Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Favorite albums of 2007

header

And I was worried I had nothing more to say about 2007...

(If you're going to download multiple mp3s, check out the zip file of all 20 at the bottom of the post.)

1. Kala, M.I.A.
This past summer, the population burp that came of age in the late 60s reinforced its version of that cultural moment and its historical significance by feting four decades of a certain Beatles record (WSJ link pointed).The more nuanced, pessimistic and, to my mind, better-truer, take on the Summer of Love marked its 40th anniversary in November to considerably less fanfare. I happened to be reading Andrew Hultkrans' 33 1/3 series entry on Love's Forever Changes when Kala first kicked my feet out from under me. And Hultkrans' discussion of Arthur Lee's gift of apocalyptic prophecy, his paranoiac vision and outsider purview, all of which exerts itself in ambiguous wordplay and destabilizing sound and yields plenty of public misconception, seemed so naturally transferable to a certain contemporary musician and world citizen.

It would be hard at this point to say anything original about Kala. The record's release sent journalists scrambling for their old postcolonialist readers and the latest issue of The Economist (which they dutifully put to use in the service of lengthy analyses). So I'm sure I'm not the first one to excuse Maya Arulpragasam's ideological inconsistencies (she's what? knocking on the door of my Hummer wearing Rocawear purchased with major label advances?) by locating her as part of some mystic continuum. Mystics, you see, don't have to make sense now -- only from a temporal distance. I don't mean Arulpragasam is some white-garbed, untouchable Delphic Oracle. Like a lot of musicians, she likes to party, posts regrettable idiocies on her Myspace page and gets defensive with Pitchfork interviewers. She's a former art student, for fuck's sake! And there's a little (excuseably human) smugness in her tone when she says, I put people on the map/ Who ain't never seen a map.

But I've grown a strange sympathy for M.I.A. this year. Whatever its flaws (we can all agree that Timbaland should stick to producing), Kala is an amazing album, a category-of-one kind of release that has more in common with Joanna Newsom's Vs. than M.I.A.'s own first effort, Arular. For its far-flung folk inclusiveness and warring political discourses, it's as singular (if not noiser, more abrasive and better to dance to) an aesthetic vision. Which shoves M.I.A. in the radical artist's classic rock and a hard place. She has some serious things to say and inventive ways to say them, but is compelled to speak slant with populist, possibly insincere, gestures -- say, mugging "street" for every goddamn camera that invades her space, sampling indie rock nostalgia, playacting cultural terrorist (does anyone else find it curious/telling that every profile calls her Sri Lankan, when in fact she's a British citizen?). It's a complicated kind of communication that Newsom, for example, never had to take up because her art and audience are culturally cohesive.

So here's where we return to Authur Lee -- biracial in a mainly white L.A. psychedelic-rock scene, good vibes buzzkill, mental breakdown candidate -- sitting on the hillside, watching all the people die. Lee, nakedly beautiful with "Andmoreagain," metaphored and doubletalking in
"The Red Telephone" (the most famous example: And if you think I'm happy/ Paint me (white) (yellow). Lee, who prophesied the death of the counterculture dream in an apocalypse of economic interest, bad leadership and insanity. While I don't wish Lee's fate on Arulpragasam, I think the way she stands aloof and belongs nowhere specific, the way she fogs her oracle glass with clever rhymes and intractable beats, even her muddled logic, auger a bird flu epidemic in our time. If not worse.

Bamboo Banga

Buy Kala (Amazon). Myspace

2. Weirdo Rippers, No Age
The song is the single and the single definitely doesn't suck -- even when it sounds like (or maybe because) it's totally trying to. Unlike its literal-minded, confessional colleague Brendan Fowler (Barr), the No Age duo blanket their mostly spare and unparseable lyrics with sheets of static, drone and buzz. But who cares about the lyrics, right? Let's talk about the noise! Half of the scrappy, scraped together singles collected on Weirdo Rippers aurally quote the lowest of the lo-fi early Pavement (I keep hearing "Texas Never Whispers") and an entire Orange County hardcore scene undergirds the furious choruses of "Boy Void," "Everybody's Down" and "Neck Escaper." Dean Spunt and Randy Randall advance the Cali-context with a little surf-rock guitar on the mischievous "My Life's Alright Without You" -- the best song this year about the best revenge (happiness, or something like it).

