by: Brian Quon
If you're a music enthusiast, 2007 has been a very rewarding year for you. There have been releases from established big names such as Radiohead and Jay-Z, and a plethora of releases that seemingly came out of nowhere to provide us with repeated plays and repeated pleasures. Thus, we asked our varied staff of music savvy DJs to provide us with their top albums from the past year, and here are some of their choices.
Host of Things That Are Square
10. Fujiya & Miyagi - Transparent Things
An albums-worth of krautrock f*ck-jamz. Listen to that first chord of "Collarbone" and tell me you didn't reach for your belt buckle. You know what I'm saying? Whispery,intimate vocals, danceable beats, driving motorik rhythms. Very. Nice.
9. Neil Young - Live at Massey Hall 1971
This album is a live recording of Neil Young in (surprisingly) 1971, which came out between his (arguably) most classic albums "After the Gold Rush" and "Harvest". Just a bunch of well-played, heartfelt songs performed during Young's heyday.
8. Les Savy Fav - Let's Stay Friends
My taste skews soft/cuddly/mellow, so I'd like to think that the select ROCK bands that I put into my collection have something going for them. Tim Harrington, as we're all aware at this point, is an intense and entertaining motherf*cker. "Raging in the Plague Age" is a party-rock anthem about riding out the Black Death in a castle by getting really drunk, high, and throwing a monstrous party. Meanwhile, on the same album, "Patty Lee" is the song I probably danced the hardest to all year. Play that song and tell me you don't immediately start bobbing around. You do, don't you? I knew it. (Also, I'm watching you right now while I touch myself).
7. The Lucksmiths - Spring a Leak
I think it's technically a party foul to put a compilation on your "year end best" list. But I love this album so F*CK THE RULES, MAN (I'm a sexy rebel). This is a collection of compilation appearances, B-sides, covers, live takes, etc. The Lucksmiths are able to distill the last day of summer into musical form: the warmth and beauty of a day off, but with the melancholy and chill of its end, all wrapped up in the idealistic romance of the thing. Covering both the Smiths and Magnetic Fields sort of sums up what this band is all about: romantic/sad/emotional songs intermingled with intensely clever lyrics/fun/pop.
6. !!! - Myth Takes
A good album that gets bonus points for having one of the best covers of the year. Party-rock-dance-jamz for your awaiting faces. "Bend Over Beethoven" is a great example of their 8+ minute dance-out numbers. If I said "lose yourself to the rhythm", would that be the lamest thing ever? Yeah. It would.
5. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala
A great album (but with one of the worst covers of the year). Beautifully narrative Swedish troubadour-pop by a guy who has probably heard every Burt Bacarach album in history. Songs about love. And love. And friendship. And dating. And love. And life (and how it is improved by fun and love). Everyone who saw this guy in concert this year probably put this on their top 10 list. Adorable, charming, and fun. He will someday father all our babies (he is virile).
4. Panda Bear - Person Pitch
"Joyous" doesn't really begin to describe this album, to me. This album is packed with anthemic epics of elation and joy and life. I expect this album to wind up on lots of best of lists because a) it is a truly quality album that is awesome and has a rad cover, and b) no music has ever sounded like this before ever. Even Animal Collective, the band this dude is in, sounds different. That one is spazzy and yelpy and noisey and such. This is bouncy and dancey and happy and angelic (I'm sure some would say they are more similar than I argue here). If angels were totally rad, they'd sing songs like this. Choirs of vocalists handclapping and dancing around in the waves and forests and reminding us why life is AWESOME.
3. Dan Deacon - Spiderman of the Rings
Another album that gets serious points for originality. Deacon's press bio describes him as a "furry ball of imagination and childlike wonder", which I feel is accurate. A whirling dervish of vocoders, effects pedals, sh*tty keyboards, and green skull strobe-lights, and beneath it all is a serious, academic knowledge of composition and music. This dude looks like a child molester, and seems like a total nerd, but has somehow found himself entrenched in serious hipster circles. All that aside, Dan Deacon is totally legit, makes spazzy fun music that lends itself to dancing sassy as f*ck and throwing a big stupid party. Not big and stupid in the frat sense. Big and stupid in the way kids just do things for no "reason" other than its fun and feels good. Unselfconscious good times. Sidenote: Sam is trying to get him to play at UCI in January. If this happens, we need you ALL to go. We need at least 300 people there. I promise you it will be fun, and you'll get to hang out with me (I'll be one of the dudes pressed up against Deacon's table-of-equipment, singing along at the top of my lungs).
