like, on Christmas break from high school and touring the country. It was Nation Of Ulysses atomized and reconstituted—and they band just keeps growing into its own noise.
1. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky (15)
"Could anybody imagine the Wilco record that would make everybody happy?" Jeff Tweedy wondered in an A.V. Club interview earlier this year. That record certainly wasn't Sky Blue Sky, derided by some as "too mellow," "too jammy," or simply "boring." Eschewing the dissonance of Wilco's recent work, Sky Blue Sky sprawls like its namesake, but don't mistake the warm classic-rock glow for easy contentment. Underneath the subtly tricky arrangements and guitarist Nels Cline's epic soloing is a man trying to keep his life (and marriage) together as middle age looms. Funnier and looser than he has been in years, Tweedy produced some of his most moving songs for Sky Blue Sky-"Impossible Germany," "Side With The Seeds," and "Hate It Here," to name three—and that's saying a lot.
2. Amy Winehouse, Back To Black (15)
3. The Sadies, New Seasons (15)
"The Trial" by The Sadies
From The Band to Neil Young to Joni Mitchell, some of the finest purveyors of American roots music over the years have hailed from Canada. Add frequent Neko Case collaborators The Sadies to the list—New Seasons tones down the surf and spaghetti Western influences heard on past Sadies releases, settling into a murky, psychedelic country sound that recalls the late '60s "cosmic American music" of Gram Parsons and The Byrds. Ex-Jayhawk Gary Louris' production is perhaps a little too murky, but the simple elegance of the songwriting and beauty of the harmonies (courtesy of brothers Dallas and Travis Good) still shine through brilliantly.
4. Band Of Horses, Cease To Begin (15)
Band Of Horses is often described as an amalgam of other bands: a little My Morning Jacket, a little Built To Spill, maybe some Flaming Lips and Shins. On its sophomore effort, Cease To Begin, Band Of Horses sets itself apart by being more emotionally direct than its influences. No longer burying his voice in reverb like he did on the band's 2006 debut Everything All The Time, singer-songwriter Ben Bridwell positively swoons on gorgeous slow jams like "No One's Gonna Love You" and "Window Blues." The lack of self-consciousness on Cease To Begin links Band Of Horses with the great Southern-rock bands of old, as it embraces the simple pleasures of being young and alive—without air quotes.
5. Ween, La Cucaracha (15)
Though it's Ween's best record in 10 years, La Cucaracha probably won't convert anybody who hasn't caught on to Gene and Dean's freewheeling mastery of every genre that interests them before now. But if you're on Ween's wavelength, La Cucaracha might be the most purely enjoyable album of the year. Ween is funnier than ever—love the techno and reggae songs, guys—and just as dark, with "Object" taking its place between Randy Newman's "Suzanne" and Neil Young's "Cortez The Killer" on the list of great songs about sociopathic murderers.
6. Okkervil River, The Stage Names (4)
"Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe" by Okkervil River
While The Stage Names ostensibly is about how the songs and movies we love set us up for disappointment in real life, it doesn't seem like Okkervil River singer-songwriter Will Sheff really believes that. There's nothing phony about the songs on The Stage Names, which are packed with keenly observed details of mundane lives led by flesh-and-blood (and deeply flawed) characters. For Sheff, art doesn't merely reflect life, it blurs the distinction between the real world and a more elusive, poetic reality.
7. Paul Duncan, Above The Trees (4)
8. The National, Boxer (4)
9. Radiohead, In Rainbows (4)
10. Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger (4)
11. Dungen, Tio Bitar (1)
12. Paul McCartney, Memory Almost Full (1)
The most surprising record of the year—as in surprisingly great—Memory Almost Full finds notorious pothead Paul McCartney as weird and scatterbrained as ever, as he takes the melodic pieces floating around his brain and crafts them into the irresistible mini-suites that have long been his calling card.
13. LCD Soundsystem, Sound Of Silver (1)
14. The Midwest Beat, The Midwest Beat (1)
Madison power-pop band The Midwest Beat do right by their influences—Beatles and Kinks, and every no-name mid-'60s jangly rock combo that ripped them off—on this addictive six-song EP. Yes, it's picked-over territory, which makes the freshness The Midwest Beat brings to the sound all the more impressive.
15. Page France, …And The Family Telephone (1)
Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
Bright Eyes, Cassadaga
Call Me Lightning, Soft Skeletons
Fountains Of Wayne, Traffic And Weather
Robbie Fulks, Revenge!
The Goodnight Loving, Crooked Lake
The New Pornographers, Challengers
Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Bruce Springsteen, Magic
brakesbrakesbrakes, "Mobile Communication"
Arcade Fire, "My Body Is A Cage"
Paul Duncan, "Parasail"
The Goodnight Loving, "Another Foggy Yesterday"
The National, "Fake Empire"
Oakley Hall, "I'll Follow You"
Okkervil River, "A Girl In Port"
The Sadies, "The Land Between"
Spoon, "Don't You Evah"
Bruce Springsteen, "Gypsy Biker"
T-Pain, "Buy U A Drank"
Wilco, "Impossibly Germany"
Amy Winehouse, "Love Is A Losing Game"
SORRY I MISSED YOU IN '06
Like most music fans, I didn't only listen to music that came out in 2007 this year. I'm still catching up with all the great music that came out in past years. In 2007, I dug deep into five records from 2006 that could have made last year's list: singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne's haunted Till The Sun Turns Black, Lupe Fiasco's addictive Food & Liquor, power-pop masters The Figgs' splendid Follow Jean Through The Sea, Comets On Fire's raging psychedelic rock record Avatar, and Lucero's southern-fried Rebels, Rogues, And Sworn Brothers.
1. Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank (10)
2. The National, Boxer (10)
3. Say Anything, In Defense Of The Genre (10)
4. Radiohead, In Rainbows (10)
5. Manchester Orchestra, I'm Like A Virgin Losing A Child (10)
6. Grinderman, Grinderman (10)
7. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky (10)
8. Bat For Lashes, Fur & Gold (10)
9. Against Me!, New Wave (10)
10. Band Of Horses, Cease To Begin (10)
1. M.I.A., Kala (15)
A stellar sophomore album, Kala manages to sound both exactly and nothing like M.I.A.'s blogged-about debut, Arular. The nigh-indecipherable power-power lyrics and syncopated rhythms remain, but the alluring mix of baile-funk, reggaeton, and other world influences on her debut have grown into a full-on sonic wash, jumping from street percussion to Bollywood grooves to club beats. It's an album that keeps giving, as even tracks that initially seem weak ("Mango Pickle Down," "World Town") stick, revealing hooks you didn't even realize were there.
2. The White Stripes, Icky Thump (15)
3. Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha (10)
4. Rilo Kiley, Under The Blacklight (10)
5. The Pipettes, We Are The Pipettes (10)
Call it disposable, call it reductive, call it manufactured—one thing you cannot call The Pipettes' music is gloomy. Sometimes an album's merit stems wholly from its ability to make its listeners smile and get out on the dance floor. It might be hyperbolic to call We Are The Pipettes anything greater than a spot-on party album, but sometimes that's all you really want to hear anyway.
