Year in Music 2007: Top 20 Albums

So this is it. Coming up with a suitable Top 20 still mainly left me with a handful of regrets for what I had to leave out (Pinback, Andrew Bird, Arctic Monkeys, Wussy, Bright Eyes, Ted Leo, Deerhunter, Grinderman, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Queens of the Stone Age, Common, etc. etc.). As someone who tends to notice these kinda things, I must say again that it was a great year for music. Here are 20 picks that led me to that conclusion. This list hasn't changed much (in fact the Top 5 remains in tact) from the one I created and sent to Rich (aka The Shiv). We compiled stuff from this list and his list and posted it on CiN Weekly's blogs. To see that list, check it out here (there's a lot more consideration to Cincinnati stuff). And here we go with my list:

20. Neon Bible - Arcade Fire: Number 20 is always the most difficult to reconcile. I like Arcade Fire and I really enjoyed Neon Bible - I just didn't love it the way I loved Funeral. I think it deserves attention, the music is every bit as powerful and engaging and, in the end, it's not really fair to compare a band to its finest achievement. So, here's the compromise: Number 20.

19. Our Love To Admire - Interpol: Is there something I'm missing here? I have a feeling this album won't pop up anywhere on year-end best lists, but I couldn't get enough of it. Seeing Interpol headline at Lollapalooza was definitely a highlight of 2007 for me.

18. Eardrum - Talib Kweli: I was surprised how much I liked Talib Kweli's latest, sort of the hip-hop equivalent of hanging out in a really cool jazz club for an hour. With guests like UGK, Kanye West and a surprisingly versatile Norah Jones, I shall dub this my sleeper pick of the year.

17. PJ Harvey - White Chalk: Not sure if it was a subconscious mood I was in, but I really liked this dark and eerie creation from one of music's most impressive chameleons. Critics were divided on this one, but it stuck with me (perhaps it had something to do with buying it at the same time as José González's In Our Nature. Somber, but powerful double feature).

16. Dungen - Tio Bitar: I stumble onto a number of indie rock artists for the first time that had been well-established before 2007. José González, Les Savy Fav, Pinback and Dungen. Dungen was the first - I randomly found this used and, despite being wary of the hype I had seen surrounding Ta Det Lugnt, I picked it up anyway. A week later, I couldn't get enough...

15. Les Savy Fav - Let's Stay Friends: I was also unsure about Les Savy Fav, who I'd heard about for years, but never was interested enough to check out. We missed them at SXSW, which, despite hearing about how crazy a show it was, didn't trouble me much. Then, a couple of months ago, I found Let's Stay Friends (LSF -- clever, guys) used and decided to give it a whirl. As with all the artists I mentioned in my Dungen entry, I started hunting down all these groups back catalogs once I was slapped senseless with how good these discs were.

14. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Spoon: Spoon. Always changing, always reliable. Gimme Fiction, was one of my tops in 2005, and while this one wasn't as addictive for me, it still kept me entertained through most of 07, it helped that I was lucky enough to see them twice this year...

13. Drums and Guns - Low: If you didn't understand the risks Low was taking on their 8th studio album, then you probably didn't really appreciate it. While this isn't the album I'd recommend for people if they wanted to get into this band, it's one I'm hoping to emphasize as a turning point (that is, if they release more albums after this one). The minimal instrumentation causes you to focus on voices and Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker have two of the best.

12. Desire - Pharoahe Monch: This is another chance I took in 2007 that paid off. A lot of music reports claimed that hip-hop fell off significantly this year. And true, if I had to do a top 20 of just rap music, pickings might have been slim. But, as I've said, I always tend to emphasize stuff that takes me by surprise. Minus a couple of weird tracks (I'm not a huge fan of "Desire" the song for example), this was an amazingly strong disc from a guy I'd previously only known as that "Godzilla-sampling guy."

11. In Our Nature - José González: Again, here's José González, who uses a simple formula to great effect. At 10 songs and just over 30 minutes, González knows just how long to stick around with his acoustic guitar. With this disc, he covers Massive Attack and writes scathing lyrics that easily, yet somewhat cryptically critique of these troubled times.

10. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala: Jens is all about being maybe a little too flowery and hanging on at bingo halls, but something about his music really clicks with me. I wasn't too sure about this disc at first, but eventually it grew on me enough for me to drop it in at number 10 on this list.

09. The Magic Position - Patrick Wolf: Add this to the list of CDs I initially avoided (I was put off by the Technicolor album cover), then found used and ended up loving. Equals parts pop, rock, orchestral and experimental, Patrick Wolf throws everything into his music, but it works. I can't stop recommending it -- please check it out, so I can shut up...

08. The Shepherd's Dog Iron & Wine: As I mentioned when I did my song recap, I didn't want much to do with Iron & Wine at the beginning of 2007. So, this album really had to be good for me to actually go out and buy it (new!) and then turn around and put it up so high on this list. Still not crazy about the man's beard, but I must say, Sam Beam really put something into this collection of songs.

07. Icky Thump - The White Stripes: The Stripes had another good year (well, minus the fact that they may never tour again). Icky Thump is another album that continues to ensure the that no matter what happens, The White Stripes won't go away. Music is Jack White's playground, so let's hope he doesn't get bored.

06. Sound of Silver - LCD Soundsystem: Primarily known for making indie-dance, booty-shaking singles (which begs the question do indie kids have booties to shake?), James Murphy expanded to a full album this year with amazing success. With the Bowie-esque starter through "when the party's over" contemplative tunes, Sound of Silver encompasses everything that's great about music, a trait that I think carries over into my top 5 (smooth transition, eh?)

05. Graduation - Kanye West: Wake up, Mr. West. I like it when I can associate music with memories from the year. Graduation was my Virginia Beach album. I picked it up at the scariest Target ever (it was literally torn apart from renovations, yet somehow still open -- let's not even talk about the parking lot) and we listened to it nonstop during our trip to historic Williamsburg. Weird memories, sure, but memories nonetheless. I got nothin' else for ya, except maybe expand your mind and buy it.

04. The Besard Lakes are the Dark Horse - The Besnard Lakes: I was sad that this album wasn't popping up everywhere on "end of the year" lists (I've only looked at a few, hoping to stay impartial). I guess the Besnard Lakes really are the dark horse...

03. In Rainbows - Radiohead: Of course the music is good, but Radiohead's latest success may be more remembered for how it was presented: for however much you'd like to pay on the band's web site. It keeps the band poised as innovators, not just in music, but how we listen to it, and that gets big points in my book. Plus "Bodysnatchers" is as hard as Radiohead has rocked since OK Computer.

02. American Gangster - Jay-Z: An excerpt from the letters page after Jay-Z appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone: "...Where's the rhythm, harmony, melody and creativity? When RS puts someone like Jay-Z on the cover, you give tacit approval to a celebration of the mediocre." Huh? What is it that you're not hearing in this music? I've actually gotten excited to hear the songs of American Gangster. It has every element this reader claims its missing. I'm just sorry that some folks still don't get it.

01. Kala - M.I.A.: Surprised? Yeah, me too. My initial instinct was to throw Radiohead or Kanye West at number one and be done with it. But then I started thinking. Most of the stuff I heard this year and liked was a variation of stuff I've heard before. And while M.I.A. certainly uses elements from a lot of types of music and lifts lyrics from old Pixies and Modern Lovers songs, it's unlike any music experience I've heard (and liked) in a long time. It's looks forward, it's controversial, and yet it's still accessible. So it's number one.

That's it, folks. I'm spent. I'm gonna see how other music lists stack up. Then I'm gonna stop writing about music for a long while (or at least until that new Cat Power CD comes out in late January)...
have a good new year!


What's been goin' on?

Hey! I've been away. But now I'm back!

What we've missed these past couple of weeks:

- According to the New York Times, Iowa is being saturated by campaign ads, and it's true. I was there.

- A bunch of people have released Best Albums of 2007 lists. Mine is coming. Soon! I promise! I'm scared cuz I think Rolling Stone, Blender and I have the same #1 album...Blender. Eek.

- Gina apparently bought a scooter. Vrrooom!

- Paul posted on his blog! (but don't get too excited).

- And last, but certainly not least, my most excellent girlfriend got me an acoustic guitar for my birthday! Thanks to a DVD, I've pretty much mastered the power chords.

