Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Andy's Top 50 Albums Of 2007 (#10-1)

10. The North Sea - "Exquisite Idols"/"Exorcised Vulures"/"In The Time Of The Sugar Pines"/"On The Endless Golden Skyway"/"Snakeroot Ceremony"
(Type Records and whatever else) (All over the place)

As if running the Digitalis Recordings, Foxglove
records, and the Foxydigitals experimental music review webzine wasn't enough, Brad Rose somehow found time to release a lot of his own material. I personally have 5, but I believe there is something like 7. "Exquisite Idols" is the main album, with the only official, semi-wide distribution out on the (almost always) great Type records. It's the best summation of Rose's recording voice. Found sounds, metallic drones, banjo plucking, pretty standard folk songs breathed into the microphone. "Exorcised Vultures" apparently came in a velvet case (sorry Brad, I downloaded it), and is more of the same stuff, though slightly more focused on the drone aspect. Acoustic guitar plays a big part in this recording as well, though the vocals are few and far between. "In The Time Of The Sugar Pines" is probably the most lo-fi and experimental of the batch, and most every song features some banjo playing in the distance, some unintelligible vocals, and loads of chimes and found sounds to fill the emptiness. It's a sad music, but also one of the most real. "On The Endless Golden Skyway" is probably my favorite of the releases for one reason or another. It's like a slightly more lo-fi version of "Exquisite Idols" with a real open room sound quality to the recording. It was my soundtrack of choice during the week I worked as a "nurse" at my summer camp. Last is "Snakeroot Ceremony" which is somewhere between the other four releases but may be the most immediately beautiful and pristine of any of them. Rose isn't doing anything new for the free-folk scene, and he isn't really even the best at what he's doing, but the mere fact that he's put out so many records of pretty excellent quality made it impossible for me not to notice this year. It's pretty admirable.
Recommended If You Like: Weird free-folk stuff

9. A Sunny Day In Glasgow - "Scribble Mural Comic Journal"
(Notenuf) (February 13)

Sometimes there's a record that completely obliterates your ears and what they are capable of processing. The record that did that for me this year wasn't some epic Black Metal release, it wasn't some obscure noise band, it wasn't the quaintest folk music either, it was the debut full length by Philly sibling trio A Sunny Day In Glasgow. The music on this album beats at your ears and it doesn't stop. It's not background music, and it's only headphone music if you are truly a daring individual. Intense drums and drones throughout, beautiful female vocal harmonies, harpsichords, guitars, this shit is from another planet. And yet somehow it almost all makes sense. Some of the songs are almost pop songs. "A Mundane Phonecall To Jack Parsons" which was seen on last year's EP is nearly something you can sing along to (that is, if you can hear your own voice while listening). It's an incredibly dense record that I've had quite the love/hate relationship with this year. Sometimes I can't bear to hear it, it's not something you want to pop up on shuffle, but taken on it's own, in full, when you want (preferably on a sunny day), this can be one of the the best records there is. It's a crazy psychedelic dream trip that may or may not stand the test of time. But in 2007, there's nothing even nearly like it.
Recommended If You Like: The Jesus And Mary Chain with techno pulses

8. Six Organs Of Admittance - "Shelter From The Ash"
(Drag City) (November 20)

Unlike a goo
d portion of the records that make these lists or that I even listened to in 2007, I know this one will stick with more for many many years. Reason One: It's a Six Organs Of Admittance record. Reason Two: Six Organs Of Admittance is the solo project of Ben Chasney. Reason Three: Over the last 4-5 years, Ben Chasney has dominated just about every single other musician there in the battle of becoming my favorite. "Shelter From The Ash" is one of the more traditional albums in the Six Organs canon. Of course, it's still full of Ben's limited vocals, excellent open-tuned guitar playing, psychedelic electric guitar freakouts and enough ambience to keep it a quiet, personal affair (even when it's rocking). This might be my favorite Six Organs record. It's definitely the most song centric album around (in a traditional sense at least), the longest ONLY reaching eight and a half minutes. But for the entire thing it's great. Whether it's an acoustic Robbie Basho homage or the sound of destroying not only one hotel room but a whole wing of hotel rooms, Ben Chasney hooks me in with his sounds. More than anything though, this record proves to me that he is more than just an excellent guitarist, he's evolved into an excellent songwriter as well.
Recommended If You Like: Devendra Banhart, Robbie Basho, Northern California Hippie Shit

7. Wolves In The Throne Room - "Two Hunters"
(Southern Lord) (September 25)

Number 1 last year, Number 7 this year. Comparing the two albums though, there's not really 6 places in between them. Whereas I listened to the debut, "Diadem Of 12 Stars" probably around 30 or more times last year, used it as a constant force in my headphones at a job I hated, I've only listened to "Two Hunters" somewhere around 10. And I even saw the trio live this year (albeit it wasn't the best experience AND the shirt I bought is a size too small). The show was great musically, it was the venue and the fact that I was terribly tired that took away from the effect. With "Two Hunters" Wolves In A Throne Room continue to push the black metal boundary and meld it into their own, unique sound. The songs are still epic, musical suites, the guitars are still a wall of noise, the vocals are still tense and screeching, you wonder how a band like this tours. They also add some other interesting elements this time around, the intro, the female vocals, this is a more fully realized album, but not necessarily better (or worse). This is still black metal to it's core, and I'm not going to call them the "hippie" black metal band like every place that has ever talked about them. The band is 3 intelligent, humble dudes who like playing music, who had fun opening for Jesu, who play sudoku and crosswords puzzles in their spare time. They don't wear makeup, they don't wield axes, and they're not going to pretend to be something they're not. This shit is epic, it's still uplifting, it still takes me, as a listener, to totally different place, helps me transcend time, and will undoubtedly be the second in a long string of great records this band is bound to produce.
Recommended If You Like: W
eakling. Epic, in the forest, screeching, pounding black metallic awesomeness

6. Lucky Soul - "The Great Unwanted"
(Ruffa Lane) (April 9)

The best pure pop album of the year belongs to Lucky Soul. And I mean, we're talking pop in the
most classic sense of the word. This isn't glammed up electro Girls Aloud greatness. This is The Shangri-La's, this is The Marvelettes, this is Phil Spector's sound made modern without sounding annoying (Pipettes). The album is 13 songs of love lost and lonelieness. Of being uncool and sad. And it hasn't been this much fun in 50 years. It's deceptive, really. Even watching one of their videos, you see frontwoman Ali Howard all dolled up, smiling into the camera and bouncing up and down on stage. It's a really, really cute site, but you listen to the lyrics and wtf is she celebrating? And that's how Lucky Soul succeeds. They wrap their heartbreak in the shiniest wrappers possible. This is sophisticated pop music, the likes of which hasn't been seen in this fashion for many years. One listen warrants a second, warrants a third, warrants a thousandth. The songs embed themselves in your head. Lucky Soul is basically The Cardigans if every Cardigans song was "Lovefool" It's just a blast, and it's stuck with me the entire year because it's so addicting.
Recommended If You Like: 60s Girl Groups or The Cardigans or The Pipettes or all of them.

5. Miranda Lambert - "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend"
(Columbia) (May 5)

Miranda Lambert lost the first Nashville Star to Buddy Jewell. Let's think about that for a second. On one hand we have Buddy Jewell, a generic Texan country guy, thick on the accent, writing terribly sappy songs that barely break the charts. On the other hand we have Miranda Lambert, the beautiful young blond who in 2005 put out a promising debut (in which she, as a female in POPULAR country wrote almost all of the songs), and this year, in 2007, she comes back with a similar formula, once again writing 8 of the 11 songs (covering Gillian Welch and Patty Griffin is OK with me), and instead of just following up on the promise her debut delivered, she goes and puts out what is probably one of the 3 best country records of this decade, and for my money, the best that got major radio airplay. Yes, I know over the months, it has become the country record that has been noticed by hip, indie publications the world over, but this is a record that deserves it. Whether she's threatening to blow our heads off, whether she's writing terribly clever songs "Famous In A Small Town" or whether she is writing some truly great sitting at the bar, empowering yet weeping ballads ("More Like Her"), this is a great record. Nearly impossible to not enjoy, buy into the hype, because this shatters Gretchen Wilson and even bests some of the great records put out by veterans this year.
Recommended If You Like: Gretchen Wilson,
Patty Griffin, Radio country

4. Kanye West - "Graduation"
(Roc-A-Fella) (September 11)

First was the video for "Can't Tell Me Nothing" which came out nowhere in the late spring. Reviews were generally "wtf, this isn't
Kanye" yet I was eating it up. Then came the mixtape where Kanye really went away from the hip hop kids and towards the indie kids, rapping over both songs by Thom Yorke AND Peter, Bjorn & John. Included in that mixtape was a sample of a song in which he was rapping over Daft Punk, that sounded really promising. A month later, that song leaked. A week later, that video turned the world on it's side. Somewhere along the line, the album got released, slaughtered 50 Cent, and garnered mediocre reviews. Easily the most divisive Kanye album of the 3 he's released, it's undoubtedly my favorite. Instead of 20+ tracks mixing party tracks, high voices, Bernie Mac skits, and everything else, Kanye has released a hip hop album, that doesn't sound like a hip hop album. His production is different, his rhymes are maybe sillier than ever (and better in places too), and he's doing songs with T-Pain and Lil' Wayne and Chris Martin(!) instead of trying to stay "real" with Mos Def (he appears here, but it's a humorous song) and Common and Kweli. This is the party record of the year. "The Good Life" the most clear pop song on the album is also probably the best song of Kanye's career. Probably 100 plays later, and I still am not tired of it. It's Kanye gone electro, doing what he wants, and sacrificing some cred in the process. There's still "real" tracks on here, and they're great. He's become probably the second biggest music superstar in the world (behind Jay-Z), but four time as charismatic, and the Graduation is a celebration.
Recommended If You Like: Party Rap


3. Uncle Earl - "Waterloo, Tennessee"
(Rounder) (March 13)

Uncle Earl succeed as a band because they are comprised of 4 incredible solo
musicians. Rayna Gellart has an amazing, deep voice, and plays the fiddle like Bob Wills himself searched for years to find her. K.C. Groves, the bandleader (but not singer), puts out incredible bluegrass solo albums every year, featuring her almost untouchable mandolin playing. Kristin Andreassan is already on the path to become a star. She's in a few bands, she has a great solo record, wrote an award winning song (you've bound to hear "Crayola" by now), clogs, has fun, tells jokes, and is not bad looking to boot. You can tell lots of the innovations the band has come from her mind. And then there is Abigail Washburn, the (approaching) legendary banjo player, known for her jams with Bela Fleck and others, but should be known for her amazing vocal prowess. She's the heart and soul of the band, the real backbone. The band makes everything just sound easy. Instead of having artistic differences, they combine all their ideas and create one hell of a varied album that is still rooted in bluegrass and old-time music, but isn't afraid to sound more contemporary or sound like some kind of cajun song or (heaven forbid) have a single that is essentially a clogging song sung in Mandarin. I loved this record the entire year, and then the girls came and played here in Arcata (with Huckleberry Flint opening), and it was a life-changing event. It's really hard for me to not gush too much about this albumMy.
Recommended If You Like: Iris DeMent, Alison Krauss, but more fun.

