Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Top 5 Albums of 2007

We're going to jumpstart this thing...maybe we'll make it to weekly posts by the end of March or April.

Tim's Top 5:
2007 wasn't a bad year for music. It wasn't great, it brought disappointing albums from Kanye West, Jay-Z, an awful live album from Guided by Voices, and Fountains of Wayne, who managed to cash in on their fame by going into total hiding and not even getting their middling album promoted.

1) Eddie Vedder - Into The Wild -- Wow. There are a lot of bands that are such figureheads that their lead singer could branch off and create a great album on his own that's basically indistinguishable from the band's own work. Well, that's not what this album is. It's exceedingly brief, with a number of songs that are barely even long enough to be Robert Pollard-written, but it's mastery of the stripped-down musical ambience that a story like Into the Wild demands. I just can't envision how a story as magnificent as Into the Wild, merged with a soundtrack that's so perfect that even the book should be read to it, could be anything but the best film of 2007 (or, with little hyperbole, the best film in a decade), but that remains to be seen. "Hard Sun" is a great song, "Far Behind", "Society", "No Ceiling" and "Setting Forth" are all its peers or superiors. It took a second listen before I started to really enjoy it, it took me starting to read the book before I fell in love with it, but it's now an absolute essential to my playlist.

2) Bruce Springsteen - Magic -- I didn't notice that Radio Nowhere really did appear to be Springsteen channeling Eddie Vedder's voice until reading it in someone else's review, but it does seem true. The album as a whole is coherent, tight, and pretty even. It has definite highlights -- "Last to Die" and "Livin' in the Future" are among the best in recent years, but most of all it proved that The Rising was not a one-off, Springsteen's still more than capable of rocking out ("Radio Nowhere", "Last To Die"), but still has the ability to write evocative and emotional songs ("Terry's Song"). Perhaps most importantly, Clear Channel has refused to play anything from it, because it apparently commits the sacrilege of not giving George W. a big, sloppy kiss (though it's not necessary to treat it as a political album).

3) The Bravery - The Sun and the Moon -- Well, you can't write a band off just because their first album was disappointing. Granted, I only found out it was disappointing because I was so enamored with The Sun and the Moon that I bought the debut off ITunes a day later, but it is. The Sun and the Moon, on the other hand, has fed XM Radio two of the most pleasantly overplayed songs in Believe and Time Won't Let Me Go. The songs in between the two on the album fit in perfectly and capture the faux British sound that I clearly am totally susceptible to (let's be honest, Guided by Voices spawned it, Spoon is an obvious offspring of it, and The Bravery doesn't fall far from that tree, and neither do the Killers. Then about 75% of the other bands I like are British)

4) Bruce Springsteen - We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions - American Land Edition -- I can't even begin to describe how much I thought the Seeger Sessions sounded like an awful idea. I wouldn't have ever listened to a single track from the album had I not landed tickets to see Springsteen at Giants Stadium in July. When I saw he was playing American Land to close out every show, I felt like I just about had to hear it and acquire it. That led to ITunes...which led to me buying the album. Now I can only say it's a shame that I'm ranking this behind Magic, because I think on so many levels this might be a better album, it's just not one you can just turn on and listen to in the same way. But what it surrenders in accessibility it makes up for in overwhelming greatness. This is one of those experiments that could have and probably should have gone horribly wrong. It didn't.

5) Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare -- Fluorescent Adolescent is one of my songs of 2007, Brianstorm is the most annoying single Arctic Monkeys have put out, and it's still great, it's just a totally listenable album that I think matches or exceeds the promise of their first album, even if this one pretty much stayed under the radar in both the United States and the U.K. (comparatively, it was still a #1 album in the UK, but it sold considerably less). This is what cements Arctic Monkeys in the "must buy" list. Now I just need to get back to the UK to get Who The F*** Are Arctic Monkeys for the price it should sell for.

