Did you hear them?
Love Is Simple by Akron/Family – Despite the complexities of sound on Love Is Simple, the Akron/Family effortlessly simplifies love and music to the sheer moment of Zen. Love is utilized as a motivation for protest, for action, for peace, for dance, for pleasure, for fun. Love Is Simple spins you right round (like a record, Baby) as the songs spiral out to a strange netherworld and then return to a naturally familiar place (‘to all of the places that I have known’), like a journey through a musical labyrinth.
Strawberry Jam by Animal Collective – Their most consistent, accessible and best (!) album to date, the Animal Collective intricately entwines their atypical experimental tendencies with traditional pop sensibilities. Still remaining as fresh as molasses in January, Strawberry Jam sounds totally otherworldly when compared to anything else from 2007. Also worthy of attention is (A.C. member) Panda Bear’s 2007 solo album Person Pitch.
Armchair Apocrypha by Andrew Bird – Bird’s minutely (and tactfully) orchestrated and composed songs drip with pure unfiltered beauty; combined with the unbridled emotional intensity of his vocals, every listen to Armchair Apocrypha practically brings tears to my eyes. Extra kudos for Bird’s powerful live performances during which he has proven himself to be a force not to be reckoned with (case in point: the recently released live CD of his critically acclaimed performance at the 2007 Austin City Limits Festival).
In Our Nature by Jose González – González proves that he is still worthy of the (yet-to-be-officially-deemed) “second-coming of Nick Drake” moniker, as he is truly the psych-folk savior that everyone has been waiting for since Drake’s death in 1974. Most importantly are the political and social critiques bubbling beneath his dreamy vocals; González is obviously fed up with this ball of confusion – the state of the world of today – and no, he’s not going to take it anymore.
Modern Love & Death by Hail Social – Modern Love & Death rids Hail Social of any of their previous hair band tendencies as they opt for a strange sort of disco hybrid. On paper sounds like an absolutely atrocious concept; on disc the result is stunning with dance beats and infectious bass lines leading the audible assault. Modern Love & Death reveals that Hail Social has developed a uniquely fitting sound and vision for themselves; something very few bands are able to do, especially on sophomore releases.
There’s No Home by Jana Hunter – Like an abandoned southern mansion, There’s No Home is as dusty and musty as it is learned and wise. Hunter is an old soul, a disoriented and misplaced time traveler trapped in the 21st century, whose dark and eclectic nature is reminiscent of the old-time blues ladies of the deep-south.
Night Falls Over Kortedala by Jens Lekman – Like a tall iced drink or a brisk sea breeze, this precocious Swede’s songs are welcome refreshment – with a smooth coolness that denotes something modern, deft and imaginative. Part crooner, part vaudevillian, part deejay and part lo-fi indie-pop star; the resulting mixture is sometimes a convoluted mess but Lekman pulls “it” off more often than not. Verbally crafted with enough tenacious prose and panache to qualify for publication in Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Night Falls Over Kortedala finds Lekman at his lyrical zenith.
At My Age by Nick Lowe – Nick Lowe cements his position on the aged altar alongside the esteemed short-list of musicians (Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Robyn Hitchcock, Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Ornette Coleman, Wire, Gang of Four) who have proven to still be able to churn out relevant albums well beyond their 50th birthday. At My Age is a far cry from the youthful tenacity of his 1978 debut Jesus of Cool, but it is equally essential. Lowe’s voice has aged liked the finest of wines and his composition and production skills have yet to falter.
Kala by M.I.A. – The most vital political figure in the music industry today (step aside Billy Bragg – sorry, comrade!), “Maya” Arulpragasam’s (a.k.a. M.I.A.) follow-up to her stellar Arular (2005) effortlessly one-ups its predecessor. Admittedly, even if her music was total shite, M.I.A would have still made this list merely for her intelligent opinions on politics, economics, class and culture. Fortunately, her compositional techniques (a.k.a. beats) are just as provocative and advanced as her lyrics. Joe Strummer would be damn proud!
Wincing the Night Away by The Shins – At this point in their career, it seems The Shins can do no wrong. They broke the all-too-common “sophomore slump” by topping their amazing 2001 debut Oh, Inverted World with 2003’s Chutes Too Narrow. It took another four years, but The Shins ushered in 2007 with the luscious grandeur of Wincing the Night Away. To paraphrase Sam’s infamous line concerning The Shins from the Zach Braff film Garden State: “You gotta hear this one [album] – it’ll change your life!” (Now if I could only pass my headphones from this page to your ear…)
Gone Faded by Soft – The first American band to truly “get” to the soul of shoe gazing, Soft delicately attacks their debut by endlessly tinkering with the finer nuances of the productions. Every bending, reverbed out note is tediously laid down to perfection; every lyric is masterfully echoed and blurred. Yet it is the infectious pulse of the rhythm section which makes Gone Faded more authentic than any previous American attempts at the Brit-monopolized genre.
Waking the Mystics by Sophe Lux – I imagine a young Todd Haynes (I’m Not There) creating saccharine melodramas with Barbie dolls on his bedroom floor as his sister, Gwynneth, peacefully sits beside him daydreaming of theatrically elaborate songs with equally enamoring narrative skills. Gwynneth Haynes’ (vocals, guitars, piano and producer) childlike naivety shines with unbridled creativity and imagination on Sophe Lux’s Waking the Mystics. Gwynneth shares in her brother’s love of rich political and philosophical undertones, affinity for the 1970s, and rampant subversiveness, creating music completely contrary to today’s musical palate. Waking the Mystics plays like a glam rock mini-opera in humble reverence to David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, and Lou Reed, tinged with hints of Broadway, vaudeville, folk and psychedelia.
