Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Top 50 Albums of 2007

To quote one Mr. Kanye West, I know it's gettin' late and we took all year, but you can stop complaining cuz it's finally here. OK, well, it kinda had to wait all any event, 2007 was an absolutely wonderful year to be a music fan. The top albums of 2006 came from artists who, though well-established, still had promise to fulfill, potential to maximize. These artists (Clipse, TVOTR, Joanna Newsom, among others) released some classic material last year, but ’06 did not less loose the big guns, even if the three artists just mentioned ended up elevating themselves to that level. On the other hand, 2007 released an army of top-tier indie rockers (Animal Collective, Spoon, Sunset Rubdown, Deerhoof, Of Montreal, and the list goes on), best in class hip-hop stars (Kanye, Ghostface, Lupe, and Jay-Z, the last of whom decided to get to business this time around), groundbreaking electronic acts (LCD Soundsystem, MIA) and, lest we forget, the world’s greatest band. The sweetest part? None of them disappointed, and most actually exceeded expectations.

Don’t get me wrong, artists broke through all over the place as well, some massively improving over previous efforts (Panda Bear, Battles) and others following on single/EP promise with excellent debut full lengths (Simian Mobile Disco, The Field). All together, 2007 was loaded. Last year, I really wanted to go fifty albums deep for my end-of-year list (and I did), but looking back on it, half of those I don’t listen to anymore. On the other hand, this year, I can honestly say every album on the list is excellent, to the point I had to cut out some exceptional records. As often as know-nothing casual listeners like to say Nevermind or OK Computer killed rock, or crunk killed hip-hop, or whatever, music is as good now as its been in a long, long time; we all just need to look in the right places. Thus, here’s fifty reasons music is still alive and kicking ass in 2007. (Any mp3s will be removed upon request. MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!)

50. I'm Not There - OST

Should this be eligible for an end-of-year list? I don’t see why not, considering how much ass it kicks. No, but seriously, this double disc is much more than a soundtrack. We could spend hours talking about it as a thematic and cultural companion to the film of the same name, but hipsters can tackle this record solely for its musical merits. The tracklist is brilliantly chosen, offering an assortment of deep cuts and must-knows to provide a fresh if not entirely complete perspective of Dylan’s career. And hey, if you don’t listen to Dylan, and don’t care about the overall artistic vision, you still have a kick-ass indie comp.

Let’s face it: if Dylan would have blown up in the 21st century he would have only been an indie star. Even his biggest songs pushed the envelope to almost absurd levels for “pop” songs, such as the delirious ramblings of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” or the six-plus minute running time of “Like a Rolling Stone.” This soundtrack is about indie artists (and, yeah, Eddie Vedder too) tracing their own history through the sublime, challenging tracks of independent music’s true inventor. Fittingly, the best cut is one of Dylan’s most obscure and underrated tracks: the (officially) unreleased “I’m Not There,” covered in all its brilliant drifting eeriness by indie rock gods Sonic Youth. -Joey
Sonic Youth - I'm Not There

49. Beirut - The Flying Club Cup

Zach Condon has such an odd affinity for foreign music. First it was Gypsy/Balkan folk on Gulag Orkestar, and now it is French pop on The Flying Club Cup. Luckily for him, I have an odd affinity for the incredible feel of his music and voice. His lyrics are generally not that great, although they have improved here, but that is not the point. The key: the majestic soundscapes that he creates. Condon claims that the inspiration for this album was hot air balloon festivals that used to be held in Paris in the early 1900s, hence the album title. Somehow he is able to evoke this feel of Paris through his music, essentially penning rock songs written with piano, horns and accordions. When coupled with that powerful voice of his, an instrument in itself, you get something that is quite almost beyond words. Songs like "Guyamas Sonora" and "In The Mausoleum" are definite standouts, although nothing here is really bad. It is easy to forget that Condon is only 21, I mean, who knows what he is capable of accomplishing in the future. Stay tuned. -Erik
Beirut - A Sunday Smile

48. Matthew Dear - Asa Breed

Yeah, so I’m watching football and guess what I see. A Hummer commercial with…drum roll, please…“Don and Sherri” playing in the background! Blasphemy. I would be pissed if Asa Breed weren’t so dope, but it is, so Mr. Dear (sort of) gets a pass. “Deserter” is the one song I left off my list of twenty-five favorite songs that I probably snubbed, a graceful, subdued electro pop gem that would feel at home alongside the emotionally charged centerpieces of Sound of Silver. Outside of “Deserter,” nothing really stands out, but that certainly doesn’t mean Asa Breed is a boring record. Rather, it’s a consistently good one, with Matthew Dear’s vocal style, a Bowie-type boom, providing the material uniqueness that the music sometimes cannot, no matter how impressive the beat. Far from the best in class in a year filled to the brim with electronic/dance classics, Asa Breed is still certainly worth a few spins if you are a fan of the genre. - Joey

47. Justice - Cross
Not as much a record you dance to as much as one you mosh to. Cross is drenched in synths and pulsating rhythms, but its abrasive stomp doesn’t exactly make you wanna move your body. To their credit, Justice keep the locomotive storming the entire running time, with each track building off the momentum of the previous one. It doesn’t match Simian Mobile Disco’s fabulous Attack Decay Sustain Release song-for-song, but it does offer us one of the year’s best indie-dance anthems: the insatiable “D.A.N.C.E.” - Joey

46. El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead

Found love on a prison ship in an oppressive, dystopian future? You won't find that kind of wonderfully weird subject matter from any other rapper...hell, no other musician period. Perhaps a bit hard to digest upon first listen, but truly wonderful, at least to me.

