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Top 10 Albums of 2007 January 31, 2008

Posted by reidmix in Album Reviews, Beggars Banquet, Best of 2007, FatCat, Free MP3, Ghostly International, Indie, Labels, Lists, Music, PawTracks, Reviews, SubPop, Warp.
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Year end top 10 lists are so arbitrary and so opinionated. I think that’s what I like about them. What puts those last 10 albums among the echelon of other albums we listened to in 2007? How they can be both similar and completely different from listeners within a field of music?

It will probably be no surprise as to my #1 and the journey that leads me there — I know some of these will be obvious — but my wish is that there are some surprises. Albums that have not come up in the top 10 lists elsewhere, those albums that both captivated me completely and are somehow underrated or overlooked.

With all the lists that lead up to my top 10, last.fm and iTunes sometimes just can’t measure my picks (but they come pretty darn close!) I’d like to start with two honorable mentions:

Friend by Grizzly BearFriend EP by Grizzly Bear
How do you acknowledge a fantastic album of oddities, remixes, rarities and alternate versions of songs on your Top 10 albums of the year? I suppose I did it last year with Sufjan’s “The Avalanche”. But as a collection of songs that look back on their second album, “Yellow House” and earlier, I couldn’t seem to jostle one of the Top 10 off to make room for this wonderful EP — so I decided on Honorable Mentions. “Friend” includes amazing covers by CSS and Band of Horses, electrified versions of songs that previously appeared acoustically, remixes by Atlas Sound, and alternate versions of songs like Alligator featuring collaborations with Beirut and Dirty Projectors (with guitar melodies that I swear sound like The Smiths). I’ve been playing this album on full rotation since it was delivered by Amazon and made it’s way to my car’s CD player. There are some original tracks like Granny Diner with the precious lyrics “Why don’t you do any dishes / Why / I always clean up the kitchen / Fine” and sonic masterpieces like He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss). Is it too early to ask for the next full-length?

[ Buy: Direct | Insound | Emusic | Amazon ]

Vampire Weekend EPVampire Weekend EP by Vampire Weekend
Constant readers may know about my excitement over Vampire Weekend. But on the same note, I just couldn’t put a 3-song EP on my Top 10 albums of the year, especially looking forward to the impending drop of their debut album which has already taken the indie-blogger community by storm. Yet, I wanted to give props, I somehow got my durdy grubby hands on their CD-R and I can say with certainty that every song off their new album is as good as every song on this EP, the Mansard Roof 7″, the remixes I’ve come across and any songs they’ve only played live (and of course off the new album if you’ve heard it by now). They’re that fun and they are that good. So in dedication to my 2008 list, please find out about Vampire Weekend, now, at the start. The songs are sexual and fashion/pop conscious (Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa), coarse and literate (Oxford Comma), New England centric and beautiful. Vampire Weekend makes ska like you always wanted it to sound like, fuck all the rest.

[ Buy: Direct | Insound | Emusic | Amazon ]

Now for the countdown:

Shocking Pinks10. Shocking Pinks by Shocking Pinks
Perhaps the first surprise on my list, this eponymous album is their first release on DFA records. A surprise perhaps because it is essentially a combination of Shocking Pink’s prior two albums released on Flying Nun records both released in 2005, “Mathematical Warfare” and “Infinity Land.” Yet somehow, the combination of these two, perhaps meandering, albums seems to work coherently as a whole, and as clearly as their wonderful and now rare “dance-punk” debut, Dance the Dance Electric. Yet diving headlong into a world of reverb and guitars, this album is more between to folk of The Oh Sees (perhaps less esoteric) and the greatness of Yo La Tengo (perhaps less guitar-centric). Yet, main-man Nick Hart — on his own, while setting himself apart — is able to conjure these pop gems with brooding lyrics underneath that never is needy. And to his roots, he continues to dance and dabble on that electronic fence with addictive little melodies. Pun intended.

