My Top 10 albums of 2007
Let's get one thing straight right out the gate: these are my favorite releases from 2007. The list below reflects nothing more than personal taste.
My feeling is, if you try to represent that your list makes up the quote, "Best Music of 2007," unquote, then you end up with problematic entities like the Onion AV Club's list or the amalgam of NPR lists, which purport to be objective but fall victim to the same vagaries of individual preference that every other list does.
(Onion people, are you seriously trying to tell America that not a single hip-hop record is among the Top 25 Best CDs of 2007? See, this is the problem with flagging a list as "Best Of" anything. Music's subjective, and that's fine. This is Stuff You Like. If you're a lily-white indie rock nerd, you're probably not digging on UGK. If you're a devotee of Norse black metal, you probably don't see the big deal about Radiohead. So it goes.)
None of that "objectivity" here. Other than the overarching this-is-stuff-I-like rule, I had a few other guidelines. First, only music actually released for the first time in 2007 is eligible. Charles Mingus is still really great and Sonic Youth's "Daydream Nation" is a classic landmark that listens well even today. Those are old records that were re-released, so they don't make the list. Also, I'm not going to make you endure my thoughts on any obscure free jazz or Japanese noise bands I was listening to just to show you that see, I listen to music you've never heard of. No one cares, not even me.
A bunch of my favorite bands (Wilco, The Weakerthans) released material that just missed this list. Why? In terms of Wilco's "Sky Blue Sky," I liked but didn't love it, and found it less interesting than the group's more experimental releases. The Weakerthans' "Reunion Tour" came out late in the year, and just hasn't had time to grow on me, as John K. Samson's story-songs inevitably do. I also feel plain awful leaving Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings off this list, but I didn't know where to slot, them, so ... I'll just say "you should really buy that record." You won't be sorry.
These are the releases that have already crawled their way inside my skin.
10. Busdriver, "Roadkill Overcoat"
The post-rap whiz kid is back with the most innovative, genre-busting record of the year. Okay, that title might well be applied to the M.I.A. record, but Busdriver's album is the most innovative, genre-busting record that actually sounds good. Less immediately accessible than "Temporary Forever" and "Fear of a Black Tangent," "Roadkill Overcoat" is more sonically adventurous than either.
9. Andrew Bird, "Armchair Apocrypha"
Just when you thought indie pop's boundaries had been stretched far enough that any further expansion would result in its metaphorical bursting, along comes a new Andrew Bird album. OK, maybe you didn't think that about indie pop, but I did. "Heretics" is one of the year's most intriguing and challenging songs, and -- this is a high compliment -- it is impossible to be bored listening to this album.
8. Okkervil River
Will Sheff writes songs that are more like stories, which is especially evident on the Okkervil's older effort “Black Sheep Boy.” So it's no surprise to see him turn the band into a literary conceit for “The Stage Names,” and it's almost expected that literary allusions will creep into the tunes. In a way, this makes him a slightly gentler Craig Finn, since both men have even written songs about John Berryman (“John Allyn Smith Sails” is an exquisite offering from Sheff). This album marks a step forward for Okkervil, making songs more tuneful and upbeat while maintaining the captivating lyrical qualities evident in albums past.
7. New Pornographers, "Challengers"
There's something for everyone on this record – four vocalists are on display, including the inimitable Neko Case – and though that same quality might engender a too-many-cooks feel if the members were less talented, that doesn't happen here. Also, Pitchfork didn't like it, so you know it's awesome.
6. Aesop Rock, "None Shall Pass"
Remarkably, isn't making any best-of lists, hip-hop or otherwise. Why? Because people that hated the too-far-out-there "Bazooka Tooth" continue to sleep on the new disc? Because nerd rap has found other darlings? How about because the world has gone insane, that is why. Because a world where the Mountain Goats' John Darnielle collaborating with one of rap's most interesting lyricists does not immediately catapult a release into the top 25 is a world of madness.
5. Of Montreal, "Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?"
One of my close friends saw Of Montreal tour behind this record, and says that show was a disaster. Kevin Barnes was more concerned with playing David Bowie via costume changes than he was with singing, and the year in Norway seemed to have driven him (even more) batty. That's unfortunate, because this is a tremendous album, catchy and light with a dark edge. “Hissing Fauna” proves you can rock with a high voice and a drum machine, and sing lyrics like “I spent the year on a verge of a total breakdown while living in Norway” while people hum along. It also includes possibly the year's hookiest pop song, "Heimdalsgate as a Promethean Curse," which you may know not by that silly, overwrought name, but as "that Chemic-uh-oh-oalls" song. If you don't know it, here, and you're welcome:
[Also: Best. Video. Ever. Never lose the costumes, Kevin.]
4. Brother Ali, "The Undisputed Truth."
Look, I'm not going to go all KEXP-of-Seattle on you and just start kissing local butt. If this record was bad, I'd say so. If it was mediocre, I'd leave it off the list. But this is an explosive record, at turns emotional, introspective, full of anger and hope, with technically masterful rhymes and expertly-tailored beats. Confessional, political and eminently listenable. On repeat.
[Back on that KEXP note: look, I've lived on the West Coast most of my life. I like the Blue Scholars a lot. I like Lifesavas a bit, too. Unless you're Geologic's mom or drove Vursatyl's school bus growing up or something, Top 10 Hip-Hop Records of the Year territory is a bit much. Actually, a lot much. And yeah yeah yeah, there are two MSP bands on this list, so I'm almost as much a homer. KEXP can sue me if they want. I've got a good lawyer.]
3. Saul Williams: “The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust”
A lot of people hate on this record. Do not listen to those people. We have a word in English for them: "wrong." Yeah, the title is a sophomoric play on words. Sure, you may prefer Saul's spoken word or Trent Reznor (who helped produce) in Nine Inch Nails. You may even think it's unacceptable to cover "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Do yourself a favor and put that aside, because I think if you just listen to this two or three times, you will hear that rarest of qualities: the truly unexpected.
2. Stars, "In Our Bedroom After the War."
If you bought this record expecting "Set Yourself on Fire," you might have been disappointed. If you viewed this disc on its own merits, you were likely blown away. Incredible vocal work from Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan here, and while the album might or might not be as strong top-to-bottom as Stars' previous triumph (apples, oranges, cross-apply above analysis), the high points of this disc are among 2007's finest musical moments. This includes my favorite song of the year, the title track. The choral last minute, where the strings hit, is utterly transcendent and represents one of the reasons I listen to music at all.
1. Cloud Cult, "The Meaning of 8"
That's right, it's a local band. Regret it? Nope. Said it? Yep. The songs are stellar, surrounding you with cello, trumpet and flute to accompany the traditional rock instruments. Craig Minowa's unique voice is the perfect vehicle to deliver lyrics that are at times simple -- but often it is this quality that lends them their potency, as with the single “Chemicals Collide”. Thematically organized and replete with peculiar characters (the deaf girl; the Alien Christ), “The Meaning of 8” rewards repeated listens. That's why it's No. 1, and that's why it's glued inside my iPod with authority.
There's one man's opinion. What's yours?
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.