2. A-Trak - Dirty South Dance
Much like it's a party foul to put a compilation on your best list, putting a DJ/mashup mix is probably "wrong" as well. But, since Girl Talk's "Night Ripper" was my #1 album of 2006, I think this one can be #2 of 2007. It's less frantic than Girl Talk, but it could be argued it's more technically proficient. A-Trak is Kanye West's touring DJ, and this album (for Shepard Fairey's "Obey" label), is a nice mix of modern mainstream radio tunes combined with some slightly lesser known stuff. "Time to Get Yummy" is Gwen Stefani teamed up with LCD Soundsystem, and "Wampercycle" is Clipse vs Alex Gopher. Brian Quon, who introduced me to this fine act, described it as "mashed up jams for your hashed up grams", which I feel is exceedingly clever.
1. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
This album drips coolness. Listening to this album is like breathing second-hand smoke: it makes you cool by proxy. Driving dance-rock tunes, trance-rock bliss-outs, krautrock, disco, and so on. James Murphy knows his sh*t, and he's gonna sing about it with his weird "always-has-a-cold" voice. This album is fun. It's energetic. It's beautiful. It's hazy. It's awesome. It's MY NUMBER ONE ALBUM OF THE YEAR!
Host of Remix Reuse Resample
Justice - Cross
Simian Mobile Disco - Attack Sustain Decay Release
Boys Noize - Oi Oi Oi
A-Trak - Dirty South Dance
!!! - Myth Takes
LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver
Digitalism - Idealism
Fujiya & Miyagi - Transparent Things
Bonde Do Role - With Lasers
Armand Van Helden – Ghettoblaster
DJ J. Pulaski
Host of Innamissions
Amon Tobin - Foley Room (ninja tune)
V/A - Gilles Peterson Digs America V.2 (luv n haight)
Budos Band - II (daptone)
Heliocentrics - Out There (now again)
Quantic Soul Orchestra - Tropidelico (tru thoughts)
Orgone - The Killion Floor (ubiquity)
Cinematic Orchestra - Ma Fleur (domino/ninja tune)
Nicole Willis & Soul Investigators - Keep Reachin' Up (timmion)
Burial - Untrue (hyperdub)
Beastie Boys - Mix Up (capitol)
Host of The Sound Session
A Place to Bury Strangers - S/T
Justice - †
Klaxons - Myths of the Near Future
The Sea and Cake - Everybody
Blonde Redhead - 23
Pinback - Autumn of the Seraphs
Grand Ole Party – Humanimals
Host of Scene and Heard
10. Patrick Wolf: The Magic Position
He'll always have a magic position in my heart. His new image is also something to talk about: he's bringing sexy, glittery shorts back, ya'll.
9. Panda Bear: Person Pitch
Noah Lennox is the complete package: stylish, good looking, creative, talented. Oh and married. Goal for 2008: Find someone like Noah Lennox. Oh, this album is pretty good too. It's ever-evolving and each listen brings about another layer. Did I mention he was good looking?
8. Feist: The Reminder
OK, so the iPod commercials are getting annoying, and people seem to only think "1 2 3 4" is the only song off of this album, but it's so not true! Leslie Feist has shifted away from the half covers/half original songs from "Let it Die" and moved up, creatively. "Past in Present" is so beautiful and sums up everything you've wanted to say and more, in just 3 little words. Also, a wonderful cover of Nina Simone's "Sea Line Woman," aptly named "Sealion" complete with hand claps!
7. Arcade Fire: Neon Bible
They seem to be having so much fun when they're playing...perhaps it's to offset the grave subjects they sing about. Arcade Fire can do no wrong in my eyes. Songs like "Keep the Car Running" gets me up and dancing. This is a solid effort by a solid band. SOLID.
