Archive for December, 2007

December 3, 2007

Top 15 Of 2007

Top 15 Of 2007
This year was the strongest year for music I can remember since 1997, frankly. I own at least 60 albums released this year, and wish to hear more. As always, these are my favorite albums, not the “best”. I’m not about to insist I listen to the “best” music. Anyhow, here is my lengthly discussion of my

15. Field Music – Tones Of Town: British baroque pop at it’s best. What makes this album stand out for me, and be so listenable, is the inventive song writing. It’s not just that they have strings and pianos, it’s how they’re employed. The strings are often the main part of the melody, not just embellishment, like in “A Gap Has Appeared” or “Kingston”. But, then they can turn around with a song like “Closer At Hand” which is a great guitar-based song. The thing I love the most about this album is the percussion. Lots of interesting bells, tambourine, drum patterns, cymbals, etc. “Sit Tight” is the perfect example, even incorporating beatboxing at the end of the song. The songs are complex, despite constantly clocking in at around three minutes or less. A couple times, like with “A House Is Not A Home” where the song segues seamlessly into “Kingston”, lending the album a unifying progression that is clearly deliberate. And, I must mention the lovely vocals which remind me of the Beach Boys, Crosby, Stills, & Nash or maybe a little Steely Dan.

14. Grinderman – Grinderman: Savage, brutal, and funny. Not 20 seconds goes by in the first song “Get It On” before “motherfucker” is said. “Get It On” primes you for the rest of the album, electric guitar, bongos, and piano with the lyrics creating a lowdown character with “words of wisdom” of “get it on”, drinking panther piss and “fucked the girls you’re probably married to”. This is really a guy’s album, and “No Pussy Blues” is a song only a guy can really understand and it’s one of the best songs Nick Cave has ever written. The verses detail everything he tried to win over a girl. Then the song explodes into a blistering chorus yelling “damn” and “woo” in a way that most guys who have felt frustrated and a little emasculated in life will recognize. Nick Cave knows he’s one of the most charismatic singers in rock, calling “all right, come on Grinderman” during the pulsing outro of “I Don’t Need You (To Set Me Free)”. He uses his ability to tell an engaging story to full effect creating the myth of “Electric Alice” or “Depth Charge Ethel”. There’s balls out garage rock like “Honey Bee (Lets Fly To Mars)” and “Love Bomb” and slow sinister songs like “Grinderman” that use sparse jagged guitar. It all creates a mood of dirty, macho, wild fun. Yet in a serious way this album is Cave’s musical portrayal of the struggles of masculinity.

13. Peter Bjorn & John – Writer’s Block: The first of three Scandinavian artists on my list. “Young Folks” is a classic single. Everyone I know who has heard it loves it. It’s warm and romantic in the very best way. A man and a woman who are deciding to trust each other despite being hurt in the past. Who can deny that whistle? They are able to write irresistable pop melodies like “Let’s Call It Off” using hand claps and steel drums over a funky drumbeat. PB&J balance this with the kind of forlorn lyrics about unsuccessful love which makes people fall in love with great pop songs. “Objects Of My Affection” is a jangling rocker that is a kiss off to a former lover. But things are not that simple, as while the singer will “laugh more often now, cries more often now, I am more me” he will on ” some days, lie around and hardly exist”. The song “Up Against The Wall” with a slightly muted slow rock build has further complexity in the lyrics, saying “maybe we could make it work” but feels “almost that I wish we hadn’t met at all.” Clearly, the lyrics often express a sad mature look at love. You might think the whole affair would sound depressing. Yet, the album is not at all depressing. The inventive song writing makes sure of that: the soaring bongo enhanced chorus to “Young Folks”, the whistling in “Objects Of My Affection”, or the pretty acoustic guitar plucking of “Paris 2004”.