45. Handsome Furs - Plague Park

Another Wolf Parade side project you say? How many bands can that Krog guy be in? Okay, first of all, his name is Spencer Krug, and second of all, this is not his side project, surprisingly. The other lead singer is behind this one. Dan Boeckner has even described himself as "that guy from Wolf Parade that no one cares about," not really a flattering description, but it is unfortunately true. It's a shame since he actually wrote some of Wolf Parade's best songs, such as "It's A Curse" and "This Heart's On Fire." Here he is coupled with just a drum machine and his fiance, creating a very simple, bare sound, yet making the most of it, creating a work makes the wait until the next Wolf Parade album (June 2008! Mark your calendars!) a little more bearable. -Erik

44. Ghostface Killah - The Big Doe Rehab

Rolling Stone raised a good point recently (rare, I know) regarding Ghostface. In their Rehab review, the reviewer asserted that during the Wu-Tang Clan’s six year layoff, Ghost was off becoming one of the greatest rappers of all time. And yet, it’s Lil’ Wayne proclaiming to be “the best rapper alive” after Jigga’s ’03 retirement, it’s Kanye demanding the music world’s undivided attention, and it’s Lupe Fiasco discussed as the savior of hip-hop. How is it that no one mentions Ghost!?! Sure, everybody and their mother had Fishscale on their Top Albums of 2006, but no one really ever talks about the Clan’s most resilient member. He’s got a larger catalog of superb material than any rapper alive (or possibly dead) not named Shawn Carter, and Big Doe Rehab just acts as another testament to his inability to create bad music. Certainly, this is Ghost record solely for Ghost fans; he’s doesn’t bring anything new to the table here, and the casual fan should likely stick to the superior Supreme Clientele or Ironman. Of course, in a perfect world, we’re all more than “casual” Ghostface fans. - Joey

43. A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Scribble Mural Comic Journal
Love live shoegaze! A Place to Bury Strangers’ monstrous debut, Jesus and Mary Chain reunion at Coachella, and of course…MY BLOODY VALENTINE AND THE LOVELESS FOLLOW-UP!!! Of course, quietly, A Sunny Day in Glasgow released their debut full length, developing a beautiful aesthetic that combined faint, dreamy vocals with gently buzzing electric guitars and an assertive electronic pulse. The songs run together after awhile, but the lack of variation also translates into a more cohesive record. Not to mention the fact that once you’re three or four tracks in you’re only gonna want more of the same. - Joey

A Sunny Day in Glasgow - A Mundane Phone Call to Jack Parsons

42. Apparat - Walls

I won’t pretend to act like an expert on electronic music, let alone Apparat. Sure, I love Kraftwerk and Boards of Canada (and as of six months ago The Field), but Kid A fans really have to worship those albums as a requirement. That is, I don’t delve into the current or historical state of electronica, and most of what I know about Apparat (real name Sascha Ring) I know from his very brief Wikipedia entry (he’s German, who woulda thunk?). However, I picked up a copy of Walls earlier this year and enjoyed it thoroughly. It doesn’t push the envelope, but it doesn’t have to; sharp, lively pop music is always worthwhile, regardless of cultural significance or stylistic innovation. Ring showcases low-key IDM with an undeniable melodic touch, and in doing so produces some immensely beautiful moments: the mesmerizing xylophone work of “Not A Number,” the ridiculously catchy synth-vocal interplay on the chorus of “Holdon,” the dramatic, heartbreaking sonic landscape of “Fractales I & II.” Listen while you fall asleep some time, and feel yourself float away in its serene wash of keyboards, strings, and glitches. - Joey

41. The Black Lips - Good Bad Not Evil

This album hardly attempts to change the world; hell, it doesn’t care if it will make your day. However, by perfectly following the “I’m Waiting For The Man” template of rock ‘n roll, it’s fuzzy, rough pop songs more than get the job done. The Black Lips blast out two minute jams, just long enough for you to digest how catchy they are and just short enough that you don’t get tired of listening. The country-tinged “How Do Tell A Child” sort of irritates me, but then the band fires back with the wonderful sing-a-long “Bad Kids,” which showcases an infectious chorus and the record’s most sarcastic, amusing lyrics. Odds are, either you’ll like nearly every song or you won’t like any, but I would willing to bet anyone who’s reading this blog right now will likely fall into the former category. - Joey

40. Iron and Wine - The Shepherd's Dog

From the second you hear the drums kick in on opening track "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car," you know this isn't your typical Iron and Wine album. Sam Beam's trademark smoky vocals are still there, but he now couples this with a full band, rather than the bare acoustic guitars to which we are accustomed. It makes for quite an effect. Beam's ability to try out new sounds and succeed at them is really wonderful; this is evident on "Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog)," a full out afro-groove adventure. I must say though, Beam is at his best with the more traditional folk fare; songs like "Carousel" and "Boy With A Coin" were definitely what turned me into an Iron and Wine fan. - Erik

39. Deerhoof - Friend Opportunity

Perhaps cokemachineglow described this album best: “[I]n general, it's a really good album. It just might not be a good Deerhoof album.” So true. Friend Opportunity showcases nine indie rock gems and closes with a satisfying low-key noise epic, so taken on its own merits: whoo-hoo Friend Opportunity! It’s, uh, just not Apple O’ or The Runners Four, which I, fairly or not, kinda wanted. I kept waiting for something as raucous as “Dummy Discards a Heart” or as chillingly elegant as “Running Thoughts,” and I didn’t really get it this time. “Matchbook Seeks Maniac” is truly an elite Deerhoof track, as are the opening two tracks, which are as authoritative, confident, and catchy as anything I’ve heard from them. But the weirdness, the sense of uniqueness, is watered down. Where as the other Best Indie-Prog Band on the Planet created their most pop-sensible and best record at once, Deerhoof lost a bit (just a little) of their flavor. Still, when the three-chord attack of “Cast Off Crown” soars in…stand back folks.