6. M.I.A.: Kala
What can I say that I haven't said already? Yeah, that's right, I linked you to my review. She came back in 2007 with pow-ah, pow-ah. In two words, M.I.A. is a f*cking bad-ass.
5. Jens Lekman: Night Falls Over Kortedala
If Jens told me to give my first-born to him, I'd do it in a heartbeat. He's a man who once said that he loved, above all things, "love." SERIOUSLY! He could leave a girl and we'd still think he was a sweetheart (Oh wait, apparently he did. See: "I'm Leaving You Because I Don't Love You"). Think of the softest, most cuddly thing you've ever encountered. Now multiply it by a billion. That, my friends, is Jens Lekman in a nutshell.
4. Of Montreal: Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
I'm going to be lazy and link you to another review I wrote. Double entendres, synthesizers, falsettos...all perfect ingredients for an album.
3. LCD Soundsystem: Sound of Silver
HOLY CRAP, if this album won't get you up and dancing, I don't know if we can still be friends. Snarky ("North American Scum"), bitter ("New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down"), ass-shaking ("Watch the Tapes"): everything is here for James Murphy's sophomore effort. This just shows that you can mix dance AND disco AND funk AND rock. Did I mention there is cowbells galore?
2. Battles: Mirrored
I could say that I am WAY into math rock, complicated time signatures, or that the music just "spoke" to me. However, I would be lying. I honestly have no idea why I love this album so much that when I first got it, I listened to it for two months straight. I guess I just appreciate REALLY good music (This is eloquent and elaborate commentary, I know).
1. Animal Collective: Strawberry Jam
Talking about why this is my favorite album is hard. Talking about Animal Collective is harder: it always comes off too pretentious. So crassly put, Animal Collective is f*cking talented. Listening to this just makes me wonder HOW they come up with such genius songs (lots and lots of drugs?). Frantic, yelp-y, ever-escalating, ever-changing...this is one album I wish never, ever, ever ended.
Co-Host of Mysterious Rainbow
10. Panda Bear - Person Pitch
I love four tracks on this album to death. That they constitue a majority of the running time allows me to place this in my top 10, while largely ignoring the other three. Until a few months ago, I had no idea this album was made from samples. I thought Panda just played everything himself. That it is based on samples is a testament to how organic and beautiful these songs are. It really is a new kind of music.
9. M.I.A. - Kala
Badass dance music for everyone, all the time.
8. Old Time Relijun - Catharsis in Crisis
7. Battles - Mirrored
The technical skill behind this album transcends technicality and becomes paradoxically organic. Humans are making sounds like machines, but they are humans. All this would be moot if the music were not the some of the most inventive, fresh, and breathtaking music to come out this year. The whole thing is so brilliantly calculated, it's really sort of hard to believe.
6. No Age - Weirdo Rippers
The little record that could! It may take awhile, but the visceral sound of this album will eventually get under your skin and you won't be able to stop humming the deceptively simple riffs. Hipsters or not, this record is a 1-2 punch of blistering drums and choppy drums that I really just can't get out of my head.
5. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
Probably the best dance-rock album ever made. This is dance music and this is rock music, and this is the sound of them getting married and going on a honeymoon.
4. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
Sure it's different from their previous output, but it's the sound of animals evolved. Floating harmonies, guitars from another planet, beautiful soundscapes, and brilliant vocals in a fruity package. These guys do very little wrong on this record.
3. Akron/Family - Love Is Simple
This album is amazing and pretty much everyone would like it if they listened to it. Amazing guitar music by extremely talented people who love creating music.
2. The Boggs - Forts
This album may be the most intelligently-produced, lovingly handcrafted rock music to come out all this year. The songs burst at the seams with tense and raucous instrumentation that is beyond explosive. Raddd.
1. Dan Deacon - Spiderman of the Rings
Surf guitar, meet funkified vocoders and choral electro-vacations. Taut like telephone wire and a seizure-dance party on disc. Basically the best disc to come out this year all things considered.
