Sunday, December 30, 2007

Top 10 Albums of 2007

Well, here it is...the obligatory Top 10 post from yet another music blog. Sure you've seen a few of these before, but what you haven't seen is the definitive Top 10.

Look no further.

After choosing our individual Top 10 lists, we scored the compilation the only way we know how: college football rankings style. In the end, we were happy with our results, which we humbly present to you now, starting with number(s) 10.

10. (tie) Mark Knopfler - Kill to Get Crimson

Bob Schneider and Ryan Adams should take note of Mark Knopfler’s career. You don’t have to get bored of your stuff and start doing crazy shit. Just enjoy playing music, invite new artists to collaborate with you from time to time (please note celtic vibe at play here, with accordions and fiddles joining the fun), and keep creating excellent music.

That’s what Van Morrison did. And it’s what Mark Knopfler does. He’s the consummate veteran of the music industry, and this is a polished, impressive album that he’s released in 2007. I’ve been a Knopfler fan since I was a Dire Straits fan, which was for a long as I can remember. The guy doesn’t miss.

Here we have a collection of tight stories benefiting from the impeccable performance Knopfler’s vocals and guitar give to every song they touch. I think this guy is a real genius in our midst that maybe we won’t fully recognize until he’s gone. By the way, Little Dynamite and Little Gun missed the ball on this one big time. But then again, they’ve never respected the history of Rock ‘n Roll.

P.S. The Eagles album is garbage.

-JtR

10. (tie) Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

Earlier this year, when I first posted about this album, I think I said something along the lines of “I don’t want to listen to any more music, because nothing will be as good as the Arcade Fire.” I’ve since backed off that statement (I was probably drinking), which is not to say that this album isn't still fantastic. What I love most about Arcade Fire is the care that they seem to put into each song. Each note, each lyric seems to have been painstakingly poured over until it is just right. They show us that their music is important, their message is important; even if that message is often that the world is about to end.

In Neon Bible, Win Butler and gang fire away at the war-torn world that surrounds them. They do this through lyrics about the working-class man, the disillusioned man, and the soldier both here and abroad. Their songs on this album are mostly Springsteen-esque four-chord rock songs, delivered with Springsteen-esque passion. For me, the song of the album is “Ocean of Noise,” a beautiful tune in which Butler describes an “ocean of violence” that lies between so many of us. However, the listener is left with hope at the end, as trumpets and strings come to the forefront as Butler desperately sings “It’s time to work it out.” And hopefully, Butler finds that we can, and maybe their next effort won’t involve the word ending.

-Little G.

p.s. Here’s your stocking stuffer. I recently bought my mom an album by Joe Henry called Civilians. If I had listened to it before making this list, it would definitely be in my top ten. As my mom said “Some of the artists you listen to should take some lessons from Joe Henry.”

10. (tie) The Shins - Wincing the Night Away

Right from the get-go, this album reminds me why I love music so much. The first song, "Sleeping Lessons," takes you from a dreamlike state to a dancing and joyous rocktastic climax that makes you want more. And then they follow up with "Australia." Arguably the best song of 2007, this beautiful pop song solidifies this album as one of the year's best.

The Shins used to be that cool underground band you could throw out there to impress other indie-rock fans, but that all went away with the Garden State phenomenon. I was worried about how that would affect them going into this release, but I found it hasn't hurt them at all (except possibly in the critics' minds, who I think are a little pissed that people other than them now know who the hell the Shins are...see album reviews for WtNA for further evidence).

From every "la la la" to every guitar chord, this album is as synced up as James Mercer imagined when he wrote the entire CD. Tight pop music at its best, WtNA is exactly what I could have hoped for out of the Shins. Don't let Zach Braff down. They can still change your life.

-Little D

7. (tie) Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

I heard “The Underdog” on WFUV and knew right from that instant that I had to burn this album from one of my friends that actually paid the money to buy it. I knew (and still know) nothing about this group of Texan’s backcatalogue, but I may be heading out and actually spending my hard earned green on some of their earlier work. This album transformed me from a “burn the CD” to a “buy the CD” fan.

