December 18th, 2007 at 1:16 pm
I’ll start with a disclaimer: I have not heard every CD released this year. M.I.A.’s new album is supposed to be great, but I don’t own it. I do own one of the best-reviewed albums of the year, techno band The Field’s “From Here We Go Sublime” but I just couldn’t get into it. In fact, you’ll notice there isn’t much rap, R&B, country or just about any genre that isn’t rock ‘n’ roll on my list. So accept this list as the best of what I like and the best of what I’ve heard.
And please, comment away. I’d love to hear what you’re favorite albums are, too. That’s why I think these lists are so fun. I doubt anyone has the same list as I do, and you may even completely disagree with a selection, but that’s what’s so great about music. It affects us in ways we don’t expect, in personal ways, and the lyrics or riffs in my list are filtered through the context of who I am.
Click here to continue to the full list.
14) âBrag & Cussâ by Rocky Votolato
While it may not have been as thoroughly solid as his outstanding 2006 album, âMakers,â Rocky Votolatoâs second collection of rustic homages in 20 months opens the countdown of my favorite albums of 2007. The Seattle-based songwriter hasnât forgotten that he lived in Texas during his childhood. These songs are often as Southern as the word y’all and are arguably more âcountryâ than the pop hits on contemporary country stations. Often about whiskey or fights caused by it, the tunes are soaked in the musings of a man weary of the road and longing for his companion. Votolatoâs acoustic guitar is the primary instrument here, but his voice, limited in range but captivating in its honesty, comes in close second. And while the music is more richly adorned than that in his previous release, sparse is still a good adjective: there are a few guitar licks, a rumble from a lonesome banjo and a mandolin chop or two. And although songs such as âRed Dragon Wishesâ are rushed story songs missing a final chapter, itâs songs such as âWhiskey Straightâ that indicate Votolato isnât just a boy with guitar act.
13) âBrilliant & Charmingâ by Benjamin Del Shreve
Local rocker Benjamin Del Shreve worked on his self-released album, âBrilliant & Charming,â for years before its November release. At times, it was a folk-rock record, and it was also confiscated as part of a studio repossession, so heâs not entirely at fault. The Northwest Arkansas Times chronicled those events here. Unfortunately, the album seems like it spent a little too much time in the hands of producers. The nonverbals, chatter between tracks and other random noises inserted into the mix steal from the high-tempo pop magic that comprises the 12 tracks on the album. When Del Shreve and company are at their best, on the title track and on others such as âAlanaâ and âOh Fair Moment, Oh Fair Tonight,â their raucous blend of boogie rock exudes a center-of-the-party attitude that holds its weight against any of the better indie rock records that were released by established artists. Unfortunately, he sometimes tries too hard â as on tracks such as âTo Be In Your Armsâ â and doesn’t produce. Itâs still the best local album that crossed my desk this year, and songs such as âFlowergazerâ make you wonder why the band isnât internationally famous.
12) âWincing the Night Awayâ by The Shins
Donât worry. James Mercer, front man for The Shins, can still write a pop song. Yes, the once-darlings of the indie world are a pretty big deal now, as evidenced by the albumâs debut at No. 2 on the Billboard charts. But for all the hype, Mercer and company deliver. âWincing the Night Awayâ follows, to a large part, the same path as the bandâs previous records: pop rock nuggets that carry just a bit of weight. But Mercer knows not to take what they do that seriously. The songs, therefore, are often singable, the type that have no place on modern radio but just might bounce around in your head on repeat for a couple weeks. Reviewing the disc for this blurb, the lilting melody of âAustraliaâ has already fixated itself in the part of my brain that might make me whistle it at work.
11) âSky Blue Skyâ by Wilco
It took me a while to come to terms with âSky Blue Sky.â The first pondering stanzas of Wilcoâs latest offering proved instantly it wouldnât follow the script molded for it by the bandâs breakout album âYankee Hotel Foxtrotâ or the hard-rocking grooves of songs such as âSpiders (Kidsmoke)â from the 2004 release âA Ghost Is Born.â No, this would be a different Wilco, one that immediately hawked themselves out for a slew of Volkswagen commercials. In that sense, it might be conceived as Wilco-lite, a poppy version of a much stronger and musically inclined band. But what Jeff Tweedy and his band did here was create a more accessible album that after multiple listens unfolds the intricacyâs of the multi-guitar attack. And while the lyrical depth doesnât seem to match the stirring songs of Wilcoâs past (think âVia Chicagoâ or âJesus, Etc.â) the band does remain to stay topical because it is, we must reminded ourselves, growing into middle age. This is a band that still deals with heartbreak (âLeave Me Like You Found Meâ) and household responsibility (âHate It Hereâ). Itâs an album that gets better each time itâs played, and it also proves something else: âImpossible Germanyâ may be the best song Jeff Tweedy has ever written, and that says a lot.