Expect No Age's first proper full-length -- its debut under the Sub Pop umbrella -- to be one of relatively cultivated mass-consumable pop-punk. It may seem like this special ed teacher and wardrobe stylist conquered the indie-rock nation with stupid, blunt force, but their swift underground ascendancy (even with all of 2007's technological assists) required considerable media sophistication and image finesse. It takes smarts and skill to be this good while pretending to be bad.

Boy Void

Buy (Amazon, eMusic). Myspace

3. Andorra, Caribou
When I gave Caribou's last album, The Milk of Human Kindness, the number six spot on my 2005 album list, I said something I still kind of like: There's a warm-blooded, cold weather animal that wanders within the loose borders of this record. Dan Snaith's follow-up lets the beast sleep in the barn. It's a hell of a lot warmer, and even at 60 minutes, Andorra is conceptually tight. With one exception: Closer "Niobe" shares more with Snaith's sonic explorer past than with the domestication, focus and pop generosity of "Melody Day" or "Sandy." I'll hazard that "Niobe" is the talismanic relic that allows him to take the scary, giant step forward that this record represents. The very lovely "Irene" splits the difference with, on one hand, geeky stereo-panning and volume dynamics, and on the other, a poetic bone-ache of a melody and waterfalling harmonies. Caribou has assumed the mantle Olivia Tremor Control abruptly abandoned almost a decade ago, but wears it with way better fidelity. And if Snaith travels Irene's route to his next destination, that album will probably be another top-ten contender for me.

Irene


Buy (Amazon, eMusic). Myspace


4. Woke Myself Up, Julie Doiron
A deceptively plain document of life after rock n' roll, Woke Myself Up, like a string of pearls, gains radiance -- not to mention complexity -- with repeated wear. Not that these songs aren't easy to like. Julie Doiron's warm rasp is immediately enchanting and seems to hide a secret joy you'd like to pry from her shy grin. And former Eric's Trip bandmates lend satisfying structure and heft to her spare folk-pop ruminations. So it would be simple to enjoy Woke on the level of intriguing voice and sly-hooked songs. But step back and turn phrases over in your head and you realize how paradoxically true lines like opening stanzas I woke myself up/ To rest my weary head/ From all the work I'd done/ In those dreams I'd had. Dreams -- the waking kind -- are work and demand such mental energy, we don't realize how exhausted we are and what we missed in their pursuit until we've set them aside. The fleeting fragment "You Look So Alive" perfectly captures that mental pause when meeting an ex -- and regret -- on the street. And there's a wonderful revelation in the album's sole rocker, "Don't Wanna Be/Liked By You," that catches even Doiron by surprise -- So I suppose I'll just let the love in. It may seem like resigned capitulation, but it's actually the sound of opening a door to other, possibly better, things.

I Woke Myself Up

Buy (Amazon, eMusic). Myspace

5. Sing the Greys, Frightened Rabbit
These Scottish imps brightened my world considerably in 2007, even when they were performing relationship malaise ("Yawn"), obsessing over social malfunction ("Be Less Rude" and "Behave") and sketching the shades of despair with What's the blues when you've got the greys? (the best first 10 seconds of any song on any record on this list). I've raved and raved about these brothers' song smarts, their wondrous consistency in delivering the freshest, most rousing indie pop. The album's been released, like, three times now, and there's no excuse not to pick it up.

Be Less Rude

Buy (Amazon, eMusic). Myspace

6. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Miranda Lambert
You could argue that this isn't country album tokenism because Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is decked out in more rock signifiers than Nashville ones. I'll pass on that discussion, though. What interests me is how Miranda Lambert hews to the tradition, primarily by giving primacy to place. If country music is about one thing (just pretend with me here) it's the uneasy concept of home. Not necessarily a real, physical house or city or region (though Lambert namechecks Jackson Hole, Missoula and Turner, Texas), but a composite of emotions, relationships and cultural practices that contribute to the construction of home -- the half-imaginary place country singers are always either stuck in or longing for. Crazy's affective poles are the witty, rueful "Famous in a Small Town," about the curious comfort of being just like everyone else and "Gunpowder and Lead," a justifiably angry number about ridding the homestead -- by violence, if necessary -- of an abusive husband. It's not all emotional roller-coaster. The album's best singalong, "Dry Town" breezy-sasses
Loretta Lynn-style the humor and horror of getting waysided in a beerless burgh. But the track list ends ambivalent with "Easy From Now On," a paean to a place where "you can lay your heart down" and settle. An impossible place when you consider that this star's on the move.