What I like about Spoon on this album is that they’re rock and roll, and poppy, and still maintain an indie rock edge. They’re the ideal band to represent me when I try to explain the type of music I’m into to a mainstream / soft rock / pop fan. Usually the conversation goes like this:
Other: “So, what kind of music are you in to?”
Me: “Oh, I like a lot of different stuff.”
Other: “Oh.”

Now, it can go a little more like this:
Other: “So, what kind of music are you in to?”
Me: “Oh, I like a lot of different stuff. Here, listen to ‘Don’t You Evah’ on my iPod.”
Other: “You’re pretty cool.”

Thanks Spoon.

-JtR

7. (tie) Romantica - America

This album was a surprise hit for me. I listened to it one time through, thought it was fine, but thought that was about it. But then I listened to it more, and kept listening to it, until I realized that I really, really like this album. Coming to us from Belfast via Minneapolis, Romantica has commonly been compared to Mr. Adams and Wilco, and while this is true at times, these comparisons do not encapsulate their sound. “Ixcatan,” a somber, heart-breaking ballad about a murder in Mexico, sounds straight off a Mark Knopfler album. Lyrics like “Oh it’s gonna be cool, all the boys from school/And the girls from down the way” or “Between my daughter and my wife is where you’ll find me,” are positively Boss-like, a slice of Americana; even if lead man Ben Kyle is sometimes talking about Ireland.

The album has a few up-beat pop tunes to start the album, and while they’re very good, they’re quickly forgotten. Romantica’s strength is in the ballads that make up the bulk of the album, complete with lush strings, beautiful pedal steel, finger-picking, piano, and the aforementioned Americana lyrics. Romantica made the most beautiful album of the year and I think you should check it out.

-Little G

7. (tie) Ryan Adams - Easy Tiger

Ryan Adams gets his heartbroken a lot it seems. And if this is the case, I’m not happy about it, but damn does it make for some good music. Throughout his career, girls have been breaking his heart, stealing his records, and the English girls, in particular have just been so mean. He’s been waiting for them to come home, he’s been begging them not to let him go, and wondering why they always leave.

On Easy Tiger, none of this changes. In this tight, focused effort from Adams, failed relationships and loneliness are still the main themes. And he relays this heartache through beautiful lyrics and even more beautiful music. The top track on the album is “I Taught Myself How to Grow Old.” It’s one of Adams’ prettiest, saddest, and best written songs. A pedal-steel guitar weaves in and out as Adams sings “I taught myself how to grow/without any love…”, his lines punctuated by a lonely harmonica. I heard an interview by Ben Harper in which he said something along the lines of “You could go to therapy for 20 years, or you could just listen to this song every day.” Surrounding this gorgeous number are classic Adams pop/folk/alt/country tunes, along with some straight twangy tunes in “Pearls on a String” and “Tears of Gold.” A fantastic listen from front to back.

-Little G

6. Amy Winehouse - Back to Black

In case you haven’t heard, they tried to make her go to rehab. She said “No.” Again and again, she said “No.” Yet, alas, in the end, she went to rehab. Does that make her a liar? Yes. Does it make her album any less impressive? Only marginally.

Look, this a sexy, old-school album that I ranked #2 on my list of best albums of 2007, and was relegated down to #6 because of the cowardly, front-running choices of Little Dynamite and Little Gun adding up in our scoring system. When I listen to this album I picture an anorexic-thin Winehouse, dripping wet (potentially just out a bubble bath…with scented candles…), wearing nothing but a burgundy hand towel, running her fingernails down a chalkboard – except that the noise created is a jazzy, sultry crooning with retro-instrumentation. Get in.

To sing its praises, this album is cohesive but varied. Amy invented the word “fuckery” (as far as I know, maybe it’s a common term in the UK). It has fantastic melodies, gripping themes, and did I mention she has a sexy voice? And did I just hear Jadakiss? Yes, yes, I did. This is the 1920s on 21st century designer drugs and fruit-flavored booze, with style, some dignity, a little less class and plenty of pizazz. Smooth, you ask? Smooth as a vodka tonic for lunch.

-JtR

5. Bruce Springsteen - Magic

I hesitated to review this album since I already gave it a write up when it came out, but if there's one thing that I don't mind doing, it would be singing Bruce's praises. I was so anxious for this album to come out that I played Born to Run on repeat for about a week prior to its release date.

Even though Bruce lends us our blog's title, we are not completely biased towards his works (at least not like Rolling Stone is to Bob Dylan...I swear, Dylan could put out a 45 minute disc of himself snoring and Rolling Stone would give it five stars and proclaim all other music inferior -- in the same issue that they put Zac Efron on the cover...and he has been on the cover this year, fyi...). However, we do enjoy Bruce's efforts for a reason. It's not everyday that an artist can inspire multiple generations of men and women to fall in love with music again and again.

The king of American music, Bruce's latest release elicits scenes of late nights on the open highways out west, political corruption and turmoil, war veterans, and good old fashioned Americana fun with "Girls in Their Summer Clothes." I'm not sure if you can find a more rewarding storyteller in today's industry, although Bruce himself has acknowledged a few different proteges (hello...hello again). This apple pie wrapped in an American flag album provides die hard Springsteen fans with enough juice to satiate their appetites, but it also gives new listeners a chance to find out what they've been missing.

-Little D

4. Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog

I can't say enough about this album. I think I used up all my adjectives in the past three months since this album came out trying to describe it to people. Solidified by incredible studio work from a full band, Sam Beam once again comes through with a magnificent work of art. His voice is so soothing and soft that I've often wondered if I would be able to hear him in a normal conversation.

After becoming enthralled/slightly obsessed with their previous album, Our Endless Numbered Days, I was just a little excited to buy The Shepherd's Dog. Needless to say, I was blown away by the full, rich sound that greeted me. Acoustic guitars, subdued and varied percussion, singing slide guitar, violin, and organ music all came together at once to lift me up on a wave of bliss-filled happiness. If you can honestly listen to "Lovesong of the Buzzard" and not want to hug the nearest person by the end of it, I would submit that you have no soul.

If it weren't for the #2 album on this list, The Shepherd's Dog would have been my first choice for album of the year, hands down. Nothing else has come close to the beauty and emotion that this CD has accomplished. Hats off to Beam for his fantastic creation and I will be looking forward to whatever comes next for Iron & Wine.

-Little D

3. Feist - The Reminder

Leslie Feist, how I love you. Let me count the ways:

1) You have the single greatest voice in music today. Even though I would rather be serenaded to sleep every night by Norah Jones, her pipes have nothing on yours when it comes down to it.
2) You are absolutely awesome at guitar. I saw you live and you rocked out way harder than I ever thought you could. "Mushaboom" was everything I hoped it would be.
3) You are sexy as hell. Not in the I'm-a-tramp-in-a-thong hot or the pole-dancing-in-my-music-video hot, but just naturally I-am-really-cool-to-hang-out-with-and-I'll-probably-make-out-with-you hot. There's nothing better.
4) You like to dance. A lot. No, really, quite a bit. That's always a big plus in my book.
5) "It may be years until the day/My dreams will match up with my pay." I think you just summed up my life.

-Little D

2. The National - Boxer

In May of 2007 I bought an album called Alligator, by The National. It was incredible. Two days later, I bought their follow up, called Boxer. It was better. Now, it wasn’t better right away, but I had plenty of time to let it sink in on a 24-hour drive home from Texas to Michigan. Boxer is an album that needs that time to marinate. It’s filled with thoughtful, melodious guitar arrangements, catchy drum beats that move the songs along, and exquisite lyrics brought to you by front man Matt Beringer’s baritone; a baritone that leaves the lyrics lingering long after a song is complete. Lyrics that are able to turn the mundane into something celebrated, able to turn everyone’s small world into something greater.