Kevin Drew - Spirit If...
Essentially the follow-up to Broken Social Scene strong self-titled effort. If you like "Tbtf," then you'll like the album. And everyone likes "Tbtf."

Kevin Drew - Tbtf

37. White Rabbits - Fort Nightly

The League of Extraordinary Indie Bands:

The Arcade Fire: So you think you’re cut out for the big time. Think you’re ready for six digit opening week album sales, for the blog hype, for the overflooding message boards discussing the forthcoming leak of your albums.

White Rabbits: Well, yeah I would—

The Arcade Fire: (under breath) Yeah, my ass—

Wolf Parade: That’s enough. (to White Rabbits) Sorry, he’s just…not impressed.

White Rabbits: “I’m like whoa--.”

Broken Social Scene: Yeah, yeah, of course. What we really want to know is, uh, what exactly do you do. We’ve heard all about the driving drums, you know, the dance rhythms…you described yourselves as “honky-tonk calypso” on the application. Are you sorta like, uh, that first record from LCD….

White Rabbits: OK, just because we’re from New York and like our music to have a little bit of juice (pseudo-coughs, quickly blurting “My Body is a Cage,” receives dark glare from who-know-who), we’re not dance punk. We don’t need to ride a cheap trend…we’re a rock band, slightly danceable yes, but you won’t find a synthesizer anywhere on this record. We’ve got the melodies, we’ve got the best-on-the-planet size pop songs.

The Arcade Fire: You think you could pen a “No Cars Go”?!?

White Rabbits: No…I could do one better. Check the stampeding chorus of “While We Go Dancing,” or the masterpiece-the-Arctic-Monkeys-never-wrote (or will write) “The Plot.” And you could count on one hand the indie rock bands of the last decade whose sound was as immediately flavorful and well-formed as ours right off the bat. Our malicious, seductive, omnipresent piano lines make for a richer experience than some U2 wannabe, and our clear, confident vocals lend an instantly gripping emotional quality than Krug and Ounsworth couldn’t hope to conjure up.

(universal outrage from Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, CYHSY, Ghostface surprisingly steps in to come them down)

Ghost: Yo chill god. Just cuz them peeps ain’t from Canada….”

The Arcade Fire: OK, who let Ghostface in the meeting again!

Ghost: Yo, I might as well indie these days. By the way, don’t y’all got some encore to go do with Springsteen somewhere.

(Art Brut laughs violently at the joke, CYHSY and Wolf Parade quietly warble, and White Rabbits are, rightfully, admitted into the League)

36. Andrew Bird - Armchair Aprocrypha

Andrew Bird is a professional whistler. Come on, how cool is that? When you couple that with his strongest, most consistent album to date, I personally think you have no choice but to give the man a listen. He is also a great violinist, using his melodic tools to great effect. So get out of your "armchair" and buy it already. - Erik

35. Besnard Lakes - Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse

Releases from some of Canada’s elite indie bands (Arcade Fire, Frog Eyes, Sunset Rubdown, New Pornographers) overshadowed the breakthrough record from The Besnard Lakes, but don’t think that makes Dark Horse any less a triumph. It’s noisy, freewheeling anthems aim to shake the very ground that we walk on, but the band is remarkably sharp in execution, always ensuring the lengthier jams head in a specific direction. The melodies (many having a sort of Person Pitch, indie-Brian Wilson thing going on) are instantly memorable, as well, so nothing comes across as anything but pop music. Simply put, Dark Horse is just an incredibly fun record to listen to, one that Krug/Mercer/Bejar/Butler fans can’t help but adore, and yet another reason to love Canada. - Joey

34. St. Vincent - Marry Me

Is it blasphemy to like this record more than The Reminder? The success of “1,2,3,4” made 2007 the Year of the Feist, but personally, I enjoyed Annie Clark’s debut much more. She occasionally croons the same gentle jazz ballads as Feist (the title track is the best of them), but also throws in bright, lush pop numbers, and unpredictable ones at that. The ornate orchestral work abruptly turns to instrumental pile-ons, expressing Clark’s quirky personality as much as her soothing (“Now Now”), occasionally bitter (“Your Lips Are Red”) songs. Her style seems so well developed it’s a wonder it took her this long to step into the limelight. Above all else, Clark succeeds at sparking that warm, I-love-music feeling inside when I hear the opening “bam-bam-bam-bam”s of the Sufjan-like “Jesus Saves, I Spends,” reminding me of exact times and locations when I heard this album, how I felt then and how elated I feel now. So, Feist, I will count to four, but I simply don’t love you more. - Joey

33. The Go! Team - Proof of Youth

Because there’s a song called “Fake ID.” Proof of Youth. Get it? The Go! Team have always been about fun. But their newest album is…well, more of the same. If you like Thunder Lightning Strike, you’ll like this too. That’s really all you need to know. Seriously. Move on. It’s not like there’s anything metaphysically life-altering going onhere. I’m not going to analyze the deep inner-meanings of “Keys to the City.” On second thought…“Keys to the City” can be seen as an anagram to life. The anagram is as follows: Keep eyeing your sister, Tommy, or the horrible elephants can instigate Tibet’s youth. Good God. “Keys to the City” just helped me solve the mystery of life. It’s also the best cut on the album, for the record. - Andrew

