My Favorite Music In 2007
Top 10 Albums of 2007, in order. Album cover pictures link to pertinent YouTube videos.
Okay, so this wasn’t like last year where I had a clear #1 album (The Decemberists’ The Crane Wife), so I thought fairly long and hard about this before I just went to iTunes and picked the album with the highest play count. Fine, this is a lame move. Fine, it favors albums released earlier in the year. But the more I think about this one, the more it makes sense to me, so I’m sticking with it.
Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? carries on the proud tradition of incredibly catchy music about incredibly sad things. Here the topic is the lead singer’s divorce from his wife, and Hissing Fauna does indeed contain probably the most sugar-perfect pop song of the year, unwieldily titled “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse.”
Hissing Fauna’s striking cover art reflects its contents: two borderline-manic explosions of colorful sound bisected by an encroaching darkness. The first half of the album is six songs of pitch-perfect pop; the aforementioned darkness, on the album, takes the form of “The Past is a Grotesque Animal,” an almost 12-minute rambling breakdown of a song. Such a thing might seem like a horrible mistake, plopped right in the middle of a pop album, but for me it works remarkably well.
On the other side, Hissing Fauna suddenly becomes some kind of funk album or something? I don’t know. “The Past Is…” clearly signals some kind of turning point, and the songs get considerably more chaotic and loosely structured, less straight-up pop, more weird sexiness mixed in. And after all that, it manages to end on an optimistic note. Please note that the lead singer and his wife have since reconciled.
So I’m saying this album is #1 because it’s big and brassy and unpredictable, it’s both like and unlike anything Of Montreal have ever done, and totally unlike anything else I’ve heard this year, and it takes risks and they pay off. Also it just flat-out has some kick-ass songs on it.
Nux Vomica is courtesy of my brother, who recommended the Veils to me when we were in Florida. In terms of the lyrics and vocals, I’m moved to compare them to Radiohead with a splash of Pixies, but those kinds of comparisons are never really fair or terribly accurate. Combined with my putting the album at #2, though, I hope that comparison will indicate what an impression Nux Vomica made on me.
For me, the standouts on this album are the two singles “Calliope!” and “Advice for Young Mothers to Be” (link to ridiculously adorable video) and the title track, but there’s not a bad song in the bunch. Like Hissing Fauna, Nux Vomica is often given to melodrama and grand gestures, but the Veils carry them off with aplomb and the occasional touch of musical whimsy keeps the album from collapsing under its own weight.
Ok, so yes, this album kind of has the stupidest name ever.
It has also been, for me, the easiest album to just throw on when I don’t want to wrestle with my music, I just want to listen to ridiculously kick-ass songs for just over a half hour. Ga5 doesn’t wear out its welcome, it just saunters in, straight up delivers for thirty-six and a half minutes, and rolls out just as nonchalantly as it rolled in.
I’m no Spoon fanatic either. I got their last album, Gimme Fiction, a couple years ago, and I didn’t see what the big deal was. Sure it had some decent tunes but it seemed like people were making a way bigger deal out of it than it deserved. Ga5 sounds like the exact opposite of a big deal. Unlike my #s 1 and 2, it doesn’t make any grand gestures, doesn’t try to dazzle you, never teeters on the edge of being overbearing. It’s just ten really tight, catchy and well-constructed songs, the kind of album it would have been easy but criminally unfair to let slip under my radar.
Radiohead, In Rainbows (link to “Scotch Mist,” a 50-minute long video with studio performances of every song from In Rainbows, my wasn’t this band generous this year)
What is there even to say about this album that hasn’t been said a million times? It’s Radiohead at their most concise and their least impenetrable. It sounds like the album Thom Yorke’s voice was made for, more than any other Radiohead album, and after the first two songs it may be more cohesive than any other Radiohead album. And like my numbers 1, 2, and 3, there’s not a bad song on it.
Finally, I have escaped the triteness of “I like everything except rap and country.” Well, sort of. I conquered my rap aversion a couple years ago,but country music remained an undiscovered, um, country to me until now. Though War Elephant isn’t really country, I think, except to a neophyte like myself: I tell myself it is because it sort of has a twang, but it’s probably more of an indie-folk hybrid of some kind.