10) âCease to Beginâ by Band of Horses
Before the release of their second album, âCease to Begin,â the members of Band of Horses moved from Seattle to the more quaint and southerly confines of Mount Pleasant, S.C. It shows. More folky, more country and more catchy than the debut release âEverything All The Time,â the October offering from BoH is the album everyone hoped theyâd make after a stellar debut. Songs such as âGeneral Specificâ is a dirge from a dirty saloon, complete with acoustic guitar and an upright piano. âOde to LRCâ is a veiled tribute to any town where everyone still waves to passing motorists as they drive down the road.
9) âGa Ga Ga Ga Gaâ by Spoon
In August, not long after the release of âGa Ga Ga Ga Ga,â I told my friend I didnât like it. It didnât have the same cannot-shake-from-your-head qualities as the bandâs two previous albums, âKill The Moonlightâ and âGimme Fiction.â And the albumâs first single, if a band such as Spoon actually has a single, âThe Underdog,â hadnât convinced me it could hold its own head above water. As it turns out, that cut was the most anemic on the album â and the other songs proved to be the same sort of pop-heavy indie rock youâd expect from the darlings of the Austin indie rock scene. Standout tracks such as âRhthm & Soulâ and âYou Got Yr. Cherry Bombâ are of the same bloodline as some of the bandâs previous gems, such as the unforgettable âThe Way We Get Byâ or âI Turn My Camera On.â Unlike what he pleads in the albumâs opener, âDonât Make Me A Target,â songwriter Britt Daniel has done just that â weâll expect another offering of such fine pop rocks the next time Spoon makes an album.
8) âBoxerâ by The National
The highly anticipated followup to the 2005 release âAlligator,â The National are as somber as they are melodic. Sung in singer Matt Berningerâs resonant baritone, these songs would be utterly depressing if they werenât so lushly adorned. Keyboards, strings and the occasional brass instrument cut through the crushing weight of these songs like a foghorn on a San Francisco morning. That the band can totter in such a delicate place â somewhere between melancholy and madness â is remarkable. And while these songs may be about disillusionment and excess, The National leave you wanting more.
7) âThe Reminderâ by Feist
This was an album destined for obscurity, until the folks at Apple decided to feature the song â1234â on a commercial for an iPod. The song and album rapidly moved up the charts. The Grammys apparently hadnât heard of Leslie Feist either, nominating the Canadian songwriter for Best New Artist, apparently oblivious to the fact that she has three solo albums to her credit over the past eight years and is also a member of Canadian collective Broken Social Scene. But there is something to be said of her meteoric rise â when her new album was discovered, most found it to be outstanding. Sheâs got a knack for writing pop hits (and yes, she actually wrote them) and tracks such as âMy Moon My Manâ the aforementioned â1234â have an unmistakable singalong quality. Outside even those margins, Feist still shines as brightly as her uber-cool album cover. There is considerable diversity here â using instruments as diverse as a banjo and harp â from hand clapping dance rock (âSealionâ) to breathy and delicate numbers where Feistâs sweeping vocals are the main instrument (âHoney Honeyâ).
6) âBecause of the Timesâ by Kings of Leon
I should preface by saying I WAS a huge fan of Kings of Leon. I used to play âYouth and Young Manhoodâ almost weekly. I even bought the EP that was released as a precursor to that album. And then, the church-music-makers-cum-southern-rockers released âAha Shake Heartbreakâ in 2005, and it was mostly dreadful. I didnât even bother to pick up âBecause of the Timesâ because I expected it to be awful, overproduced and underwhelming. A friend promised the new album was better, so I eventually gave it a listen and immediately regretted I didnât get it the day it came out. The boys, originally from Tennessee, are back. The old saying encourages people to only write what you know, and I think thatâs precisely why this album works. They come from small town southern America, and songs about unplanned pregnancy (âKnocked Upâ) and beautiful women in muscle cars (âCamaroâ) are befitting of where they were raised. This is riff-laden, rowdy rock, the kind youâd want to blast from the rolled-down windows of your car (a Camaro, perhaps?) on the way to a barn party.
