Thursday, December 20, 2007

Top 20 Albums of 2007

This year has truly been a phenomenal year in music. There is honestly so much good music out there now, and it's easier to access than ever. Unless you're a fan of Hip Hop (in which case you had about seven quality albums), then compiling a list of only the Top 20 is remarkably difficult. Nevertheless, following you'll find the middleCoast's:

Top 20 Albums of 2007 (Nos. 20-11)

Number Twenty (20)
Artist: Wilco
Album: Sky Blue Sky
Label: Nonesuch
Release Date: May 15, 2007

A more mature album from Jeff Tweedy and company, to be sure, with sweet melodies, heartfelt lyrics, and classic Wilco jams. The evolution of Wilco continues.

Number Nineteen (19)
Artist: MGMT
Album: Oracular Spectacular
Label: Columbia
Release Date: October 6, 2007

Pop music plain and simple, Oracular Spectacular covers power pop, dance rock, acoustic ballads, and playground grooves. Perhaps a little directionless, but MGMT has complete control throughout. And this is just their debut album.

Number Eighteen (18)
Artist: Maps
Album: We Can Create
Label: Mute
Release Date: June 19, 2007

James Chapman is the one-man-band known as Maps, and on Create he deftly blends electronic soundscapes with indie rock and dreamy vocals in beautifully sweeping arrangements. "To the Sky" remains one of the year's best tracks.

Number Seventeen (17)
Artist: Stars
Album: In Our Bedroom After the War
Label: Arts & Crafts
Release Date: September 25, 2007

The Arts & Crafts gang follows up the success of 2005's Set Yourself On Fire with a set of lush A.M.-ready tunes easily accessible to both your hipster-teen sister and your Donovan-loving dad.

Number Sixteen (16)
Artist: Shout Out Louds
Album: Our Ill Wills
Label: Merge
Release Date: September 11, 2007

Imagine everything really wonderful about The Cure - dancy pop, tragic lyrics, catchy hooks, Robert Smith's voice - and you pretty much have Our Ill Wills. Somehow, Shout Out Louds manage to make it all sound original while making you melt all over again.

Number Fifteen (15)
Artist: Common
Album: Finding Forever
Label: Universal Music Group
Release Date: July 31, 2007

Despite some lyrical missteps (there is, sadly, a Jennifer Aniston-Vince Vaughn reference), Common and producer Kanye West are again right on beat with these tracks. Simultaneously recalling J Dilla and Quincy Jones, Finding Forever feels good now.

Number Fourteen (14)
Artist: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Album: Some Loud Thunder
Label: Wichita
Release Date: January 30, 2007

Initially a little disappointing after their impressive self-titled debut, Some Loud Thunder nevertheless swelled with each subsequent listening. Still raw and unpolished, CYHSY remain Indie Rock poster-boys thanks to Alec Ounsworth's earnest and spirited vocals and their David Byrne-inspired whimsy.

Number Thirteen (13)
Artist: The Twilight Sad
Album: Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters
Label: Fat Cat
Release Date: April 3, 2007

Melancholic anthem rock isn't an official genre we at mC are aware of, but The Twilight Sad would certainly fit into that box if there were. Huge, lush orchestrations permeate Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, and lead singer James Graham has a more appealing Scottish accent than Sean Connery. If only "That Summer At Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy" had been in existence when I was 14...

Number Twelve (12)
Artist: Kings of Leon
Album: Because of the Times
Label: RCA
Release Date: April 3, 2007

Kings of Leon take a page out of My Morning Jacket's playbook and get cerebral with their Southern garage rock. Taking a more grown-up approach to their sound pays off lyrically and melodically, as songs like "On Call" and "Arizona" are some of their best yet.

Number Eleven (11)
Artist: Fujiya & Miyagi
Album: Transparent Things
Label: DD+BC
Release Date: January 23, 2007

Fujiya & Miyagi seemed to come out of nowhere a little under a year ago, and their debut, Transparent Things, continues to be one of the more modern sounds of the year. Neither Japanese nor a duo, F&M drop funky basslines and deep grooves that could either get the party started or chill the crowd out.

