Variety Is the Spice of Life â€“ Your Editors Weigh in on 2007â€™s Best Music
December 29, 2007 · Print This Article
By Andy Smith and Kimberly Egolf, Editors
Ah, 2007. How quickly you came and went. And how much good music you managed to deliver along the way. In the wide world, 2007 saw bands and companies employing new means to deliver music, while ways to listen to that music practically overwhelmed the marketplace. 2007 saw reunions by some of musicâ€™s biggest artists (Do we deserve Zeppelin and Verve in the same year?!) and reissues of many classic albums weâ€™ve loved. Podcasts exposed us to an increasing number of new artists, many of whom hit the ground running with some of the yearâ€™s best discs. Yet established artists held their own and proved again why they are artists we respect and love.
Perhaps our new positions as Editors of InterMedia gave us more access or we were simply paying more attention, but everything in 2007 seemed to point toward a rapidly expanding musical horizon. Whatever it was, 2007 delivered more impressive albums than we could honestly cope with.
And this explains how we came up with the two very diverse lists weâ€™ve compiled below. These are your Editorsâ€™ favorite albums from a bountiful year!
ANDYâ€™S TOP ALBUMS
When some of my friends hear me prattle on praising the best music of the year, they return kind but quizzical looks. â€œI couldnâ€™t name a single record released in 2007,â€ one confessed.
To the person not paying attention, the music business is just another struggling, mainstream behemoth adjusting to the chaotic forces of a millennial market ecology. To me, itâ€™s the anti-business of amazing artists arriving at the mysterious threshold to perpetually massage my ears, head, and heart.
While I cannot name the day when I went from being a serious music fan and zinester-turned-blogger to an obsessed pop music fanatic, webzine editor, festival frequenter, and weekly radio host, my appreciation for great music in 2007 can be measured in part by how much of my free time I devoted to this third career. Of course, I remember this reckless rock and roll ache from my high school days: the unquenchable ecstasy of slipping out on weeknights to catch shows and staying up until dawn to write about them.
As I read in a recent Rolling Stone news blip, many industry insiders predict that the portable, digital jukeboxes of the online subscription services will pave the future of for the serious fans. I must confess my unequivocal concurrence. While the brand-name matters little (for me itâ€™s Napster-to-go and a compatible Creative Zen player), the construct has changed my listening habits in seismic shudders of sheer ear-bleeding bliss.
Now, I know that â€œinstant gratificationâ€ gets a bad rap in some circles, but to me, music acquisition has never been so soothing and seductive an adventure, with me lovingly clicking away at the laptop to access the universe without ever unhooking the headphones. Radioheadâ€™s visionary gesture to bypass it all and offer its injection of fuzzy confection directly to fans was the download heard round the world. Iâ€™m still trying to reckon with the In Rainbows hype and backbite and may be for some time to come.
Back in â€œoh-four,â€ Bush-bashing was the bait on every agit-prop artistâ€™s hook, and while anti-war anthems continue to populate many of the yearâ€™s best records, a topical shift has us treading on waters even more choppy with the waves of fear and future-shock. Eight years since we partied like it was 1999, global dread has grown into a pop commodity of delectable desperation.
As the calendar crashes toward another turn, rockâ€™s growl and grime and synth-popâ€™s glam and slime are our answer to the sub-prime crisis, once again mortgaging our souls to rock and roll!
1) Band of Horses â€“ â€œCease to Beginâ€
Frankly, I canâ€™t turn this record off. Itâ€™s one to listen to every day and do to your soul like orange juice and yoga. Perhaps itâ€™s the general darkness of the times that adds to the seductive denial of this discâ€™s sunny disposition. Born-again southerner Ben Bridwell brings the happy noiseâ€”a heart-swell of sing-a-long indy lushness, something to soothe the people pining for the next My Morning Jacket record.
2) The Arcade Fire â€“ â€œNeon Bibleâ€
All the ink spilled and inspiration testified regarding this record: itâ€™s all true and then some. When Neon Bible snuck into my ears in late winter, it wrecked me. The prophetic surge of this sonic collective caressed my brainâ€™s brawn and belligerence. Beyond protest poems, these piercing hymns of hypnotic hopelessness are too believable and beautiful to deny. When I saw this group live in early May, it was one of those moments for permanent memory and bragging rights. Months later, the mystery and magic hold.
3) Kings of Leon â€“ â€œBecause of the Timesâ€
In this crunchy, country barbecue of bass lines and drum fills, we find a relentless local recipe of guitar riff and lyrical myth. Lithe and lethal, my Kings of Lebanon have littered rockâ€™s reputation with their own reckless revision of the rags to riches myth. Basically, these are some young men with a serious yearning and willingness to bypass the brutal trenches that makes permanent bar-bands of too many of their potential peers.