5) âPerson Pitchâ by Panda Bear
I donât own much music by Animal Collective, so when the bandâs drummer, Noah Lennox, aka Panda Bear, released a solo album I didnât exactly rush out to get it. But it received such glowing reviews that I eventually decided to give âPerson Pitchâ a try. Iâm glad I did. My introduction to Panda Bear was the albumâs opener, âComfy in Nautica,â where Panda sings âTry to remember always, just to have a good time.â Pretty easy to do with this album playing. Itâs full of weird, spacey, experimental jams, but itâs also remarkably catchy. âBrosâ is the standout tune here, and it takes more than 12 minutes for the track, filled with acoustic guitar, chant-like vocals and the sounds of a baby crying and missiles firing, to unfold. Panda uses an awfully broad sonic palette, but the discovery of beautiful nuggets of strange sounds is part of the fun. Iâm not sure if this album is charmingly weird or weirdly charming, but it works either way.
Panda Bear sings “Comfy in Nautica”:
4) âNeon Bibleâ by Arcade Fire
There are at least seven members of the Arcade Fire â the band often employs the help of other musicians, too â and the list of instruments those members play add violin, double bass, xylophone, mandolin and more to the standard rock band configuration. They need each one to pull of such a lush sound. âNeon Bibleâ could serve as a lesson to up-and-coming bands in the way it ebbs and flows or crescendos before crashing. These songs, like a good movie, build tension and makes the listener hold on for the climax. Thereâs no better evidence than in âNo Cars Go,â where blaring guitar riffs are replaced by soft strings and Win Butlerâs cries of defiance. âMy Body Is A Cageâ is another of those tracks, one that carries with it a innate power that only a band comfortable with their own sound can produce.
Arcade Fire perform “No Cars Go”:
3) âMirroredâ by Battles
Iâve allowed several people to listen to âMirrored,â the full-length debut from Battles. Their reactions have said a lot. A co-worker hates it. âWhat is this?â a friend asked, shooting me a look that questioned my sanity. One of my roommates had another reaction. âItâs really different, but I think I kinda like it.â Different is clearly a good adjective for this album. In the hands of amateurs, progressive and potent math rock can be a dangerous thing. Luckily, Battles have the chops to pull it off. The band is comprised of a quartet of musicians who have previously played in bands such as Helmet, Don Caballero and Lynx. Expect highly aggressive drumming, radical guitar playing and what might be the bandâs fifth member: the vocals. The groupâs previous EPs didnât feature vocals, and this album does, but not in the conventional sense. The voices are filtered, processed, chopped, looped and otherwise altered until they become just another instrument. At alternative times, this album reminded me of a Disney movie soundtrack, the background noise from a Chinese restaurant and the music I might play in my head if I was about to fight. You might hate “Mirrored.” You also might find you like it.
Battles perform “Atlas”:
2) âMagicâ by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Yep, The Boss has still got some of his old magic. That this album wasnât among the nominees for the Album of the Year Grammy absolutely astounds me. I usually cower at the thought that icons from two decades ago still make music. Most is terrible. But this album contains everything that made Springsteen a star. It seems familiar the first time you listen to it, like it was hiding on a shelf somewhere and youâve forgotten to play it for a few years. Bruceâs voice sounds great, as does the swinging saxophone and gritty-but-good guitar runs. While The Boss steps into political territory on a few tracks (especially âLast To Dieâ), Iâd argue the two best tracks go nowhere near the topic of war. âGirls In Their Summer Clothesâ ranks among the best songs heâs ever written, and âIâll Work For Your Loveâ would surely find Springsteen a whole list of suitors if he wasnât married to Patti Scialfa.
Follow this link to watch Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform “Radio Nowhere.”
1) âIn Rainbowsâ by Radiohead
Ah yes. My favorite album of the year. Radiohead made headlines when they launched a music industry experiment and allowed people to name any price for a download-only version of the bandâs seventh studio album, âIn Rainbows.â But beyond the discussion of what everyone paid for the album, Radiohead created a different sort of buzz, too. “In Rainbows” has been popping up on best-of-album lists all over the country, and it tops mine, too. When I saw Radiohead live during the summer of 2006, they played âBodysnatchersâ more than 12 months before releasing the song. I remembered thinking at the time I hoped the rest of the upcoming album would be as good. It was, and Iâm not even sure âBodysnatchersâ is my favorite track. âNudeâ is stark and beautiful. “The Reckoner” carries as much force as “Paranoid Android” and Thom Yorkeâs trademark falsetto rings as true as ever. This is not the hard-charging Radiohead of âThe Bendsâ and âOK Computerâ era, and this is not the electronic-loving Radiohead of the âKid Aâ and âAmnesiacâ era, either. This is a band somewhere in between, dabbling in both and better because of it. Itâs precisely where you hoped theyâd be at this point in their career.
Radiohead perform “The Reckoner”: