Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Top Ten Albums of 2007

Most of my musical thoughts for the year can be found in the comments on Matt Cleveland's Mog page But I decided my own top ten music lists for the year will be better placed here. We'll start with Top Ten Albums then move to Top Ten Songs.

Disclaimers: These are my personal top ten lists and thus reflect the best of what I've found during this year of intense, "intentional" music listening. I'm sure there's stuff I've missed that I'd dig but this is the best of what I've heard. Also, on the top ten songs I've tried to avoid multiple songs by the same artist or from the same album. This doesn't mean there aren't more great tracks on the albums they come from, but lists are by nature arbitrary.

Top Ten Albums of 2007
10. Calexico - "Toolbox" - A lovely instrumental meditation of moody southwestern virtuosity. This is a surprise for me because I didn't enjoy their collaboration with Sam Beam a few years back and have been wary of them since.

9. Beirut - "The Flying Club Cup" - Balkan tinted folk with melodies that sweep like seagulls, drawing the emotion out of you. I love his overdubs and harmonies of his voice singing alternate lines and I hear his years of bedroom recording culminating in this studio effort that captures something at the core of what makes music human and good.

8. The Arcade Fire - "Neon Bible" - My wife's first reaction: "It sounds like Degarmo and Key." And it does. Somehow the Arcade Fire made me like music that sounded like it came from the eighties. The songwriting is superb. Some of the best songwriting to capture the sense of fear and pain and self-doubt that typifies the post 911 era. Are we the Anti-Christ? "There's not much hope for survival if the Neon Bible is right."

7. Waterdeep - "Heart Attack Time Machine" - The best Waterdeep ablum since "Sink or Swim." Waterdeep fans know these are strong words and I mean them. If you haven't heard some of the best Christian songwriter husband and wife duos (Don and Lori Chaffer) with uncompromising musical acumen you're missing out. Honorable mention goes to Don's side project: The Khrusty Brothers - "Jonas is Back." It pulls no punches.

6. The White Stripes - "Icky Thump" - Jack White is my guitar hero. This man has fun when he plays music and you can hear it. This is also one of the most fun albums of the year to play senselessly loud high-gain electric guitar along with. You'll laugh, you'll rock. You'll want to go see them live. Here's to hoping Meg recovers from her tour induced stress.

5. Wilco - "Sky Blue Sky" - I didn't like it on the first few spins. Too restrained. But the more I listened the more it fit into the rich American Quilt that is Wilco's body of work. Tweedy does it again. The album progresses and grows beyond what they've done before.

4. Bright Eyes - "Casadega" - If any of you had any doubts (and I admit I did) about whether Connor Oberst was a truly great American songwriter rather than a navel gazing emo-kid this album clinches it.

3. Radiohead - "In Rainbows" - A lot has already been said (see my earlier complete review here) about this album and it's clever online marketing, pricing and distribution. But quite simply it's probably their best album since Kid A. Furthermore it represents Radiohead's coming full circle on the carousel of electronic instrumentation and experimentation. I'm pretty sure I've listened to this album more times through than any other his year.

2. Josh Ritter - "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter" - Josh Ritter is the greatest song-writer of my generation. There, I said it. This album is less polished than the rest of Ritter's work but the raw-ness is intentional. Still he gives us the gem of "The Last Temptation of Adam," see below in the next list.

1. Feist - "The Reminder" - Leslie Feist has come a long way since layering her clarinet-voice over guitar textures on Broken Social Scene records. This is a finely crafted cohesive album of pop so infectious, so moody and so lovely that you'll keep coming back to it over and over.

Top Ten Songs of 2007
10. Iron and Wine "Carousel" from "The Shepherd's Dog" - Why has Sam Beam waited so long to run his voice through a flanger? Nothing ever sounded so right.

9. They Might Be Giants "Why Did You Grow a Beard?" from "The Else" - "I can't leave you alone for five minutes, What the Christ? What the Devil?"

