Sunday, January 13, 2008

Best of 2007: Top 15 Albums

A bit late on this, but I’ve been busy. Anyway, here’s the top 15 albums for 2007.

15. Kanye West – Graduation
People talk a lot about the sophomore slump, but I think it’s the third album that’s really problematic. Most artists do the same, but more for the second album, but then were do you go for the third? This album has some of Kanye’s best tracks, but also a couple of duds, most notably “Barry Bonds” and “Drunken Hot Girls,” which just don’t work. Still, the good stuff far outweighs the bad. While “Stronger” got a lot of attention, and is a great track, it’s “Flashing Lights” that stands out as his best dance track. “Homecoming” is also fantastic, with a killer piano line.

14. Jay-Z – American Gangster
The master beat the apprentice with a really great album that presents a time spanning journey between Jay’s past, present and imagined life as Frank Lucas. The lyrics tell a really interesting story, and the beats match it with a great 70s soul aesthetic. The opening, with voiceover courtesy of Idris “Stringer” Elba is wonderfully over the top, but it’s the back half of the album that really shines. “Ignorant Shit” and “Party Life” are the highlights.

13. Tori Amos – American Doll Posse
This album was frequently criticized for being too long. At 80 minutes, it is a bit daunting, and cut down to 45 or 50 minutes, it would be a lot easier to endorse. But, there’s no real bad tracks here, and a lot of great ones. I love the ethereal pop of “Bouncing Off Clouds” as well as the haunting closer “Dragon.” And, she thankfully ditches the adult contempo aesthetic of her past couple albums with the rocking “Big Wheel” and “Teenage Hustling.”

12. Bruce Springsteen – Magic
Springsteen’s popularity peaked during the arena rock Born in the USA era, but unlike a lot of other ultra-popular artists, he’s managed to remain artistically vital for over thirty years. This album has a lot to say about the world we live in today, and manages to sound contemporary without reaching for techno beats or something like that. Born to Run feels like it could have come out this year, so keeping that aesthetic works. The standout here is “Girls in their Summer Clothes,” but the record goes deep. Every track has something to say, and does so in an interesting way.

11. The Colour – Between Earth and Sky
They’ve broken up after only one album, which is a shame because The Colour did a great job of reviving 60s style blues rock for today. Recalling Zeppelin and The Doors, this album rocks pretty hard throughout. The songs can bleed together a bit, but “Silver Meadows” and “Save Yourself” are as good any rock songs out this year.

10. Rilo Kiley – Under the Blacklight
A hugely controversial album, I really liked the new direction. It’s 70s soft rock, crossed with dance beats and the occasional hint of Fleetwood Mac. I like bands that change their aesthetic and explore different sounds and styles. “Moneymaker” is a killer single, and even though I like what’s come before, I’m glad that they’re branching out. My guess is this album is the equivalent of Belle and Sebastian’s “Dear Catastrophe Waitress,” a total departure in style that will eventually be integrated into what the band was doing before on their next album. But, this album really stands up, and just because it’s easy to listen to, doesn’t mean it’s not great.

9. Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
I’m glad I saw Amy play back in March because it seems like she’s gone completely off the deep end, into tabloid land and away from the musician who put out this album. She manages to use retro style without sounding like pastiche, this is a really emotional album. While the two big singles are great, the highlight for me is the pop epic “Back to Black,” a flawless piece of work.

8. The National – Boxer
A fixture on best of ’07 lists for a reason, this album creates a world, drawing you in with the great opener “Fake Empires,” then lingering for mini suites of songs that make up the album. They have a very specific sound, the piano and strings bulking up the sound and making for some really unique songs. These are fantastic songs, and the album has a tangibility that few others do.

7. The Polyphonic Spree – The Fragile Army
As with Kanye, the third album presents something of a problem. I loved the massive epics on Together We’re Heavy, but this album scales things back a bit. The songs are still great, and few bands can match the scope of what they can do when all their instruments are in the mix. But, these songs are generally more closed in, avoiding the epic sweep of Heavy, and focusing on more concise arrangement. It’s still a great album, that sounds like nothing else out there, but it didn’t hook me like their previous albums did. But, considering how much I loved those albums, not quite matching up isn’t a huge problem.