[ Buy: Direct | Insound | Amazon (also available for mp3 Download) ]

Asa Breed 09. Asa Breed by Matthew Dear
What? Don and Sherri was featured in a Hummer commercial? How’d that happen? All I can say is someone in GM marketing listens to good music since they picked up The Books too. I say hate the SUV, not the band, we want these guys to get money to come up with more great music! If you were hoping that Mr. Dear would take Dog Days from his non-Audion debut, “Leave Luck to Heaven”, and create a whole album in that vein, but, you know, darker, like Jesus and Mary Chain darker, then you got it. This is not to say that there aren’t great electronic beats and new aural territory to dance to like Neighborhoods, but the magic also lurks in the sparser songs like Deserter. And I love anything glockenspiel-esque, like the music box Death to Feelers which is only heightened with lyrics that state simply “I was supposed to make grand observations / but I lost my train of thought.” Yep, me too.

[ Buy: Direct | Insound | Amazon | Emusic | iTunes ]

Drums and Guns 08. Drums and Guns by Low
I came across Low years ago (as I previously admitted) when I was all about Red House Painters, but they didn’t stick back then, as it goes. And so it goes I read this fascinating review of their new album on boomkat, which explained that the vocals on the whole album was hard-panned to the right. Well, you gotta give a listen, right? Always Fade was my re-introduction to Low, a type-writter-istic backed song with boy-girl vocals singing in harmony. But Belarus sent me searching at Best Buy in hopes for an indie purchase. Now exploring their back catalog is not always fruitful, many of their releases are rare or out of print, and when listening to a new album it takes awhile to find the key-song to unlock it. But this album is truly an amazing (re-)introduction to Low and you should pick it up. A syncopated epic about death: of murder, of a country, of bad blood, of a relationship — the theme really works.

[ Buy: Direct | Insound | Amazon | iTunes ]

Pop Levi07. The Return to Form Black Magick Party by Pop Levi
How is this debut by strangely (stage-)named front-man not on everyone’s Top 10 list? Seriously? I had to go check that this came out in 2007 (January 29th). When first listening to “The Return to Form Black Magick Party”, you may unwisely think T-Rex knock-off; then you may consider Pop Levi is Mark Bolan reincarnated. But when this album gets under your skin — it was recorded and produced on a 8-track in his bedroom in his second try, the first is in the bin — you realize any relation to the aforementioned influence is only evolutionary. The rules may be similar: like bringing home a chorus with repetition (Pick-Me-Up Uppercut and Dollar Bill Rock), the crisp guitars and clapping (Blue Honey), and the similar word choice and phrasing (From the Day That You Were Born, Flirting, and Skip Ghetto). But his debut is brand spankin’ new and inventive, super fresh and fun.

[ Buy: Insound | Amazon | Emusic | iTunes ]

Transparent Things 06. Transparent Things by Fujiya & Miyagi
If you ever listened to Neu! or Kraftwerk or Can on a summer day, wrapped it in a j-pop, with a sweet British center, you’d get “Transparent Things” by Fujiya & Miyagi. This trio from Brighton, England share their love of the Karate Kid and a brand of record player and they admit “Yeah, we were just pretending to be Japanese”. Despite the kitch, there is a real joy in these 10 songs. A playfulness that begins with the first song, Ankle Injuries, where their name is a signature into the album, through the childhood anatomy lesson “back bone connected to the Collarbone” to the last track which asks “Do you wear Reeboks in Heaven?” There is no mis-step on this album and leaves you proverbially wanting more.

[ Buy: Insound | Amazon | Emusic | iTunes ]

And then there were 5:

St. Vincent05. Marry Me by St. Vincent
Secondly, how is this not on everyone’s Top 10 list? This album is a perfect debut from little Texan Annie Clark previously of Polyphonic Spree / Sufjan Stevens fame. This album transcends time while individual songs sound as if they harken from different eras and different genres. It’s as good a debut as Tori Amos’ “Little Earthquakes”. Even her label proclaims:

Best irresponsible call to arms for human breeding lyric of 2007…
“Oh, John c’mon we’ll do what married people do,
Oh, John c’mon let’s do what Mary & Joesph did
without the kid.”

St. Vincent is best experienced, not explained. With that I also want to share the most romantic, french apartment-based serenade and introduce you to Annie Clark at La Blogothèque.