Anyway, though, the fact is that the songs, with few exceptions (and there are bound to be a few on a 14-song album), are great, with three —- “Ashamed,” “Diamond Rings 2007,” (link to live video) and “Christ Jesus” —- that merit consideration for a top songs list. The singer was apparently 21 or younger when he wrote some of these songs, which is kind of incredible because the lyrics sound like they were written by someone far more world-weary than a 21-year-old has any right to be, and his voice sounds like he’s had a pack-a-day smoking habit for at least 17 years. But God damn can he write a song, and that’s really what matters.
Deerhoof, Friend Opportunity
So a while ago I tried to listen to Deerhoof. They had just released a free and untitled EP, and it had a Beatles cover (“Bungalow Bill”) on it, and so I gave it a spin, said What the fuck is this shit, and forgot about Deerhoof until they released Friend Opportunity, which I downloaded from eMusic because it was only ten songs and I figured, what the hell.
I don’t remember what my initial reaction to Friend Opportunity was, whether I said AUGGH WHY DIDN’T I LEARN MY LESSON or thought it was potentially pretty rad, but. Um. Turns out it’s pretty rad?
So now I have everything Deerhoof’s done in the last five years, almost, and I can safely say that Friend Opportunity is probably the best point of entry. Deerhoof is a noisy, sometimes unsettlingly discordant band, with a little Japanese singer who seems completely out of place, and it may well be that you just love them or hate them and that’s that. But at least the songs on Friend Opportunity actually sound like straight-up pop songs, with a couple exceptions. The opening trifecta of “The Perfect Me,” “+81” and “Believe E.S.P.” is probably the most awesomely spazz-rockin’ nine minutes of music I’ve heard this year, or possibly ever, and if it doesn’t win you over, then maybe Deerhoof is just not for you.
and maybe you need to get your head checked
So if you’re not in love with The New Pornographers, you should go listen to Letter For An Occupant (link to video) immediately and remedy that. From their first album, it basically encapsulates everything that made their first three albums wonderful, and yet there’s not much on Challengers that sounds anything like it.
Instead of raucous, exuberant power pop, on Challengers we get ballads and a six-and-a-half minute epic, but despite the left turn I think Challengers is as strong as anything else the New Pornographers have done. The hooks are still there, but you might have to listen two or even three* times before they catch; meanwhile, the melodies like the one on the title track and “Unguided” (the ballad and the epic, respectively) start to sink in, too. In the end, Challengers is at its weakest during the straight-up power pop songs, which give the impression that they were included just because that’s what people have come to expect. But this album is delightful for anyone who can approach it without such expectations.
Boy did this one catch me off guard.
Curses is the most consistently loud album I’ve listened to since I was on my System of a Down kick, and for that reason I was almost sure I wasn’t going to like it. But I had read some good stuff about it, so I decided to give it a try, and well I guess it sort of blew me away? Because it really rocks, and not in a stupid or annoying way. It has the perfect balance of melody and plain ol’ shouting, punctuated with screams and falsetto just to remind you that they’re having fun and you damn well should be too.
For such a noisy album, Curses packs an awful lot more variety than some of the other loud stuff I’ve listened to in the past, but pretty much every one of its 15 songs has something to recommend it. That’s an impressive accomplishment. My only beef is that the lyrics don’t make any sense at all, but when the songs kick this much ass, they don’t really need to.
Of all the albums on this list, this one is probably the hardest for me to pin down. Hissing Fauna is pop. Ga5 is rock. In Rainbows is… Radiohead. But I can’t really sum up Friend and Foe so briefly. One of the songs from it came up randomly when I was playing my music at home and my mom said it sounded like gorilla jungle music or something. But she likes Neil Young, so what does she know.
I guess Friend and Foe is basically rock, but it’s heavily loop-based rock, and the band apparently writes the songs using software programmed by one of its members, which is pretty hardcore. It announces itself incredibly boldly, with a thunderclap of drums at the beginning of “Muscle ‘n Flo” that abruptly drops out to make way for the singer. That kind of momentum is hard to maintain and Friend and Foe doesn’t quite manage it, but they do their best for the first half and then change course to something a little weirder and more somber for the second. I can’t say what it is that makes this album so compelling; perhaps it’s the same thing that makes it hang together so well despite its containing both straight-up rock and gorilla jungle music.