4) Radiohead â€“ â€œIn Rainbowsâ€
Thom Yorkeâ€™s yummy yawp gives years to the moment, extending the instant of the download-heard-round-the-world into an eternity. The gritty weightless gravity of Greenwoodâ€™s guitar can crush the buzz about the bandâ€™s anti-business decision to basically give the album away. Thereâ€™s too much good about this band and this gesture to package into a â€œbest ofâ€ summaryâ€”this is the business of isness: something historical, something special, and something transcendental.
5) Yeasayer â€“ â€œAll Hour Cymbalsâ€
Let the choir sing! Too gospel to be either pop or punk, this band is gooey and gritty enough to be both. Yeasayerâ€™s yumminess pushes the boundaries of indy-everything into tribal effervescence. We can hear echoes of TV on the Radio and Talking Heads and town square sing-a-longs. Tapping the spiritual advantages of a mixed-up and magical musical messiness, this Brooklyn brew begs new definitions of brilliance. A harrowing urban hoedown of hope and secular holiness. A band my spirit has been waiting for!!
6) The Cave Singers â€“ â€œInvitation Songsâ€
We all know that folk is punk in too many ways, yet here we go again: not another ensemble of ex-rockers turned motherfolkers! But the labels and litanies donâ€™t really matter when the mojo gets you in the guts of darker regions. From the depths of your heartâ€™s imaginings, this collection of hypnotic campfire hymns could conjure hope or hate or any other idea or emotionâ€”bringing beautiful songs like water from the well, like heaven from hell, like honey nectar from the root of nothingness.
7) Bright Eyes â€“ â€œCassadegaâ€
Many might learn about the backlash before they dig the devout musical and lyrical brilliance in Bright Eyes. Sure, itâ€™s sometimes hard to stomach a prolific prodigy, but make that pretender the person of Conor Oberst, dubbed the â€œfrog prince of emo,â€ recently blamed by one blogger for this yearâ€™s Omaha shootings, and we have the makings of a critical mess. Listeners would best leave behind internet inferences and fleeting reputations. Instead, just cue-up Cassadega, a convincing folk-rock epic thatâ€™s even more emotionally relevant when divorced from the â€œemoâ€ tag and all its baggage. Look, letâ€™s just check the bandâ€™s references: the likes of lush-alt-country goddess Gillian Welch is willing to open for Bright Eyes at the Ryman, and from this, we might accept that all the comparisons to the freewheeling young Dylan are more than so-much hype for a post-hippy prophet in his own right.
8) The White Stripes â€“ â€œIcky Thumpâ€
Nothing complicated about the bullshit-skewering white-boy blues brought by Jack White as it rips back the meat to suck on the bones. Dueling doubt, this duo disses the dressed up music of every other genre, offering straight shots of Tennessee moonshine and pure injections of Motor City mojo. Friends like to tease me about how much I love this band for its red-and-black, Tennessee-to-Detroit shit-kicking axis of anti-evolution, and I donâ€™t mind. I love to listen to the girls that love Jack and the boys that love Meg and all the old-school primary colors of genius generated by the many stripes of our fandom.
9) Iron and Wine â€“ â€œThe Shepherd’s Dogâ€
Years ago, friends tried to turn my head to Iron and Wine, but my attention wavered and went elsewhere. With this new record reckoned â€œa significant departure,â€ Iâ€™m joining the club of faithful without reservation. Sweetly soothing songs from Sam Beam could carouse with the dead. Just the delivery could turn anyone on to all night sÃ©ances with everythingâ€”but then thereâ€™re the lyrics. With this collection, surrealist verses stir the heart muscles of adept students listening to their lessons from a stoned William Faulkner-meets-Shel Silverstein shaman.
10) Ryan Adams â€“ â€œEasy Tigerâ€
For the last few years, Iâ€™ve finally taken the time to gently gravitate into the albums of artists whose reputations more than preceded them. Among many other new loves, this is the year I finally embraced the indy-twang of the incomparable Ryan Adams. Since my ears for music always need to keep pace with my eyes for good music criticism, I rarely arrive at an artist without expectations. With Adams, letâ€™s just say the road I had to walk was steeper than with others. But after seeing an unforgettable live set on a rainy October night, my appetite for the albums increased infinitely. And Iâ€™m still unschooled enough to really dig Easy Tiger without comparing it to previous works.