And that's it! Happy 2008!


Year in Music 2007: Honorable Mentions

Every year I've done this, there's always a couple of things that don't quite fit into a specific category, but I think still deserve recognition. So here's a few entires that don't quite fit into either songs or albums o' the year:

Best old stuff, rediscovered: Elliott Smith, New Moon

Best live CD: Daft Punk, Alive 2007

Best EP release: (tie) Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Is is and Flight of the Conchords, The Distant Future

Late entries for Best of 07: Unfortunately, these CDs either came too late or just not to me at all this year. Nothing against them, but that's why you might think it odd that their excluded from this year's lists:

1. Wu-Tang Clan - 8 Diagrams
2. Ghostface Killah - The Big Doe Rehab
3. Band of Horses - Cease to Exist
4. The National - Boxer

5. Beirut - The Flying Club Cup
6. Pinback - Autumn of the Seraphs
7. Bat For Lashes - Fur & Gold
8. Rilo Kiley - In The Backlight
9. The Hives - The Black & White Album
10. Blonde Redhead - 23

I usually do an "overrated" list too, but I'm holding back this year. Let's just say if you see it on other critic's list and you don't see it on mine, I probably think it's overrated. A bit of a blanket statement, I know.

If I could turn back time: Regrets. I've had a few. In 2006, for example, I gave out some random high rankings (Lupe Fiasco at #8?!) and left out some of great discs that I just discovered in 07. In retrospect, these albums might've beaten the pants off my 2006 Top 20 (I stand by Thom Yorke and Art Brut, but maybe Tapes n' Tapes at #1 is a little much...Lily or PB&J might've taken over the one-spot...).

Here are 10 great to good albums that somehow missed my 2006 list:

1. Lily Allen - Alright Still
2. Peter Björn and John - Writer's Block
3. Nas - Hip Hop is Dead
4. The Thermals - The Body, The Blood, The Machine
5. Phoenix - It's Never Been Like That
6. Jarvis Cocker - Jarvis
7. Hot Chip - The Warning
8. J Dilla - Donuts
9. Masta Killa - Made In Brooklyn
10. Murs - Murray's Revenge

So, there you go: just more proof that lists are pretty goofy and can change on a whim from year to year. I'll be on vacation starting Wednesday, which is when you can expect me to make my final choices for the final chapter: Best Albums of 2007. Thanks (again) for reading!


100-word Project Runway recap: Episode 5

Just because I'm recapping the year in music, doesn't mean I'm not giving up on PR. Here we go, another crazy ep:

Opening. Gratuitous missing of Chris.

Challenge. Make an outfit for women who lost megaweight, designed with materials from their former favorite outfits. Steven gets stuck with a wedding dress. He's not the strongest designer, so he's screwed.

In a shocking twist, Jack gets an infection and leaves the show. Unfortunate way for a talented designer to go. In a classic "make-up-the-rules-as-we-go" move, PR brings back Chris to "maintain high competition." Yyyyyeah. He has to stay up all night and makes a sailor outfit.

Judges. Christian wins. Oh boy - wouldn't want to deal with him that night. Steven abandons the wedding dress almost entirely – it’s seen as a cop out. Dude can't win. He's out. No surprise, but a sucky way to have to go...

Next week: That's the holiday break, y'all. Take a rest. If you find yourself missing the show, create your own PR-style drama by criticizing the fashion of your relatives...


Year in Music 2007: 25 Great Songs

I guess it's a good problem to have, but this year's music recap is going to be really difficult. Major acts stepped up (Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Jay-Z, Kanye West, The White Stripes) and a lot of great music came from newer artists (Feist, The Besnard Lakes, Patrick Wolf). I guess I have to choose, so let's start with some songs I had on repeat all year:

Song Title | Artist

25. Intervention - Arcade Fire: Starting out with 2 artists I love based on their first albums, Neon Bible wasn't as immediate as Funeral, but it has its moments. "Intervention" reminds me of their first CD, a song with a slow start building up to a rewarding second half.