2. Animal Collective - "Strawberry Jam"
(Domino) (September 10)

"But the new Animal Collective sucks, man, it's like they're not even trying to be experimental anymore!" Shut the fuck up, I am going to punch you. While everyone is going apeshit over Panda Bear's solo album (which is decent), "Strawberry Jam" saw Animal Collective go in a different direction sure. A direction that sees them release the best album of their career. There, I said it. I like "Strawberry Jam" better than "Sung Tongs" and "Feels," I like it better than "Here Comes The Indian" and "Campfire Songs" and I'm not going to back down from that. Sure they've lost a bit of their experimental edge, sure you can actually understand the lyrics (oh god, no! the pain!), but this is not easy listening, and you assholes that think so need to just go away. If Panda Bear's album is a homage to 60s west coast pop music and melodies, "Strawberry Jam" is a 70s era Todd Rundgren album ("A Wizard, A True Star") made in 2007. This is Animal Collective at it's best. For Reverend Green and Fireworks are two of the best songs of the year, and they are almost pop songs in their element. For once, you can sing along to Animal Collective. You don't have to be fueled by drugs to enjoy them, you don't have to pretend to be the sophisticated music listener, you can just enjoy a great record. Don't try to dispute this with me, I'm tired of hearing it. It spent most of the year at #1 for a reason, the backlash needs to cease.
Recommended If You Like: I don't know, it's Animal Collective. What do you want me to say?

1. The Avett Brothers - "Emotionalism"
(Ramseur) (March 15)

Fitting that this album was released on my 21st birthday this year. Of course, I didn't hear it until mid-May, but the coincidence of it released on my birthday just further backs up my theory that this is one of those records that was made for me. I've probably talked about this record more than any other this year, tried to give it to people, etc. But it wasn't until around October that I actually realized this was my favorite album of the year. It is, and it's likely one of my very favorite of the decade as well. It immediately grabs you, it's the best produced Avett Brothers record to date, which means the already alarming voices of the brothers is given new light and pierces you right in the hear, brain, foot, and throat. The banjo picks it way through, adding to the quality, the bass plods along, keeping the groove locked. This is bluegrass-pop-indie-country-sad-fun-awesome music. There's really no bluegrass elements, but they play bluegrass festivals, and apparently steal the show every time (one of my goals is to see them soon). This is the sound of North Carolina, the best record of the year. I can sing every word to this album and often do. It's definitely my most listened to album of the year. Whatever, it's great. That's all there is to it. You need this record.
Recommended If You Like: Wilco meets Jayhawks meets Old Crow Medicine Show meets Langhorne Slim

Thanks for reading, if you got this far.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Andy's Top 50 Albums Of 2007 (#20-11)

20. Levon Helm - "Dirt Farmer"
(Vanguard) (October 30)

I'm not the biggest fan of The Band. I mean, I love them, and have almost nothing negative to say. I watch "The Last Waltz" as much as any dvd I own, and can sing along to quite a few of their songs, but I wouldn't consider them one of my favorite bands of all time. My favorite member of The Band has almost always been Levon Helm, the drummer with the great midwest voice. "Dirt Farmer" came out of almost nowhere, and I fell in love upon first listen. I knew Levon was still kicking around (he's appeared in a few movies and steals the scene every time), but I know he's not doing too great. I just heard an interview with him on Fresh Air, and the cancer sounds like it's really taken it's toll. Speaking in a regular tone seems nearly impossible. But that's almost not evident through the 13 cover songs on this record. Levon and his daughter do traditional folk songs, a Steve Earle song, a Carter Family song, a J.B. Lenoir song, and he closes the album with a great cover of Buddy & Julie Miller's "Wide River To Cross" It's a stunning piece of work, classic country and roots rock in the purest sense. I urge you to listen to the NPR interview, and I'll add a link because it's great. Levon hasn't had a hugely successful solo career, but with "Dirt Farmer" that might have to be reconsidered.
Recommended If You Like:
Van Morrison, The Band, American music

NPR Interview

19. M.I.A. - "Kala"
(XL) (August 20)

By most means, I should hate M.I.A. At one point, a little while after "Arular" was released, I convinced myself I did. "What is this derivative trash?! This girl can't rap!" Blah blah. You're right. She can't. She also can't dress. She has horrible album art. She doesn't seem like she is any good live. She has 1 good video. She steals lines, samples and everything else like they are her own. But god damn it, I cannot get away from "Kala." I didn't have high expectations, but whatever expectations I did have were thrown to the curb, because I like this album a lot more than Arular. Diplo only produces a 3 tracks, while people like Switch handles the majority of the album. Timbaland does one at the end, and Blaqstarr is thrown in there somewhere or other. I just really enjoy this record. You can listen to Rolling Stone or Pitchfork or whoever about how it's the sound of NOW, about her traveling all around the world and taking sounds from all over, blah blah. I don't care, all I know is that when I take long trips in my car, it's one of my go-to records now. It's fun, it makes me dance. And while I hate this whole 80s neon shit explosion, this record makes the cut.
Recommended If You Like: Basement Jaxx, Neneh Cherry, Spank Rock

18. Rachel Unthank & The Winterset - "The Bairns"
(Universal) (August 20)

Apparently the Unthank sisters are pretty big news oversees, which is pretty weird
, because I had never heard of them until I got this record based on description (and word of a Bonnie "Prince" Billy cover). What we have is a British folk record, mainly traditional in sound, but one of the densest records I've heard this year. 15 songs, over an hour in length. Many songs over the 6 minute mark. This is dark, British sea music. Rachel and Becky Unthank haunt me. They do traditional, they cover Robert Wyatt, they have all sorts of short songs or shanties or whatever. This record is not something you just put on and ignore. This record commands attention and commands an hour to be spent with. I dare not listen to this in the day time. It's clearly a night record, and most played right before bed. It's dark, but not hopeless. It's beautiful for sure. If this band is indeed as big as I've heard, I hope they crossover here very soon. I'm including a link to a review not written by me, but really well written, if my gushing interests you at all, you should read it and then see what you think. Don't go in half-assed.
Recommended If You Like: Traditional British Folk Music, but with a bit of a new twist
Better Review Than Mine