Dry Town

Buy (Amazon). Myspace

7. Sound of Silver, LCD Soundsystem
"Losing My Edge" is the second best song of the decade (after "Hey Ya," obviously). But who would have thought a couple years ago that it was only an eight-minute preamble to a whole album documenting, not this time, the minutiae of what we lose -- that naive badge of honor known as a killer record collection -- but the big, universal feelings of losing it?
The avalanche of personal essay writing "All My Friends" tipped among the aging indie rock guy contingent confirms it. Funny thing is, the most celebrated song of the year is the Sound of Silver track I like least. To me, its dude-centric laments don't quite click and lock, and honestly, that pounding piano chordage makes my temples throb. But with the musical and emotional complexity of "North American Scum," "Get Innocuous," "Us v. Them" and "Someone Great," James Murphy proves that the early singles weren't a fluke (I wasn't that blown-away with LCD Soundsystem's first non-singles record). And here I was ready to write it off after "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" soundtracked Summer or Seth or somebody on The OC vomiting into the pool -- immediately after "Technologic" blared from expensive speakers (groans and more groans). I had assigned LCD Soundsystem the ignominious rank of hipster convenience store for time-constrained music supervisors. Ok, it still is, but it's a really, really well-stocked one.

Get Innocuous (Soulwax remix)

Buy (Amazon). Myspace

8. Kissing Like It's Love, The Voyces
To drill to its heart, you have to stop hitting the repeat button on the insanely catchy Archies-meet-Fleetwood Mac beach-party title track and explore the rest of the record. Because it's the penultimate song, the shapeshifting, tawny-lustered "The Canyon Ladies" that betrays The Voyces' aesthetic and conceptual anxieties. Like the aforementioned Forever Changes, this LP tells tales from the dark side of the California dream that collapsed some 40 years ago. Even if The Voyces' album starts with an optimistic shrug, proceeds to a sumptuary of hopeless love ("Hair Up High"), gets darker with an anxious, staccattoed Bee Gees' impersonation ("You're In Charge of Driving the Narcotics Trolley"), it ends its musical and emotional pilgrimage gasping for air in a shabby lean-to. (The band lists The Eagles as their first influence, so this might be its "Hotel California.") Denouement "Where the Little Girls Still Throw Roses," is half-drugged and half-hoped, hallucinating rose girls, demon lovers and houses without hearts. If you crave less confusion, return to track one immediately.

The Canyon Ladies

Buy (Amazon, eMusic). Myspace

9. Challengers, The New Pornographers
Never mind that with
"Myriad Harbour," Dan Bejar is the dish that ran away with the spoon. However much a full-cast effort, this production runs on Carl Newman's direction. (Here's my bias: If asked to name my fave NPs album, I'd say The Slow Wonder [and after that, Twin Cinema].) And if fans were a little disappointed in what seemed like the sound of middle-age spread, perhaps they haven't yet learned what Newman knows: Life rarely follows the predictable path of verse, verse, chorus, verse, spectacular, mind-blowing, orgasmic chorus. Challengers is at its slightest when it treads water (the forced frenzy of "All the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth") and best when it takes a few deep breaths and paces itself ("Adventures in Solitude," "Unguided," "Go Places"). "My Rights Versus Yours" is as effective a starter gun as any NPs' album opener, beginning slack and slowly swelling with hooks and harmonies, oohs and ahs. Newman's stunner, the heartbreaker, though, is the Neko-Newman duet "Challengers" and the seasoned rue of I know you live with someone/ I live with somebody too/ Leave it there / For safekeeping.

My Rights Versus Yours

Buy (Amazon, eMusic). Myspace

10. This Bliss, Pantha du Prince
They say that when people go blind, their ears pick up the slack. I never mentioned it here, but in the past six months I've had a lot of trouble with floaters in my right eye (otherwise known as my good eye -- the left's one a lot weaker). At times, my vision was so impaired and my frustration so extreme that I couldn't look at a computer screen, read books or even watch TV. So I'd lie in the dark and listen to music, which is the only thing that allowed me to evade those stalking protozoan ghost filaments. My hearing has always been extremely acute (my antenna intercepts conversations I really rather wish it wouldn't and the primary reason I suffer insomnia is that every nature of noise keeps/wakes me up). But my hearing got even better as I looked less and listened more. For a while I even flirted with synesthesia. This coincided with my introduction to Pantha du Prince -- when I could feel the woodpecking beats of "White Out" in my teeth and taste the metal and saline of "Florac" on my tongue.