This is the album in my top 10 that I listen to the least. It’s the hardest to just throw on; it’s basically impossible to sing along to; and it’s dense, complicated, weird and only sporadically melodic. But it’s also wholly unlike anything else I’ve ever heard. It’s rock music and I guess it’s electronica too, it’s like robot music made by robots advanced enough to play actual instruments as well as people do, which is very advanced indeed.
Mirrored is something of a cacophony of loops and beats and distorted vocals. Melodies surface occasionally but they sound like some kind of space melodies. At times it is extremely hard to believe the music is being played on actual instruments, but watch how they recreate lead single “Atlas” live and you’ll see them pull it off flawlessly (link to live “Atlas” video), with two band members each playing a melody on guitar and keyboard at the same time. That will be when you know that Battles is very special indeed.
Top 10 Songs of 2007
These are not in any particular order. They’re songs that were on albums not in my top 10, or songs that were but are just too good not to be listened to. Song names link to mp3 downloads.
- Frog Eyes, “Bushels”
Frog Eyes are a tough band. Their music can be a jumble and the singer can sometimes sound like a wild animal. But “Bushels” is an amazing song, all nine minutes of it. From the piano cascades in the beginning to the downtempo lament at the end that disintegrates into exuberant yelping, there’s not a second of this song that doesn’t keep me riveted.
- Sunset Rubdown, “Up on Your Leopard, Upon the End of Your Feral Days”
Sunset Rubdown had high honors from me last year but their new album Random Spirit Lover just seemed too busy and incomprehensible to me. But their newly found manic-ness works best for me in this song, which has a strong melody and a bridge that tugs at the ol’ heartstrings, which is really what Spencer Krug does best while keeping you totally in the dark as to what the hell he’s on about.
- The Veils, “Nux Vomica”
The two singles on Nux Vomica are good, sure, but the title track blows them out of the water with its total mastery of the soft/loud/soft dynamic and perfect jagged stabs of sound punctuating the organ and bass of the verses. This is a really ambitious song and everything about it works big time.
- Battles, “Atlas”
Whether or not you like Battles, this is a song that everyone should be able to agree on, because it fucking destroys. The way it builds and falls, ebbs and flows, the melody, the intertwining of the different instruments, all combine to make it an absolutely top-notch floor-stomper of a song.
- Deer Tick, “Christ Jesus”
Like “Nux Vomica”, this is a daring song that makes the most of the risks it takes. It’s the most anguished song on an album that’s full of them, with the vocals unaccompanied except for a single thunderous bass for almost half of the song. But those vocals, how they draw you in, so much so that the explosive flourishes at the end seem entirely appropriate.
- Joanna Newsom, “Colleen”
This is the only new song Joanna Newsom recorded this year, for the Joanna Newsome and the Ys Street Band EP, and I guess it’s about a woman who used to be a whale? No, not fat, like an actual whale. At about 6 minutes, it splits the difference between the epic Ys and Newsom’s somewhat more accessible first album, and it takes the best parts of both. Newsom’s band is top-notch and her little “yip”s after the “chorus” melody are priceless.
- Les Savy Fav, “The Equestrian”
Curses out-rocked Les Savy Fav’s new album Let’s Stay Friends on my top albums list, but “The Equestrian” out-rocks even a good deal of Curses. I guess it’s basically about fucking in a stable, which if that’s Les Savy Fav’s thing then good for them or whatever, but the point is that it really gets that “rough sex” kind of feeling across with its momentum and volume. Not that I am an authority on rough sex.
- The New Pornographers, “Myriad Harbour”
So what happened is that the weird guy Dan Bejar who’s sort of in the New Pornographers but sort of isn’t, and who usually writes the songs that a lot of people probably skip, penned the catchiest song on their newest album. How this happened I do not know, since basically the lead New Pornos guy is one of the greatest pop geniuses of the decade as far as I’m concerned. But he decided to get all down-tempo and sedate on Challengers, and that’s like Bejar’s bread and butter so maybe it leveled the playing field a little? Anyway what I’m trying to say is that this is a damn catchy song.