32. Nina Nastasia & Jim White - You Follow Me

No idea who this woman was before 2007, heard this record, now I own three Nina Nastasia albums. Have an idea of how I feel about You Follow Me? It left me no choice but to hop on the bandwagon, which is kind of weird for me, considering I generally do not delve into singer/songwriter music, particularly artists whose arrangements are this skeletal. You Follow Me is all acoustic guitar, drums, and Nastasia’s calm yet lively vocals, and none of the songs sound like they would even consider a piano here or a harmonica there. Of course Follow’s irresistibly charming, elegant ballads require no bullshit; in fact, any additional instrumentation would likely undermine Nastasia’s bare passion on delicate tunes like “Odd Said the Doe,” “Our Discussion,” and “How Will You Love Me.” For a group of songs focused on restlessness, defeat, and desperation, this album is remarkably satisfied with itself: 10 songs, barely a half hour, at peace with sadness, or at least with expressing this sadness with the same stark, naked directness ten times over. - Joey

31. Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

There’s no excuses here from this bonafide Mouseketeer: Issac and company have visited the lonesome, crowded west, flown to the moon and trecked Antarctica, and now they’re on a mission to reestablish themselves with folk from less desolate areas. Part one of that mission had a song so good (“Float On”) that they must have sold out, right? Part two, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, debuted at number one on the Billboard charts- they must be compromising their sound, right?

This is not the same band you used to be proud that only you knew. There’s no hiding the fact that Modest Mouse has gotten earth-shakingly big, in terms of popularity, band members, and sound. But their newest offering has just enough outstanding moments to maintain their status as "your favorite band." From the rambunctious tempo-shift on the James Mercer-aided “Florida” to the equally paranoid lyrics of “Steam Engenius”(“I held my hand/ the beating heart of a robot/ He driven his car/ He’s sitting there crying/ All the way in the parking lot/ Just for you") to all of “Spitting Venom”, coupled with two of the best singles they’ve ever put out in “Dashboard” and “People as Places as People”, Modest Mouse just plain couldn’t give a fuck about your accusations about them. And I agree; there were better albums put out this year from a musical standpoint: Strawberry Jam, Person Pitch, Random Spirit Lover- but all those bands are missing one key ingredient: they’re not Modest Mouse. Take this, haters. - Andrew

30. The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters

Nine great songs+ layers of epic guitar noise+ Scottish brogue= Twilight Sad. It'll hit you in the gut every time. - Matt

29. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedela

This record didn’t register with me the first time through. I thought it was just a bit too cheesy or what not, the orchestra always partying behind Lekman’s almost-too-precise baritone and love-sick lyrics. However, then things sort of just clicked into place, and I became addicted to Kortedala’s shameless sentimentality and Lekmans’s easy croon. The lyrics may express his love problems, but the record is really quite bright and uplifting, playing like the equivalent of carefree, majestic around-the-world cruise. It doesn’t hurt the album’s appeal that it fits Christmas perfectly, so my mood sort of demanded it over the last month. Perhaps the aspect of the record that most grew on me was the Lekman’s sarcastic edge, best emphasized on the hilarious “Remember Every Kiss” lyric, “Things get more complicated when you're older/Before you know it you are somebody's soldier/You get a gun and you name it/After a girlfriend.” Classic. - Joey

28. Deerhunter - Cryptograms

Take a wicked ambient EP, take a wicked noise rock EP, slap 'em together, you get Cryptograms, an album that lacks a strong identity, but gives you a hell of a lot to come back and listen to. - Matt

Deerhunter - Cryptograms

27. Simian Mobile Disco Attack Decay Sustain Release

There’s little more to Simian Mobile Disco’s full-length than bad-ass acid-loving house music. This is Homework all over again (with some of Discovery’s melodic touches), and everybody knows it. We knew this long before the album dropped, considering half of it had been previously released as singles. So what makes Attack Decay Sustain Release more worth listening to than every other Homework disciple? SMD simply create better music than any other dance act (and this is not LCD or The Rapture or something, but rather dance music you can actually dance to). The uncompromising acid squelches (my new favorite word) are balanced (and in fact fused) with seamless hooks (vocal and digital), and this shit has more explosive climaxes than a season of 24, the best of which occurs when “It’s The Beat” catapults itself into a towering, lavish synth wave only to plunge back down to earth with the force of A-bomb. SMD’s made a great record for both the brain and the body, so have fun. God knows they did. - Joey

26. Dinosaur Jr. - Beyond

There have been some great comebacks this year. I’m going to have to give the Philadelphia Phillies taking down the Mets as my number one, but J Mascis and company are close behind. Picking up right where they left off a couple of decades ago, it’s almost frightening how close they sound to their former selves. “Crumble” could stand beside anything on You’re Living All Over Me, and there’s no way that the guitar solos throughout the album should be coming out of the guitars of fifty-year-old men. Surprisingly, this album hasn’t quite grown on the indie community as much as I thought it would. Perhaps these kids today just don’t understand rock and roll when they hear it (this coming from a nineteen-year-old, I know.) - Andrew
Dinosaur Jr. - Almost Ready

25. Lupe Fiasco - The Cool

Lupe’s crusade against bootleggers meant that I heard this album for the first time less than a week ago. It’s all good. I mean, both my relationship with the anti-pirate Lupe and this entire album. To get right to the point, Lupe Fiasco will always live or die on his quick-tongue, and here the rapid-spitting MC delivers classic verse after classic verse. “Dumb It Down” was instantly memorable upon its release a couple months ago, and if nothing else here matches its lyrical perfection (and that really is an “if”), plenty of The Cool comes close. Soundtrakk lays out stirring, ominous, brooding piano and strings on much of the album, perfectly complementing Lupe’s tales of desperation and street danger. Yeah, so the Linkin Park-sounding “Hello/Goodbye” sucks, but most everything else begs for repeated listens. It’s sometimes intense (“Hip-Hop Saved My Life,” “The Coolest”), sometimes laid back (“Paris Tokyo,” “Fighters”), even celebratory (the triumphant “Go Baby”), but always hits the target.