17. Erik Friedlander - "Block Ice And Propane"
(Skipstone) (August 14)

"Block Ice And Propane" is apparently avant-garde
cellist Erik Friendlander's homage to family road-trips in his childhood. This is evidenced in the title, and in the distinctive humane, familiar feel of the songs. I've known about Erik through a variety of different projects over the years, but this is the first solo album of his that I have paid any attention to. The sound is something you immediately fall in love with. Erik bends his cello to sound like a distant guitar, like a banjo, he imitates sounds of the far east, he drags out some of the saddest and most reminiscent notes you've heard in your life. It's remarkable what he is able to do with his instrument. There is somber, reflective songs like "Dream Song" one of my most listened to pieces of music this year, and he gives you slow, deliberately picked strings to really fit the title. There is also pure, in your face avant-garde bowing on pieces like "A Thousand Unpieced Suns" which while much louder and scarier than the majority of the gentle pieces, still fits in with the theme of the album. A great narrative from a great artist.
Recommended If You Like: John Fahey, John Zorn, great instrumental music

Myspace (Make sure you watch the video on the left part of the page!)

16. The Twilight Sad - "Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters"
(Fat Cat) (April 3)

Listening to The Twilight Sad for upwards of the 30
times I've come upon a conclusion: These are some of the worst lyrics of the year. I mean on lots of songs, Bloc Party might even have a leg up on The Twilight Sad. But what the Twilight Sad lacks in actual lyricism they more than make up for with musicianship and the scope of their songs. Much of this could be due to vocalist James Graham's thick Scottish accent, but when he sings simple lyrics like "They're standing outside/And they're looking in" you better believe that holy shit there is someone standing outside, looking in. The music is dense and anthemic. You can't call it shoegaze, though it has walls upon walls of distorted guitar. The melodies, the accordians, all these other things come into play to make this a pretty unique record to listen to. The band doesn't hold anything back at the risk of overdoing it. They definitely overdo it at times throughout the record, but it sounds damn good. One of the best records of the year to sing along to, even if I can't understand half the lyrics.
Recommended If You Like: a Scottish Interpol going Asobi Seksu and being good friends with Bloc Party

15. Huckleberry Flint - "Good Night Darling"
(Pillowfront) (?)

Every once in a while, a local band just needs to get some props. Huckleberry Flint is one of the most popular local bands here in Humboldt county,
California, and they deserve every ounce of fame they have here. The music the band creates is that classic string band sound. They will get lumped into the bluegrass category, because anything with a banjo is, but they're not. They're like Old Crow Medicine Show, and you can't categorize them. Led by Dustin Taylor's amazing vocals (I mean, really amazing), "Good Night Darling" is the band's second album, half originals, half traditionals, and a modern cover here and there (even OCMS's most famous song "Wagon Wheel") Local DJ and journalist Jen Savage probably summed up the band the best in one of her articles, "To be in the presence of Huckleberry Flint is to be in the presence of something special. Something honest and good. And that's before they start playing." This is a band that's just having fun. They all have other jobs, they just play in the streets, at different events, and they're always on our local public radio. They're playing music for all the right reasons, they just happen to be really great at it. When I saw them on the stage this year, opening for Uncle Earl, instead of on the street, it was a magical moment, and probably my live music highlight of 2007.
Recommended If You Like: Old Crow Medicine Show, String Bands

14. A Broken Consort - "Box Of Birch"
(Sustain Release) (?)

A Broken Consort is the latest guise of experimental music heavyweight Richard S
kelton, head of the Sustain-Release label. The thing that immediately got my attention about this album was the way it was originally packaged. The first pressing of 28 came individually wrapped in jewelers boxes, with a special keeping it sealed. Inside were two small CDr's, a leaf, an except from a botanical dictionary, drawings by Skelton's wife and a plastic bag of birch twigs, all wrapped in clean linen. In short, this record is more than just a listening experience. Of course, I wasn't one of the 28 to get that original package, but now the release is available in a regular package for a semi-wide market, and I've got my hands on it, and it's my favorite experimental/ambient release of the year. 2007 was a banner year for experimental music, people pushing the boundaries of what could be recorded and still keep it beautiful. On "Box Of Birch" Skelton has set a high bar. The album is essentially a folk album, I mean, made with what I assume to be traditional folk instruments. We get acoustic drones, accordian sounds, an aural experience that changes from heavy metallic noise to light, distant strumming over the course of the work. This is a release that will envelop you.
Recommended If You Like: that weird Finnish folk stuff going on
Myspace (not updated for this album)

13. LCD Soundsystem - "Sound Of Silver"
(DFA) (March 20)

"Sound Of Silver" has already been called album of the year by numerous publications around the world, so whatever I write here hardly has any bearin
g. It's a great album, and that's about the jist of it. James Murphy and company silenced people who thought that dance rock was dead by creating an album of GASP great song writing. It was probably hard for you to not hear "North American Scum" this year, clearly this album's "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" But if you paid any attention to almost any music publication you undoubtedly read something about the tracks that follow that on the album. "Someone Great" and "All My Friends" are two landmark songs. I mean landmarks songs. Definitely two of the best of the year, and recognized as so by everyone and their mother. They made me a believer in James Murphy. The guy is more than just a gimmick, more than just a producer, more than just some new indie David Byrne-esque demi-god. James Murphy is a musician and "Sound Of Silver" is, unlike most albums on this list, going to be recognized as a classic 20 and 30 years from now.
Recommended If You Like: Talking Heads, The Rapture, The Fall

