Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Best Albums of 2007

I should just call it what it is -- a list of my favorite albums that I actually made time to listen to in their entirety. I wish I had the time and energy to listen to all of the great music that is released each year, but it seems I am limited to truly digest about 50 to 60 albums each year, so I'm listing my favorite 20. If there is an album about which you would like to talk that isn't listed here please mention it. Though there are many critically well-received records that I really didn't like (Of Montreal, Panda Bear, the National), and there are many I simply didn't get to. I would love to get your recommendations.

20. Beirut - The Flying Club Cup
This one was a slow grower on me this year, along with several other albums that didn't quite make this list. It is a multi-personality album - somehow managing to seem Greek, Balkan, Southwest, French, and Broadway. Headed by the young and talented Zach Condon, who has a Morrissey-esque crooner vibe, breathes life into instruments that don't spend nearly enough time in the studio (accordion & glockenspiel).

19. Patty Griffin - Children Running Through
Christy & I love, love, love Patty Griffin. She was born to bless us with her voice. Several of her records are absolute gold from start to finish. The problem as a listener lies when you expect to be emotionally taken to those same places by each succeeding record. While this was a fine record, it really didn't touch me like those first ones did. But Patty is still the singer and songwriter doing things that most of us only wish we could do.

18. The Tough Alliance - A New Chance
There is something in the water up in Sweden. Consistently great music just keeps coming from our Scandinavian friends. In my secluded corner of Idaho I grew up listening to 80's hair bands, which is what my environment seemed to require. It wasn't until much later in life that I realized there was a lot of electronic/pop music produced in that decade. I missed out on a lot. The Tough Alliance is giving me a new chance though, by taking up building blocks left behind in those, let's face it, strange years and molding them into something fresh. Try out "Something Special."

17. Bright Eyes - Cassadaga
Perhaps not the best reviewed album this year and its easy to see why, because clearly Connor Oberst has all of the potential to create absolute masterpieces. He is polarizing for me. Half of this album I listened to a lot this year, and the other half I skipped the track almost every time. "Lime Tree", "Classic Cars," and "Four Winds" are all amazing songs.

16. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
You've gotta love "Underdog," the first single and poppiest, juciest track from the album. If you bought the record wanting ten songs like that you would have been disappointed. But Spoon is consistent in its instantly recognizable brand of indie rock. "Don't Make Me a Target" and "Finer Feelings" are great tunes, and although for me they have still yet to rise to the level of amazingness that they had on "Kill the Moonlight," I enjoyed this release.

15. Low - Drums and Guns
I wouldn't consider myself a huge Low fan, but almost everything I've heard or read from Alan Sparhawk has really impressed me. While I don't think his Mormon faith defines his music, it is wonderful to see members of the LDS faith approach the art that lives within them with the unapologetic commitment that he has. Drums & Guns is both light & heavy hearted. One song is a smiling head bopper, referencing the Stones & the Beatles burying the hatchet. The next he's singing about how willing Christians tend to be in offering themselves as murderers for the cause.

14. Band of Horses - Cease to Begin
Not nearly as rocking as last year's "Everything All The Time", which I loved too, but still nice in its own way. This is a band that makes good use of repetition, classic song structure, and rock hooks. Ben Bridwell's voice carries it all beautifully. I can understand how this might be a little too flannel shirt and belt buckle for some, but I've worn too many flannel shirts and belt buckles in my day to not like this album.

13. Okkervil River - The Stage Names
The thing that I had to overcome in my initial encounter with Okkervil River was Will Sheff's voice (which is beautiful to me now). It may have been something about his pronunciation or intonation or some other -ation, but I thought he was a punk rocker trying to sing nice acoustic songs. I realized my mistake before long. Despite the simple sounding chord progressions and simple sounding melodies, there is actually quite brainy, complicated stuff going on here. He is a spinner of lyrics that constantly make me smile.

12. Luke Temple - Snowbeast
How strange do you like your music? You Bjork and Deerhoof lovers are raising your hands, the rest of you are still thinking. I grow so tired of indie weirdness sometimes that I just have to crank some Kenny Chesney to clear my head. But Luke Temple, strange as he is, balances that line between odd and delightful in a way that suits me just right. His voice was a little too androgynous for me at first, but it has grown on me. I really think this album is fantastic and he is an artist you'll be hearing great things from in years to come.

11. Elliott Smith - New Moon
Enough will never be said about the late great Elliott Smith. For me he is a touchstone and clearly one of the greatest songwriters of the last quarter century. New Moon contains two CDs of what was essentially B-side material that never made it off the cutting room floor as well as a few covers and alternate versions. But the truth is Elliott's B-material is better than most people's best. In "New Disaster" he sings, "Ghost of your smile is always looking for new bodies to haunt and it's been here, it is up here...gradually gone it's pleasing and freezing." We wish for Elliott's smile back, if for nothing else because we want to believe he's wearing one, to believe he's found peace.