24. Soundtrack of the Summer - Art Brut: Eddie Argos reels it in a bit on this album, it doesn't sound as off the cuff as Bang Bang Rock and Roll, but this is a highlight with subject matter a lot of us can relate to: reminiscing about the awesomeness of a mixtape.

23. Int'l Players Anthem (I Choose You) - UGK feat. Outkast: I didn't know much about UGK before this year (I didn't even realize they were the other guys on Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'") but I took a chance a picked up this CD based on this stand out (featuring the #1 reason Andre 3000 needs to get back to rapping). Great song and opened me up to Southern rap (which usually scares me). I should note this song is about 10x better if you see the video too. It's too bad that Pimp C is gone...

22. Don't Make Me A Target - Spoon: You know a CD is good when everyone has a different favorite song from it. I've chosen "Don't Make Me A Target" from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga over lead single "The Underdog." You have to hand it to Britt Daniel, he knows how to kick off an album...

21. Killa Lipstick - Ghostface feat. Method Man and Masta Killa: This is probably the first indication that this is a list by a person and not a board of editors. This is a bonus track from Ghostface Killah's latest The Big Doe Rehab. Method Man's hook is smooth (his signature voice nearly unrecognizable), Ghost and Masta Killa (who are the best and most consistent Wu-Tang rhymers of the 00s) hit their marks and the Faze-O sample fits the mood perfectly. So what if no one else is going to hear it?

20. Satan Said Dance - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: Excellent, catchy and fun song by a band that's known better for creating an emotional response, this song is at the center of a disc that will no doubt be one of the most underrated of the year.

19. Dust on the Window - Low: Low is one of my favorite bands, however their last two albums have been dealt some mixed reviews. Drums and Guns was a clear break from the guitar sound that has so dominated their first 10 years, and I thought the move was a nice change up. "Dust on the Window" is Mimi Parker's showcase, and she uses it well, her harmonies are always a perfect mix of beautiful and dark.

18. Mammoth - Interpol: Much like Low, a lot of folks are also not crazy about Interpol's latest (their debut on Capitol), but, again, I found myself liking it, maybe even more than Antics. "Mammoth" is what Interpol does best, a driving backbeat, a sense of urgency, and it's even better when Paul Banks' lyrics make some sort of sense.

17. Just A Lil Dude (Who Dat Ovah There) - RZA feat. Q-Tip and Free Murder: Yep, I'm giving a "Best Song" award to a track that includes a dude who goes by the name Free Murder. Of course, the main attractions here are Q-Tip (put out a new album already!) and the RZA with his unusual sample source material that somehow always seems to work. The soundtrack to Afro Samurai is filled with hidden gems, but this one is the best.

16. When Under Ether - PJ Harvey: Another break from the usual (again, see Low), White Chalk is PJ's piano album. That she'd never played piano before barely matters. This is one of the best songs: simple and understated, the change is direction having no effect on her voice or songwriting. Still trying to figure out what it's about though...

15. 1 2 3 4 - Feist: An uplifting, bouncy song that was used in an iPod commercial: What End Of The Year Music Roundup would dare be without it?

14. Pagan Angel and A Borrowed Car - Iron & Wine: I had written off Sam Beam as a guy who got lucky and sort of shamelessly tapped into some weird emotional center of my generation. See his cover of "Such Great Heights" for Exhibit A. Don't get me wrong, I love the song, I just pegged him as kind of a one-hit wonder, that's all. What was my point? Oh yeah, I like him now. This song starts off the new direction in the right way. The Shepherd's Dog will definitely end up on my top 2007 albums list.

13. Down The Line - José González: Speaking of tapping into emotional centers, there's something I can't put my finger on about Sweden's own José González. The combo of is voice and an acoustic guitar really gets to me. Don't let the darkness eat you up? I don't know why, but it works. He's Elliott Smith's slightly happier little brother or something.

12. Earth Intruders (Extended Mark "Spike" Stent Mix) - Björk: Don't get me wrong, like everyone else in the world, I like Timbaland, but I prefer this more immediate mix of Björk's best song in years. I don't even know who this Mark "Spike" Stent dude is, although I do know that Spike is an irritating nickname. It's also a bonus track, but on the bright side, you don't have to download the entire iTunes album to get it.