[ Buy: Insound | Amazon | Emusic | iTunes ]

Weirdo Rippers 04. Weirdo Rippers by No Age
Dear reader, you already know I’m ga-ga over No Age. Often sited as a art rock, what is art rock? They call Deerhoof art rock. Also punk rock, experimental rock, progrock, noisepop, what’s in a label? All I know is No Age has instantly appealing pop hooks but stays slippery, hard to lock down, yet every song, um, rocks. Maybe that’s the commonality: rock. Earlier this year they released 5 EPs on vinyl (A collectors nightmare: I’m missing “G” from the series, I had ordered it direct from Youth Attack and never got one — they sold out — if you could help a guy out, gimme a shout), it’s hard to believe that “Weirdo Rippers” is the compilation of these discs with their debut to come out in 2008 on SubPop. Another side note, the cover of the album is the music venue, The Smell, about a block from my work in downtown LA, where they often play along with many other great bands for only $5.

[ Buy: Direct from 5 record labels | Insound | Amazon | Emusic | iTunes ]

CocoRosie 03. The Adventures of Ghosthorse & Stillborn by CocoRosie
Perhaps this is my last surprise and I say one last time: why isn’t this album on everybody’s Top 10 list? Portishead fans, you’ll find the latest trip-hop here; Billie Holiday was reincarnated here while Björk was kidnapped here (at least her producer, Valgeir Sigurðsson). Was the title was something that too precocious to get by? Or the their last Freaky-Folk album, “Noah’s Ark”, set you away from them in 2005? Certainly, it wasn’t Pitchfork approved (certainly not my angle, I agree with their #1, see below). The album is widely panned, but I think if you give it a listen and let it do it’s thing, you’ll find great strength laying in the beats and lyrics that the cynic cannot quite get beyond. Like it or not, it’s the new goth, it’s a dreamworld both frightening and childlike that reminds me of reaction to Pan’s Labyrinth: either you love it or hate it.

[ Buy: Insound | Amazon | Emusic | iTunes ]

Dntel 02. Dumb Luck by Dntel
Before there was the Postal Service, there was the Jimmy Tamborello’s collaboration with Ben Gibbard on Dntel’s (This is) The Dream of Evan and Chan. Since then we’ve had a little Figurine and solo James Figurine to tide us over. Then AIM Records released with the Rock My Boat / Everything’s Tricks 7″ Jukebox series last year to whet our appetite. At #2, Dumb Luck is everything that’s good about the Postal Service collaboration but played out on a song level. Each song, with the exception of the title track which is all Jimmy, was created by a different collaboration including his regular stalwarts Lali Puna, Grizzly Bear, and Mia Doi Todd. How wonderful the new pairings such as Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley) on Roll On, Conner Oberst (Bright Eyes) on Breakfast in Bed are — like fine wine, smooth, they got legs, and easy to consume — easily the highlights of the album. The songs loosely gather around the (dumb) luck theme without being to contrived or forced. But perhaps, because of this, Dumb Luck is not a compilation of songs, but a tight album, with a clear voice and sound. This is the apex of turntablism, hurrah!

[ Buy: Direct | Insound | Amazon | iTunes ]

And the winner is (obvious, isn’t it):

Person Pitch 01. Person Pitch by Panda Bear
I’ll give it a try but words cannot describe the greatness of this album — even the artwork is epic.Okay, maybe Pitchfork (among others) can say a word or two. Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) thanks his influences and we should too. You may want to compare it to Brian Wilson on a good day, but honestly, I don’t think he could have come up with the songs featured on this album on a bad day.What I love is the song Bro’s, when I’ve tranced out and am listening to all the percussion, and ambient sounds, the muffled lyrics, the samples, the shifts in tempo, the other drums, the other samples, the sunshine and some melodies that I cannot decide if they are imagined or composites — I realize that I’m listening to all these layers work their harmonies together yet playing distinctly as if I’ve been turned into an 8-track recorder and the song is playing me. As the song folds back on itself in an aural mobius strip, a modern-day cannon, it’s a mind flip and it takes me with it. This album is both spiritual, bright and genius and will be referred to far into the future.

Like all songs strive for, and really, all albums, it reaches it’s own perfection.

[ Buy: Direct | Insound | Amazon | Emusic | iTunes ]


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