8. Beirut "The Penalty" from "The Flying Club Cup" - "What melody will leave my lover from his bed? What Melody will see him in my arms again?" That melody, Mr. Condon, that one right there.

7. Nick Drake "They're Leaving Me Behind" from "Family Tree" - You can just hear the tape reels turning his Nick's bedroom as he whispers into the mic, fingers brushing the strings ominously. "People fly by in their lifelong race, for them there's a future to find. And I think they're leavin' me behind."

6. The White Stripes "Icky Thump" from "Icky Thump" - "White Americans, what? nothin' better to do why don't you kick yourself out, you're an immigrant too! Who's using who? Well what should we do? You can't be a pimp and a prostitute too." Enough said Jack.

5. Feist "So Sorry" from "The Reminder" - It's a toss up between this track and the last of the album (Honey Honey) but I fell in love at first listen with the lazy, sad post-breakup swing of this song.

4. Magnolia Electric Company "What's Broken Becomes Better" from "Sojourner" - This album is unsettling like the apocalypse of John. The simplicity of a tremelo guitar and an earnest voice bely dark revelations of ultimate acrchetypes and spiritual realities just below the surface. This song gives me chills. "Who swallows tides when no tides come? Who binds the names to the nameless ones? The Black Ram she does, the Black Ram she comes."

3. Radiohead "Videotape" from "In Rainbows" - Simple, haunting, beautiful. "You are my center when I spin away, out of control on videotape on videotape on videotape..."

2. Bright Eyes "Coat Check Dream Song" from "Cassadega" - "...planets are inset like diamonds, on a gravity halo, eternity's wedding band... cities encircled in iron on a great silver beltway, democracy's shackled hands." That, my friends, is poetry.

1. Josh Ritter "The Temptation of Adam" from "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter" - This might be one of the best songs ever written. Ever. I am not kidding. Listen and despair, all ye songwriters. It tells the story of a man and woman pressed into service in an underground cold-war missile silo. I'd quote the whole thing but here's a taste instead:

"We passed the time with crosswords she had thought to bring inside. What five letters spell 'apocalypse' she asked me. I won her over singing W - W - I - I - I and she smiled and we both knew that she'd misjudged me. Oh Marie, it was so easy to fall in love with you. It felt almost like a home of sorts or something. You would keep the warhead missile silo good as new and I'd watch you with my thumb above the button..."

Honorable Mention (in no particular order):
  • Jesca Hoop "Enemy" from "Kismet" - Wonderful, sparkling song. Lovely harmonies.
  • Saul Williams "Niggy Tardust" from "The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust" - One of my favorite hip-hop (or anti-hip-hop?) albums this year. Written and performed by a spoken word champ, produced by Trent Reznor. Who could ask for more from rap? Saul's not afraid to take pot shots at rap cliches. "When I say 'niggy' you say 'nuthin': Niggy... *nuthin (screamed by audience)* Shutup!(Saul)." The only rap album cover I've seen that very intentionally cuts off the face of the artist. Saul's adding his voice to call rap to rise and liberate itself.
  • Feist "Honey Honey" from "The Reminder" - Leslie Feist's voice is an instrument.
  • Sage Francis feat. Jolie Holland "Got Up This Morning" from "Human: The Death Dance" - Neither Sage's album nor Jolie's this year were what they could have been but this one track stands out. These two "ANTI" album-mates tell a compellingly funny story of competing literary influences in a love affair. "What you want with a woman who won't do what she says?" Jolie croons on the chorus, "I was sweet on her. She was sweet on Jesus. We slept with a blanket barrier between us."
  • Josh Ritter "Open Doors" from "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter" - Have I mentioned I like Josh Ritter? He almost pulls of an Elliot Smith vibe on this one. "Two open windows keep the rain away, two open eyes keep the ghosts at bay. I thought an open door would bring you in. I guess I'm gonna have to guess again."
What did you listen to this year? Let me know what I missed!