11. Push - Pharoahe Monch: Damn, I love soulful hip-hop songs. This song plays like a modern Sly & The Family Stone. In fact, it's so good, it threatens to be better than the entire album, but while it's spotty in some places, Desire still hangs in there as one of the top 3 rap albums of the year.

10. Brianstorm - Arctic Monkeys: Barely giving you time to think, the Arctic Monkeys blast through their first song on Favourite Worst Nightmare and right when you're getting into it, it stops cold. If they've left you wanting more, they've done their job.

09. The Opposite Of Hallelujah - Jens Lekman: Picking up where Belle & Sebastian left off, Jens Lekman writes quality, old school pop songs with unpredictable, but usually hilarious lyrics. This song is one of the many highlights with its happy string section, hand claps and opening line: "I took my sister down to the ocean/but the ocean made me feel stupid." If I haven't sold it with that, I don't know what else I can do...

08. Overture - Patrick Wolf: A strong contender for opener of the year, Patrick Wolf kicks off the brilliant Magic Position with "Overture," a song that sounds like the beginning of a musical about Pulp. It's glam rock with a brain, instantly familiar, and when it's over, I always want to hear it again.

07. You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told) - The White Stripes: What would one of my music lists be without at least one entry from the White Stripes? Although there was plenty of entertaining experimentation in Icky Thump, overall I prefer this comparatively back-to-basics entry. "I'm Slowly Turning Into You" is a close second.

06. Success - Jay-Z feat. Nas: It's too hard to pick the best song from American Gangster, so I'm going with the beyond excellent collaboration with Nas. Jay is in top form, taking the idea of being bored with wealth and fame and running with it ("I got watches I ain't seen in months/Apartment at the Trump I only slept in once"). Nas delivers a quick, perfect verse, and just like that, it's over. What can I say? Who doesn't love seeing a little ennui in their songs from time to time?

05. Boyz - M.I.A.: When you listen to an M.I.A. song, chances are you're going to hear something you've never heard before. "Boyz" threw me off. I was more comfortable with "Galang" from Arular, which is kind of a odd song in the first place. This direction seemed even crazier and kind of freaked me out. Later, I realized it was I who was crazy. If you're into this song, challenge yourself and pick the whole CD up...

04. Stronger - Kanye West: Picking who wins out between Kanye and Jay-Z is one of my hardest choices for 07. However, for all of his ridiculous ego trips, Kanye has an ear for music and Graduation is an impressive risk from someone who works hard to stay relevant. I give points for moving in a new direction and since Kanye is the most successful rapper who doesn't incorporate drug dealing into his rhymes (see also Common, Talib Kweli) and isn't afraid of using a Daft Punk sample, he gets big points.

03. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi - Radiohead: Also difficult to get through a "best of 07" list without mentioning Radiohead's impressive In Rainbows download stunt. OK Computer-style "Bodysnatchers" initially grabbed me, but after a few listens, I found myself more drawn to the atmospheric "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi." The slash is kind of confusing to me. Beautiful song though.

02. North American Scum - LCD Soundsystem: How excited was I to hear LCD Soundsystem had a new disc coming out. Initially I thought LCD Soundsystem would be a one-off project from the DFA's James Murphy. Why? I have no idea. It might be an acquired taste, but to me this was the most infectious (in a good way) song I heard all year. A surreal highlight from this year's Lollapalooza was hearing the festival crowd all shouting in unison: "We are North American scum." The dude behind me was being a jerk, so it was kinda true.

01. Disaster - The Besnard Lakes: I tend to pay special attention to bands I've newly discovered over the year, which is why The Besnard Lakes tops my list of songs. I was skeptical when I first heard about this group (in fact I picked this CD up as a free download from eMusic, just to lower the risk factor). "Disaster," the lead-off track, encapsulates what the band does so powerfully: slow building songs with sweet Beach Boy-like harmonies over a tough three-guitar attack. In one song, they manage to capture a number of different things I love about music and that's an amazing talent. Tack on the "accidental discovery" factor and there you have it: my favorite song of the year (especially if my Last.fm counts are to be believed).

Thanks for reading -- or at least skimming. If you did manage to read all of this -- go get a drink of water -- you must be exhausted!