The best music of 2007
As voted by The A.V. Club's music writers
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 the top 25 vote-getters of 2007, which should serve as a handy guide to the year's most notable music. (In a separate piece, you'll find each writer's individual ballot, along with commentary on their favorite albums and runners-up, and plenty more songs to listen to.]
25. Iron And Wine, The Shepherd's Dog (20 points]
"Boy With A Coin" by Iron & Wine
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.
24. James Murphy & Pat Mahoney, FabricLive 36 (20 points]
"Beginning Of The Heartbreak" by Peter Gordon And Love Of Life Orchestra
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.
23. Fall Out Boy, Infinity On High (22 points]
"The Take Over, The Break's Over" by Fall Out Boy
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.
22. Bat For Lashes, Fur And Gold (22 points]
"Horse And I" by Bat For Lashes
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.
21. Grinderman, Grinderman (23 points]
"No Pussy Blues" by Grinderman
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.
20. Rilo Kiley, Under The Blacklight (25 points]
"The Moneymaker" by Rilo Kiley
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.
19. Against Me!, New Wave (25 points]
"Thrash Unreal" by Against Me!
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.
18. Ted Leo, Living With The Living (25 points]
"Colleen" by Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
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.
17. Low, Drums And Guns (26 points]
"Murderer" by Low
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.
16. The White Stripes, Icky Thump (27 points]
"Icky Thump" by The White Stripes
After the only intermittently rewarding experimentation of Get Behind Me Satan, Jack White seemed prepared to become another cranky obscurantist, spending the rest of his career playing for a dwindling cult of die-hards. Instead, The White Stripes came back with arguably the most accessible and straight-up fun record of their career, packed with songs that cajole listeners to dance, shout, and pump fists. White lost some of his trad cred in the process, but sometimes the world needs rock stars more than prickly idealists.
15. Les Savy Fav, Let's Stay Friends (28 points]
"Patty Lee" by Les Savy Fav
"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.
14. PJ Harvey, White Chalk (29 points]
"When Under Ether" by PJ Harvey
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.
13. Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank (29 points]
"We've Got Everything" by Modest Mouse
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.
12. Jesu, Conqueror (30 points]
"Old Year" by Jesu
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.
11. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (35 points]
"The Ghost Of You Lingers" by Spoon
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.
10. Bloc Party, A Weekend In The City (36 points]
"Hunting For Witches" by Bloc Party
They say that you have your whole life to write your first album, and a year 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.
9. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky (36 points]
"Impossible Germany" by Wilco
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.
8. Tegan And Sara, The Con (37 points]
"The Con" by Tegan And Sara
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.
7. Amy Winehouse, Back To Black (42 points]
"Rehab" by Amy Winehouse
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.
6. M.I.A., Kala (54 points]
"Bamboo Banga" by M.I.A.
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.
5. Band Of Horses, Cease To Begin (56 points]
"Is There A Ghost" by Band Of Horses
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.
4. LCD Soundsystem, Sound Of Silver (61 points]
"North American Scum" by LCD Soundsystem
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. Radiohead, In Rainbows (63 points]
"Bodysnatchers" by Radiohead
First, Radiohead announced the completion of a new album that few people even knew was in the works; then, the band said the record would be for sale in a week. And the price of this unexpected bounty? Whatever people wanted to pay, be it £100 or sweet fuck-all. After all that brilliant hype-stoking, the biggest surprise was that In Rainbows wasn't some collection of afterthoughts or off-putting avant-garde exercises, but an honest-to-goodness Radiohead album—and an excellent one at that. Matching the glitchy sound of Kid A and Amnesiac to the fully developed rock songwriting of Pablo Honey and The Bends, Radiohead delivered its best album since OK Computer, renewing its heartfelt exploration of how the organic and the electronic can exist in creaky harmony.
2. The National, Boxer (66 points]
"Fake Empire" by The National
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.
1. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible (81 points]
"No Cars Go" by Arcade Fire
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.