Not unlike American Gangster, clearly not everything (very little, in fact) fits into a neat narrative (by Lupe’s own admission). This record isn’t about Lupe's characters The Cool, The Streets, or The Game, or about a malicious cheeseburger. While the storylines provide an interesting launching pad for Lupe’s indictment of gangsta rap and the glorified ghetto-lifestyle, The Cool is all about The Lupe. As he told Pitchfork, "On this album, I wanted to talk about five or six things directly. I wanted to talk about the environment-- which I didn't really get a chance to do-- immigration, rape, drug abuse, and health.” The Cool’s eventual death is, you know, fine and dandy, but Lupe’s thoughts and morals are the key here: he’s heartbroken the world’s many evils, he’s pissed off about mainstream hip-hop for glorifying many of these evils, and he’s hungry for a leak-free, big sales classic. If he comes across as self-righteous it’s only because he’s, well, right, which, quite honestly, excuses all his moral grandstanding. He’s smarter and more inspired than any other rapper on the planet, his rhyme skills are as strong as his lyrics are meaningful, and he is the “coolest nigga, what!” - Joey
Lupe Fiasco - The Coolest

24. Battles - Mirrored
The weirdest record I heard this year. Weird in a good way though. Musically, it is reminiscent of…well, by golly, I don’t know. It certainly graces the territory of experimental legends like Can and Slint, but it doesn’t really sound like the work of either one. Whether you love this record or hate it (and there are quite a few who will find it just plain annoying), no one can deny Battles’ craft their own truly distinct sonic universe on Mirrored. As All Music suggests (and any who hears this record will certainly concur), the manipulated, Chipmunk vocals sound like the Seven Dwarfs, so you could, perhaps, say this album lands somewhere between Spiderland and Disneyland. None of us have traveled to such a place, making Mirrored the year’s most eye-opening and original record, and a truly rewarding experience from start to finish. - Joey

23. The Shins - Wincing the Night Away

Ah, the Shins. Where to start? The finest pop band of our time has made a very decent record here. In no way does it match up to the majesty that was Chutes Too Narrow, but it still manages to leave its own unique mark. Right away, we hear the Shins dabble in a little bit of electronic experimentation with album opener "Sleeping Lessons," my favorite opener of the year. This sound is new for the band, but it works to create this perfect build-up, kickstarting a flawless batch of songs, right up through "Sea Legs," the fifth track. "Sea Legs" is another track that sounds like nothing the Shins have ever done, yet it is still catchy as all hell and a great song. The second half of the album is not quite as good, although it certainly has a share of high points. It is just that the Shins' adventurous impulses do not always equate to positive results, such as the annoying "dripping" sound of the somewhat flat "Red Rabbits." Regardless of its (limited) missteps, Wincing exhibits enough Shins classics ("Australia," "Phantom Limb," "Turn On Me") to prompt repeated listens from indie listeners. - Erik

22. A Place To Bury Strangers - s/t

Dark as fuck. Gothic as fuck. Noisy as fuck. Guitars are used as instruments by which to bath the world in darkness. And it's all fantastic. - Matt

21. Kanye West - Graduation

Wake up, Mr. West! Some people aren’t too happy with your new album. They think you spent too much time being the biggest celebrity on the planet and not enough time on your lyrical prowess.

“This is true,” Kanye says. “But you’re still going to listen to this album non-stop and you know it.”

Yeah, but-

“Because my production is as good as it’s ever been, isn’t it?”

It is, but I just can’t-

“And don’t I still showcase my introspective side on sad-dope songs like‘Everything I Am’ and ‘I Wonder?’”

I’m still not convinced. Kanye just stares at me. I’m sort of scared,yet honored by his lateness, that he even showed up to this fake shit. Than he says, “You do realize that I managed to make another elite album despite T-Pain, Lil’ Wayne, and Chris Martin being on it?”

I’m sold.

Kanye West - Stronger

20. The National - Boxer

The National are essentially are an amalgamation of everything I love about music, so inherently I love this record. They are what I would sound like if I could make music. Sometimes they sound like the awkward love child of Paul Banks and Kim Gordon (sorry Thurston), other times they sound like the Magnetic Fields, Bruce Springsteen, or even the Pixies. Combining all their influences, they are able to create outstanding cuts like "Mistaken For Strangers" or "Guest Room," songs that establish them as one of the best new indie bands around. Bryan Devendorf's powerful, very dark drumming drives most of the album, bringing uniqueness to songs like "Fake Empire" or "Apartment Story." Plus frontman Matt Berninger has that rare ability to write songs that are satirical, funny, and catchy all at once. Not many bands can make claim to all these characteristics, and that is what makes Boxer such an essential listen. - Erik

19. Liars - s/t

Ah, okay, a new Liars record. I download this, and I expect the hypnotic rhythms of Drums Not Dead, and at some point hope to stumble upon another mesmerizing classic like “The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack,” and I hope…wait a sec…this can’t be Liars. Oh but it is…holy shit! Liars’ 2006 effort was a restrained, droning dream, sometimes shadowy, sometimes utopian, but always driving in the same gear. This time around, the band woke up, felt an adrenaline rush, and made damn sure you felt it too. “Plaster Casts of Everything” explodes through the speakers, its furious guitars charging like rhinos, announcing this is not drill, we are not here to mess around. The record dabbles in various forms of noisy rock genres, playing the role of Liars the Metal Gods, Liars the Snarling Punks, Liars the Sonic-Youth Worshippers, and Liars the Shoegazers (“Freak Out” sounds exactly like Jesus & Mary Chain song. A good one though). To try something new is commendable, but not an automatic ticket to critical praise. However, trying something new and nailing it…now there’s reason for celebration. - Joey