12. Faithless – To All New Arrivals: They are really the most consistent electronica act currently recording. Look at how poor the output of The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Fatboy Slim, etc has become. Every album by Faithless has been well done and enjoyable from start to finish. They’re able to create politically minded music and emotional music without sounding preachy or detracting from being enjoyable and dancable. This album, a concept album about children, is no exception. “Bombs” is lyrically very political, yet a tremendous sounding dance song. Listen to the title track or “I Hope”, and you’ll hear a great song to dance to with lyrics of concern, hope, and love for children that come from their hearts. That is a rare feat, in my mind. “Bombs”, which starts the album, seems to be their take on the state of the world, putting the rest of the album in context. They’re concerned about what future the world is leaving our children. The song “Music Matters” might just be their mission statement, and there’s nothing cuter than the little kid featured right before it. Last track “Emergency” seems designed to remind you they can still throw down a trance rave-up like few else.

11. Nellie McKay – Obligatory Villagers: I’m waiting for McKay’s full fledged Broadway musical. She is that talented, and she truly shows it here. Her last album, Pretty Little Head was good but did feel too bloated at 21 tracks. This album has 9 tracks at is barely 30 minutes, which is perfect. This album is clearly (the start of) her political commentary on the state of America. We are the villagers who have been obliging the president the past 7 years. “Zombie” is a fun bluesy number with actual grunting zombies. Nellie clearly is blaming the South for putting Bush in office for 8 years, especially in the outro with lines like “torture isn’t that bad” and “they hate our freedom”. The first song, “Mother Of Pearl”, where McKay lists criticisms of feminists, seems to confuse people as to what her intent was. I read one review written by a man that said she is literally making fun of feminists. I think it’s shortsighted to take the song literally, especially given McKay’s flat vocal. I think she wants to make you laugh at how ludicrous the whole situation is, saying “feminists have a tumor in their funny bone” balanced with a man comically saying responses to her lines like “take it off”. Nellie ends the song with an amusing “I am Dennis Kucinich, and I approve this message”. The whole album is filled with complex lyrics where Nellie McKay is expressing her political point of view, and it’ll take many listens to get a complete sense of what she is saying here. I could spend a long time discussing each track. It’s the venue she expresses herself, in the style of Broadway musical, that will keep you listening over and over. And the album quite proudly states “all songs written, arranged and orchestrated by Nellie McKay”

10. Klaxons – Myths Of The Near Future: It’s nice when hype pays off, and this mostly happened with Klaxons. Though, they were hyped as nu-rave, and having listened to rave for 15 years, I can say little on this album is even close to rave. Other than the shouts of “DJ!” and the klaxons in “Atlantis To Interzone” and the bridge of “Forgotten Works”, you need to turn to the remixes like Erol Alkan’s gorgeous remix of “Golden Skans” for the rave. The hype did pay off in that clearly Klaxons are very talented at crafting music that recalls 70’s art punk, 80’s new wave, 90’s electronica, yet retain a sound that is Klaxons and very of the present. As I said, “Atlantis To Interzone” has elements of rave, but when it kicks into the blistering chorus there’s no mistaking that this is a band influenced by Gang Of Four. They even turn 90’s house hit “Not Over Yet” by Grace into a art punk track with new wave vocals. “Golden Skans” takes all this new wave nostalgia and actually does something with it creating an exciting modern version of new wave that betters most classic new wave. The hyper breakbeats in “Magick” are far more fun in an art punk setting. All the mythology and literary references to Allen Ginsberg and Alister Crowley in the lyrics is kind of dorky, but also kind of endearing and it’s nice to hear a band who clearly has a brain. The majority of time when a band is hyped the final product is underwhelming. I actually think Klaxons’ first album is better than the hype suggested it would be. Instead of “nu-rave” you get 11 songs that are each different and exciting to listen to. I’ve read they want to go prog next, and I can’t wait.

9. Amy Winehouse – Back To Black: What has happened to Amy Winehouse is really a shame, because there is no denying her voice, her talent at singing and honest lyric writing. I listened to this album because someone was doubting the authenticity of her lyrics, and I became intrigued. I don’t think any doubt can remain of whether the lyrics in “Rehab”, “You Know I’m No Good”, or “Love Is A Losing Game” are authentic. The title song is an instant classic and about as powerfully emotional as music gets. The song can stand proudly next to classic soul songs of the 50s and 60s. It’s heartbreaking, and anyone who has been heartbroken in a complicated relationship knows Winehouse means every word. I honestly feel there is little else original to say about this album. Musically, the live instrumentation coupled with modern beats breathes new life into classic soul music. Winehouse’s vocals and lyrics aside, it’s a great sounding album and very enjoyable start to finish. Winehouse adds the charisma that makes the music so wonderful.