6. Against Me!, New Wave (10)
7. Band Of Horses, Cease To Begin (7)
8. Busdriver, Roadkillovercoat (5)
"Casting Agents And Cowgirls" by Busdriver
Containing perhaps the greatest amount of unique words on any album this year, Roadkillovercoat is lyrically dense to the point of absurdity, and Busdriver's nasally, rat-a-tat delivery doesn't make it go down any smoother (nor do his verbal assaults on hippies, hipsters, and intellectuals). But the melodic underpinnings, drawing from a broad palette of synth, psychedelia, and indie-rock references, keep it all from careening into oblivion, guiding the listener through a sometimes difficult but ultimately rewarding album.
9. Tegan And Sara, The Con (5)
10. Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare (5)
11. The Bird And The Bee, The Bird And The Bee (4)
Not nearly as sunny as its twinkling arrangements suggest, Inara George and Greg Kurstin's self-titled debut is a wistful, jazz-and-tropicália-laced rumination on desire and disenchantment. But don't be put off by the hip, lounge-music signifiers; the album also has hook after hook after hook, its choruses lingering long after the cool wash of irony has ebbed.
12. Great Lake Swimmers, Ongiara (2)
"Your Rocky Spine" by Great Lake Swimmers
A fragile, gorgeous collection of deceptively simple-sounding songs, Ongiara's quiet grace stems from its simple, bluegrass-tinged instrumentation. But the lyrics' emotional connection to the natural environment (especially on the strangely sexy "Your Rocky Spine") adds a layer of resonance and intrigue, resulting in a lush aesthetic that grows more interesting with time.
13. Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2)
Carrie Underwood and Gretchen Wilson may have topped charts with their bland version of spunk, but the real button-nosed shitkicker in modern pop-country is Miranda Lambert. Her consistently solid, often funny, and occasionally inspirational songwriting combines with polished (but not overly shiny) production on an album that's equal parts revenge fantasy and wistful love letter. Lambert's oddly girlish voice creates an interesting counterpart to her bad-girl shtick, proving that brash bluster, when done right (as on the rollicking "Gunpowder And Lead"), can be just as intriguing as—and a hell of a lot more fun than—thoughtful introspection.
1. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible (9)
2. Band Of Horses, Cease To Begin (9)
3. Radiohead, In Rainbows (9)
4. PJ Harvey, White Chalk (7)
5. Bat For Lashes, Fur & Gold (7)
6. Bright Eyes, Cassadaga (7)
7. Sloan, Never Hear The End Of It (7)
In recent years, collectives like Broken Social Scene and its endless offshoots have made a fellow Canadian band like Sloan seem like elder statesmen. And after a pair of just-decent releases at the front of this decade, Sloan did seem like they might finally be running out of relentlessly catchy tunes. Then they unleashed their eighth album, Never Hear The End Of It. It's a fairly astonishing feat: 30 songs, tightly packed onto one album that plays like anyone else's greatest hits, except these are all new and by a band almost 15 years old.
8. St. Vincent, Marry Me (7)
"Now. Now." by St. Vincent
Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, sounds like an artist hitting her stride, even though Marry Me is the singer/multi-instrumentalist's debut. She cut her teeth as a supporting member in both The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens' band, but it's difficult to imagine her sharing the spotlight with anyone else after this. Her live shows vary lineups and song arrangements and her guitar playing is somehow studied and jazz-like without being overwrought. Her voice is as engaging as her emotive, doe eyes. Her songs are both tragic and full of wry humor. In short, Annie Clark did not make a perfect album, but at some point, it seems like she will.
9. Interpol, Our Love To Admire (6)
10. Elvis Perkins, Ash Wednesday (6)
"While You Were Sleeping" by Elvis Perkins
When Elvis Perkins surfaced this year with Ash Wednesday, his own back-story almost took the spotlight away from the music. Journalists clamored to speak with him about his famous father (Anthony Perkins) and the tragedy of his mother's death aboard one of the planes that flew into the Twin Towers on 9/11 (photographer Berry Berenson). That story is told. From here on, Perkins should be taken on his own merits as a songwriter, one who has been compared to Bob Dylan, but probably has as more in common with the surrealist carnival atmosphere of Neutral Milk Hotel.
11. Queens Of The Stone Age, Era Vulgaris (6)
12. Augie March, Moo, You Bloody Choir (5)
"The Cold Acre" by Augie March
Australian quintet Augie March is a vehicle for singer-guitarist Glenn Richards, whose boozy revelations and melancholic sing-a-long pop has yet to make him the underground hero in the States that he should be. Moo, You Bloody Choir was originally released in 2005, but not until this year in America. On it, Augie March continues to patiently chip away like a slow sip from a poured pint, awaiting their cult to grow into an actual following.
13. The Besnard Lakes, The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse (5)
Somewhere in the gulf that exists between The Beach Boys and Slowdive resides The Besnard Lakes. Husband and wife Olga Goreas and Jace Lasek form the band's core, Lasek having made a name for himself as a studio-owner and producer of note in Montreal. Are The Dark Horse has all the earmarks of a seasoned engineer recording his own material, as the seeming simplicity of these songs reveal secret layers on repeated listens. The couples' voices work effectively together in fragile harmonies, on the verge of bending out of tune along with the swirling melodies. It's pure, orchestrated atmosphere, but of the headphone variety, not the dinner-party kind.
14. Richard Hawley, Lady's Bridge (5)
15. The Veils, Nux Vomica (5)
1. James Murphy & Pat Mahoney, FabricLive 36 (15)
It might seem odd to rank a DJ mix so high on a year-end list, especially when only nine of its 24 selections post-date 1993. (The other 15 were released between 1978 and 1983.) But in the hands of LCD Soundsystem leader James Murphy and drummer Pat Mahoney, this stuff sounds absolutely up-to-the-minute, even for those already familiar with it. Outside club-cult gems by Instant Funk, Chic, Was (Not Was), and an LCD B-side, chances are that most people aren't.
2. M.I.A., Kala (14)
3. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (13)
What a paradox: a tight-ass who can sing—and arrange—like a soul man when he feels like it.
4. Pantha Du Prince, This Bliss (12)
"Steiner Im Flug" by Pantha du Prince
Often, minimal techno is "moody" by default: Strip anything down enough and it will seem haunted. But this tour de force by Hamburg producer Hendrik Weber simultaneously creeps and soothes. Bell-heavy percussion cracks open a soft-focused low-end glide that glowers but never seems listless; these long songs loom larger as they pass. It's as dark and beautiful as any dance music this decade.