18. Band of Horses - Cease to Begin

Like most of the HowsThePie staff, I think that Band of Horses put out half of a great album last year with Everything All The Time. This year’s output, Cease To Begin, is a bit hard to explain; though it’s more consistent, I don’t think it’s the better album. Much of the problem is how exposed they have become. After losing crew member Matt Brooke between albums, one would have expected these horses to sounds a bit different, but instead, they’re just a bit more country-influenced. That sounds bad, but it’s not. It makes way for more than a couple of beautiful ballads, including “Detlef Shempf” and “No One’s Gonna Love You”. They may be a one-trick pony, but as long as they keep pulling that one trick off with this kind of ease, that’s fine by me. - Andrew

17. Feist - The Reminder

We really don’t need to discuss this record, do we? Yeah, yeah, one, two, three, four, now I know I want to win the war, we don’t have to say goodbye. Yada-yada-yada. She’s got a wonderful voice, pretty if sometimes overly sappy lyrics, and one of the year’s best pop songs. Watch this. Funny shit:

16. Okkervil River - The Stage Hands

Simply put, I rarely, if ever, buy new CDs. I buy old CDs and vinyl, sure, but new records I generally download from the internet (a great invention, isn't it?) or borrow from someone else who has purchased it. The same goes for nearly all of my friends. However, for some odd reason, we all went out to a record store and bought this album. I personally did it because I felt guilty, and I had heard good things about Okkervil River, the band lived up to the hype. Stage Names has a certain feel to it, sorta Bright Eyes-esque, but lead singer and songwriter Will Sheff has a very strong grasp of 60s-style pop music. Final track "John Allyn Smith Sails" is most certainly an homage to the Beach Boys; it even takes abruptly evolves into a cover of "Sloop John B" for its latter half. Overall, The Stage Names is over the top and dramatic, but intended that way. - Erik

15. Frog Eyes - Tears of the Valedictorian

With all due respect to Master Krug, this is clearly the howling, wacky-voice Canadian-guy record of the year. While Krug was off mending gowns and taming things both winged and wicked, his friend and frequent collaborator Carey Mercer was writing some of the most delirious indie-rock anthems since “Paranoid Android.” “I was a singer, and I sang in your home!” Mercer howls on “Bushels”, as his accompanying band valiantly attempts to keep up with his twists and turns. I must personally confess that I find Mercer’s voice more interesting than Krug’s: more humane, and it’s taken for granted how fast Mercer can get back on track with a song after taking a sharp turn left. It also helps that he’s harder to imitate. And, uh, his name is not as funny. - Andrew
Frog Eyes - Bushels

14. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

This is the record that turned me on to Of Montreal. I'll never forget hearing it in January and thinking to myself how awesome this sounded. I have a love for Ziggy-era Bowie, and Of Montreal sounded like that combined with an odd tinge of psychedelia. Obviously, they had many records before this one, but having now heard the rest of their catalog, Hissing Fauna is a true landmark. With gems like "Cato as a Pun" and "A Sentence of Sorts In Kongsvinger," you really can't go wrong. Of course, really every song on the album is fantastic. Plus, without this album, Girl Talk never could have made that incredible Hustlin'/Gronlandic Edit mashup, right? - Erik

13. The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

Neon Bible is a very sturdy album, equally compelling and cohesive. Though the band has strayed into the territory of universal, somewhat impersonal lyrical themes on the Bible, they get away it. It's still a thrilling, powerful listen, even if doesn't live up to Funeral, or quite deserve the massive acclaim it garnered. No one else in the indie stratosphere could pull off the exhilarating melodrama of "Intervention" or "No Cars Go," and no one else should try. - Matt

12. Jay-Z - American Gangster

So yeah, I originally asserted that American Gangster, while certainly Jigga’s true comeback, fell short of his “retirement” disc The Black Album, and that his flow was permanently diminished by a three year break. Upon further review, I, uh, lied. “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” and “99 Problems” may more instantly addictive than anything here, but Gangster showcases Jay-Z’s rhymes are as nuanced and insouciant as ever; you just have to get to know them first. He sinks to a whisper when effortlessly name-dropping Depeche Mode and Tony LaRussa within seconds, but then realizes when he has to make his point, such as the album’s lyrical highpoint: the “Imus verse” of “Ignorant Shit.” He goes epic over the album’s most epic backdrop (“Say Hello”), gets smug over the sneering beat of “Success” (shout-out to Google Earth Nas, also), and then nails the whole “reflective gangster” thing on the bittersweet (official) closer “Fallin’”.

Of course, none of this should come as a shock to anyone; Jay-Z’s most astonishing talent has never been that he can brilliantly rhyme words, but rather that he can do it so well over complex, incredibly rich beats. He receives said top-of-the-line beats here, with Diddy giving him the Ready to Die treatment, DJ Toomp giving him the “What You Know”/“Can’t Tell Me Nothing” treatment, and The Neptunes and Jus Blaze delivering (gasp!) vibrant, only-fit-for-a-rapper-of-Jay-Z’s-caliber backdrops. So essentially, this is the run of the mill spectacular J Hova effort, which is to say that the film of the same name had very little to do with his rebirth; the lightbulb already existed, and the film simply flicked the switch. Kingdom Come will go down as the “necessary” Jay-Z record, the one that instilled doubt in fans just long enough for Jay-Z to come around once more and make them embarrassed they ever thought twice about the ROC exec. - Joey
Jay-Z - ROC Boys