Co-Host of Mysterious Rainbow
10. Studio - Yearbook 1
Sweeps of the guitar rise, fall, and dance around hypnotically light and complex rhythms that do a sort of intricate mambo for several minutes until you inevitably reach some fantastic groove that will leave you tapping your toes in a very, very Swedish manner. There really are not many albums like this, but if I were to make a comparison, I’d say it’s like an experimental, jam-oriented Fujiya and Miyagi.
9. The Battles - Mirrored
Mirrored is an album of musical technicality without the downfalls of cold calculation - The Battles do a good job of finding a groove and working amongst it, rather than attempting to work above and beyond it. This album holds many of the best moments in rock music this year.
8. Marissa Nadler - Songs III: Bird on the Water
Disclaimer: Mass songwriter references ahead. This album is in the same vein as other softly cooing arpeggiating female songwriters like Alela Diane and Nina Nastasia, but with a more intricately complex plucking pattern and a melancholy that recalls Nick Drake and Mark Kozelek. The album tickles the still at unrest melancholic songwriter bone in me (the bone that’s always broken harhar) and I’m really just in tune with Marissa Nadler’s guitar playing style in general.
7. Enon - Glass Geysers . . . Carbon Clouds
John Schmersal is one of the most interesting songwriters to follow, and I’ve loyally done so since his days in Brainiac. He’s always one to push the boundaries where accessibility ends and outright dissonance begins, and does so with an outright rock-and-roll style that doesn’t rely so much on effects and tones as it does on creativity and downright songwriting ingenuity. During his stint in Enon he’s always leaned more toward the experimental side with the occasional dabbling in pop accessibility, and Grass Geysers. Carbon Clouds is the album I‘ve been dying to hear from this group. It’s an album at times spazzy, at times dirty and calculated, and at times raw and aggressive - but all underlined by an irresistibly catchy drum and bass interplay that gathers it all together. The album somehow ends up being the most “Brainiac” album they’ve released while simultaneous being Enon at the end of the day.
6. St. Vincent - Marry Me
This was on the short list of albums that I made it a purpose of listening to this week before making my best of list, and I am completely glad that I did. Marry Me is a battleground where irresistibly soft and sweet pop sensibilities fight purposely maligned clumsiness - whenever the album appears to be heading down the path to Sufjan Stevens-esque catchiness and Andrew Bird-esque arpeggiation, Annie Clark abruptly ends it with a misaligned beat or misplaced chord progression. It’s an album that shows it can hold its own amongst the indie “elites” and garner a widespread audience, but instead “ruins” it with quirky unpredictability and dissonant instrumentation - a fact that only sets in stone that I am completely in love with this album.
5. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
Any album where a song as good as North American Scum can reasonably be considered the fifth best song on the album is criminally good. Like, makes you never wanna attempt making music because you’ll obviously never get it as well as James Murphy does criminally good.
4. The Boredoms - Super Roots 9
Complex tribal-rhythms. Dense atmospherics. Loud-quiet-but-often-loud dynamics. Frenzied pace. Experimental noise. The formula that holds all of The Boredoms songs together has been simple and quite easy to grapple with over the last decade of The Boredoms career, and it’s a formula so endeared to me and so succinctly perfect that they’re one of the only bands who I hope never changes their songwriting formula in any drastic way. What I want now is some variation of Super Ae and Vision Creation Newsun for the rest of my life, and that’s kind of what I get in this ninth installment of their Super Roots series. This album is very much like a track from Vision Creation Newsun expanded to over 40 minutes - perhaps a little less dynamic and more grooving than that album, but still just as intense and satisfying as ever.
3. DJ A-Trak - Dirty South Dance
If Girl Talk’s dance party jam of an album Night Ripper was my favorite album of 2006, then it only makes sense to me if A-Trak’s dance party jam of an album Dirty South Dance is third of 2007. And I really don’t even want to imply that the albums are remotely similar musically, as the former relies mostly on stop-start dynamics, clean laptop production, and a bass-heavy beat while the latter is a more traditional beat-matching, pitch shifting, and scratching mash-up album, so implying they're similar in a musical sense really seems rather disingenuous. But if you compare the two albums on the basis of their purported goal - namely to make you get up and shake your money makers and/or groove thangs - then this album is only a slight notch below Night Ripper. And trust me, that’s way more acclaim than it is criticism.