Honorable Mention: The Shins - Wincing the Night Away -- It took me way too long to really enjoy anything on the album, and so much is wrapped up in the fact that Phantom Limb is the catchiest song of 2007 that I can't really say I'm a fan of the album as a whole; Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga -- Initially a disappointment, but it's a great album and The Underdog is definitely a rival with Phantom Limb for the song I'm most likely to listen to eight times in a row; The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible -- This is penalized for me having only listened to it once thus far (I bought it on a whim with The Sun and The Moon three weeks ago), but I think it could join a serious conversation for #5; lastly, Jay-Z - American Gangster -- Yes, I described it as disappointing, but I'm starting to appreciate it, and it has a couple tracks for the canon. I just don't want to pull a Sam's Town and look back a year later in disbelief that I didn't consider it an elite album.

The only album I know of that I feel like I need to hear from 2007 that's not on this list is Interpol, which I just got from the library. For now, it warrants an asterisk.

Take it away, other people, knowing full well that the Top songs of 2007 (where I really make my love for poppy, commercial music obvious) looms in the immediate future.

Dan's Top 5:

1. The Good, The Bad & The Queen – The Good, The Bad & The Queen – When Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) does anything, odds are it's going to be good. Add to that Paul Simonon (The Clash), Simon Tong (The Verve) and Tony Allen (Africa 70), and you have the definition of a supergroup. Oh, and Dangermouse produced it, too. The thing is, most supergroups have traditionally put out crappy music. Or so I'd assume. I imagine everyone involved would be overplaying their parts and egos would be clashing. Not the case here. And hey, it's British and it sounds British. There's a definite London motif about the album, to the point where it makes me wonder if I'm missing out on what they're singing about.

2. Panda Bear – Person Pitch – If it's possible that one song can carry an album, it would be the opener to this little masterpiece, "Comfy in Nautica." It's one of the best and most addicting musical pieces I've heard, and apparently I'm not alone in thinking so. Rolling Stone called it the #74 best song of the year. If nothing else, it earns you points when you listen to it because no one is listening to it either. Unless they pay attention to Pitchfork, which called it the best album of the year. Then again, they take the art of being a pretentious music snob to another level.

3. Radiohead – In Rainbows – Alright, maybe I have rose-colored glasses on when it comes to Radiohead, but I'd argue against that. To this day, I still don't like Pablo Honey, Kid A or Amnesiac. The rest of their discography, however, is fucking brilliant. That being said, I'd say that this album isn't as good as Hail to the Thief was. It's very chill, and with the exception of "Bodysnatchers," it stays that way the whole way through and offers not much else to listen to. It could have been better, but it's still amazing.

4. Gogol Bordello – Super Taranta! – Gypsy Punk Music. That's a pretty accurate description. And if that's not enough to get you interested in listening to this album, I don't know if the rest of the words that follow will do much else. I had the privilege of seeing the band live, and it's something else entirely. If you like taking into account a band's originally, then this band is one of the most original you could ask for. What is helpful is that I believe any thirty-second clip of the tracks from this album will give you a pretty accurate indication of what they sound like. So check it out.

5. Duran Duran – Red Carpet Massacre – This last spot was tough, but I have to go with my old favorite. I had already heard that Justin Timberlake and Timbaland had done a good job making pop music. They both collaborated with the Fab Five on "Falling Down," resulting in one of the best songs I've ever heard. That song and the rest of the album prove that Duran Duran can still sound fresh and original, and they haven't done that since The Wedding Album.

Honorable Mentions: Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet, The Bravery – The Sun and the Moon (didn't make the top 5 since Tim already mentioned it.), The Go! Team – Proof of Youth

Ryan's Top Five

I will attempt to make a credible list despite my lack of albums from last year. That said, the only stuff I've heard has to be the best, right? Right?

1. Various Artists - "The Darjeeling Limited" Soundtrack - OK, I am cheating here but still, this was the best album I bought last year. Awesome songs from The Kinks, et. al.

2. Kanye West - "Graduation" - Not nearly as good as College Dropout, but miles better than Late Registration. I love "Good Life" and "Flashing Lights."

3. Various Artists - "Hot Fuzz" Soundtrack - Cheating again. "The Village Green Preservation Society" is one of my all-time favorites.

4. The Editors - "An End Has A Start" - OK, this is probably better than #4 on this list, but I haven't listened to it enough to slot it any higher.

5. Talib Kweli - "Eardrum" - Talib Kweli is like a poet who raps--literally, he references Shakespeare, Langston Hughes, and others in songs from this album.

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