- of Montreal, “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse”
of Montreal is the thinking man or woman’s synth-pop, and “Heimdalsgate” proves it with an unbelievably hooky song about hormonal imbalances and a disintegrating marriage that references Greek mythology in the title. It just doesn’t get any better than that, until you actually listen to the song. And listen to it. And listen to it. And listen to it…
- Spoon, “Finer Feelings”
Now look, I’m not saying this song is better than “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” or “Don’t You Evah” or “The Underdog”, I’m just saying it’s what I look forward to when the end of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga rolls around and its chorus is right up there with the big boys. So don’t get all up in arms. “Finer Feelings” is the real underdog on Ga5 and it needs some love.
- The Shins, Wincing The Night Away
This album was in close competition with Mirrored but eventually I realized it was really just another God damn Shins album. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s the God damn Shins, but still, I had to give the edge to something different. This is a really solid album though.
- The Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
Kinda disappointing at first, definitely grew on me, still not as good as Funeral by a wide margin. Lots of good tunes but the lyrical quality is way down. “(Antichrist Television Blues)”, “Keep the Car Running,” and “No Cars Go” are just about up to the standard set by Funeral, but that’s about it.
- Frog Eyes, Tears of the Valedictorian
Definitely has a lot to recommend it but I just didn’t find myself going back to it too often. I think Frog Eyes just doesn’t tend to have enough melody for me. As I mentioned before, though, “Bushels” is absolutely incredible.
- Sunset Rubdown, Random Spirit Lover
Lives up to its name too much! Long, sprawling, scattershot, sporadically brilliant, and manic-depressive, songs from this album flow one to another but seem to lack cohesion nonetheless. Maybe it needs to grow on me some more, but Sunset Rubdown really needs a point of entry for this one.
- Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha
Excellent sedate pop tunes, but in the end this one was too boring for me. Bird doesn’t seem to be able to muster up a lot of enthusiasm and his lyrics sometimes seem too clever for their own good.
- My Brightest Diamond, Bring Me the Workhorse
Probably the strongest contender for the top 10, with very strong female vocals bolstered by sparse and effective music. Too much down-tempo stuff and unevenness to elbow its way up, but definitely a solid album.
- Les Savy Fav, Let’s Stay Friends
Rocks hard but was outdone by Curses. Features Eleanor Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces on one track! That’s cool. Lots of excellent songs, lots that just don’t grab me.
Albums That Might Have Included Above If I’d Had More Time To Listen To Them But There Are Only So Many Hours In A Day
- Iron and Wine, The Shepherd’s Dog
- Blonde Redhead, 23
- Feist, The Reminder
- Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand
- Rufus Wainwright, Release The Stars
- Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
- Explosions in the Sky, All of a Sudden I Miss Everybody
Albums That Sound Okay But I Couldn’t Really Get Into, Maybe They Just Need Some More TLC, I Dunno
- The Arctic Monkeys, Favorite Worst Nightmare
- A Sunny Day In Glasgow, Scribble Mural Comic Journal
- Rock Plaza Central, Are We Not Horses
- Parts & Labor, Mapmaker
- Nina Nastasia & Jim White, You Follow Me
- Minus the Bear, Planet of Ice
- The Main Drag, Yours As Fast As Mine
- Fog, Ditherer
- James Blackshaw, The Cloud of Unknowing
- Black Francis, Bluefinger
- The Besnard Lakes, The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse
- Apparat, Walls
Two Kick-ass EPs
- of Montreal, Icons, Abstract Thee
- Joanna Newsom, Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band EP
An Album That Almost Certainly Would Have Been In My Top 10 But Would You Believe I Haven’t Heard Note One Of It, But I Just Got It Yesterday, Finally
- The Fiery Furnaces, Widow City
An Album About Which All The Hype Just Completely Baffles The Shit Out Of Me Since I Can’t Even Listen to More than 10 Minutes Of It
- The Field, From Here We Go Sublime