6. Timbaland – Shock Value
An album that the critical establishment knocked even as it continues to produce a litany of top singles. People criticized the album for skipping from genre to genre without any sort of clear aesthetic. I don’t think that’s a criticism, I love that an artist can make an album that takes us from 50 Cent to Elton John. The songs are arranged in sections that flow together well, listened to on random, it would be disorienting. But, the sequencing takes us seamlessly from rap to pop to rock, with great songs all along the way. “Way I R” is a distillation of everything Tim can do well in the rap field, and probably the best track, but really, there’s a lot of highlights on here. “Scream” is fantastic, as is “Time.” Like Handsome Boy Modeling School’s White People, it’s a deliriously kaleidoscopic album, but you’d think skipping between genres and styles wouldn’t be a problem for the IPod generation. Listen to this album and you don’t need to shuffle anything, Tim does it for you.

5. The New Pornographers – Challengers
Even as their weakest album to date, this is still an amazing piece. Like the Spree, they tone down the over the top pop and joy of their previous work, going a bit more melancholy. That gives Neko Case some of her finest showcases, particularly “Go Places.” The epic “Unguided” is one of the most emotional songs they’ve ever done, and “Spirit of Giving” is a perfect distillation of the unique, poppy aesthetic of the band. It sounds like nothing else out there, but I wish that everything sounded like this.

4. Justice – Cross
The big dance hit of the year, Justice produced the album a lot of people wanted Daft Punk to make with Human After All, a fusion of hard rock riffs and poppy synths. “DANCE” stole the show, justly, but it’s a top notch album throughout. The beats are heavy, the hooks colossal, it’s a joy to dance to. “Stress” and “Phantom, pt. 2” are two of the album’s best.

3. Daft Punk – Alive 2007
This was a tough one to rank. My memories of the amazing live show are wrapped up in the disc, so I can’t judge it objectively. However, it’s pretty undeniably a fantastic mix. This should have been their greatest hits album, cobbling together pieces of nearly every song in their catalogue into a monster mix. There’s so many classic moments here, the fusion of “Harder Better” and “Around the World,” the mix of “Da Funk” and “Steam Machine,” and the crawling vocal from “Harder” over the base line from “Face to Face.” Throw this on as high volume as possible and just get lost in it.

2. !!! – Myth Takes - Another fantastic dance album, this album represents a huge jump for the band. “Heart of Hearts” and “Must be the Moon” were killer singles, perfect fusions of rock and dance, but the album didn’t stop there. I love “Break in Case of Anything” and the epic “Bend Over Beethoven” really tears things down. The dance rhythms give the music an energy and vibrancy must rock is lacking, their live show at Studio B in May was one of craziest I’ve ever been to, a mess of jumping and dancing. I’d love to see them live again.

1. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
Funeral was already a great album, but this is a quantum leap from that. The scope of their orchestration is amazing, you hear things on this album you won’t hear from any other band. Think of the huge pipe organ intro on “Intervention,” or the wordless vocal breakdown on “Anti-Christ Superstar.” The album just makes me so happy, so charged. There’s a sense of deep emotion here, some regret and sadness all overwhelmed by the sheer power of the music. “No Cars Go” is the band’s opus, a climax for everything that’s come before, and “My Body is a Cage” is a haunting closer, building from nothing to an epic organ line that puts a perfect cap on the album. This isn’t just the best album of the year, it’s an all time classic. People will be listening and talking about this album thirty years from now.


Mauricio said...

In Rainbows- Radiohead
Sound of silver - LCD Soundsystem
Lady's Bridge - Ricahrd Hawley
Sino - Café Tacuba
Because of the times - Kings of Leon
White chalk - PJ Harvey ("when under ether" is one of the most disturbing and haunting songs I've ever heard. Extremely spooky.)
Kala- M.I.A

Patrick said...

I was thinking about putting In Rainbows and Sound of Silver on, but neither really did it for me the way these albums did. I like In Rainbows, but I don't think it even comes close to OK Computer or The Bends, and it's not as good as Kid A. I prefer the more emotional Radiohead of those earlier two albums, no moment in their catalogue is as powerful as Thom singing "Pull me ouuuuut of the air crash" on 'Lucky.'

I'll have to check out the rest, haven't had a chance to listen to them yet.