The album starts with pretty, steady piano as Beringer comes in with the opening lines “Stay out, super late tonight/Pickin apples, making pies/Put a little something in our lemonade/Take it with us, we’re half awake, in our Fake Empire.” Soon a bass drum comes in, slightly off-beat, before syncing up with the piano just as the drums pick up tempo, then a fill, and onward with the song. From there on, the album lingers with a steady pace, no real rockers, no real downers, as Beringer weaves words describing “the un-magnificent lives of adults” throughout the album. However, the tales he tells of un-magnificent jobs, un-magnificent personalities, and un-magnificent meetings leave the listener wondering if this “Fake Empire” that Beringer describes, really is un-magnificent, or if it’s all you need.

-Little G

1. Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

Someone may ask you, “Why is the ocean blue?” Perhaps you’ll know to tell them it’s because the water reflects the blue of the sky. Yet if they then ask why the sky is blue, the only valid answer would be to perform “Edge of the World” on a wind instrument.

When Josh Ritter put out Animal Years, I thought he was a really great singer-songwriter and a lot less of a nancy than a lot of the artists Little Gun listens to. But when he put out The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, I started to wonder whether he was Siddhartha Gautama incarnate. This album really blew my socks off. It has the best of what was good about Dylan, Springsteen and The Beatles, yet even better because it is fresh, exciting and new.

I saw Ritter live touring for this album, and the guy is magnetic. He seems to genuinely enjoy performing his catalogue. And why not? This album alone is full of humor, sensitivity, energy, longing, confusion and expectation…sometimes all on the same song.

A lot has been said about this album by others as well as by me, so I won’t wax on for much longer. Essentially, this is an album that cuts a cross section into the human heart and examines all the emotions that reside therein. It does it all with energetic spirit. You are ultimately left just short of a classic catharsis, rather, your soul longs to again experience something so powerfully human – humor and pain and all. Who knows when an album will next be able to so completely fulfill this desire? For now, I am simply content to have such a deserving album top our list.

-JtR

Others Receiving Votes:
Scott Matthews - Passing Stranger (6 pts.)
Radiohead - In Rainbows (5 pts)
Deadstring Brothers - Silver Mountain (5 pts.)
Fionn Regan - The End of History (5 pts.)
Okkervil River - The Stage Names (4 pts.)
A.A. Bondy - American Hearts (3 pts.)
The Avett Brothers - Emotionalism (3 pts.)
John Fogarty - Revival (2 pts.)
Bright Eyes - Cassadaga (2 pts.)
The Alternate Routes - Good and Reckless and True (1 pt.)

11 comments:

Jack the Rabbit said...

boxer is overrated

Little Dynamite said...

1st point: JtR, I would put Knopfler's "What It Is" in the top 10 songs of this millennium. Chew on that.

2nd point: I hope you're happy you have two partners who are savvy enough to include your top pick in their top 10s. Too bad you don't recognize true genius (ahem - Boxer - ahem).

3rd point: I can't believe Sky Blue Sky didn't even make our "Others Receiving Votes" list. I'm ashamed of myself.

Little Gun said...

maybe if Wilco had made a better album without the steely dan guitar solos it would have been on my top ten

cherry ghost said...

mark knopfler's "what it is" is one of the best songs in the past few years...cant argue that.

cassadega not in the top 10?!

Jack the Rabbit said...

cassadega is pretty good but bright eyes is too much of a pansy to be taken seriously

Little Dynamite said...

it was my #11. just wait for my songs of the year list to make it out...

cherry ghost said...

this doesnt necessarily pertain to the top 10 of 2007, but i just picked up the "i'm not there soundtrack" yesterday. really digging it after 2 full listens.

also picked up the okkervil river album - never heard any of there stuff before. excited to give it a listen.

Little Dynamite said...

i was going to disclose this but decided to wait until my "songs of the year" post...

i'm not including anything off that album since they are not "new" songs from 2007...while unique and completely awesome, they don't fit my criteria for judgment...

Little Gun said...

I think that songs off of the I'm Not There soundtrack definitely can be on the best of 2007 list. However, they must be phenomenal, seeing as how they are interpretations of Dylan's songs.

Jack the Rabbit said...

wait is that the album with the hold steady version of 'climb out your window', or whatever it's called?

Little Gun said...

Yes, JTR...it is.