11. Sally Shapiro - Disco Romance

Yeah, this record officially came out last year, but it hit stateside in 2007. Further, the US version replaced the remixes with three new tracks, so 2007 saw the emergence of the album Disco Romance, not the singles comp Disco Romance. The album deserves the attention it never received last December, mostly cuz its beautiful to the point of sparking this type of franctic reaction from Pie contributor Andrew Stone:

"Sally Shapiro is not a real person apparently and that’s appropriate because humans shouldn’t make this kind of sound the kind of sound that makes you take off your shoes and throw them in the air while hugging God and makes you glad that we’re surrounded by air except when we’re underwater which is where she goes sometimes like on “Find My Soul” which sounds like it’s a fucking Sega Genesis exploding in the middle of the ocean and a light emerges from the deepest chasm of the ocean floor and it’s so spectacular but it’s all just a metaphor for our celestial hearts aligning as one like inner-rim planets but no Gunstar Heroes, just like the planet full of nothing but neon parties but no bibles that she must have been on when she sang “He Keeps Me Alive” a gorgeous weeping small child lullaby in Los Vegas at night only minus the lights uuuuuuggghhhhhhh and covered in snow snow falling so gently...."

It goes on, becomes more delirious...but you get the picture, right? - Andrew/Joey
9. The Field - From Here We Go Sublime

Most records, those on this list included, are simply musical moments, comprised of verses and choruses and guitar hooks, that are enjoyable but nothing more than sounds on a record. Then, occasionally, I hear an album that conquers the mind and the heart in ways that I could previously only imagine, and, as melodramatic as this sounds, From Here We Go Sublime is one of the mind blowing milestones. Like Loveless and Ágætis Byrjun before it, From Here’s sweeping, atmospheric, textured tracks are not just beautiful songs; rather, they are beauty itself.

Alex Willner is an electronic mastermind, sculpting chilly, slick digital epics that manage to burst at the seams with joy, sadness, love, fear, and pain. Even without vocals, The Field has created the moving and expressive record of the year, one that celebrates human emotion in its purest, most magical form. The downright cold (if beautiful) “Over the Ice” kicks off the album, only to be refuted immediately by the optimism and exuberance of “A Paw in My Face” and later by the uncontainable joy of “The Little Heart Beats So Fast.” After traveling from icy devastation to heart-melting warmth and back again, The Field’s debut full length closes with the truly sublime title track, the least electronic of any song here, throwing things back to the ‘50s with a crackling doo-wop sample (the Flamingos' "I Only Have Eyes for You") after an album’s worth of futuristic minimalism. It’s the perfect closure to a perfect record, a truly gripping moment, nakedly showcasing the album’s true passion for the human soul.

On the flip side of The Field’s heartening debut, Burial’s sophomore record Untrue is the year’s most dreary, daunting album, emotionally devastating yet irresistibly captivating. I toss so many vague adjectives out in the first sentence simply because I do not how to describe this album; it describes itself, really. Not much changes from track to track (the drum beat in particular), but the overall atmosphere is downright stunning. “Atmosphere,” a word oft-used to discuss music, truly applies here, as the unknown (!) London artist Burial utilizes melancholy strings, ethereal synths, hazy, faint electronic odds-and-ends, and choppy speed/pitch-manipulated vocals to paint a picture of despair, of yearning, (perhaps) of London’s darkest corners. Let’s stop here: if you have heard this record, you have felt its hopelessness, and if you haven’t heard it, go get a copy now. On a personal level, taken along with Sublime, this is the soundtrack of life: fantastic thoughts of an ideal, innocent world, inner bliss, seemingly boundless at times, and the inevitable realization that the world is largely dystopian, and you can only hide inside your own thoughts for so long. - Joey

8. Panda Bear - Person Pitch

Imagine indie rock is high school. Spencer Krug is the captain of the football team...and the basketball team...and the baseball team. He's with Dan Bejar, Carey Mercer, and Dan Boeckner making fun of some geeks. Krug is the god of the school. Across the room a few strange looking dudes from Brooklyn wander in weird masks. The freaks. That's Animal Collective, including Person Pitch mastermind Panda Bear. Quietly, Noah Lennox has been an integral part of two of the best albums of the year; this time around, the freaks are the valedictorians of indie rock high, and Panda's masterpiece of avant-garde pop is the new cool. - Matt

7. Menomena - Friend and Foe

Though only the second most important outlet dealing with friends and foes this year (SPOILER ALERT: Professor Snape turned out to be friend), Menomena’s second album was sort of the musical equivalent to a Harry Potter book. It’s consistent from front to back, you grow to love the heroes (The Pelican), hate the villains (Evil Bee), and you’re left with an experience that was, well, a bit… magical. And for every religious nut burning a copy of "The Deathly Hollows," there was likely an indie kid waking up to “Muscle n’ Flo.” That’s reassuring, in a way.

6. M.I.A. - Kala

I’m gonna try to avoid centering a brief discussion of M.I.A. on her politics, her lovable, obnoxious personality, or the controversial period between Arular and Kala. Well, I wish I could, but M.I.A. is all about personality, about fierce (if blurry) political beliefs, about taking the reins and telling everyone who suggested that Diplo held said reins to fuck off. She’s fiery, over-the-top, vigorous, sarcastic, unique, and envelope-pushing, and her brilliantly bonkers backdrop matches her step for step, manic moment for manic moment. “Paper Planes” echoes her laid-back sarcasm, while the New Order bassline on “20 Dollar” hammers home her aggressive, compelling fury (these two songs also contain my two favorite lyrics on the album: the visa line in the former, and the “20 dollars ain’t shit to you…” line in the latter).