11) The National â€“ â€œBoxerâ€
12) Wilco â€“ â€œSky Blue Skyâ€
13) Robert Plant & Alison Krauss â€“ â€œRaising Sandâ€
14) Editors â€“ â€œAn End Has A Startâ€
15) Eddie Vedder â€“ â€œMusic for the Motion Picture Into The Wildâ€
16) Amy Winehouse â€“ â€œBack to Blackâ€
17) Puscifer â€“ â€œV is for Vaginaâ€
18) Akron/Family â€“ â€œLove Is Simpleâ€
19) Kanye West â€“ â€œGraduationâ€
20) Rilo Kiley â€“ â€œUnder the Blacklightâ€
KIMâ€™S TOP ALBUMS
Like Andy, I have spent the year marveling at the sheer amount of new music being produced. My bank account was quickly screaming at me as I spent more money than I should on albums and concerts.
With the piles of new music coming at us this year, it was often easy to get lost in the mix. Which is why, in the noise, I was looking for albums that particularly stuck out and made themselves heard.
Contrasting with Andyâ€™s list, mine features many fairly new or newly-hyped artists who produced outstanding albums which made me excited to be a music fan. From metal to funk to psychedelic rock to classic soul, this year produced an eclectic mix of music for every mood and reminded me why I do this job.
1) The Aliens â€“ â€œAstronomy for Dogsâ€
You know how, when an album becomes an integral part of your life, you kind of forget the time when you didnâ€™t listen to it? The Aliensâ€™ oddly-titled debut album did that for me this year, making it my top pick of 2007. Every song holds something different, from straight-up rockers to unexpected classical piano ballads to loveable and bouncy dance music. The band successfully delve into any musical style that will serve the music they were born to make. And this creates a delightfully eclectic mixture of sounds and themes that kept me listening from beginning to end. Hell, this album would be worth it simply for the charming tune aptly called â€œThe Happy Songâ€ â€“ listen to it and try to resist the smile!
Songs: â€œRobot Manâ€ & â€œShe Donâ€™t Love Me No Moreâ€
2) Radiohead â€“ â€œIn Rainbowsâ€
Though variously lauded and derided for the way they chose to distribute their album, there is no denying that Radiohead made one of the best albums of the year. So good, that I was finally able to get past the daunting hype of Radioheadâ€™s musical past to become a bonafide fan. Joe Levy from Rolling Stone commented that the band started playing these songs in concert and then recorded them in the studio. Perhaps that is why these songs stay firmly rooted in strong melody (unlike some other Radiohead outings which lose me in the ether). There is a reason why this is the only album to make both mine and Andyâ€™s lists and why it topped most â€œBest ofâ€ lists this year. So stop reading about it, stop denying it and listen to the album already!
Songs: â€œBodysnatchersâ€ & â€œAll I Needâ€
3) The Budos Band â€“ â€œThe Budos Band IIâ€
Though unimaginatively titled â€“ this is the bandâ€™s second album â€“ this disc rated highly for me because of its extraordinary imagination. Take contemporary musicians and give them a love for old-school funk music. There you have the basic recipe for the Budos Band and its unique brand of retro-funk. This is music that will make you feel like watching film noir (listen to â€œBudos Risingâ€) and boogieing at the same time. Watch out for the brass section of the band who take center stage on most of the songs and deliver killer performances. This record is one of the yearâ€™s best for its diversity and for its cohesive feel. Props go to Daptone Records (who also produce Sharon Jones, my next pick) for providing these stellar musicians an outlet for their incredible music.
Songs: â€œOrigin of Manâ€ & â€œChicago Falconâ€
4) Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings â€“ â€œ100 Days, 100 Nightsâ€
Sharon Jones is not new to the music scene or to life, and that is perhaps the appeal of her music. Throwing back to the days of the classic girl groups, Sharon Jones and her band, the Dap-Kings, specialize in retro sounding R&B and funk perfectly packaged into brilliantly performed pop songs. Jones sings soulfully of love â€“ both good and bad â€“ in a voice that speaks of the years she has seen. After decades as a backing singer for other superstars, Jones is finally claiming the credit she deserves as an important voice of twentieth- and twenty-first century pop music.
Songs: â€œ100 Days, 100 Nightsâ€ & â€œHumble Meâ€
5) MaxÑ—mo Park â€“ â€œOur Earthly Pleasuresâ€
Their debut album rocketed the band into the spotlight as a new wave of guitar-pop took over the music scene a few years ago. Singing of love for women and the world, MaxÑ—mo Park delivers another stunning album of literate pop music which houses some of the catchiest melodies of the year. Itâ€™s easy to love Paul Smithâ€™s earnest vocal performances as the band behind him springs from note to note with unbounded energy. As an English teacher, I also have a soft spot in my heart for anyone who writes songs like â€œBooks from Boxesâ€ and â€œRussian Literature.â€
Songs: â€œOur Velocityâ€ & â€œRussian Literatureâ€
6) Kaiser Chiefs â€“ â€œYours Truly, Angry Mobâ€
Like MaxÑ—mo Park, the Kaisers had stellar success with their first album and announcements of an upcoming disc left critics wondering if the band could ever hope to match it. Yours Truly, Angry Mob screams a resounding â€œYes!â€ The Kaisers manage to have just as much riotous fun as they did before, with songs that blend seamlessly into setlists. Though revisiting themes like love (â€œRubyâ€), childhood (â€œBoxing Champâ€), and fame (â€œRetirementâ€), the band dig a little deeper this time and offer a somewhat darker view of things. This record proves that the Kaisers do what they do best and makes my â€œtopâ€ list for sheer riotous fun.