2. Justice - Cross
In many respects, Cross is the album that I’ve always been waiting to hear. It couples an “intelligently” balls-to-the-wall mentality with a deep bass-driven heartbeat, all encapsulated within an experimental genre-pushing framework that exudes both a welcoming warmth and a detestable discomfort. The French duo shrugged off Daft Punk comparisons that either saw them as satanic imitators or a duo outperforming musical gods, and created an intelligent, well-balanced album of songs that are filled to brink with brazen hooks and addicting bass licks that break through a barrier of fragmented noise samples that create a frenzied atmosphere of nervous tension - a tension that constantly leaves the listener waiting for the next unexpected twist and turn. The album is quite literally crammed to the brink with ideas that always threaten to send it spiraling out of control but never push it over the edge. And as an “album” enthusiast, Cross’ sequencing and balance just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and allows an admittedly short-track mind to stay on topic the entire length of the album.
1. The Field - From Here We Go Sublime
If Cross was the album that I’ve always been waiting to hear, then From Here We Go Sublime is the album that I never saw coming. With minimalist beats, deep dreamy soundscapes, and slowly-it-at-all progressive song structures - this album provokes pleasure centers in my brain in ways vastly different than most other albums on this list. Any song that doesn’t have a progressive rhythm section - the beat you hear at the beginning of any song on this album is not gonna change at any point throughout the song - is very, very unlikely to keep me engaged enough to become immersed amongst its intricacies or its atmospheres. But while most songs of this sort tend to fall short in their ability to immerse me, every song on From Here We Go Sublime has some redeeming hook or quality that grabs me into the song, and forces me into its world. Be it the undulating “i” on Over the Ice or the mindnumbingly syncopated beat of Mobilia, From Here We Go Sublime is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard at taking a simple, minimalist sound source (often repeated half-second sound fragments) and keeping it fascinating enough to last over the course of five or six minutes. Not only that, but the album is an experimental, deep-listening type of album that’s kept “fresher” longer than any other album this year. The first time I listened to Over the Ice and Everyday (probably my two favorite songs from this year) felt like a religious experience, and now, six months later, I’ll listen to the songs and still be praising the gospels. From Here We Go Sublime is an unlikely companion of an album that is as difficult to grapple with as it is easy to get lost within - or to put it other, much simpler Kyle Olson terms - It's MY NUMBER ONE ALBUM OF THE YEAR!
Host of Metalmorphosis
Amorphis "Silent Waters" (Nuclear Blast)
This release is already being heralded as album of the year by magazines, and it's hard to dispute that claim. Amorphis have improved in almost every area since "Eclipse," and the combination of soft and harsh performance is almost unparalleled and starting to rival similar acts such as Opeth. Novembers Doom had originally secured a spot on this list with "The Novella Reservoir" as a similar release, but Amorphis demonstrated such finesse on this album that they managed to squeak by and knock Novembers Doom down to an honorable mention. Newcomer Tomi Joutsen gives his greatest vocal performance to date, despite this being only his second recording as part of the band.
Behemoth "The Apostasy" (Century Media)
Nergal & Co. have only continued to improve over the years, and this album helps display more of the band's versatility. I'm pleased to see how extreme metal bands such as Behemoth are finally making their mark in the world and getting the kudos they so deserve, and they have helped define a new definition of "epic" in the scene. The entire album leaves listeners in awe from start to finish, and that's the effect extreme metal is supposed to have. Easily one of the best albums of 2007 without a doubt.
Blotted Science "Machinations of Dementia" (Eclectic Electric)
I have to give great thanks to Vince Edwards at Metal Blade for introducing me to this band in early December. I wanted to show instrumental bands some love on this list since they are so often overlooked, and he recommended that I check out this band. Members include Ron Jarzombek of Watchtower and Gordian Knot fame on guitars, Charlie Zeleny of Behold...The Arctopus (whose 2007 instrumental album "Skullgrid" is also incredible) on drum duties, and none other than Cannibal Corpse bassist Alex Webster thumping out rhythms on the bass guitar. Highly technical yet extremely listenable, "Machinations of Dementia" is a great instrumental album and more than deserves a spot on this list.
Cephalic Carnage "Xenosapien" (Relapse)
These grind masters always keep you guessing. This particular album has a bit more emphasis on extremes with very short, very fast songs plus some longer, slower material. This album has stuck with me ever since its release back in late May, and I can't get over how much it slays every time I listen to it. Incredibly heavy with lots of technical expertise, this album is great for grind fans. The unique lyric insert design and layout is also a nice bonus.3
Devin Townsend "Ziltoid The Omniscient" (InsideOut)
When it comes to metal, there is only one man named "Devin," which is why I alphabetize him according to his first name. The metal genius responsible for Strapping Young Lad, Ocean Machine, Terria, Physicist, Infinity, and many other side projects released a solo project this year called "Ziltoid The Omniscient," and it's a concept album about an alien from space who comes to planet Earth seeking the universe's ultimate cup of coffee. Mr. Townsend produced, recorded, and performed the entire album himself along with the help of the drum program Drums From Hell. This project is unique in that it is capable of being completely absurd and completely awesome in its songwriting at the same time. It comes off more as a rock opera than anything else, and Devin performs the voices of the various characters involved. Likely the most unique album of 2007.
Machine Head "The Blackening" (Roadrunner)
Machine Head easily gets my award for most improved metal band. It is so obvious that did everything they could to improve in every aspect as a band for this album, and they finally succeeded with flying colors. "The Blackening" is a monster of an album that can finally put any words by naysayers to rest. I personally have been one of this band's biggest critics and offenders concerning every release after "The More Things Change...," but this album finally made me change my tune. Credit must be given where credit is due, and these guys deserve a lot of it. Incredible songwriting, great guitar work, and awesome vocals without a hint a rap. I'm a happy man when I listen to this one.
Nile "Ithyphallic" (Nuclear Blast)
Nile are at the peak of their talent and an unstoppable leader in the death metal scene. "Ithyphallic" is the culmination of everything they've done in their career thus far with nods to every album of theirs, and the result is breathtaking. This album is darker than some of their more recent material, and it has a greater emphasis on shorter songs that rip your face off with their intensity. I look forward to their tour with Suicide Silence and The Faceless this coming Spring.
Psyopus "Our Puzzling Encounters Considered" (Metal Blade)
As some of the band members from Scar Symmetry put it, this Psyopus album can only be described as pure insanity put on disc. The sheer talent of this band is incredible, and this album stands as one of the most technically dominating albums of 2007. Their penchant for fusing jazz with their own unique, spastic style sets them apart from any other band in the genre. Other bands may try to imitate the insanity on this one, but I have yet to find any other band that can come close to matching the brilliant lunacy found here.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum "In Glorious Times" (The End)
Avant-garde rock-against-rock musicians Sleepytime Gorilla Museum continue to push boundaries and take the listener to places rarely explored. Carla Kihlstedt steals the show with her lush vocals that cover most of the songs, but Nils Frykdahl is definitely worth mentioning for his steller and vicious vocal performance on the track "Helpless Corpses Enactment." That track is also the most interesting on the album, since its lyrics are taken in their entirety from James Joyce's novel Finnegans Wake. One of the strangest and best releases of 2007.
Yakuza "Transmutations" (Prosthetic)
"Transmutations" is the most atmospheric and mood driven work to date by these guys, and they continually demonstrate that they are not afraid to think outside the box or break the mold when it comes to heavy music. This release incorporates aspects from all over the genre including doom, grind, and psychedelic influences. The lighter tones feel more accentuated this time around when contrasted with the darker, heavier material, and Yakuza have created a truly rewarding listening experience.
Host of How Goes?
10. The Noisettes - What's the Time Mr. Wolf?
9. Interpol - Our Love to Admire
8. Do Make Say Think - You, You're a History in Rust
7. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
6. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
5. The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
4. The Subjects - With the Ease, Grace, Precision, and Cleverness of Human Beings
3. Radiohead - In Rainbows
2. Queens of the Stone Age - Era Vulgaris
1. Blonde Redhead - 23