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 good 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: Weakling. 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.