10. Menomena - Friend and Foe
This album provided one of my most listened to tracks this year. I've consistently thrown on "Muscle'n Flo" whenever I wanted to get pumped on my way into the office for a grueling day at the keyboard. "Oh in the evening I stumble my way towards another daily struggle. It's dark out. Its time that I pick up my hustle." Truthfully there are several parts of this album that are take it or leave it for me, but the highs are so high ("Wet and Rusting", "Rotten Hell" etc.) that they will carry the weight of the album through the end of the year and beyond.

9. The New Pornographers - Challengers
The ones who really shine on this album are Dan Bejar and Neko Case. A.C.'s the leader, and his tracks are pretty good, but his stuff doesn't seem to have the punch that TNP's previous releases have had. I listen to this and partly long for the guitar crunch of Twin Cinema, but "The Spirit of Giving" and "Myriad Harbor" are terrific, as are "Go Places" and "Challengers". Ultimately it was refreshing to hear a slightly softer album from the group.

8. Colby Stead - No
Colby's music has always been a brutally honest rendering of emotional realism. He is unapologetically confrontational in that he is always willing to address any aspect of the human condition, whether it be a car crash deterioration of a family ("Malice & Mud"), or the mental/physical gaps that we perpetuate within our culture ("Segregation"). His voice continues to grow. Among the record's strongest moments are "Invisible" "Malice & Mud" and "Motherly Love."

7. Essie Jain - We Made This Ourselves
Essie has a voice that belongs to a different era, and thus doesn't seem a natural denizen of the current pop landscape. It is confessional and raw and beautiful. It's like listening to some incarnation of Joni Mitchell singing the poetry of Sylvia Plath. On the very first line on the record she sings, "I'll rise up from the waters where I've drowned. You will know me, you will see. Your face will light up from the glory that is found. I am listening. You are hearing me." It isn't a petition, it is a statement. And if you listen you can hear a slow moving art full of heartache and misery weaved gracefully alongside hope and resolution.

6. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Winn Butler has an awesome voice that is perfect for their bombastic songs. "Keep the Car Running" channels Bruce Springsteen, which seems to be the popular thing nowadays, except they seem to be the only ones who are good enough to actually perform their song with the Boss himself. There are some fantastic tracks on this album. Funeral was still better by a good ways in my opinion, but that doesn't discount great songs like "The Well and the Lighthouse", "No Cars Go", "Intervention", and the title track. My only problem with Arcade Fire is that I would like them to be epic without trying so hard to be epic.

5. Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
Nothing really surprising on this Andrew Bird release. It is a pretty natural evolution from 2005's The Mysterious Production of Eggs (which was a better album). Andrew Bird is amazing at crafting beautiful an unique pop songs. He looks a bit like a bird, actually, and when you combine that with the gorgeous whistle and the pluckety-pluck of his violin it is clear he is functioning on some aviary wavelength unknown to the rest of us ground-dwellers.

4. The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
"Sleeping Lessons" is one of my favorite songs of the year. I'm a sucker for the old slow-start-building-into-fist-pumping-chorus formula. Most of this album is great, and a few songs are not, otherwise this would have been higher. There seems to be a bit less innovation in their songwriting and delivery than we saw in their previous two releases, but the fact remains: this is a stellar album.

3. John Vanderslice -- Emerald City

I really liked 2005's Pixel Revolt, but Emerald City surpasses it by a good stretch. The album seems to be the post 9/11 experience of the individual, rather than an overarching commentary on the politics of the Bush administration. The narrator in "The Parade" is carrying around in a vial steel dust from Tower Two. He proclaims over and over, "Not sure what really happened on that day." Most of us aren't either, and it's easy to empathize with the music here. Vanderslice's solid, pared down songwriting is almost perfect.

2. Radiohead -- In Rainbows
If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that I would have a Radiohead album towards the top of my year end list I would have said you were dreaming. That is how much of a surprise this release was to me. I love it. From track two through the end of the album it is glorious. For me it is a return to melody and structure. It isn't afraid to be a pop album. I don't know how the financial experiment coupled with the album's release fared, but the music itself fulfilled all its promises.

1. Feist - The Reminder
Leslie Feist was everywhere this year. The iPod Nano commercial seemed to propel her from “emerging artist” in the eyes of the general populace to ubiquitous blue sequined beauty. I think it is precisely her ever presence that merits her this spot on the list. The Reminder may go a long way in burying so many of the worthless radio darlings and manufactured hits, and in turn elevating the public conscious back to the songwriter (they should be in the public conscious, shouldn't they?). She is so talented and a born performer. Fellas, that makes two years in a row that a beautiful estrogen filled female has topped my list. What do you say for yourselves?

click the links below for:
Best Albums of 2006
Best Albums of 2005


laceyJ. said...

Wow! What an impressive list... can't wait to dig through all of your faves!

Tim said...

Do you mean 2007? I am sorry to admit that I don't think I have ever heard a song by any of the artists in your list. I am not sure what that means.

Les said...

Thanks for catching my mistake Tim! I was getting slightly ahead of myself.

Alicen said...

Les, I'm so glad you shared these. I can't wait to look them all up and listen to them!

Jen said...

Other than Radiohead, I don't know any of these artists either. But I'm pretty unadventurous when it comes to music. I hope you & Christy & Gus are doing well.