5. LCD Soundsystem, Sound Of Silver (11)
6. John Prine & Mac Wiseman, Standard Songs For Average People (9)
"Old Cape Cod" by John Prince & Mac Wiseman
Two wizened old guys with long memories and great senses of humor gather a group of crack Nashville session cats and go to town on their idea of the Great American Songbook. A friend called it "the most amiable record I think I've ever heard," and he was right. You're sure to fall in love with "Old Cape Cod."
7. The Field, From Here We Go Sublime (8)
"Everyday" by The Field
Two years after the monster epic-trance flashback 12-inch "Love vs. Distance," Swedish dance producer Axel Willner settles down a little and crafts an hour-plus of crescendos to cuddle to, transforming everything from the doo-wop Flamingos to the guitar solo of Lionel Richie's "Hello" into gauzy gorgeousness.
8. Lil Wayne, Da Drought 3 (7)
9. Various Artists, Motel Lovers: Southern Soul From The Chitlin' Circuit (6)
Deeply unfashionable (and as crafty as anything else on any year-end list), this is a collection of 18 songs, mostly from this decade, of cheating-centric blues-soul, derived from late-'60s Stax but only on the Lee Fields cut really sounding much like it. Sometimes the arrangements are chintzy—lots of tinny keyboards—but the singing and songwriting is so superb you'll learn to love them.
10. The Pierces, Thirteen Tales Of Love And Revenge (5)
Les Savy Fav, Let's Stay Friends
Danuel Tate, Pushcard EP
Kenge Kenge, Introducing Kenge Kenge
Various Artists, Hyphy Hitz
Nev Wright, August 2007
Nick Lowe, At My Age
Gogol Bordello, Super Taranta!
Blonde Redhead, 23
Luke Vibert, Chicago, Detroit, Redruth
Kanye West, Graduation
Tabu Ley Rochereau is a sweet-voiced Congolese soukous legend, pure of tone and possessed of uncannily deft phrasing, usually over grooves of stunning beauty. Miles Davis was the dark prince of jazz trumpet, one of the 20th century's great bandleaders and innovators, who in the early '70s didn't so much fuse jazz, rock, funk, and modern classical as ignited them all simultaneously. They didn't have much in common, then, apart from one crucial thing: whenever Rochereau's two-CD The Voice of Lightness: Congo Classics 1961-1977 and Davis's six-CD The Complete On The Corner Sessions were playing, they made me want to swear off all other music for a week.
MU-ZIQ MAKES THE PEOPLE COME TOGETHER
Electronic music saw a number of 2007 trends, both high profile (the ravey, rocking "blog house" of Justice, Simian Mobile Disco, and SebastiAn) and bubbling under (the outrageously lubricious bounce of northern England's "bassline house"). But the most surprising was the quiet resurgence of Planet Mu, the label of IDM icon Mike Paradinas, a.k.a. Mu-Ziq. Paradinas, best known for his silly song titles and squinchy beats, may no longer be in the electronic-pop vanguard, but he's proven one sharp A&R man: 2007 saw strong work by Luke Vibert (Chicago, Detroit, Redruth), Neil Landstrumm (Restaurant Of Assassins), Shitmat (Grooverider) and Mu-Ziq himself (Duntisbourne Abbots Soulmate Devastation Technique—told you about those titles). Best of all was Distance's My Demons, the friendliest (and maybe best) single-artist dubstep album. And the bargain-priced double-CD Planet Mu 200 offered a good, cheap way in.
THOSE WERE THE DAYS
Blame Rod Stewart: 2007 was silly with covers albums, ranging from Barry Manilow covering '70s hits to kids-lullaby renditions of the Nirvana and Cure catalogues, from Babyface's middling Playlist to the pointless soundtrack to Todd Haynes' Bob Dylan flick I'm Not There to Ann Wilson's execrable Hope & Glory. (Her "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall," featuring Rufus Wainwright singing into an echo chamber, is a camp classic in the making.) Maybe it says something that the best albums exploiting the concept consisted of duets. John Prine & Mac Wiseman are detailed above; also wonderful was Robert Plant & Alison Krauss's T-Bone Burnett-produced Raising Sand, which made songs ranging from Gene Clark's "Through The Morning, Through The Night," Doc Watson's "Your Long Journey," and "Please Read The Letter," from Plant's own Walking To Clarksdale (his 1998 album with Jimmy Page), sound like new territory rather than old ground.
1. The Thrills, Teenager (15)
"The Midnight Choir" by The Thrills
Great albums have two basic parts: a general idea that sticks with you and coaxes out sentiments you don't readily exhibit, and fantastically catchy and memorable songs of the sing-along variety. The Thrills accomplish both with Teenager, which harps to a theme that every person on the planet can relate to: the sad nostalgia of recollecting lost youth. Who doesn't think back to (and wish to recapture) the bizarre freedom of adolescence, when responsibility was at a minimum and life was fueled by optimistic idealism? The Thrills aren't the first to use that as inspiration, of course, but the sentiment comes through clearly with briskly upbeat tracks mixed with yearning, melancholy ballads, given a piercingly frail sheen by Conor Deasy's vocals. Teenager isn't depressing or moody, but it will have you solemnly lost in your own fond memories even while humming along to its brightest pop songs.
2. Vusi Mahlasela, Guiding Star (14)
"Pata Pata" by Vusi Mahlasela
Indie-rock snobs hear the phrase "world music" and immediately tune out. How miserable for them, then, that they'll never be touched by the magic of South Africa's most celebrated songwriter, Vusi Mahlasela, or Guiding Star, a sadly shimmering masterpiece that speaks to humanity rather than nationality. Guiding Star rigidly adheres to this global vision, reaching into the homes and rural farms—in which all the songs were recorded—of South Africa and around the world to find a common expression that rings with fierce honesty and infuses with a warming sense of community. On that level, trying to place the songs in one category or another embarrassingly misses the point; yes, there are tinges of Afro-pop and world folk, but whether the songs are sung in English or Zulu doesn't matter in the place that Mahlasela's grippingly expressive voice takes you. Don't let a Dave Matthews cameo be enough to turn you off to music that really matters.
3. Radiohead, In Rainbows (13)
Radiohead has already established itself as one of the most important bands of the past 15 years, a legacy drawn from their heroic shattering and rebuilding of their identity for each new album. But, by 2003's Hail To The Thief, it seemed unlikely the group had enough raw material left to create something totally new—at some point, they'd have to step on their own toes. How fantastically unexpected, then, is In Rainbows, which finds uncharted territory for the band not so much in instrumentation or song structure, but in sheer attitude. In Rainbows is a romantic Radiohead, an accessible Radiohead, a Radiohead that sounds like a full band. It's a personal Radiohead, a soul-baring Radiohead, a clear and straightforward Radiohead. It's a collection of songs rather than some big, sweeping, conceptual vision, a big-hearted expression of emotion that is instantly more human than any of the group's previous records. Which makes it, stunningly, a bigger achievement than anything the band has done to date.
4. LCD Soundsystem, Sound Of Silver (12)
James Murphy's Sound Of Silver is an unquestioned masterpiece of such magnitude, it's been hard for music reviewers this year to explain it. Instead, we've gotten Bowie comparisons (both made cohesive, genre-fusing dance-music albums) and Velvet Underground comparisons (always a go-to if anything is simultaneously groundbreaking and amusing) and God knows what else, but it's all easily summed up quite plainly: Murphy is an extraordinary songwriter who can make you laugh, cry, dance, swoon, and feel whatever else people listen to music to feel. Sound Of Silver, at some point or another, does all of those things, making classification worthless; it's almost this living and breathing entity you'll want to hang out with time and time again.
5. Devon Sproule, Keep Your Silver Shined (11)
"Eloise And Alex" by Devon Sproule
The impression of today's folk scene being dominated by aging, 60s-worshipping coffeehouse-circuit snoozers may or may not be accurate, but, either way, 24-year-old singer-songwriter Devon Sproule is pushing out the old guard and trying her damnedest to make the scene feel relevant again. And, thankfully, not in the politically charged hippie way: Keep Your Silver Shined lets the folk of yesteryear be and focuses on very real emotions and attitudes, creating something bold, energetic, articulate, and, ultimately, joyous. While generally sticking to the standard instrumentation of the genre, Sproule creates something completely independent of the atmospheric blah of her peers. Loose, likeable, and infectiously upbeat about life, Keep Your Silver Shined is a perky pick-me-up of rich songwriting.
6. Iron And Wine, The Shepherd's Dog (10)
If your style of music is hushed, melancholy, rhythmic finger-picking, you can often say more with less—the sparseness of the production creates an inescapable atmosphere unto itself. But it's kind of obvious and, well, easy. Which is what makes The Shepherd's Dog such an accomplishment: Using a wide array of instrumentation and an entire palette of sonic colors, Sam Beam paints that same mood in an infinitely more detailed (and, ultimately, powerful) way. It's a sharper vision, as the structured layering of his whispered vocals and majestic production ground the somber songs in a communal foundation; it is also, however, soaringly imaginative in its creepy, dreamlike abstraction. It's not too difficult to get breathy with a solo guitar before a one-track recorder in the basement and sound eerily solemn; the more you add, the more opportunity you have to mess it all up, but The Shepherd's Dog finds an intricately perfect balance.
7. Super Furry Animals, Hey Venus! (9)
Speaking of concept albums, the best thing the Super Furry Animals did during the making of Hey Venus! was to ditch the idea of making it one. The result: one of the best straight-up power-pop albums in years. (There's something to be said about a band that, after 15 years, manages to make their eighth album the one that provides the best introduction.) In the Super Furry Animals' distinctly weird universe, Hey Venus! is a dance circle of songs, in which each cheerfully bright tune shimmies to the center for a couple of minutes and does a little solo hoedown while the other songs smile and twirl around it.
8. Nine Inch Nails, Year Zero (7)
Discussion of the record's marketing strategy aside—we're judging music here, not promotional packages—Year Zero is a fantastic effort by Trent Reznor for one reason only: The songs rock. One can take or leave the concept of the record, portraying a dystopian America circa 2022 in which a totalitarian government runs every aspect of society, but one cannot deny the slinky seduction of the record's atmosphere and expert craftsmanship of its parts. That said, Year Zero is much better if one suspends their preconceptions and buys into the fictional-future deal, which cohesively bonds this pile of sonic fragments into fascinating hooks and creepily complicated anthems of paranoia. Unquestionably more involved and captivating than NIN's breakout The Downward Spiral, Year Zero is a mesmerizing, coolly calculated, descent into madness.
9. Paul McCartney, Memory Almost Full (5)
Aging rockers nearing career ends seem to think the only way to make a relevant record is to infuse it with gloomy, morose introspection, but Sir Paul's Memory Almost Full takes a different tack—looking back at his life and career with an amiable elegance that glosses over regrets. Shedding all pretension, Memory Almost Full doesn't try to sign on to any musical trend; it's an open-eyed collection of private thoughts about time passed. With catchy, melodic songs that achieve longevity through simplicity, Memory Almost Full is big-hearted and honest. Which makes McCartney, as a person, feel much more real: Just because your grandparents are old doesn't mean they're always sullenly moping about it, does it?
10. Richard Hawley, Lady's Bridge (4)
Have you ever wandered into an antiques store and seen a box of old photographs for sale? You don't know who those people are. You don't know what they're doing. You don't know how these pictures ended up in a small box being pawned off for $3 a pop. There's no reason why you might want an old photo of things you know nothing about—but yet, as you idly flip through the stack, you're increasingly engrossed by these tantalizing glimpses of everything about life, captured in faded moments quietly saddened by the knowledge that these people, too, are nearly forgotten in time. That, in a nutshell, is Richard Hawley's Lady's Bridge, a hypnotically enduring piece that's every bit a success as 2005's critically acclaimed Coles Corner.
1. The National, Boxer (15)
Based on the success of 2005's Alligator, The National might have been tempted to make a disc full of more upbeat rockers, something to draw an even bigger crowd. But Boxer is beautifully muted and understated, drawing its intensity from slow burn. "Fake Empire" and "Start A War" are still absolutely crushing, though, and they're the centerpieces of an album that plays like an album. It feels like an agitated rainy night ("Apartment Story") giving way to a hopeful rainy morning (the magnificent "Gospel"). No 2007 disc was as perfectly consistent in its vision.
2. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible (13)
The biggest little band in indie-rock (both in sheer numbers and in friends-with-Bruce-Springsteen status), Arcade Fire went from unknown to ubiquitous with Funeral, then used its newfound fame to explore Big Issues on album number two. That shouldn't have worked, but Neon Bible bites off exactly as much as it can chew, tackling religion with fierce humor ("Antichrist Television Blues," "Intervention"), but never forgetting that its music is ultimately about celebration ("No Cars Go"). Unabashedly earnest and unironic in a world (and scene) that devalues those traits, Neon Bible is a huge rock album built to endure. Never mind the sophomore slump—it's the next one that will find it hard to raise to this bar.
3. Bloc Party, A Weekend In The City (12)
4. Low, Drums And Guns (12)
Low may have been attempting to smash perceptions about a genre it essentially created—"slowcore"—with 2005's The Great Destroyer, and though it was a huge step, the transformation wasn't complete until Drums And Guns. A scary, lustily engaged set of songs, it's violent ("Murderer," "Pretty People," "Breaker") one minute and beautifully sweeping the next (the electronics-assisted "Belarus"). It's also nothing short of a complete recreation for a band that could've gone slow and steady forever.
5. Radiohead, In Rainbows (12)
6. Neil Young, Live At Massey Hall 1971 (11)
Depending on which side of Neil Young you're prone to embrace—acoustic or Crazy Horse-d—Live At Massey Hall 1971 will seem like either the Holy Grail or just another acoustic boot. For those wanting the rock, a live CH disc came out this year, too, but this solo set captures Young at the absolute pinnacle of his songwriting and performing powers, playing several songs that would end up on Harvest the following year. It's the perfect point of entry for those who've never experienced the chill-giving sparseness just his guitar and voice provide.
7. Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank (7)
8. Editors, An End Has A Start (5)
"An End Has A Start" by Editors
Hello, I am miles and miles better than the Interpol record that came out this year, so please stop giving me a hard time.
9. Band Of Horses, Cease To Begin (3)
10. Les Savy Fav, Let's Stay Friends (3)
EXCELLENT SONGS FROM ALBUMS THAT DIDN'T QUITE MAKE THE LIST
!!!, "Must Be The Moon"
Maximo Park, "Girls Who Play Guitars"
"Girls Who Play Guitar" by Maximo Park
Yeasayer, "Red Cave"
Arctic Monkeys, "Brianstorm"
Sigur Ros, "Vaka (acoustic)"
Illinois, "Alone Again"
Vic Chesnutt, "You Are Never Alone"
Los Campesinos, "Frontwards"
Kanye West, "Can't Tell Me Nothing"
Of Montreal, "Suffer For Fashion"
"Suffer For Fashion" by Of Montreal
Figurines, "Good Old Friends"
LCD, "North American Scum"
Bishop Allen, "Click Click Click Click"
"Click Click Click Click" by Bishop Allen
Art Brut, "Post Soothing Out"
The Shins, "Phantom Limb"
Iron And Wine, "Lovesong Of The Buzzard"
Interpol, "The Heinrich Maneuver"
The White Stripes, "Little Cream Soda"
Black Moth Super Rainbow, "Forever Heavy"
THE COMEDY ALBUM THAT WOULD'VE MADE THE BIG LIST IF WE ALLOWED COMEDY ALBUMS
Patton Oswalt's Werewolves And Lollipops actually made lots of our year-end lists, but since this is best-of music, we had to disqualify it. But that shouldn't stop you from buying it, because it's fall-down hilarious. While you're in the comedy section, check out the stand-up compilation Comedy Death-Ray; Patton's on there, too, along with David Cross, Maria Bamford, Neil Hamburger, The Office's Mindy Kaling, and lots more.
1. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible (15)
On album number two, Arcade Fire attempted something grand, evoking terror and transcendence via music a lot clearer than the clatter on the still-quite-good Funeral. Some have knocked the familiarity of Neon Bible's sound—and even some of its melodies—but the record's immediacy is primarily an attempt to plug into the common rock charge, and savor how it feels to make an audience feel good.
2. Radiohead, In Rainbows (13)
Because a lot of fans who downloaded In Rainbows were too lazy to burn it onto a CD or move it onto their portable MP3 players, the album became default listening when they were stuck in front of their computers for any length of time, and thus became woven into the pulse of the day. From the caffeinated jitters of "15 Step" to the arrhythmic zone-out of "Videotape," In Rainbows reflects almost any modern mood.
3. The White Stripes, Icky Thump (12)
It's hard not to be just a little in love with an album that includes songs as entertaining as the flamenco-core workout "Conquest" and the cheerfully pissy Faces-style shuffle "Effect And Cause." Icky Thump is an album of crushing riffs and winking bad-boy patter, steeped in the mythology of blues, country, and arena-rock.
4. Field Music, Tones Of Town (10)
After packing its debut album packed with fractured hooks and restless rhythms, this Sunderland art-pop trio presented a song-cycle of sorts for its second effort, running through a day in the life of an anxious urbanite who's "Working To Work." Field Music's complicated melodies are delivered with terse, almost robotic precision, like classic Elton John reinterpreted by Spoon.
5. Kings Of Leon, Because Of The Times (10)
Kings Of Leon's journey into deconstruction continued on a 13-song mood piece that sounds like it was cobbled together from spare bridges, codas, and reprises. Because Of The Times is an album of striking textures, following its own eccentric muse at its own fitful rate.
6. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky (10)
Inventive, rich, and likeably human, Sky Blue Sky circles gently and never fully lands. Again and again, Wilco starts a song that sounds like it could be a new pop-folk standard, then abandons it after a minute or two to go rooting around in the soil. Between the loud, jammy interludes, Tweedy coos sweet words of regret and reconciliation, poignant but never pat.
7. Rogue Wave, Asleep At Heaven's Gate (5)
"Lake Michigan" by Rogue Wave
Evenly split between the swing-for-the-fences ambition of Arcade Fire and the intricate miniatures of The Shins, Rogue Wave's third album serves up precisely paced and effortlessly poppy anthems that run on long enough to resonate, growing from ripples to waves.
8. The Twilight Sad, Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters (5)
Shimmering feedback, a circular cadence, and swoony memories of a desperately idle youth run through The Twilight Sad's signature song, "That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy," and establish a theme of reflecting on adolescence with a sense of perspective and hard-won wisdom. The songs on Fourteen Autumns are loud, and graced with long-line melodies that are easy to hum, but hardly quick or disposable. The band's biggest strength is its willingness to start a song in mid-sprawl—frequently with an opening line that continues a previously interrupted train of thought—and then to radiate out, untethered.
9. Tegan And Sara, The Con (5)
On album number five, Canadian pop-rock sisters Tegan And Sara defied conventional notions of rock rhythm by featuring songs that seem to go through at least three melodic changes before recycling. Throughout The Con, the music ticks along like a room full of malfunctioning clocks, while Tegan And Sara keep their own swaggering pace, maintaining an almost painful sense of intimacy and personal exposure in their lyrics.
10. Joni Mitchell, Shine (5)
Yes, it's strange for an artist so politically active and so prickly about the failings of the music business to release her album through Starbucks. And yes, Shine's deconstructed zydeco rendition of "Big Yellow Taxi" plays like a kind of aesthetic loss-leader, appeasing the impulse buyers so that Mitchell can blindside them later with the anti-war bombast of "Strong And Wrong." But the odd clunky lyric aside, Shine is a winningly smooth ride, integrating folk, jazz, and worldbeat into a tuneful neo-boho mix that suits Mitchell's maturing voice. It's only the best album in 30 years by one of the most important singer-songwriters in pop history.
11. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, Living With The Living (2)
The narrow focus of Ted Leo's Billy Bragg-meets-The Jam-meets-Thin Lizzy style can make his albums sound kind of samey, but on Living With The Living, The Pharmacists expanded their range, drawing on the pop, soul and reggae influences that have always lurked below the surface of Leo's tuneful agit-punk. Leo strings together an assortment of love songs and protest songs, at once rousing the rabble and feeding their souls.
12. Feist, The Reminder (2)
Back in Paris with expatriate pianist Chilly Gonzales and an assortment of fellow travelers, Feist put together a set of assured, striking songs with an offhand, lazing-around-on-a-rainy-afternoon feel. Throughout The Reminder, Feist keeps the instrumentation spare, to clarify the way she plays old sounds against new, spiritual against secular, and theatrics against sincerity. The album sounds best on headphones, since its rich room tone and casual instrumental interplay is essential to the experience.
13. brakesbrakesbrakes, The Beatific Visions (2)
"Hold Me In The River" by brakesbrakesbrakes
The Beatific Visions pushed the pop-punk and roots-rock sides of Brakes—or "brakesbrakesbrakes" as they're called in the U.S.—in songs that are simultaneously muscular and wide-open. There's a lot of roadhouse kick and yelp here, propelled by friendly backbeat and breath-catching acoustic interludes. It's the best possible kind of casual, and a full-service entertainment machine.
14. The Zincs, Black Pompadour (2)
This unassuming-but-stellar Chicago outfit crafts tautly tuneful mood pieces, built on dark, sweet jangle and baroque imagery. There's a restrained-but-definite earnestness about The Zincs, best-expressed in Black Pompadour's opening song, "Head East, Kaspar," where the wayward rhythm matches lyrics that are cautionary yet reassuring.
15. Deerhoof, Friend Opportunity (2)
Friend Opportunity restored Deerhoof's reputation for listener-friendly avant-garde, adding hard-rock muscle to cooing melodies and artsy fragmentation. The arrestingly choppy songs that make up the first two-thirds of this 35-minute album contrast to the climactic 12-minute track "Look Away," a cosmic jam that does with formlessness what the rest of Friend Opportunity does with microscopic cuts and obsessive shaping—proving it's possible to blow minds without battering people with reckless atonality. This record is adventurous and strange, but never insular.
Band Of Horses
The High Llamas
The Ike Reilly Assassination
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
The New Pornographers
THE KEY EPS
Los Campesinos' twin minis Sticking Fingers Into Sockets and International Tweecore Underground announced the much-blogged-about Welsh indie-pop act's skewed sense of humor, along with their preference for glockenspiels and fiddles as well as overcranked guitars. Rarely have such grand melodies been delivered with such a surprising amount of aggression.
A WINNING REISSUE
The crate-digging heroes at The Numero Group shared Catherine Howe's airy 1971 folk-jazz curio What A Beautiful Place with fans of Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, The 5th Dimension, and Nick Drake, as well as everyone else who likes gentle, windswept ballads that sport their own bruised integrity. Howe's pretty, solemn songs couch hard truths in soft clothes, reflecting the mood of 2007 as much as 1971.
1. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (10)
Adding a horn section can smack of bloat and desperation, and while indie-rock's most economical band may have stretched itself by adding layers of Philly soul on its sixth album, the tunes within are as nattily dressed and whip-smart as ever. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is further testament to Britt Daniel's maturing singularity as a songwriter, too: He slips from hooky FM pop to experimental abstracts to ragged post-punk, but always with an unmistakable bite. With the bouncy, horn-sweetened come-ons of "You Got Yr Cherry Bomb" and the Van Morrison-esque retro-pastiche of "The Underdog," Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga swung for the fences and landed the band its first ever Top 10 debut. But as Middle America-friendly as those tunes are, the highlights are the relatively more modest "Eddie's Raga" and "Finer Feelings," both of which sound like nothing more revelatory than great Spoon songs—a commodity that becomes more valuable with each passing year.
2. LCD Soundsystem, Sound Of Silver (10)
3. Les Savy Fav, Let's Stay Friends (10)
The band's two-year hiatus left a lot of fans expecting the worst, so having Let's Stay Friends roar out of the gate, ferocious as ever, with what may be their strongest full-length was kind of like having your parents say they're divorcing, only to turn around and say, "Just kidding, plus here's a new bike!" Hearing Tim Harrington assure us (on "Pots And Pans"), "This band's a beating heart / And it's nowhere near its end" makes the future seem just a little brighter.
4. The National, Boxer (10)
5. White Rabbits, Fort Nightly (10)
"Kid On My Shoulders" by White Rabbits
Formed too late to capitalize on the New New York explosion already beaten to death by The Strokes and The Walkmen, the blue-eyed soulsters in White Rabbits obviously missed their moment in the zeitgeist. Fortunately, the band's remarkably self-assured Fort Nightly is a timeless fusion of jangly art-rock, dark calypso atmosphere, and woozy barroom laments that transcends any notions of a "scene," and the songs themselves are full of bleary-eyed, Lost Generation imagery, propulsive rhythms (having two drummers helps), and the kind of smoky, ragtime piano that never goes out of style. There simply wasn't a better-dressed debut all year.
6. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible (5)
Resolved: This is the only modern indie band that can name-check Bruce Springsteen and get away with it. Seriously.
7. Liars, Liars (5)
"Plaster Casts Of Everything" by Liars
Forgoing both the occasionally grating experimental obtuseness of They Were Wrong, So We Drowned and the heady Berlin-influenced mesmerism of last year's Drum's Not Dead, Liars' fourth album found the "difficult" Brooklyn band embracing guitars and traditional song structure in a way they hadn't in years, surprisingly yielding the same galvanizing (and polarizing) rewards. Punishing lead-off single "Plaster Casts Of Everything" may be the closest the band has ever come to rocking with its cock out, and, if nothing else, Liars deserves credit for treading in tricky crossover waters without coming off like a pandering joke. It's safe to say we'll never know what they'll come up with next—and how many bands can you say that about these days?
8. Yeasayer, All Hour Cymbals (5)
"2080" by Yeasayer
The haters came out in full force to decry this Brooklyn band as yet another batch of pretend-bohemians combining vintage folk instruments and synthesizers, but as always, those knee-jerks missed out on one hell of a beautiful album. Taking the glitch-gospel of TV On The Radio and lessons cribbed from Peter Gabriel and David Byrne (who were also once laughed at for branching out into "world" music), All Hour Cymbals couches its post-apocalyptic vision in stirring melodies and multi-layered head trips that reward closer study.
9. Against Me!, New Wave (5)
Forget for a moment that it was released by a major label, was greeted with cries of "sellout!", and was glossily produced by Butch Vig: New Wave is a solid, hook-filled rock album that—while it can't avoid sounding hypocritical to anyone who's followed the band from its unforgiving DIY days—manages to translate the band's usual anti-capitalist screeds and industry-related laments into digestible, sing-along packages. If the title track ("We can be the bands we want to hear / We can define our own generation") didn't inspire a hundred kids to pick up guitars this year, then there's no hope left for punk rock.
10. Menomena, Friend And Foe (5)
Lost in all the talk of the band's use of digital looping trickery—which, as it turns out, is only a fraction of its spaced-out, band-geeks-on-Whip-Its sound—was Friend And Foe's big beating heart, which bled all the vulnerability, rancor, optimism, and bewilderment of human existence over its meticulously crafted tracks, offering the same slightly warped reflection of the soul that The Flaming Lips used to, back before they turned into sentimental captains of the obvious. Few songs this year reached heights as uplifting as the refrain of opener "Muscle'n Flo"—and as the song itself says, "There's so much more left to do."
