Monday, January 7, 2008

That's A Record! 2007 Is Over and I'm Back On the Internet

The last time I wrote a blog, some bad things happened. Let's just say that lives were destroyed and in a maze of implications, governments were brought down. Like in Mr. Arkadin, what began with a dead naked woman on a beach, though not literally, ended with a pilotless plane flying somewhere over the rockies rather inexplicably. But, I've decided to make a return. Those few survivors who were courtside as the empire crumbled have marched on with little to no psychiatric damage and I'm now in a better place.

All that said, what a year 2007 was for music. From my little corner of the world, I was simply dumbfounded on a frighteningly frequent basis as marvels in album form spewed into the world one after the other like lemmings treading fearlessly to the cliffs of my ears. There were so many that came out that I could make 3 unique Top 20's, all of which could inspire rampant argument. After some stress, I figured out my own little approach thanks to the help of David Winner's book Brilliant Orange. Instead of "ranking" these, I just decided on the 20 that I would want to hear again the most and, in the Rinus Michels coaching style at Ajax, simply give them a number, but keep in mind that the numbers are not labels determining position. For the numbers are unimportant, it's the players that matter. However, on the field there must be a captain. That is the only ranked album on this list. Obviously, the captain is very important, so I put it at number 1. My top choice is the one album the leaped out at me above all others.

Now, to the list.

20. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam

This won't be the only time I say this here, but I'm not one to suckle at the teet of all that is Animal Collective. I dig their style and their methods, but that alone won't win me over. With Feels, they seemed to be getting soft to me. Many of those songs sounded, well, normal. Here, they're back to their indulgent and odd ways. This album makes a case for them as one of the VERY few Felliniesque bands I've ever heard.

19. Chromatics - Night Drive

This album really captured a feeling for me. I've always kind of felt an outcast in my family. Not really in a bad way, but whenever I take a trip home, it usually involves me taking a 2-3 hour drive at night just to relax and think. This year at Christmas, there was no time for one of those, just a quick trip down memory lane with my wife, but listening to this album proved very therapeutic in that sense for me.

18. The Field - From Here We Go Sublime

There were plenty of times when I looked at this jacket while listening to this and being surprised that I wasn't looking at an Aphex Twin/Richard D. James composition, though that's not to say it's derivative. All comparison aside, this is one of the beautiful masterpieces in ambient techno that I've heard, but I'm no expert in the style.

17. Radiohead - In Rainbows

It's been a decade since the last time I was truly comfortable with a Radiohead release. I'm not going to go into the particulars because it would take way to long. Let's just say that's good enough for me.

16. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Six albums in and these guys refuse to get worse. Spoon is the Mr. Reliability when it comes to concise, efficient, true blue rock and roll.

15. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

I came to the party on Funeral quite late. I can't really say that I've ever really come around to calling it the masterstroke everyone else wasted no time doing. Neon Bible is a different barrel of monkeys for me. There's enough heart and sheer belief on this album and it goes a very long way.

14. No Age - Weirdo Rippers

It's odd how white noise and distortion can provide accessibility to abstract rock experimentation. This album has an ebb and flow that, like the tide, sees ocean waves of post-rock splash against the rocky shores of that alternative rock sound and then back out into the sea.

13. The National - Boxer

With Matt Berninger's beautiful lower tenor voice and music steeped in American indie rock with touches of Joy Division here and there, this record is packed to the brim with goodies. The haunting opening piano on "Fake Empire," the claustrophobia of "Apartment Story" and solid rockers like "Mistaken For Strangers" and "Squalor Victoria" have paradoxical qualities that could both wake one up in the morning as well as put you to absolute rest at night. They're also addictive enough to have everyone come back for more.

12. The Good, the Bad and the Queen - The Good, the Bad and the Queen

What do you get when you take 2 Brit-poppers (Damon Albarn and Simon Tong), add a dub-loving former punk rocker (ex-Clash bassist Paul Simonon) and the former drummer for Fela Kuti (for those unaware, Fela was funkier than James Brown, Sly Stone, Parliament and Funkadelic put together)? You get an un-named supergroup (according to Damon Albarn) that dropped one beautifully murky album that sounds in and of itself and not being born or influenced by anything but its creators.

11. Panda Bear - Person Pitch

To be honest, I could take or leave most of what comes from Animal Collective. Still, that doesn't stop me from listening to all they put out because their heads and hearts are in the right place. Panda Bear from said group truly astonished me on this one. I completely missed its arrival. This was another that I was lucky to hear because of my affiliation with mxdwn. Person Pitch is the first time I can remember hearing Wall of Sound-style production and not wishing for the angelic voices of either Darlene Love or Ronnie Spector. Songs like "Bros," and "Comfy in Nautica" have such a heavenly quality about them - as do the rest of the cuts here - that makes them irresistable.

10. Caribou - Andorra

Dan Snaith sure put the ball of wax into this one. This album succeeds in that XTC way of bringing very distinct ideals together and almost creating something better. While XTC focused more on the lyrical stylings of The Beatles and Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys-style production, Caribou takes aim at Odyssey and Oracle by The Zombies and Forever Changes by Love. It's one of the few contradictions that could exist in music. A sunny bleakness or a happy sadness, if you will.

9. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver

Finally, an album containing truly GREAT SONGS rather than one novelty and a bunch of ideas. Cuts like "Get Innocuous!," "All My Friends," "Someone Great," "Us vs. Them" and even "North American Scum" are simply dazzling. However, the only fault for it at this time is that I literally heard way too much of it by the time of this writing. This is the album that James Murphy will be remembered for. "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" put him on the map, but this elevates him to artistic legitimacy; something hard for a modern day dance rocker to achieve.

8. A Place to Bury Strangers - A Place to Bury Strangers

Ah, that good ol' big guitar sound. APTBS should just use this album's opener "To Fix the Gash in Your Head" as a business card. Similar to "Just Like Honey" by The Jesus and Mary Chain, this band may have a hard time escaping the beautiful darkness and sheer repeatability of this track. Very rarely does an opener capture the essence of an album so well while still leaving room for exploration over the rest of it. Even more stupefying is how consistent the remainder of the album is.

7. King Khan & The Shrines - What Is?!

I love the Nuggets boxes with a passion. Sure, that's no excuse to champion something. Derivative can often be a bad thing, but King Khan & The Shrines don't imitate. Much like Justice to Daft Punk,
they understand their influences and adore their style. What Is?! has unfathomable love for all things '60s from its use of fuzz to Motown-style bass and Stax-style horns. Songs like "Welfare Bread" and "Land of the Freak" astutely use all at once. At times, King Khan sounds like a modern day Captain Beefheart minus the abstract lyrics. This album is a testament to how love and adoration of the past can go quite a way to sounding more inviting than self-imposed limitations, but I'm not going to name names.

6. Yeasayer - All Hour Cymbals

To quote fellow mxdwn-er Brendan Welsh, "When every member of a band sings at once it can be great or terrible. In this case, when coupled with varied instruments and creative production techniques, it creates the raucous, psych-pop atmosphere Yeasayer needed to complement their complicated, inspired and ambitious songwriting." I'm not a huge fan of using others' words, but if it weren't for Brendan nominating this for our Album of the Year poll, I probably wouldn't have heard this majestic disc.

5. Stars of the Lid - And Their Refinement of the Decline

To me, Stars of the Lid seems to be an almost pragmatic successor to the ambient throne of Brian Eno. Rather than tackle the environment construction and moods of the former Roxy Music man, this duo tackles a penchant for space. No, not the heavens, but abstract space within songs and even notes. Much like the ethos of how Ajax dominated world football in the '70s, Stars of the Lid find sheer beauty in space rather than structure and over 2 discs and 2 hours, this is one stunning work.

4. M.I.A. - Kala

Talk about comin' back wit powah powah. I was unfortunate not to have heard Arular before hearing this bombastic sound cornucopia of an album. However, I was immediately won over by M.I.A.'s approach to production and overall use of sound. Very rarely does an album sound so vibrant and alive. Even the sampling of "Straight to Hell" by The Clash sounds completely new in her hands on "Paper Planes." There's even a nod to The Modern Lovers with her monotone delivery of "Roadrunner, Roadrunner / Moving hundred miles per hour" in "Bamboo Banger." M.I.A. uses so many different sounds and noises and churns out a beautifully kaleidoscopic disc.

3. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala

Now here is a guy that not only knows his strengths and weaknesses, if any. Lekman uses these 12 songs to brilliantly place his voice, words and sheer pop knowledge on display. From the Sinatra-esque "And I Remember Every Kiss," to the sly lyrics of "Sipping On the Sweet Nectar," to the bluntly honest "I'm Leaving You Because I Don't Love You" and the beautiful "Kanske Är Jag Kär I Dig," his voice shines through clouds of any bad day. He also has an astute knack for creating oddly human, interesting characters in "Shirin" about a meloncholy hair stylist and in "A Postcard to Nina" about the protagonists inability to lie about dating her to hide her lesbian romance. "The Opposite of Hallelujah" with its sunny,bouncy melody rises above all as a truly human take on worrying about a younger sibling.

2. Justice -

While Daft Punk created a disco euphoria in 2002, the ominous album artwork and "Imperial March"-esque intro almost pave the way for a Darth Vader-like villain in French house. This duo's debut is consistently dark, funky and groove-heavy while chainsaw-like synth groans and grinds tear the mix apart in a chaotic, anything-goes manner that is equally entertaining and invigorating. Pepper this with an immediate smash in "D.A.N.C.E," a sweetly melodic "Valentine" and the near-annoying "Tthhee Ppaarrttyy" and we have a complete package. I must say that this album was the only candidate for vice captain.

1. Daft Punk - Alive 2007

In April of 2006, this robotic French duo landed in California just in time to give Coachella spectators what would be the most unexpected and talked about live surprises until...well maybe people will eventually stop talking about it. It became like all those other backwoods country UFO sightings with the exception of the audience being smart enough to take pictures. As that show reached mythic status, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Hommem-Christo decided to take it to various other stages around the world. Stunning as the images were, what came to shelves in December '07 surpassed them far and away. The real oddity here is that it's a live album from a dance artist. Hardcore cynics might have a point when they say all an electronic or dance artist really has to do is show up, press play and let the lasers entertain. However, just as Daft Punk did 10 years ago on Alive 1997, they mash up and deconstruct their material brings new life to material from the already masterful albums, Homework and Discovery while simultaneously making cuts from their lone misstep, Human After All interesting and worthwhile to listen to.

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