12. Jay-Z - "American Gangster"
(Roc-A-Fella) (November 6)

Jesus, this wasn't supposed to happen. Not after "Kingdom Come." But it has, AGAIN. after The Dynasty he had The Bluepri
nt, after The Blueprint 2, he had The Black Album, after Kingdom Come he has American Gangster. Sometimes I think Jigga is just fucking with us. Actually, I'm pretty convinced of it. Throughout this album, his delivery, his rhymes, his whole aura exudes the fact that he knows he's the best. Beyond being the richest musician/entertainer around, beyond being the face of hip hop for the last 10 years, beyond being the president of Def Jam and owning the New Jersey Nets, Jay-Z is first and foremost one of the best rappers to ever hold a microphone in his hand. "American Gangster" is classic Jay-Z. Expert production, lighter on the pop crap that was most of Kingdom Come, this album, inspired by the movie of the same name, is one of Jay's fiercest albums. He gloats, he has his guests, but he's talking about the streets again, he's adopted this character, whether or not it's him. After this album, there's no doubt he should have never retired, I take back everything I said last year.
Recommended If You Like: If you haven't heard Jay-Z, you aren't reading this list

11. Dungen - "Tio Bitar"
(Kemado) (May 15)

Apparently "Tio Bitar" loosely translates to something like "Ten Piece/Songs" And it's an apt title. For the first time in their relatively short career, Swedish psych rockers Dungen have crafted an album that sounds like it almost has songs on it. Opening the album with a killer heavy psychedelic jam session, complete with flute interludes, Dungen isn't beating around the bush. "Tio Bitar" succeeds where their other albums fail, because for the first time, the band isn't so stuck and self-indulgent. They're copying their obvious fuzz-rock idols of the 60s, and instead of trying to push the boundary as they can, they have instead created one masterful rock record. Of course, I still don't know the lyrics, they're sung in Swedish, but since this cd has not left my car since May (it's left my deck, just not my car), I've had a hell of a time trying to imitate what I assume are Swedish words. The songs are drenched in feedback, in perplexing lo-fi AND hi-fi production, layered vocals, organ sounds, but most important are the guitar solos, whether they are 12-string acoustic brain-melters or loud as hell Hendrix riffs, Dungen is taking us back to a time when drugs and rock were one, and when combined, actually made great music.
Recommended If You Like: Blue Cheer, Hendrix, 60s psych music

Top 10 tomorrow.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Andy's Top 50 Albums Of 2007 (30-21)

30. Alcest - "Souvenirs d'Un Autre Monde"
(Prophecy) (August 6)

I don't really know the story behind this release, or why it got the hype it did based on the guy who did it. I don't know who he is, Niege, some French black metal dude. But with this, his solo album, he's taken a page from Justin Broaderick's Jesu project and create something that essentially shoegaze music, for the metal fans. What you get is walls of guitars, non-stop distorted guitars, create a near white noise, the stuff of My Bloody Valentine and the like. You get the echo-laden vocals. This has the making of a classic, epic, shoegaze album. And that's what it is. There are soaring strings in some of the songs, random acoustic sections, awesome loud sections, and through the whole album, Niege manages to paint a pretty picture. I can't decipher the lyrics, and though the music often has a hard-edge, I can't help but think this is a romantic album. It's 6 tracks, and never devoid of feeling. It's an album that I feel will only grow better with age and repeated plays.
Recommended If You Like: Jesu, My Bloody Valentine, Ride

29. J. Tillman - "Cancer And Delirium"
(Yer Bird) (?)

It's odd how J. Tillman's second official release is what I considered to be one of the saddest and most somber records I heard this year, yet also my go-to record to listen to when waking up. It's a simple album, hushed, but gruff vocals, acoustic guitar or banjo, really minimal percussion, this is pure neo-hippie coffeehouse folk music, if that coffeehouse is outside in the woods, and the crowd is full of people like Iron & Wine's Sam Beam. Most songs are real heart-breakers. His voice and the tempo of the songs display it well. Tracks like "Under The Sun" which has two lyrics "Under the Sun/This too shall pass" and goes on for 4.5 minutes, is his try at a triumphant song, and though it sounds out of place, it is truly beautiful. "When I Light Your Darkened Door" has a lo-fi feel, and features many howls, and sounds like an old Iron & Wine song. "Ribbons Of Glass" which sort of sounds like one of the slow Sufjan Stevens songs has somehow crept up and become one of my absolute favorite songs of the year.It's sad bastard music, but somehow, through all the other pretty decent sad bastard music I've heard this year, J. Tillman's record succeeds and I can't stop listening.
Recommended If You Like: Iron & Wine, Nick Drake, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Damien Jurado

28. Brother Reade - "Rap Music"
(Record Collection) (July 10)

I don't know how ballsy it was to put their faces on their album cover, but it probably made quite a few people dismiss it as the next shitty hipster, comedic rap album. But what's contained inside is one of the straightest old school sounding hip hop albums of the year. Brother Reade is Jimmy Jamz (MC) and Bobby Evans (DJ/Producer). While Jamz is more than competent on the mic, he approaches songs with a traditional b-boy style, and while I don't typically get behind this, all the cliches that are present on this disc have somehow found their way into my head, and they make me dance when walking down the street. But while Jamz does his things, it's Evans bare-bones production, where the record really shines. This is like classic boom-bap hip hop, made in the future. Doesn't make sense? Think the last Clipse album made on a much smaller budget. It's somewhere between Company Flow and Edan without the psychedelics. It's fun, it's a great record for the car, and it bumps almost outrageously hard. Equally good for the headphones and the party.
Recommended If You Like: Def Jux, Brother Ali, Backpack rap