11. Grinderman, Grinderman (5)
Even if Nick Cave were to put out an album of Mel Tormé songs next year, you can bet his fanbase would snap it up without a second thought. Lucky for us, then, rather than slip gracefully into in his 50s (or a rumpled tuxedo), Cave chose to revisit his hungry days as the howling beast of The Birthday Party with this album of guitar-driven, post-punk ditties. As primal as the monkey gracing its (ugly-ass) cover, Grinderman foregoes the cabaret trappings of latter-era Bad Seeds for proto-industrial scrapes and raw, fuzzed-out dirges, with Cave in blackly hilarious form on songs like the married man's lament "No Pussy Blues"—and all the twentysomethings just stand there slackjawed.
12. Von Südenfed, Tromatic Reflexxions (5)
"The Rhinohead" by Von Sudenfed
Combining The Fall's irascible savant with the playful electro-pop experimentalists in Mouse On Mars could have been just another in a long line of underwhelming guest-spot paychecks for Mark E. Smith, so imagine the surprise of fans of both bands when it turned out to be the best work either has done in years. Of course, Smith's caustic ramblings have been punctuated with blasts of electronics for nearly two decades now, but it's been a long time since they've sounded this electric. Here's hoping for Round Two.
13. St. Vincent, Marry Me (5)
"Now. Now." by St. Vincent
Who knew that that cute pixie wielding guitars behind The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens had so much more to offer? Annie Clark's seductive debut recalls the art-damaged weirdness of Kate Bush given a wry, Gilmore Girls makeover: It's sentimental without being cloying, quirky without being off-putting, and crammed with more musical ideas per line than a dozen Regina Spektor records. And while Clark's elastic, mellifluous voice is Marry Me's biggest revelation, the talented multi-instrumentalist also shows great promise as an arranger, wrangling snaking guitar lines, pianos, synthesizers, xylophones, and a whole host of other eccentric instrumentation while never treading into preciousness or schmaltzy bombast. She deserves the spotlight.
14. Bat For Lashes, Fur And Gold (5)
Born to a family of famous squash players (how very Wes Anderson), and gifted with exotic beauty and an amazing voice, Natasha Khan was destined for stardom. Fortunately, she eschewed the Norah Jones/Starbucks route and chose to follow her own freakish muse as Bat For Lashes, an eclectic chamber-pop project steeped in baroque instrumentation and dark-forest mysticism. And then she turned out a spellbinding debut that never loses its mystique.
15. Grizzly Bear, Friend (5)
Yes it's a between-albums EP (and you're sort of right for supposing that this is a late-bloomer's attempt to make up for egregiously leaving Yellow House off of last year's list) but Friend is far from filler: The road-tested, refined versions of songs from both the psych-folk band's breakout and its gritty, lo-fi debut Horn Of Plenty are different enough from their originals to count as brand new, and the inclusion of live favorite "He Hit Me" (the oft-covered Crystals' ode to domestic abuse) is reason enough to earn it a spot on this chart. In fact, the only reason Friend doesn't place much higher is for including useless "bonus" covers from other artists instead of that superior version of "Fix It" that usually opens the band's shows. Oh well. There's always next year.
Dirty Projectors, Rise Above
Celebration, The Modern Tribe
Elvis Perkins, Ash Wednesday
Amy Winehouse, Back To Black
Michael Cashmore, The Snow Abides
Art Brut, It's A Bit Complicated
Okkervil River, The Stage Names
Jay-Z, American Gangster
Dizzee Rascal, Maths + English
Earlimart, Mentor Tormentor
Studio, Yearbook 1
The Besnard Lakes, Are The Dark Horse
A Place To Bury Strangers, S/T
White Denim, Let's Talk About It EP
Yellow Fever, Cats And Rats
GOOD SONGS FROM ALBUMS NOT ON THE LIST
1990s, "You're Supposed To Be My Friend"
Bruce Springsteen, "Radio Nowhere"
brakesbrakesbrakes, "Cease And Desist"
The Horrors, "Sheena Is A Parasite"
Mastodon, "Cut You Up With A Linoleum Knife"
Panda Bear, "Bros"
Panther, "Use Your Mouth To Breathe"
Tracy Jordan, "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah"
ALBUMS THAT PROBABLY WOULD HAVE CHARTED IF THEY HAD COME OUT IN TIME
Ghostface Killah, The Big Doe Rehab
Wu-Tang Clan, 8 Diagrams
MOST IRRITATING SONG OF THE YEAR
Tie: Feist, "1234" / Ingrid Michaelson, "The Way I Am"
Ah, the double-edged sword of selling your songs to commercials. Yes, you can get career-making exposure—it's doubtful that anybody would have heard Michaelson's treacly "The Way I Am" had it not been run ad nauseum on those Old Navy spots—but it can also turn you from an underground sensation to a one-hit wonder in record time. Here's hoping Feist, a talented member of the Broken Social Scene collective whose solo records are actually quite lovely, outlasts the flash-in-the-pan love she's garnered from those goddamn iPod ads.
HIPSTER BAND AFFECTATION OF THE YEAR
HIPSTER NAME-DROP OF THE YEAR
"We're really influenced by The Band."
BEST PRESS INDICATOR THAT YOUR BAND IS FOR PUSSIES
"As heard on Grey's Anatomy!"
SIGNS THAT THE MUSIC INDUSTRY MAY NOT BE WORTH SAVING
The enduring popularity of Soulja Boy/Fergie/Hinder/Nickelback.
THE SHUT THE FUCK UP AWARD
Tie: Kanye West and 50 Cent.
OKAY, so 'Ye sort of gets a free pass because his mom died, and we're not about kicking a man when he's down, but prior to that he spent 2007 acting like the same old attention-whoring baby, epitomized by his widely circulated temper-tantrum backstage at the MTV Video Music Awards. Then there's 50 Cent, who spent most of the year having a nobody-gives-a-shit feud with Cam'ron, then challenged West to an album sales-off over Graduation and Curtis. West won handily, but guess what? Neither album was all that.
1. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible (12)
2. Amy Winehouse, Back To Black (12)
3. LCD Soundsystem, Sound Of Silver (12)
4. Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger (12)
5. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (12)
6. Tegan & Sara, The Con (12)
7. PJ Harvey, White Chalk (12)
P.J. Harvey has never been shy about reinventing her sound, but White Chalk takes her way outside her comfort zone. Abandoning guitar for piano and wails for whispers, she delivered an album of hauntingly spare songs about despair, discomfort, and the way sometimes even staying close to home can leave you feeling lost.
8. Jay-Z, American Gangster (6)
9. The Shins, Wincing The Night Away (5)
10. Bruce Springsteen, Magic (5)
The National, Boxers
Band Of Horses, Cease To Begin
The New Pornographers, Challengers
The White Stripes, Icky Thump
Radiohead, In Rainbows
Art Brut, It's A Bit Complicated
Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
Aqueduct, Or Give Me Death
Wilco, Sky Blue Sky
Common, Finding Forever
Porter Wagoner, The Wagonmaster (R.I.P.)