Kompakt's big release this year, The Field's From Here We Go Sublime, is an undeniably good record, but This Bliss is the nail that snagged my sweater. Sublime is a daytime album, a chilly day of frozen ground and thin winter sun -- but day nonetheless. This Bliss is a night prowler that accompanied me in my vision-impaired evenings, painting great swathes of black on brick walls and studding the sky with blinking lights. From the glassine tingle of "Asha" to the four-elements float, trickle, shift and spark of "Seeds of Sleep," Bliss lives up to its ecstatic, sensory name. "Saturn Strobe," a midnight drive of portentous strings and slick beats that pick up cymbal buzz and jittery bells for the ride, is a miniature masterpiece.

Saturn Strobe

Buy (Amazon). Myspace

11. From the Air, M. Shanghai String Band
How's this for bluegrass authenticity? A dozen-member Brooklyn band named after the Chinese restaurant in whose basement it first performed, which, instead of interpreting standards, performs its own compositions about, oh, Henry Darger's fictional universe, one-way buses to the cemetery, tic tac toe chickens and a Manhattan boyfriend who refuses to cross the Brooklyn bridge. The familiar props are in place: fiddle, mandolin, harmonica, washboard. But the multi-culti collective is as conversant in jazz and klezmer as folk. Still, they're at their best when not pushing so hard for clever and quirk. I thought for sure "No Home In This World" was an old mountain mourning song, but no, the
simple banjo-led melody and sublime harmonies are pure 21st century Brooklyn bluegrass.

No Home in This World

Buy album (Amazon, eMusic), Myspace

12. Strawberry Jam, Animal Collective
I didn't swoon for Panda Bear's solo record the way so many other bloggers did this year. But no album made me so giddy-happy, even irrationally so, in 2007 as Strawberry Jam. The first half of the album is unassailable, manic and maniacal, skip-roping, hopscotching, slinky-on-the-stairs fun. It would be hard for any band to follow such furious, logorrheic highs as "Peacebone" and "For Reverend Green," an Al Green tribute that sounds like someone jammed a dinner knife between some synthesizer knobs. And side two doesn't; it settles into a less melodic, more contemplative (it's all relative here, folks) mode. In a duller year, this would have ranked a lot higher.


For Reverend Green

Buy (Amazon). Myspace

13. Untrue, Burial
I pretty much said my peace about Burial here (for now -- as all things on this blog, it's a work-in-progress).

Ghost Hardware

Buy (Amazon, eMusic). Myspace

14. We'll Never Go Back, Mavis Staples
Mavis Staples nails her theme halfway through the album: It's the 21st Century/ It Feels like its 1960! A more nuanced and sophisticated protest than Kanye West's infamous "George Bush doesn't care about black people," the line -- and the album -- are no less passionate, angry and appalled about the government's implicitly racist, classist (lack of) response to Hurricane Katrina. But Staples is a pro at protest rhetoric; you'd expect no less from the crown jewel of gospel's first family and long-time civil rights worker. What's astonishing about this record is how inventively it reworks the familiar. Opener "Down in Mississippi," sounds more like something off Moby's Play than any old Staples Singers' record.
Staples' harrowing tale of the bad old days in the South gathers grit from Ry Cooder's rhythm-and-blued hard right hook to the gut and a choir that could be a sampled field recording. A surprising and whimsical banjo intro knocks the stuffing out of gospel standard "Turn Me Around," and as I said in my favorite songs list, "99 1/2" is one of the best dance songs of the year.

99 and 1/2

Buy (Amazon). Myspace

15. Dark Undercoat, Emily Jane White
San Franciscan Emily Jane White wrote the theme song for Cam Archer's self-conscious, -indulgent coming-of-age film, Wild Tigers I Have Known (FYI: Tarnation is a better, more visually exciting picture that covers the same ground). That's not White's fault. "Tigers" -- the song -- is a careful exercise of piano and voice, whose restraint only underlines the internal tumult of lines like Cuz it's a man's world/ Say all the right words and hold your heart from your chest. Oh hey, I should probably introduce the elephants in the room: White sings a lot like Chan Marshall, and in her bluesier moments ("Bessie Smith"), something like Jolie Holland. Get over it, because White's songwriting sparkles with the melody and passion these other two artists' recent work lacks. Then there's her focus. This is a debut album and taps various (presumably) personally meaningful folk, blues and rock touchstones, but there are no ill-conceived experiments, floundering or filler. Just ten moving, memorable songs.