27. The Besnard Lakes - "The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse"
(Jagjaguwar) (February 20)

Until about the end of June, this was my favorite record of the year. I didn't think much could beat it. Which isn't to say that it was love at first listen. I had trashed it many like 3 times before I fully loved it. Then one night it just caught me and I was hooked. Now, I can see why I loved it, it's still a good record, but it also kind of annoys me. It's just fallen out of my graces since the early summer, but to others who haven't listened to it a lot, I hope that it would sound fresh and awesome. It's like drugged out slow-moments of late 60s Beach Boys records, with pretty awesome guitar solos, ripped straight from other popular 70s rock bands. For indie rock songs, they are all pretty long, taking their time to get through, which can be daunting if we want satisfaction immediately, but the band has done this deliberately. It aids in the feeling that is trying to be created here. It's solid, original sounding indie rock. And it's better than Arcade Fire's newest.
Recommended If You Like: Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, etc.

26. Efterklang - "Parades"
(Leaf) (October 15)

I first heard of Efterklang back in 2004, on NPR. I loved the track played on All Songs Considered and got their debut album. It was full of Sigur Ros like tracks (funny that Amiina have played for both), but with more blips. I liked it, but it left me wanting more. I forgot about the band until this year, when I read a positive review on "Parades" I thought "oh what the heck," and got the album. I didn't love it initially, and shelved it. I brought it back in mid-November, kind of just playing it as background music as I was cleaning my house. Suddenly, "Parades" was one of the best records I'd heard in ages. This is an album that unveils itself over time. Which isn't to say that it's overly complex, but it is to say that there are other bands doing similar things, orchestrated, psychedelic, string-laden, epic songs with huge bands, but I think Efterklang have found the winning formula. Listening as I write this, things I didn't notice before are showing themselves. I don't like quoting other people, but Conrad from CokeMachineGlow might have summed it up best this year, "Parades is an album of slow-growing rewards from a band with whom relationships are formed, not instantly identified." It is truly a beautiful album. "Parades" might split reviewers, and might not end up on a whole lot of end-of-the-year lists, but it will surely go down as a cult classic. And I'm ready to sign up for that cult.
Recommended If You LIke: Sigur Ros meets Arcade Fire with some Animal Collective

25. Caribou - "Andorra"
(Merge) (August 21)

The most amazing thing about Dan Snaith's records, every time is that they are completely his. He is a one man band. I mean, back when he was Manitoba it made sense. The weird, IDM-like song structures and fragmented experiments in sound. It almost made sense on "The Milk Of Human Kindness," still an experimental, kraut-rock like record. But listening to "Andorra"...there has to be a full band. When "Melody Day" starts up, you'd swear you're listening to some record collectors favorite lost psychedelic record of the 60s. This record is crazy. And for the first time, Snaith is creating songs. You can hear him singing, there is almost choruses, they are all within reasonable pop song length, and I'll be damned if this isn't the best thing he's released. Maybe it's because I'm a sucker for the kind of music he is trying to re-create, or maybe it's because it's actually just a really good record. Bedroom pop made for sunny days on the beach. It's perplexing, all over the place and one of the most fun records of the year.
Recommended If You Like: Dungen, 60s British Psychedelic bands

24. Freeway - "Free At Last"
(Roc-A-Fella) (November 20)

I waited way too long for this. More than 4 years after Freeway's debut, he finally released "Free At Last." Usually when you wait this wrong for an album from a rapper, it's doomed to be a failure, in the case of Freeway, he's released his second excellent album. When listening to Freeway, it begins and ends with his flow. There in no rapper in the history of rap that sounds like him. The awkward emphasis, the half-yelling, half high-pitched quiet stuff. Whatever it is. He sounds passionate everytime he raps, no matter what the topic. It turns some people off, but for me, it makes every song exciting. His beats aren't bad either, of course. Though the record is executive produced by 50 Cent, the beats aren't handled by the people like Just Blaze and Kanye this time around. But the tracks still get that awesome, early 2000's, Roc-A-Fella feel, when the label was on top of the world right before a sudden collapse. I'm glad I waited, and I'm glad Free delivered.
Recommended If You Like: Beanie Sigel, other Roc-A-Fella rappers

23. Feist - "The Reminder"
(Cherry Tree/Interscope) (May 1)

2007 was sort of the year of Leslie Feist. I mean, sure Daughtry had the most record sales. Sure Arcade Fire became one of the biggest bands in the world. Sure The Police reformed and had the highest grossing tour of the year. But Feist, with that damned ipod commercial has almost become a household name. Played nearly the same by 20-year old hipsters in their apartments as 40-something wives in their refurnished homes. Feist has become a crossover artist that is almost impossible to escape (and why would we?) She's getting lots of flack, people say her songs are annoying, people say this record isn't as good as it's first, people calling her Norah Jones. Whatever, all are wrong. Leslie Feist is one of the best and most inventive forces in pop music today. Even if this album is heavy on ballads, or is doing weird covers of Nina Simone classics, or is producing singles that will be stuck in your head for a month each (My Moon, My Man, I Feel It All, 1,2,3,4), this is a great album. She put out the best videos, she had the best Letterman performance, and she has a great voice. I tend to gush about her, but I can't help myself.
Recommended If You Like: Regina Spektor, Cat Power, old great jazz singers

