Everyone is pretty sick of these lists by now, but I had to throw my two cents in like everyone else. So take a quick glance, and post a comment about how I’m obviously deaf and perhaps mildly retarded. Making this, I was expecting to go on a diatribe about how bad a year ’07 was for music, but I realized there were actually plenty of albums I liked. Some of my favorites disappointed (looking at you White Stripes), and many of the blog flavor-of-the-months didn’t hold up to the hype (sorry Arcade Fire). However, there’s a nice mix of great stuff below from both newbies and veterans. Enjoy, and happy new year!
HONORABLE MENTIONS (because I couldn’t not mention them): Steve Earle – Washington Square Serenade; Joe Henry – Civilians; The National – Boxer; Robert Plant & Alison Kraus – Raising Sand; Mavis Staples – We’ll Never Turn Around; Tegan and Sara – The Con; Various Artists - I’m Not There Original Soundtrack.
#10: Mark Knopfler – Kill to Get Crimson
I’ve been a Dire Straits fan forever, but have never investigated much into Knopfler’s solo output. Picking this one up on a whim, I might need to check him out more. Though it couldn’t be more different from the Straits. Where they were funky and rocking, this disc is stately and subdued, with half the songs being nylon-stringed waltzes that sounds straight out of Victorian England. Only on “Punish the Monkey” does he indulge his fuzz-box solo inclinations a bit.
Sample track: Behind With the Rent
#9: Buck 65 – Situation
The best Canadian rapper since…yeah right, like you can name another Canadian rapper. He’s been running around the underground for years, building a cult following with his hip-hop incorporations of everything from folk to blues. He goes back to basics a bit on this one though, eschewing samples for rough production and sloppy drums (though that was more out of fear of getting sued than anything; apparently there’s an “original” version circulating with the samples).
Sample track: 1957
#8: Patti Smith – Twelve
Always a cover artist extraordinaire (see her re-working of Gloria), she finally flexes her interpretive muscles on this all-covers disc. Taking on everyone from Dylan to Tears for Fears, she uses her nasal drawl to drive the lyrics home. Arrangements veer from the faithful (White Rabbit) to the wildly inventive (Smells Like Teen Spirit), but she hits gold in each case. The cover album is a genre with twenty stinkers for every gem, but no one should be surprised for Patti to find the diamond in the rust. Hey, there’s a song she could do…
Sample track: Smells Like Teen Spirit
#7: Anberlin – Cities
Hard-driving rock often falls into the trap of being loud but unmemorable, but the boys of Anberlin put poetic lyrics being tight instrumentation in melodies that will hit you hard and leave you singing the refrains long after they end. Not a departure from previous albums, but the sign of all their promise coming to fruition. The nine-minute long closing “(*Fin)” has enough to justify an EP all by itself.
Sample track: A Whisper & A Clamor
#6: Beirut – The Flying Club Cup
Listening to the album, you picture a group of world-weary Eastern Europeans vagabonds playing this enchanting music, not some kid from Santa Fe. Regardless, though, these offbeat folk melodies use instruments from french horn to melodica (look it up) to wrap around you. World music has never been so close to home.
Sample track: La Banlieu
#5: Die Ärzte – Jazz Ist Anders
With foreign language albums, it’s hard to know how much someone who doesn’t speak the language will appreciate the music. Though I know a little German, I haven’t paid much attention to the lyrics, and love it all the same. These Berlin punks, the self-described “beste Band der Welt” (best band in the world), have been around for twenty years though singing about everything from spanking to social consciousness. They lean a little more towards maturity on this one, without leaving behind familiar themes, as in Licht Am Ende Des Sarges (Light at the End of the Coffin). The production is spot-on, leaving the power chords crisp and tight as they crib from everyone from The Cars to Barry Manilow. My favorite track, however, is the softest one with light guitar and bittersweet backing vocals, Nur Einen Kuss (Only a Kiss).
Sample track: Nur Einen Kuss
#4: Bruce Springsteen – Magic
I was a little taken aback first hearing this as, after several decades of glorious experimentation with new bands, solo material, and back-porch revival music, Springsteen has made what sounds like a stereotypical Boss album in every way. There’s one difference though, the political anger that comes through in every song. He never names names, but the metaphors of a “Long Walk Home” and unnamed soliders coming home aren’t too subtle to hit home.
Sample track: I’ll Work For Your Love
#3: Kanye West – Graduation
West finally lives up to his bravado. He may be a cocky son of a bitch, but when he claims he’s the best rapper in the world, at least he’s right. He’s not especially fast, not particularly clever, but every song is a knock-out for the way the words sound, rolling over each other atop flawless production and perfect samples. I hate to push such a mainstream choice, but there’s no way “Stronger” is not the song of the year.
Sample track: Homecoming (ft. Chris Martin)
#2: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Some Loud Thunder
The blog darlings of ’05, that album was did not live up to all the hype. They prove themselves worthy of the indie admiration on this year’s follow-up, however, confounding listeners with distorted-beyond-recognition vocals and thrashing and twitching guitars in one fascination (not to mention catchy) track after the next. Listening to it with the lyrics in front of you helps a great deal, as you won’t make out a one otherwise, but they’re great in a very abstract sort of way.
Sample track: Emily Jean Stock
#1: Gogol Bordello – Super Taranta!
Taking Eastern European music in just the opposite direction from Beirut, these gypsy-punks bring the party worldwide as they blast forth with accordion, violin, and one of the wildest frontmen music has seen in a while. Their live shows have achieved legendary status, but the music is worth the energy. The description of their music as “the Clash having a fight with the Pogues in Easter Europe” fits nicely, provided all involved were on speed.
Sample track: American Wedding