Songs: â€œThe Angry Mobâ€ & â€œLoveâ€™s Not a Competition (But Iâ€™m Winning)â€
7) Bang Camaro â€“ â€œBang Camaroâ€
Speaking of riotous fun, Bostonâ€™s Bang Camaro released their debut album this year. It is a big record filled with massive tunes ripe for starting parties. This band of 20+ members, depending on the night and the town, has had an incredible year with tours of the country, features on MTV, and songs in popular video games like â€œGuitar Heroâ€ and â€œRock Band.â€ These guys are bringing back banginâ€™ metal music in a big way with tongue-in-cheek nods to ego-tripping bands (listen to â€œYou Know I Like My Bandâ€) and their outrageous behavior (listen to â€œPleasure Pleasureâ€). They even do an awesome send-up of the obligatory metal band power ballad with a song aptly titled â€œThe Ballad.â€ Turn this record up to 11, strap on the air guitar, and enjoy the juicy musical goodness oozing from its tunes.
Songs: â€œPush Push (Lady Lightning)â€ & â€œThe Balladâ€
8) Black Rebel Motorcycle Club â€“ â€œBaby 81â€
God only knows what the title means, but perhaps itâ€™s code for â€œthese songs will rock you.â€ BRMC has consistently put out great rock â€˜nâ€™ roll albums and Baby 81 is no exception. The fact that they also manage to make strong political statements adds to the appeal of this album. There is dirt here: something that makes you believe these guys have done it all and are ready to tell you about it. One of the most prophetic lines on the disc comes from â€œWeapon of Choiceâ€: â€œI wonâ€™t waste my love on a nation.â€ Itâ€™s a clarion call for the times, and it comes packaged in an awesome rock tune. BRMC deserves to be among the best again this year for not being afraid to make dirty rock music which just might make you angry enough to want to change the world.
Songs: â€œWeapon of Choiceâ€ & â€œKilling the Lightâ€
9) Jamie T â€“ â€œPanic Preventionâ€
Earlier in the year I was invited to see an artist named Jamie T in a small bar in Boston. And a new obsession was born. At that point, Jamie T was beginning his first small tour of the US, despite his massive success in the UK. I must admit that I was struck at first simply by Jamieâ€™s sometimes grating voice. But these songs, even with their thick English slang, soon became lodged in my head and wouldnâ€™t let go. Backed up by the sparse bass guitar thump and the odd sample here and there, this record made my list because it challenged the music trends of the year and offered up a truly unique new voice.
Songs: â€œSheilaâ€ & â€œIf You Got the Moneyâ€
10) Sinead Oâ€™Connor â€“ â€œTheologyâ€
Sinead Oâ€™Connor has been a musical force for so many years, itâ€™s hard to remember a soundscape without her. She has tried most musical styles â€“ her latest outings feature trips into traditional Irish music and classic reggae â€“ and has made no secret of her search for both God and music. And she finds a wealth of each on Theology. Itâ€™s a sensitive album Sinead says sheâ€™s been waiting to make â€“ a love song for God, her family, and â€“ she emphasizes heavily â€“ for her fans, all of whom she credits with giving her the gift of music. The album is also a unique look at the production of music. Theology is a two-disc album which features the â€œDublin sessionsâ€ and acoustic arrangements of Sineadâ€™s songs, as well as the â€œLondon sessionsâ€ which are the same songs recorded with full band arrangements. Both discs work equally well, making it hard to choose one version over another. In the end, though, it comes down to the fact that Sineadâ€™s is an important voice of love and peace to balance out the hatred and disillusionment that has crept into the world and into music lately.
Songs: â€œSomething Beautiful (Dublin Sessions)â€ & â€œRivers of Babylon (London Sessions)â€
11) Mika â€“ â€œLife in Cartoon Motionâ€
12) Editors â€“ â€œAn End Has a Startâ€
13) Yeasayer â€“ â€œAll Hour Cymbalsâ€
14) Wax Tailor â€“ â€œHope & Sorrowâ€
15) Patti Smith â€“ â€œTwelveâ€
16) Klaxons â€“ â€œMyths of the Near Futureâ€
17) Justice â€“ â€œ