Friday, January 4, 2008

The 20 Best Albums Of 2007

[If albums are going the way of the dinosaur—and, based on numbers alone, they almost certainly are—then this list offers twenty reasons from the last twelve months to keep this art form alive.]

1. Radiohead – In Rainbows (TBD)
[Certainly, Radiohead was Story Of The Year for the obvious reason: Delivering an album directly to the fanbase and basically exploding the existing record company framework in the process. Yet their tactics had a far less revolutionary outcome too, as simultaneous downloads turned the release of Rainbows into the world’s largest midnight sale, with no bootlegs, leaks, or advance copies to spoil the anticipation. And what everyone (simultaneously) heard was the most accessible, haunting, organic Radiohead since OK Computer. Ten pitch-perfect tracks wired into the avant-garde future that never abandoned the band’s melodic past. A beautiful album. A layered album. The Album Of The Year.]

2. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible (Merge)
[Was there a record this year more joyous, more open, more alive? Montreal’s finest did the unthinkable—following a perfect debut with a just-as-perfect sophomore effort—and then, for an encore, they spread their gospel to the masses, one transcendent show at a time.]

3. Bruce Springsteen – Magic (Columbia)
[In case anyone cares how far out-of-step the Grammies truly are these days, consider that Springsteen’s best album in two decades—and arguably his best since Nebraska—didn’t even get a nom for Album Of The Year. Yet for the rest of us, the reward of hearing The Boss work his classic idioms into such an urgently contemporary record makes up for all the award snubs in the world.]

4. Matthew Good – Hospital Music (Universal)
[Call it truth in advertising: Canadian songwriter Good nearly died in 2006, and his extended recovery sparked this homemade, acoustic masterpiece. For the first time, the man’s dark worldview is tempered with hope, peeking through unraveling epics, lo-fi experiments, and possibly the loveliest Dead Kennedys cover ever.]

5. Band Of Horses – Cease To Begin (Sub Pop)
[Leave those My Morning Jacket comparisons behind. 2007 was the year Band Of Horses delivered in spades with this miniature beauty of an album, equal parts driving indie rock and shimmering Southern beauty.]

6. Ryan Adams – Easy Tiger (Lost Highway)
[Naysayers are already calling this “Ryan by the numbers.” But for anyone underwhelmed by 2005’s triple-album onslaught, the restraint and consolidation of Tiger—no wasted tracks, no false moments—feels like nothing short of rebirth.]

7. The National – Boxer (Beggars Banquet)
[The National’s fourth full-length is a dark-tinged slow burn of a record, easy to overlook on first—or fourth—listen. But once it gets its hooks into you, few albums open up so delicately, yet so completely.]

8. Editors – An End Has A Start (Kitchenware)
[Possibly the only British band actually receiving less hype than they deserve, Editors follow their near-perfect debut with an only-very-good follow-up. But its finest moments—basically the first four songs—prove the world could be theirs for the taking soon enough.]

9. Robyn – Robyn 2007 (Island)
[Ten years ago, Robyn was a Swedish moppet paving the way for Britney, et al. Now she’s reborn as a genre-splicing firebrand, working with hipsters like Teddybears and The Knife to create electro-pop that sounds like what radio should be playing right now. This album drops Stateside in early 2008; there’s hope for us yet.]

10. LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver (Capitol)
[Like all dance records—even the Dance Record of the Year—this one is uneven. Yet in the case of Sound, that’s not an indictment of LCD’s indie-snarky-electro-rock, but rather a testament to how the album’s twin singles (see below) eclipsed nearly everything else in their path.]

11. Biffy Clyro – Puzzle (Roadrunner)
[The Foos and the Queens dropped the hard-rock ball this year; fortunately, three Scots were there to pick it up. Biffy’s fourth record is pitch-perfect American rock—all epic choruses and snaky riffs—laced with enough European prog-rock weirdness to keep everything gloriously, fantastically alive.]

12. Richard Thompson – Sweet Warrior (Shout! Factory)
[Consistency seldom grabs attention. Thompson’s been making consistent albums for forty years, often with no attention paid, and this is his finest since 1991. And that really deserves a lot more attention.]

13. Once – Music From The Motion Picture (Columbia)
[A charming and low-key soundtrack to a charming and heartbreaking movie. Music itself is the key character in Once, and this is its aural close-up.]

14. Against Me! – New Wave (Sire)
[Major-label budgets and message board haters be damned. If “punk rock” was still a genre, this would be its album of the year: Angry, political, hooky, loud.]

15. Modest Mouse – We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank (Epic)
[How do you follow an unexpected success? You streamline, play to your strengths, and dig in for the long haul. Recruiting Johnny Marr on second guitar helps too.]

16. Kelly Willis – Translated From Love (Rykodisc)
[Willis has a great big Nashville voice, but she doesn’t play by Nashville rules, which is why this album delights from start to finish, from the Adam Green cover to the Iggy Pop one.]

17. I’m Not There – Music From The Motion Picture (Columbia)
[Covers albums, as a general rule, suck. So it’s all the more shocking when this 34-track love letter to Bob delivers, unbelievably, in spades. If you’re one of those misguided souls who claims to hate Dylan, give both discs a listen: Your mind will be changed.]

18. Burial – Untrue (Hyperdub)
[Deeply strange and darkly intoxicating, this anonymous patchwork quilt of sounds—all murky samples, skittering beats, and pitch-shifted vocals—doesn’t reveal its secrets easily. Once you’re hooked, though, it feels like the Entroducing follow-up DJ Shadow never got right.]

19. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – 100 Days, 100 Nights (Daptone)
[Take Amy Winehouse, replace all the tabloid gunk with old Stax records, and you wind up with 100 Days, the true soul record of the year.]

20. The Avett Brothers – Emotionalism (Ramseur)
[Hometown boys make good yet again, this time on the national scale. As per the title, this is the trio’s most heart-on-a-sleeve record to date, and proof they can now transcend their (well-deserved) live reputation to deliver something far deeper and lasting.]

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