Dagger

Buy (eMusic). Myspace


16. Wátina, Andy Palacio
Belizian Andy Palacio sings for the sake of ethnic and political survival, but unless you understand Garafuna, you revel in the music for its sheer joy.

Aguyuha Niduhenu (My People Have Moved On)


Buy (Amazon, eMusic), Myspace

17. Ghosts, Siobhan Donaghy
Track-by-track techno-pop perfection from the former Sugababe.

Ghosts

Buy (Amazon). Myspace


18. Deuteronomy, The Intelligence
An utterly unpretentious punk record from a band that probably doesn't give a fuck if you like them, and are all the better for it.

Dating Cops

Buy (Amazon, eMusic). Myspace


19. West Coast, Studio
The Swedish LP that knotted together the major music trends of 2007 -- African polyrhythms, 80s nostalgia and techno gone pop -- and still managed to be really good.

West Side

Buy (Amazon, eMusic). Myspace


20. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon
I'm beginning to suspect that nothing will ever again approach Kill the Moonlight for me. But Ga5 is a Spoon album, always recommendation enough (and may it continue to be for many releases to come).

Don't You Evah


Buy (Amazon, eMusic). Myspace


Understudies: Bach's Goldberg Variations, Simone Dinnerstein; Environ Maiden, The Capstan Shafts; Bearded Ladies, V/A; Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release, Simian Mobile Disco; Transparent Knives, Promise and the Monster; Pride, Phosphorescent; The Light Shines Almost All the Way, Ai Phoenix; Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Of Montreal.

I could go on. For the first year in many, I could name 50 excellent LPs. There were disappointments (Bishop Allen, The National, Fields), but all-in-all it was a brilliant year for albums.

Previously:
Favorite songs of 2007
Recommended EPs, reissues, non-2007 finds

8 Comments:

Blogger C. said...

Another fantastic post, A.

since you asked, my top 10 (no particular order):

Mekons, Natural.

LCD, Sound of Silver.

New Pornos, Challengers.

Dean & Britta, Back Numbers.

Clientele, God Save the Clientele.

Spoon, Ga Ga....

A. Winehouse, live In Paradiso, Amsterdam.

Robt. Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand.

Claire Burson, Thieves.

Fabienne DelSol, Between You & Me.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Neil said...

I'm glad you put this list together, Amy--I kept looking for it while I was visiting my mom and was happy to read it when I got back. "The nail that snagged my sweater"--brilliant.

My favorite albums of 2007:
1. Salim Nourallah, Snowing in My Heart
2. Kanye West, Graduation
3. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
4. Nine Inch Nails, Year Zero
5. Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha
6. Apples in Stereo, New Magnetic Wonder
7. The Bees, Octopus
8. Feist, The Reminder
9. Wir Sind Helden, Soundso
10. Robyn, Robyn
11. The Shins, Wincing the Night Away
12. Stars, In Our Bedroom After the War
13. Frightened Rabbit, Sings the Greys
14. Vampire Weekend, Blue CD-R
15. Suzanne Vega, Beauty & Crime
16. Johnathan Rice, Further North

I'm off to learn more about that Voyces album--"Kissing Like It's Love" is nice but didn't drive me to look for more (although I loved the way you wrote about it). But "The Canyon Ladies" is something else entirely.

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Jere said...

LOVED the inclusion of Julie Doiron's latest and the under-appreciated "Challengers".

12:49 PM  
Blogger muruch said...

I already mentioned my Mavis love in your songs post. Nice to see Andy Palacio getting some notice, too.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Ortho said...

Hi. Thanks for writing about Pantha du Prince's This Bliss. I bought it yesterday. Have a good New Year!

8:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andy Palacio died January 19 RIP

10:04 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Awesome awesome list. So much stuff on there that I know I'll be searching for. I also totally forgot about that Julie Doiron record. I like some of her other stuff better, but this one is still good.

10:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a new cover version / remix song and video "M.I.A - Paper Planes (Diss By DeLon)" that has been done by the American (U.S. based) Rapper with Sri Lankan Roots Delon (http://www.myspace.com/delonrap)
M.I.A - Paper Planes (Diss By DeLon)

Ceylon Records - the label handling Rapper Delon has released this controversial video -
M.I.A - Paper Planes (Diss By DeLon)

MIA Paper Planes (Diss by Delon)

Delon speaks about his Cover Version of "Paper Planes"

More from Amerian Rapper Delon who has relatives in Sri Lanka ....Delon promotes peace for the World with his Rap
http://www.myspace.com/delonrap

1:05 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home