Musically speaking, her politics do not really matter. Sure, it will give the Third World-conscious listeners a warm feeling inside, but it really isn’t as much about M.I.A.’s convictions as it is M.I.A.’s courage of those convictions. As long as an artist manages to give an inspired, passionate performance, the songs could be about puppies and still be great. We can feel the force and sincerity behind her vocals and lyrics, so her often ambiguous ideological values are an afterthought. Furthermore, you could put a monkey over some of these beats and still have a good record. Put a revved-up musical visionary over them, and you’ve got yourself a modern masterpiece. - Joey
M.I.A. - 20 Dollar

5. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam

Why can’t the mainstream music media open their eyes and see Animal Collective is this decade’s best band? Other than Radiohead, no one else should be in the same category. While bands like Interpol and The Shins take their damn time recording new records (ones that, most recently, have fallen embarrassingly short of those bands’ best work), Animal Collective gun out an album a year. The massive amount of music they record is irrelevant if the material isn’t great, but it is. Not only that, but, incredibly, AC may have very well improved on each previous record, each of which a classic in its own right (or a semi-classic, in Here Comes the Indian’s case). Looking back on Indian, it is mind-blowing to see the progress from ambient chants to indie pop epics. This kind of evolution in modern music is unheard of, recalling the days when bands like Talking Heads and R.E.M. made history gradually shifting their sound over the course of several records, always challenging themselves, reaching different heights each album, always anxious for adventure and progress. Crossover bands like The Arcade Fire may be all the rage for the 2007 blogger, but it will be Animal Collective remembered as the best indie band of their era. Strawberry Jam is their finest record yet, the culmination of years of relentless work, showcasing musicians perfectly in tune with each other, balancing their experimental impulses with infectious pop hooks, crafting an absolutely flawless album. - Joey
Animal Collective - Reverend Green

4. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

A Spoon haiku (a "Gaicku"):
Spoon makes good music
This year, Spoon has made the best
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
What more can I say? - Andrew
3. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver

Hard to say whether or not dance punk is a “dying genre” or not, but either way, LCD didn’t stick around to find out. Sure, “Time to Get Away” and “North American Scum” replicate the funky, cocky “Daft Punk is Playing,” but they almost seem more like mocking the self-reference of Murphy’s own LCD Soundsystem self-referential song stylings than attempts to be brash and hip. Nothing here is as simple as the smug, goofball strutting of Murphy’s first record, as he switches from one style (or rather, particular late ‘60s to early ‘80s artist) to the next, eventually navigating from the Eno-like bellowing of “Get Innocuous” to the Kraftwerk-reminiscent title track, to the piano-focused, electronics-free (!) closer “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down.” Still, despite a more eclectic, expansive palette, Silver sounds exactly like an LCD Soundsytem record; it’s just a really, really good one.

Moments like the finale and “Scum” are vital here: Murphy hasn’t lost his sarcastic edge (sorry, had to do it). In fact, he may be rehashing it solely to set up his detractors for humiliation: just as the haters open their mouths to trash “Time” and “Scum” as “same old, same old,” Murphy fires back with “Someone Great” and “All My Friends” (two of my favorite songs this year). Stunningly passionate, remarkably poetic, and a grand “fuck you” to doubters, the mid-album back-to-back almost establishes Murphy as dance music’s Kanye West: arrogant, self-absorbed, and all-too-cool, yet a downright musical visionary, walking the walk to match the big talk. So I ask, “Can he talk his shit again?!?” - Joey

2. Sunset Rubdown - Random Spirit Lover

Okay, I have a massive obsession with Sunset Rubdown, and more specifically, their lead singer/keyboardist, Spencer Krug. Having said that, Random Spirit Lover is, Krug fan or not, undoubtably among the best records of the year. Let's start with its depth. Every time I listen to RSL, I find something new, something I can't say for any other record this year not named In Rainbows. In terms of structure, melody, and lyrics, Lover's songs are near flawless. Hooks are flying all over the place, and it is always fun to find them buried amongst Krug's yelping and keyboards, while changes in tempo and/or key are abound throughout the record, keeping everything interesting. Yet the best part has to be the songwriting, packed with imagery umatched by any other modern singer/songwriter. Talk of Greek gods, hands coming to life, gowns being mended, stallions and gold, morticians and whores...all creative and unique; no one else would even consider writing a song using the word "courtesan." Random Spirit Lover is basically Krug showing off all his strengths, and hey, I'm not complaining. - Erik
1. Radiohead - In Rainbows
Radiohead could have released fifty minutes of dead air ;) and I would have ranked In Rainbows as my number one album of the year because the excitement and joy of waiting for it was still a better experience then listening to any other albums from 2007. Fortunately, In Rainbows merits the top spot anyway, a beautiful and cohesive record brimming with emotional power and confidence. While some have called this Radiohead's return to more accessible music, the song structures on In Rainbows lack any traditional verse-chorus structure, while the instrumentation and production is remarkably subtle. Fuck the "pay-what-you-want" extravaganza and the EMI controversy: the songs are the reason Radiohead kicked ass in '07, stunning tracks that stand up to most of the band's awe-inspiring back catalogue. My first listens to "Arpeggi" and "All I Need" were blissful, while the brilliance of "Reckoner" revealed itself slowly. To not rank In Rainbows at the top of 2007 would be a vain attempt to be unique. However there's a reason Radiohead are continually ranked the best of the year/decade/ever: they deserve it. - Matt
Thanks for reading! Again, happy holidays...enjoy the Christmas pie!


Stocker said...

what is this, Pitchfork?

zack said...

it has a heavy influence

Erik said...

I'm calling it right now, this is a better list than Pitchfork's.

Zack said...

is better the right word?

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