8. The Raveonettes – Lust Lust Lust: I think they have recorded their perfect album. Romantic, sexy, sad, and beautiful. For example, a song titled “Lust” has lyrics like “nothing much to say” and “everywhere I roam life is one big lie”. They proved with their last album, Pretty In Black, they don’t need feedback. Here they prove they’re worthy of following the tradition started by My Bloody Valentine and Jesus & Mary Chain of making feedback beautiful, as almost every song is awash in it. The production is very specific, with guitars usually playing a surf rock melody up front, their pretty harmonized girl-group vocals somewhere in the middle, and the feedback all around, and a drum machine and bass underneath it all. This causes Lust Lust Lust to be their most cohesive sounding album since the Whip It On Ep. The Raveonettes wear their influences on their sleeve. Their name is half a title of a Buddy Holly song thus creating a bastardization of the name The Ronettes. I think the word bastardization is key, as that is what The Raveonettes do. They mash these styles with the guitar feedback of My Bloody Valentine and dark lyrics about love, lust, and loss. I think with Lust Lust Lust there is no question that they have solidified into a band with their own unique sound. I think one listen to “Aly, Walk With Me” or “Dead Sound” will convince you of that. “You Want The Candy” is a girl-group song on which is added reverb, feedback and lyrics about candy, lollipops and asking for a “dirty treat” and talks of “hearts not meant to last”. There you go.

7. Bat For Lashes – Fur & Gold: While I do like current female songwriters like Feist and Regina Spektor, I can’t help but compare them to Joni Mitchell or Tori Amos and the like. I think Natasha Khan, who is Bat For Lashes, has a witchiness that can be compared to Bjork or Kate Bush. But, I think she has a sound and style all her own. Probably you can tell from her chosen name, there’s a lot of gothic mysticism and a enchanted quality to her sound. Even the faster paced songs like “Horse And I” or “Prescilla” have a particular sparseness to them. Much of the album, with it’s harpsichord, hand claps, and songs about “The Wizard” asking you to “drink his blood and he’s our leader”, evoke Renaissance folk. The throbbing “Trophy” tells of a trophy she made that “everyone who touched it found a heaven on Earth” and how it fell into the wrong hands. Khan’s voice can be beautiful and expressive, as in the quiet harpsichord driven “Tahiti”, or powerful as in the slowly building “I Saw The Light”. In “What’s A Girl To Do?” she takes the classic drum pattern of “Be My Baby” and loosens it up a bit. Lyrically, the song looks down the line of a relationship asking what she’s to do when her “heart grows colder with each day” and her “dreams are on a train to trainwreck town”.Quiet piano ballads like “Sad Eyes” or “Seal Jubilee” lull you into a dream like state. She even makes a Bruce Springsteen song, “I’m On Fire” sound like a Bat For Lashes song. And that tells me Bat For Lashes are already on the road to becoming very much their own artist.

6. !!! – Myth Takes: This is the album they’ve been promising us since they first started. The first five songs are unstoppable. I’ve never heard another album that has a stronger first half. The swagger of “Myth Takes”, the hectic art punk of “All Our Heroes Are Weirdos”, the hedonistic dance party “Must Be The Moon”, the slinky disco “A New Name”, and the epic funk of “Heart Of Hearts”. This is a band who loves to play, dance and have fun, and the whole album is infectious in its enthusiasm. Sixth song, “Sweet Life” is an all right song, but kills the momentum for me. “Yadnus” brings the funk back with galloping drums reminiscent of “Rock And Roll Pt. 2” by Gary Glitter (think about it) and that awesome synthy guitar riff that starts things off. “Bend Over Beethoven” is a classic !!! eight minute punk funk workout in the vein of “Intensify” or “Shit Scheisse Merde”. Few bands have !!!’s charisma and the ability to put a big goofy smile on your face. They can write great tunes like “Must Be The Moon” and “Heart Of Hearts”, yet they are capable of big electronic breakdowns like at the end of those songs. I guess !!! feel a need to give you a break with songs like “Sweet Life” and the ending comedown “Infinifold”, but when the rest is the most fun you’ve ever had listening to music…