  1. I love The Reminder by Feist. I like "Honey, Honey" better than "So Sorry." But I think my favorite song on the album is actually "The Water." I've been meaning to check out some of those albums. Other bands I have stumbled upon this year have been The Editors and Band of Horses. I don't have their albums but I found them on MySpace.

  2. great list, and great write-ups on each. i wish i had more time to do this...

    i whole-heartedly agree with you about Josh Ritter and his songwriting. he's a he-man song writer, a master of the universe, as it were.

  3. Lele,
    Matt Cleveland and I have listened to both of those guys and liked them, only not enough to pick one of their albums to listen to for a whole week. Though we almost did one week with Band of Horses. The Editors remind us too much of Interpol, however I think they're better musicians.

    As for Feist, what can I say? I love this whole album start to finish.

  4. No Jose Gonzalez? Give "In Our Nature" a few spins.

    Also, I just discovered Jon Foreman (who incidently is the frontman of switchfoot . . . or so they tell me). I very much dig his solo stuff. He just put out an EP. It's on itunes.

    Also, Joshua James has been dominating my ipod for the past few days. Folky-57saucey-pianoy goodness.

    Your list has given me some folks to check out. In Rainbows has rocked my world the past few months. (How much did you pay?)

  5. Check out Matt Cleveland's list (see the link at the top of the post). He liked the Gonzalez album. I love his sound. I just don't think he's got that much to say. I have this need for lyrics to be meaningful and poetic (see Josh Ritter). We did listen to him for a week though (See The Program we've been doing this year).

    I paid $30 for "In Rainbows" because I wanted to pay Radiohead for their superb albums Kid A and OK Computer... which I hadn't yet gotten around to paying for and had been enjoying for years. Thus ten dollars for each of those albums and the new one.

    Is Joshua James the guy you wrote about on flickr?

  6. All of the post-top-albums-of-2007-lists attention it's been getting makes me hesitate to say it, but The National's "Boxer" remains at the top of my list, along with the new Modest Mouse. Honorable mention to Brother Ali's "The Undisputed Truth" and Daft Punk's "Alive 2007."

  7. Also, while I quite liked Neon Bible overall as well, I thought the lyrics left something to be desired; very little development, I thought, since "Funeral." Otherwise, great album.

  8. Lyrics are kinda weak (and sometimes unintelligible) with ole' jose.

    Joshua James isn't who I mentioned (that was David Condos) I actually discovered Joshua on itunes. Apparently, a lot of people who bought Jose also like Joshua. Anywho, it's good stuff.

  9. I started using Pandora recently and discovered a gem I'd somehow missed. The artist is Ulrich Schnauss and his sound is similar to Boards of Canada or Sasha with a more dreamy, ethereal feel. I've listened to his three albums more in the past month than anything else in 2007.

  10. Pandora's great, esp. for electronic music. Matt Cleveland and I will have to take a look at one of his albums this coming year.

  11. Yeah, The Editors remind me of Interpol as well. Maybe that's why I like them...

    Yeah, loving some Feist. It's one of those albums you don't really have to skip through the songs.

  12. my favs in no particular order

    Radiohead In Raindbows
    Soundtrack from the movie Once
    Future of Forestry Twillight
    The Receiver Decades
    Shane & Shane Pages
    Stars of Track and Field Centuries Before Love and War
    Osvaldo Golijov Oceana
    MIKA Life in Cartoon Motion

    but the best for last:
    Will Stratton What the Night Said

  13. We've never met but I gotta say that I appreciate your contributions to the "chapel hosting" music rotation. It's like those cd's were burned directly off of my own ipod.

    And The Cold War Kids and TV on the Radio were my favorite bands and cds of '06-'07. Check out "Robbers and Cowards" (Cold War Kids) and "Return to Cookie Mountain" (TV on the Radio).

    The Latest Chaplain Failing to Live up to the Legacy of Matt in the Hearts and Minds of the Pastoral Care Dept. at Baptist Hospital

    or, just,



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