22. Spoon - "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga"
(Merge) (July 10)

Now, on their 6th full length album, Spoon have basically been creating the same album every year, just tightening the screws a little bit. I've never been sold on this band, but I enjoy all of their records. Every single one of their records on a quality level is very high, but I never really want to listen to them. But with Ga x 5, Spoon have finally released something I loved from first listen, and might love even more now, on probably 30th listen. It's just the right blend of high-tension indie rock, and white boy funk. Like Feist, Spoon received quite a bit of press this year. They appeared in commercials, they were on SNL, they probably soundtracked some television shows, they finally made their way to modern alternative radio with "The Underdog". It's just a great rock n roll album. The thing about Spoon is while no one is going to listen to them and go "I've never heard anything like this before!" They haven't. Spoon is immediately familiar, but entirely their own band. Honestly there is not a single bad song on the album.
Recommended If You Like: Elvis Costello, (post-Pink Flag) Wire, indie rock

21. Skeletonwitch - "Beyond The Permafrost"
(Prosthetic/Red) (October 2)

I can't stop listening to this record. Well, if I wasn't in the process of making this list and replaying this records so that I can write somewhat accurate reviews, and if I didn't have roommates, this record would just be playing on repeat over and over the last few weeks. I'm just addicted to it. It's like Iron Maiden gone totally blackened death metal. Awesome dueling guitar solos, black metal shrieks, loud as fuck. This is the album to rock out to this year. And it's good. It's very good. Whereas Baroness was sort of slow and doomy, Skeletonwitch don't hold back. This is powerful stuff. It comes in a hurry. No songs are more than 5 minutes long, and no songs stop you from headbanging. I'm not the biggest metal fan in the world, and I'm terrible at writing about it, but this record is just a blast. Love the guitars.
Recommended If You Like: Iron Maiden crossed with Immortal

#20-11 tomorrow

Andy's Top 50 Albums Of 2007 (40-31)

40. Band Of Horses - "Cease To Begin"
(Sub Pop) (October 9)

Band Of Horse's debut "Everything All The Time" didn't even register on my Top 50 of 2006. Fast forward to now, and it's almost definitely in my top 3 albums of that year. With "Cease To Begin" they have created an album that is very much the same on the surface, but actually pretty different. There is no "Funeral" and nothing that is quite as fun as "Weed Party." The tracks are still loud, Ben Bridwell's Jim James-esque voice is still as arresting as it was on the debut, but overall, the sound has matured. It's not necessarily a subdued album compared to the first, but the band seems like they don't need to have the slow build-up to a giant chorus. It has taken me awhile to get into this album, and I'm still not entirely sold on it, but like Band Of Horses' previous stuff, the songs eventually stick, and I can see that happening with this album. A young band full of experienced musicians, and they're just growing up.
Recommended If You Like: My Morning Jacket, The Shins, early Flaming Lips

39. Eddie Vedder - "Into The Wild OST"
(RCA) (September 18)

It's pretty weird to enjoy something by Eddie Vedder as much as I enjoy this album. Apart from the albums that will be placed in my Top 5, I definitely listened to this more than anything else this year. I mean, it's still Eddie Vedder, still has that ridiculous voice, but without the derivative grunge sounding guitars they have been using for 20 years, Eddie's voice doesn't actually annoy me and instead *gasp* almost makes sense. I love the book "Into The Wild" and plan to re-read it, and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, even though parts of it were outright cheesy. But the songs Vedder wrote for the movie actually work very well as the voice of Christopher McCandless. The lyrics, upon close inspection are pretty laughable on their own, but put into context, they really work, and make someone like me a believer. The cover of Indio's "Hard Sun" sounds almost the same as the original, but it's such a great song, I can't complain. The songs are short, to the point, and create a cinematic experience. My walking around campus album of the year, at the very least.
Recommended If You Like: Pearl Jam, Ultimate Frisbee, 90s Alt. Rock

38. UGK - "Underground Kingz"
(Jive) (August 7)

h Pimp C's tragic death on December 4th of this year, I almost feel obliged to rank this album higher. I won't, because my opinion doesn't really matter, but I will say that with or without Pimp C's death, this is probably the most IMPORTANT hip hop release of the year. It's for sure one of the best double albums in hip hop history, it contains the best single of the year ("Intl Players Anthem"), and it was so good and grand in scope, that all the other southern rappers claiming to be the head of the game WILLINGLY gave up their fictitious crowns to the real kings. Throughout this album, UGK is classic UGK, with some current big names (Rick Ross, Talib Kweli, T.I.), and some classics (Too $hort, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Three 6 Mafia). Of course, since it is a double album, with like 29 tracks total (if you include bonus tracks), not every single song is great. However, CocaineBlunts, the hip hop blog created his own version of the album, to make it onto a single disc, and listening to that (something I do), would make this more or less the best rap album of the year. While there are other hip hop albums that are going to be higher than this on this list, history is going to remember UGK's last release as truly legendary.
Recommended If You Like: Three 6 Mafia, Southern Hip Hop

37. Kathy Diamond - "Miss Diamond To You"
(Groove Attack) (April 30)

The slap bass in this
record is what makes it. It's what separates it from other neo-disco, female-vocal "dance" music. Maurice Fulton's production on this album basically makes it one extra long song. I mean, most of the songs blend together, with little 20 second interludes between them, but god damn, the groove on this album is otherworldly. "All Woman" the big single off the album is clearly just that. A little more upbeat than the rest of the tracks, with a repetitive drum beat, crazy slap bass, synths here and there, whatever. It's pure retro, but unlike anything created back then. Maybe this album is like 60 minutes of "Heart Of Glass" made in the year 2007. There's lots of great acts doing similar stuff right now, but nothing that is based on locking into a groove as much as this is. And it's hardly Kathy Diamond's album anyway, the album is made because of Fulton's productions, great night record.
Recommended If You Like: Dani Siciliano, Roisin Murphy, Italians Do It Better