In Our Bedroom After the War by Stars – A singular album penned like a great Parisian post-WWI existential novel, it is as if Celine (circa Journey to the End of the Night, before his anti-Semitic tendencies began to hinder his craft) was reincarnated in the 21st century to draft an album chock full of perfect pop singles. It has become a rarity in this modern world of downloadable music for bands to concern themselves with creating an entire album that stands alone as a single cohesive unit. In Our Bedroom After the War proves to be an exception to that rule as the songs gain profundity within their track order.
Read & Burn 3 E.P. by Wire – Read and Burn 03 is the Wire album I have been waiting for since 1980. It is the album that a multitude of lesser-skilled musicians have attempted to create; yet despite the 28-to-30-year-old blueprints laid out before them, no one has been able to master the domain quite like Wire.
Best soundtracks: There Will Be Blood by Jonny Greenwood; Once by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová; Control by Various Artists; I’m Not There by Various Artists; Juno by Various Artists
And now for a history lesson…
2007 celebrated the anniversaries of two of the most significant years in modern music: 1967 and 1977. Then, I got to thinking about 1987 and 1997; which it turns out also produced many albums that rank amongst my all-time favorites. So in reviewing my favorite albums of 2007, I decided to put them in a historical context by also listing my favorite albums of 1967, 1977, 1987 and 1997…
Some of my favorite albums (in alphabetical order) from 1967 are:
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; David Bowie – S/T; Tim Buckley – Goodbye and Hello; The Byrds – Younger Than Yesterday; Captain Beefheart – Safe as Milk; Miles Davis – Sorcerer; The Doors – S/T and Strange Days; Godz – Godz 2; Tim Hardin – Tim Hardin 2; Bobby Jameson – Color Him In; The Kinks – Something Else by the Kinks; Claudine Longet – Claudine; Love – Da Capo and Forever Changes; Nico – Chelsea Girl; Harry Nillson – Pandemonium Shadow Show; Phil Ochs – Pleasures of the Harbor; Pink Floyd – Piper at the Gates of Dawn; The Rolling Stones – Between the Buttons and Their Satanic Majesties Request; 13th Floor Elevators – Easter Everywhere; The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground and Nico; Scott Walker – Scott; The Walker Brothers – Images; The Who – Sell Out
Some of my favorite albums (in alphabetical order) from 1977 are:
David Bowie – Low and Heroes (both collaborations with Brian Eno); The Clash – S/T (U.K.); Cluster & Eno – S/T; Elvis Costello – My Aim is True; The Damned – Damned, Damned, Damned and Music for Pleasure; Brian Eno – Before and After Science; Peter Gabriel – S/T; Goblin – Suspiria (soundtrack); The Jam – In the City and This is the Modern World; Kraftwork – Trans-Europe Express; Fela Kuti – Zombie; Iggy Pop – The Idiot and Lust for Life (both collaborations with David Bowie); The Ramones – Leave Home and Rocket to Russia; Talking Heads – Talking Heads: 77; Television – Marquee Moon; Ultravox – Ultravox! and Ha!-Ha!-Ha!; The Voidoids – Blank Generation; Gary Wilson – You Think You Really Know Me; Wire – Pink Flag
Some of my favorite albums (in alphabetical order) from 1987 are:
The Bats – Daddy’s Highway; Boogie Down Productions – Criminal Minded; The Cure – Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me; Dead Milkmen – Bucky Fellini; Depeche Mode – Music for the Masses; Dinosaur Jr – You’re Living All Over Me; Dukes of the Stratosphear – Psonic Psunspot; Echo & the Bunnymen – S/T; Guided by Voices – Devil Between My Toes and Sandbox; Hüsker Dü – Warehouse: Songs and Stories; Jane’s Addiction – S/T; Jesus and Mary Chain – Darklands; Meat Puppets – Huevos; My Bloody Valentine – Sunny Sundae Smile E.P., Strawberry Wine E.P. and Ecstacy E.P.; The Pastels – Up for a Bit With The Pastels; The Pixies – Come on Pilgrim E.P.; Public Enemy – Yo! Bum Rush the Show; R.E.M. – Document; The Replacements – Pleased to Meet Me; The Smiths – Strangeways, Here We Come; Sonic Youth – Sister; Spacemen 3 – Perfect Prescription; Style Council – The Cost of Living; U2 – Joshua Tree; Yo La Tengo – New Wave Hot Dogs
Some of my favorite albums (in alphabetical order) from 1997 are:
The American Analog Set – From Our Living Room to Yours; The Apples in Stereo – Tone Soul Evolution; Comet Gain – Sneaky and Magnetic Poetry; Cornelius – Fantasma; Cornershop – When I Was Born for the 7th Time; Elf Power – When the Red King Comes; Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci – Barafundle; Grandaddy – Under the Western Freeway; Ida – Ten Small Pieces; Lenola – The Swerving Corpse; Modest Mouse – The Lonesome Crowded West; The Mountain Goats – Full Force Galesburg; Quickspace – S/T; Radiohead – OK Computer; Elliott Smith – Either/Or; Spiritualized – Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space; Supergrass – In It for the Money; Wu-Tang Clan – Wu-Tang Forever; Yo La Tengo – I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One