1. Devin The Dude, Waiting To Inhale (10)
2. Lily Allen, Alright, Still (10)
3. Little Brother, The Getback (10)
4. R. Kelly, Double Up (10)
5. Ghostface Killah, The Big Doe Rehab (10)
6. Fountains Of Wayne, Traffic And Weather (10)
7. Brother Ali, The Undisputed Truth (10)
"Take Me Home" by Brother Ali
8. Amy Winehouse, Back To Black (10)
Big-haired, big-voiced retro-soul chanteuse Amy Winehouse waged a one-woman British invasion this year, winning over the American public with pretty pop songs that Trojan-horsed evil thoughts, pitch-black humor, and poisonous intentions. Breakout tracks "You Know I'm No Good" and "Rehab" swaggered with bad-girl bluster and cinematic atmosphere, but Winehouse proved equally adept at dialing down the nihilism and embracing swooning sentimentality on lush, unapologetically romantic songs like "Tears Dry On Their Own," "Some Unholy War," and "Back To Black." Winehouse's substance-abuse woes, habitual public breakdowns, and famously masochistic taste made her a ubiquitous tabloid fixture, but her timeless music seems destined to outlast her cultural moment as pop culture's reigning bad girl. In the end, it's better neither to burn out nor fade away.
9. Talib Kweli, Eardrum (10)
10. T-Pain, Epiphany (10)
Common, Finding Forever
Median, Median's Relief
Evidence, Weatherman LP
Chrisette Michele, I Am
Big City, The City Never Sleeps
1. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible (15)
After its much-ballyhooed 2004 debut, the Arcade Fire faced soul-crushingly heavy expectations for a follow-up and hype that guaranteed a backlash. Now far too popular to be an indie cause célèbre, the Arcade Fire nevertheless strode the tightrope confidently on Neon Bible, an album that looked to be the year's best when nine months still remained in 2007. Although other albums threatened, in the end, none matched Neon Bible's thrills.
2. The National, Boxer (12)
Thrilling in a different kind of way, The National's fourth album found the group yelling less and examining mood more. Although it lacked the cathartic rush of Alligator's "Abel" or "Mr. November," the restraint suits The National well.
3. Kanye West, Graduation (11)
A surprising non-contender for The A.V. Club's year-end list, Graduation couldn't possibly match its pre-release hype or the outsized personality (and persona) of its creator. But even with a couple of real clunkers—the undercooked "Barry Bonds" and the clumsiness, in both refrain and atmosphere, of "Drunk And Hot Girls"—Graduation had its usual share of West gold: "Stronger," "Homecoming," "Good Life." And it ends with what is perhaps West's gutsiest song, "Big Brother," a heartfelt and honest examination of his complex relationship with Jay-Z.
4. Modest Mouse, Were We Dead Before The Ship Even Sank (10)
Modest Mouse waited three years to follow up its mainstream-cracking Good News For People Who Love Bad News, and the interim produced an unlikely cohort: Former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr co-wrote We Were Dead and joined Modest Mouse full-time. The alt-rock world swooned at the possibilities, and We Were Dead delivered. Mainstream success hasn't watered down the group's considerable quirks, and Dead boasts an unprecedented number of hooks.
5. Low, Drums And Guns (10)
Low grows more devastating with each album. Drums And Guns didn't follow exactly in the footsteps of its predecessor, but maintained its unsettling experimental tendencies. Drums And Guns may be Low's least accessible album yet, but it's hard to complain when the results are this good.
6. Bloc Party, A Weekend In The City (10)
Like The Killers, Bloc Party debuted as a fluffy dance-rock outfit but decided to get serious on its sophomore album. The Killers' own self-importance sunk their efforts, but Bloc Party's haunting City felt natural and unforced. The band's debut, Silent Alarm, had its share of pathos, so its darker sibling shouldn't have surprised anyone.
7. Shellac, Excellent Italian Greyhound (9)
At this point, Shellac has nothing to prove and no one to impress. They've never given a shit about that anyway, but never has it been so obvious. Greyhound tests patience with two needlessly long, self-indulgent tracks ("The End Of Radio," "Genuine Lullabelle"), but Shellac has also never sounded like they're having so much fun. And, really, a slightly disappointing Shellac album is still better than 99 percent of the music out there.
8. Parts & Labor, Mapmaker (8)
"Fractured Skies" by Parts And Labor
Before Parts & Labor played on American Public Media's Sound Opinions talk show, WBEZ-Chicago's manager sent a letter to staff warning them about the volume that would follow. The band was a surprising fit for a show that typically hosts better-known artists, but there's a reason Parts & Labor was there: Mapmaker is pretty badass.
9. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, Living With The Living (8)
The story isn't that Living With The Living, Leo's fifth album with the Pharmacists and first for Touch & Go Records, made this year-end best-of list. It would've been a story if it hadn't. And as long as Leo keeps writing songs like "A Bottle Of Buckie," "The Sons Of Cain," and "C.I.A.," he'll be here next time, too.
10. Fall Out Boy, Infinity On High (7)
Overexposure to Pete Wentz's smug face long ago tainted perceptions of his band. That's a shame, and not just because Wentz-bashing is so passé. Infinity On High is perhaps the year's best pop album. The hooks come fast and furious and stick in your head long after the song has ended. Virtually every song (save piano ballad "Golden") could qualify as a hit, with tracks like "The Take Over, The Break's Over" and "Hum Hallelujah" providing the kind of giddy pop thrills unrivaled by anything else this year.
Patton Oswalt's Werewolves & Lollipops isn't a music album, but Oswalt's second stand-up CD just kills. If you haven't already gotten this and listened to it dozens of times, do it now. (And pick up Impersonal by Paul F. Tompkins while you're at it.)
Common, Finding Forever
If only every song was a great as the Lily Allen-assisted "Drivin' Me Wild."
Band Of Horses, Cease To Begin
An intriguing successor to Everything All The Time. These guys will be there by their next album.
The White Stripes, Icky Thump
Barely missed the top 10. "You Don't Know What Love Is," the title track, "Conquest"—really great stuff.
J Church, The Horror Of Life
Lance Hahn's final album wasn't his band's best, but nevertheless maintained the level of quality he established when J Church began in 1991.
Editors, An End Has A Start
"Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors" is one of the best singles of the year. The album gets a bit tedious, but Editors are definitely on their game.
LCD Soundsystem, Sound Of Silver
Another one that just missed the top 10. Fantastic.
Talib Kweli, Eardrum
Kweli brings in a host of A-list producers—and, at 20 tracks, mainstream-hip-hop-album bloat—but that breakthrough remains out of reach. It's too bad, because Eardrum has more than its share of great songs.
Radiohead, In Rainbows
Obviously…but it was missing something.
The Shins, Wincing The Night Away
Can we please stop talking about stupid-ass Garden State now?
Weatherbox, American Art
How can young kids from San Diego nail the sound of early-'90s Bay Area punk so well? And for Doghouse Records, no less?