36. The Dreadful Yawns - "Rest"
(Exit Stencil) (May 1)

Somewhere along the lines, The Dreadful Yawns got described as psychedelic. Listening to this album (or their last album, which I also loved), you would never get that feeling. Maybe their live show is, I don't know. Here we have pure
Byrds or Dead inspired country-rock and and Americana music. Pure, folk-tinged pop songs. The music generally leans more heavily on the feeling of the actual music than the lyrics. I have found that I love this band because how good they are at creating a feeling, their voices are great, but I never really pay too much attention to what they're saying. Maybe that's bad listening, but upon your first listen to this album, I would bet that it has a similar affect on you. This is road-trip across the Midwest music, beautiful stuff full of acoustic guitars, slide guitar, and just enough drums and bass to give it a little bit of punch. They're still virtually unknown outside of their home area, but I hope that changes soon, because they're one of the best around.
Recommended If You Like: The Byrds, Grateful Dead, Teenage Fanclub

35. The National - "Boxer"
(Beggars Banquet) (May 22)

I never like
d The National before, and verbally gave people crap for acting like they were one of the best bands around. With "Boxer", The National have made a believer of me. I don't know if the album is actually better than their other releases or if it was something in me that finally clicked, but I just finally believed the hype machine, and though I wanted to dislike this album, I just couldn't. And I like it more everytime I listen to it. It's clear that Matt Berringer is one of the better songwriters in indie rock, and his slow drawl and monotone delivery really sell it, but the music on this album really gives it an edge that maybe I never felt before. Their are more strings on this album, giving it a pretty big grandiose feel, but not quite as pompous as Arcade Fire. And that's why the National are great. They know when too much is too much. Every song on this album is good, some are great. According to itunes, I listen to "Start A War" a thousand times more than any other track on the album, but that's just me. Anyone can fall in love with "Mistaken for Strangers" or "Slow Show" or "Apartment Story", everyone is going to have a different opinion. I'll be excited for their follow-up.
Recommended If You Like: Nick Cave meets Interpol, Leonard Cohen meets Joy Division

34. Black Pony Express - "Love In A Cold Place"
(Bang!) (February 12)

se guys are from Melbourne, and that's about the extent of what I know about them. Apparently they have a dedicated following and have gotten some favorable reviews, but are nowhere near "big" down there. They're nowhere near "big" up here either, but god bless the internet, for letting me find this record. Black Pony Express have created an album that sound remarkably American. The opener "Resurrection Blues" is just that, sounding like a gothic-blues stomper done by Nick Cave. The following track is a lighter pop-country affair, reminding me of that White Stripes song in Napoleon Dynamite. Then the next song "Midnight Song" is a weeper, with a soaring middle and end. This band knows what they are doing, and their songs are powerful. Everything just comes together, and allows the band to jump from style to style without sounding fake. It sounds complete. Even the songs without vocals are more emotional and well done than most music created this year. Definitely something you should seek out.
Recommended If You Like: Nick Cave, Dirty Three, Will Oldham

33. Radiohead - "In Rainbows"
(Self-Released) (October 10)

What else needs to be written, really? Radiohead has all the power in the world, and they turned the music business on it's side with this record. I'm not going to get into that. You can go onto any music site, any blog, any news site and read about that. It was awesome, that's about it. As for the music, what we have is an album that competes with Radiohead's best work. Not as anthemic as stuff on OK Computer or The Bends, not as experimental as Amnesiac, and a whole lot better than Hail To The Thief, In Rainbows will be remembered as one of the best albums of the 00's. But it's low on my list, for two reasons. One: I've lost my love for Radiohead. They were once my favorite band (I mean The Bends and Kid A were both in my top 5 records of all time, favorite), but I just don't love them like I did, whatever. I will again. Two, I just haven't listened to this enough to fully absorb it. It's a dense record, like most of their releases, it's not something you listen to in passing. But I enjoy it a whole hell of a lot.
Recommended If You Like: Oh c'mon, you've heard Radiohead before.

32. Roisin Murphy - "Overpowered"
(EMI) (October 15)

I found that there was quite a few excellent
dance-pop albums this year. Girls Aloud, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Rihanna, Amerie, etc. My favorite is from former Moloko frontwoman Roisin Murphy. Her first album, 2005's "Ruby Blue" was great for it's own reasons. Matthew Herbert's experimental production, subdued dance grooves, and great songwriting. But with "Overpowered" Murphy has gone 100% pop. I mean in all aspects. Doing shows for Gucci, landing high on singles charts, wearing ridiculous costumes, Murphy is going all out. God damn is it fun. It's smart pop, for sure, but your body is going to move. She is blessed with one of the better voices in the business, and the production on this album seems to fit her voice even better. It's just an addicting listen. Listen to a track like "Cry Baby" and tell me this isn't a future #1 dance single.
Recommended If You Like: Girls Aloud, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Moloko

31. Titan - "A Raining Sun Of Light & Love You & You & You"
(Tee Pee) (February 6)

Pure, unadulterated, stoner prog rock. If that line didn't grab you, this album probably won't. 4 songs, 42 minutes of music. Effect laden guitars, awkward Rush-like time signatures, and some of the fattest ELP style organ you've heard in the last 30 years. Titan have created one awesome record to jam to. Even the title is pretentious prog. But whereas most people who are operating in the genre have pristine production, crisp and clean guitar lines, and superb solos, Titan are noisy as hell. A masterpiece of mess. It's like the interludes of your favorite stoned 70s records. Equal parts King Crimson and Can. Equal parts Sabbath and Comus. This music has been done before, and it's been done better, but I'll be damned if this isn't one of the most fun I've heard. Grow your hair out, don't shower, lose your friends, turn your lights to dim, get on some sort of drug trip and just groove.
Recommended If You Like: Comets On Fire, Hawkwind, Amon Duul II


#30-21 tomorrow.