Top 20 Albums of 2007 (Nos. 10-1)

Number Ten (10)
Artist: The New Pornographers
Album: Challengers
Label: Matador
Release Date: August 21, 2007

On their fourth full-length, the Canadian supergroup puts on a clinic in how to craft brilliant pop music. Neko Case and Dan Bejar, fresh from making two of the best albums of 2006 on separate projects, reunite with Carl Newman and the boys to produce a mature and cohesive collection of power pop and rock anthems few bands of today even attempt. "My Rights Versus Yours" is quintessential New Pornographers, while "All the Old Showstoppers" and "Unguided" are bittersweet tales that will challenge even the most afflicted shoegazers to raise their eyes and fists to the sky.

Number Nine (9)
Artist: Spoon
Album: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Label: Merge
Release Date: July 10, 2007

Album title notwithstanding, Spoon have created their best album to date with Ga [et cetera]. Wallpapering our ears with sounds stemming from Motown ("You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" and "The Underdog") to Memphis ("Don't Make Me a Target"), the design remains complete and beautiful. Whether pounding on the keys or crooning into the mic, Britt Daniel finally gives us everything he's got, holding back only when appropriate ("The Ghost of You Lingers"), and the precision and detail Spoon has become so gifted at cultivating into pop tracks manifests itself in some of the most soulful rock in years.

Number Eight (8)
Artist: Band of Horses
Album: Cease to Begin
Label: Sub Pop
Release Date: October 9, 2007

In 2006, Band of Horses burst onto the Indie Rock scene with one of the top releases of the year, Everything All of the Time. Despite that success, co-founder Mat Brooke departed in order to spend time with his other band, Grand Archives, leaving Ben Bridwell to begin again. Now, with new Horses Rob Hampton and Creighton Barrett, Bridwell gives us a sophomore release replete with all the swirling sing-alongs, good ole boy twang, and heartfelt ballads that made the debut so tantalizing. On "Ode to LRC" when Bridwell exalts in his crystal clear tenor, "The world is such a wonderful place", the beauty of melody and harmony make us inclined to believe this simple truth.

Number Seven (7)
Artist: Yeasayer
Album: All Hour Symbols
Label: We Are Free
Release Date: October 23, 2007

With the most promising debut of the year, Brooklyn's Yeasayer mix and match a veritable smörgåsbord of influences and derivatives. "Sunrise" and "2080" are psychedelic pop gems in the vein of The Beta Band or Spiritualized, but tracks like "Ah, Weir"and "Many Waves" venture into experiments in Middle Eastern and African musics. Combined with their pitch-perfect harmonizing, they manage to pull off the rare album that is simultaneously art-/experimental-/post-rock AND accessible. Despite the journey through such worldly sounds, at no point does Symbols feel pretentious or condescending. Instead, the kool kids are friendly and inclusive, and we can all tag along for the ride.

Number Six (6)
Artist: Blonde Redhead
Album: 23
Label: 4AD
Release Date: April 10, 2007

The haunting melancholy that drenches 23 seems to make for perfect rainy-day music. The alternating vocals from Kazu Makino and Amedeo Pace provide a tender framework for their lush and yearning tracks. Each song feels consistently and continually anxious, like the jilted lover counting the days passed since loneliness struck. What surprises, though, is the point when that dejection and despair start to feel good. Attachment to the gloom fills the void and becomes cathartic, and soon the album sounds just as lovely even on a sunny day.

Number Five (5)
Artist: Peter Bjorn & John
Album: Writer's Block
Label: Wichita
Release Date: February 6, 2007 (US)

When was the last time you could hear a song - a song featuring whistling, no less - over and over and over again on the radio, in commercials, in movies and still NOT get sick of it? "Young Folks" miraculously pulls off this feat, and it may not even be the best song on Writer's Block. After the brief instrumental opening of the title track, "Objects of My Affection" leads off the album with a coming-to-terms anthem, declaring a heartening self-awareness. We then get to enjoy the aforementioned "Young Folks", followed by similarly poppy "Amsterdam", which (perhaps intentionally) leads into the mellow "Start to Melt". The next few tracks continue the wistful dream-pop before another standout, "The Chills", alters the direction of the final few songs with its echoing vocals laid over percussion and bass-driven melody that calm and quiet the soul. The mingling of the earnest and energetic pop with the brooding atmospherics will ensure the album's place as a modern-day classic.