5. Menomena – Friend And Foe: This album makes me glad I am alive. Three band members who play a wide variety of instruments, record various parts with each instrument, and digitally assemble them into a finished song. Each song is a sound college, yet the album never sounds a mess. The layers of instrumental elements don’t bury each other, instead they are building blocks that create a whole song. In fact, this is album is clearly a cohesive artistic statement. Many of the songs lyrically deal with struggling in relationships and with identity, lending meaning to the title Friend And Foe. Evil Bee talks of “oh to be a machine, oh to be wanted, to be useful”. The soaring epic “My My”, with it’s slashing guitar riff and gorgeous piano asks “what if all my enemies were dead, and I could forget everything they said, could I be then who I really am?’ At times, especially with “Air Aid” the band approach Philip Glass territory with it’s repetitive baritone sax riffs. I won’t really say much more about the music, except to say there are piano, xylophones, horns, organ, bass, drums all cut up and put together. There are seemingly millions of musical ideas started and stopped and yet it never sounds overstuffed. You’re just left with the exciting feeling that original art balanced with emotion is something still possible in music even in the year 2007. Speaking of art, the album cover is simply gorgeous and must be seen.

4. Long Blondes – Someone To Drive You Home: A female Pulp. That I am not saying the Long Blondes “sound like Pulp” says everything I need to about this album. I never thought someone could compare to Jarvis Cocker, but Kate Jackson and the lyrics she sings stands almost shoulder to shoulder with him. So rarely can I find a band or artist who writes songs about relationships whom I can relate to as an adult. This album is almost a concept album of Kate Jackson telling younger women she “knows how it feels to be your age” as she says in “Once And Never Again”. Elsewhere he relates her own stories as a single adult looking for love, often finding herself passed by for boring women, such as in “Giddy Stratospheres”. There’s a weariness that comes with age, such as when she says she “won’t kid myself about happy endings, I’m too old for that now” in the epic “You Could Have Both”. Meanwhile the music not only stands up, but betters the Brit-rock and Post-post punk of the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, Art Brut, etc. Listen to the gallop that starts “You Could Have Both”, and then they dial it down immediately coasting on Jackson’s lovely worldless vocal. By the end it turns into a pounding expression of romantic frustration. Songs like “Lust In The Movies and “Separated By Motorways” have a fun punky flair. Others like “Giddy Stratospheres” and “Weekend Without Makeup” bounce along thanks to a fantastic melodic rhythm section. I could spend a lot of time quoting this album. There’s a great deal of wit. I relate to songs like “Madame Ray” and “Only Lovers Left Alive”, songs about being put on the back burner while your love interest pursues people clearly wrong for them. It’s why I fell in love with it.

3. M.I.A. – Kala: Everyone made such a big fuss over Kanye’s new album because it used more synths and whatever else. To them, I point to M.I.A. She makes anyone else currently making hip hop look lazy and behind the times. Like Arular, this album is the driving album of this year. The beat in “Boys” is absolutely punishing. The synth stabs in “Hussel” are dirty and cool as fuck. The beat on “Paper Planes” built on gunshots, hammer click, and cash register (blam blam blam, click, ch-ching) might be fun to blast but literally might be dangerous in the wrong neighborhood. Though lets face it, we learned on Arular that M.I.A. creates beats on a completely higher level than most out there. On Arular she incorporated styles from all over the world, African, Asian, Brazilian, etc. and she does so again on Kala. On “Bamboo Banga” she samples a Bollywood song. Then later she betters a Bollywood song by covering and rewriting the lyrics on “Jimmy” from the 70’s movie Disco Dancer. On “Jimmy” we also find out she can actually sing and has a nice voice! She uses actual aborigine Australian children on a quiet hip hop song about fishing called “Mango Pickle Down River”. It says a lot that the least radical song might be “Come Around”, the only song produced by Timbaland. Some may say M.I.A. depends on producers, but while Diplo did all of Arular, he only produced three songs on this album. Switch did much of the rest. Yet it sounds like a natural extension of Arular, which tells me M.I.A. is in artistic control.

2. Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala: Perfection. On this album Jens Lekman does no wrong. You rarely find a songwriter that can combine sadness, humor, honesty, sweetness, and romance all into one song like he does in “A Postcard To Nina”. He can go from the epic grandeur of “And I Remember Every Kiss” to the naked heartbreak of “I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You” to the sweet dedication to a hairdresser “Sharin”. Lekman can do fun dance pop songs like “Sipping On The Sweet Nectar” or sweet songs like “Your Arms Around Me”. He works mostly on a laptop, and isn’t afraid to show it off. He bends and manipulates the samples he uses. He even samples himself singing when he was a child in “It Was A Strange Time In My Life”, which is really sweet and fun. I should stress that I am discussing sampling with an artist who performs chamber pop music. Not hip hop or dance. Sometimes you can’t tell at first if he’s using real instrumentation or a sample, then he cuts it up like at the end of “Kanske Ar Jag Kar I Dig” . But make no mistake, “The Opposite Of Hallelujah” or “Your Arms Around Me” demonstrate he can write for actual strings. The details he puts into his lyrics are so unique and lends a constant feeling of honesty to his songwriting. He can talk about small town Swedish life in “Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo” or cutting avocados in the kitchen in “Your Arms Around Me”. In every which way, Jens Lekman is a musical genius and a joy to listen to.

1. LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver: Perfection again. There isn’t a bad song. In fact, there isn’t song that is not worthy of being on a mix CD. Maybe James Murphy, music nerd that he is, wants it that way. Much can be and has been said about how he employs drum machines, live drums, bass, cowbell, etc.. The album’s pacing is perfect, “Get Innocuous!” explodes out of the gate, combining the synth line from Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” and a Bowiesque vocal. Then, he takes it down a peg with funky “Time To Get Away”. The dancefloor filler mid-section of “All My Friends”, “Us V Them”, and “Watch The Tapes” is euphoric and exhilarating. The comedown of the quieter yet still dancable “Sound Of Silver” and the ballad “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” is the right way to end the album. It was a lovely, unique experience to hear the instrumental version of “Someone Great” in the 45:33 album (my #4 album last year), and then to hear this album for the first time and recognize it. But, I never would have guessed Murphy would use it to put a complex emotional lyric to. Of course, his social commentary in “North American Scum” and “New York…” is always intelligent and mature, and always welcome. There is not a false note on the entire album. There is a meticulous craft involved in the making of this album, and every layer and detail sounds thought out. This album sounds like James Murphy is beginning to put himself in the same category as the great artists like Bowie, David Byrne, Brian Eno, Mark E. Smith, and the others he so admires.

Look, Radiohead and Bjork Released Albums: In Rainbows and Volta
I do really enjoy both of these albums, but I’m always left with a feeling like nothing will compare to The Bends, OK Computer, Post, and Vespertine…

Best Album You Haven’t Heard: Kathy Diamond – Miss Diamond To You
Modern, classy disco at it’s best, produced by Maurice Fulton. This album has the clearest production I think I’ve ever heard. Somehow he’s able to make the record sound stark yet lush, best shown off in the song “Over”. I had to order it directly from the German label.

Over-rated: Justice / Simian Mobile Disco
I’ve been listening to all forms of dance music since I was 12. I do not get what the fuss is about. We already have a crappy Daft Punk. They’re called Daft Punk. I guarantee the same hipsters listening to Justice and SMD laughed at Fatboy Slim, despite it all sounding like his remix of “I See You Baby” by Groove Armada. I heard “D.A.N.C.E.” spun at a club, and it still wasn’t good to me.

Biggest Disappointments: Arcade Fire – Neon Bible / Air – Pocket Symphony
– Air finally delivered on all the potential they’ve hinted at since their first EP: the potential to be boring. Somehow they made Jarvis Cocker boring. That’s a feat. There are some nice songs, but nothing to stand up to anything in the past.
– The Arcade Fire added a church organ to their bombast and left out actual tunes. I don’t care how much people gush over this album, except for “Keep The Car Running” not one song stands out to me.
LCD