Number Four (4)
Artist: LCD Soundsystem
Album: Sound of Silver
Label: Capitol
Release Date: March 20, 2007

Disco-punk king, James Murphy, makes the best music around for white kids to dance to. What he's also managed to accomplish with Sound of Silver, though, are some of the most touching pop tunes of the year. The humor in "North American Scum", for example, when Murphy points out that "New York's the greatest if you get someone to pay the rent" balances with the bittersweet elegy of "Someone Great" because at the surface and at the base are the sonic grooves that keep moving forward. Bringing Side 1 to a conclusion (not accidentally) is "All My Friends", a new wave throwback that would fit alongside the best New Order track. The transition from adolescence into adulthood is a difficult one rife with poor decisions and a tendency to latch onto immature behaviors; what comes across with "All My Friends" is the acceptance of mistakes and realization that there aren't really any right answers, so there can't be any wrong answers, either. So just keep dancing.

Number Three (3)
Artist: The National
Album: Boxer
Label: Beggars Banquet
Release Date: May 22, 2007

I could've easily rearranged my Top 3 albums in any order, as Boxer is quite possibly the best of the year. Matt Berninger's plaintive baritone recalls Leonard Cohen, as do many of the short stories disguised as songs. The dense arrangements and emotive tones call for deep introspection, while the intimate and personal lyrics provide the basis for each listener to relate in his or her own way. The album contains wholly different meanings for each listener taking the time to pay attention. By being dramatically specific, The National's reach widens and expands to dramatically universal territory.

Number Two (2)
Artist: Arcade Fire
Album: Neon Bible
Label: Merge
Release Date: March 6, 2007

When the revolution comes, Arcade Fire will be on the front lines, leading the charge. The ebullience and theatrics of Neon Bible alternate between anthemic arena-rock and the state-of-affairs despair. "Keep the Car Running", "Intervention", and "No Cars Go" certainly provide a fair comparison to Springsteen, as do the multi-instrumental orchestrations permeating throughout. Win Butler and company maintain their originality, however, with experiments into more progressive song structure and arrangements, such as "Black Wave / Bad Vibrations" and "Ocean of Noise". The result is a lush and enthusiastic collection of fist-pumpers that play like gospel music to indie kids. Music is undoubtedly a religious experience, and Arcade Fire open their arms wide to inspire faith.

Number One (1)
Artist: Radiohead
Album: In Rainbows (Disc One)
Label: self-released
Release Date: October 10, 2007 (online)

I've hesitated writing about In Rainbows for a couple months now. First of all, the novelty of Radiohead's online release allowing fans to choose their own price has come off as revolutionary and a slam against record companies. Whether or not this method will result in any sort of industry sea change is still to be determined. Unfortunately, the hullabaloo surrounding this topic has detracted from the music itself. Which is my other hesitation in writing on it. As a Radiohead fan, it's quite difficult to critique without any bias. The original 10 tracks of Disc One have played over and over again in my home and in my head. What I'm trying to determine is if my initial reaction is accurate. You see, I'm inclined to say that In Rainbows is very simply the best Radiohead album yet. What that means, then, is that In Rainbows is better than OK Computer and better than Kid A; and in this humble fan's opinion, OK Computer and Kid A just happen to be two of the greatest albums ever recorded in the history of modern music. So to say that In Rainbows is better than those two classics is to also say that it is one of the greatest albums of all time. A difficult claim to make just three months after its release.

What I will claim is that In Rainbows is the band's most mature and sophisticated album to date. Combining the digital-rock gloom of Kid A, the subtle textures of OK Computer's balladry, the jazz-inspired wanderings of Amnesiac, and the night rain-drenched cool of Thom Yorke's The Eraser, In Rainbows finally feels like the next logical step for the world's foremost musicians. Yorke's pained but hopeful lyrics and vocals, Jonny Greenwood's post-classical compositions, and Phil Selway's underrated beats that keep pace for songs that live outside of time - all anchored by Nigel Godrich's production - are simultaneously advanced and grounded.

Certainly, parallels to previous albums exist: the digi-rock of openers "15 Step" and "Bodysnatchers" recall "Idioteque" and "Myxomatosis (Judge, Jury & Executioner)", respectively, while closer "Videotape" shares the minimalist denouement of Kid A finale, "Motion Picture Soundtrack". But there is a buoyancy to the new tracks that hadn't existed so fully on prior albums. The paranoia remains, and maybe gravity does always win, but it doesn't always have to get you down. Even this album's title implies a light at the end of the tunnel: in rainbows we glimpse those shades of vibrant color that shine through the bleak landscape after the storm.


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