1. Andrew Bird :: Armchair Apocrypha
When I saw Wilco on October 16th in Columbus, little did I know that the show would introduce me to my album of the year. Andrew Bird was the opener and we arrived midway through his opening set. Although I did not know his music, from the beginning, I was mesmorized by the stunning beauty of his music and the clusterfuck that is his show (believe it or not, I mean clusterfuck in a good way - there is so much happening musically and visually for essentially a one man band). Shortly thereafter, I picked up Armchair from Emusic.
This album is great and is a deal for approximately $12, considering that this album is perhaps worth $80,000. Andrew Bird is a scholar and he can teach you and your kids. You want to save some money on an education from a liberal arts college? Just play this record over and over again - you'll learn more than I learned from my liberal arts college. Bird makes beautiful music while discussing religion, philosophy, history (a song about the Scythians and their historical troubles with the pesky Sarmatians, damn them), the metaphysical, and so much more. A classical education he will give you, along with his perspective on religion v. science, mortality, nature v. nurture, just to name a few highlights. Oh yeah, did I mention his arrangements are beautiful and sound like nothing else in pop music? Bird crafts great, catchy songs with meaning, depth, and stunning beauty. Every track is a gem and meshed together, these 12 songs constitute my favorite record of 2007. Generally, I think this album has been underrated among critics, so I have no problem fluffing it with this much enthusiasm. Everything is worth listening to, especially Fiery Crash, Imitosis, Heretics, Darkmatter, Scythian Empires.
2. Josh Ritter :: Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter
Ritter's follow up to The Animal Years is as strong from top to bottom as any other album from 2007. This album not only features some fantastic songs but, for whatever reason, it sometimes seemed that Ritter was singing them to me (as creepy as that sounds). In other words, a lot of his song subjects have relevance to my own experiences from 2007. That personal connection is always interesting to me.
Ritter is oftened pegged as a folk singer, and although there are elements of that on this album, it's also a pretty diverse work that includes some rockers, some catchy pop songs, and even some atmosphere. For the existing Ritter fan, you'll be happy to know that his poignant discussion of serious subjects, such as politics and war, are also present. My favorites: Mind's Eye, Right Moves, Empty Hearts, Wait for Love (You Know You Will).
3. The National :: Boxer
What I love about this album is the mellow intensity of it, (if that makes sense) created by the arrangements and the song writing. Matt Berninger, the primary songwriter, has a unique writing style that I find very interesting; it's almost as if he says what we are all thinking in the back of our heads but are too ashamed or scared to say (for example, in Slow Show: "Can I get a minute of not being nervous and not thinking of my dick"). In addition, it's Berninger's cryptic style that creates some really cool little short stories. Back to Slow Show -- for example, is this a twisted type of love song, or are we getting insights into a stalker? The arrangements are deliberate, often creating a dramatic affect in the storytelling (see Ada). Overall, it's a cool compliment to Alligator. Whereas Alligator has some screaming and yelling, Boxer has none that I can think of off the top of my head yet, I would argue, it is just as intense as Alligator (based on the factors that I've been rambling about). When standing next to Alligator, this is a fantastic follow up, one that shows continued growth from these guys. You can't go wrong with anything on this album, especially Mistaken For Strangers, Green Gloves, Slow Show, Start A War, Ada.
4. Dinosaur Jr :: Beyond
Before you start to think I've gone soft, I present to you Dino Jr's triumphant return. Nineteen years since their last album together, the original guys from Dino Jr released Beyond and, in my book, didn't really skip a beat. The signature shredding guitar licks of J Mascis are as intense as ever and the catchy hooks make many of these songs memorable. When I get the urge to kill some brain cells (by headbanging of course), I put Beyond on and commence rocking. My favorites: Pick Me Up, Back To Your Heart, Been There All The Time.
5. Centro-matic :: Operation Motorcide
Are you kidding? Only Will Johnson can put his scraps together and make a sweet EP. If you were unaware, the tracks making up Operation Motorcide are leftovers from last year's Fort Recovery, a great album in its own right. This EP carries on in the same direction as Fort Recovery, but perhaps with better songs. Atlanta is my favorite song of 2007! Operation Motorcide, Circuits to Circuses, and 74 Cuts, 74 Scars are, arguably, as strong as any song on Fort Recovery. In any event, Operation Motorcide was a tasty morsel to keep us held over until 2008 when Centro-matic and side project South San Gabriel are scheduled to release new records.
Here are my next five. All of these albums are great, but don't have the same consistency throughout as the Top 5 albums.
6. Spoon :: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
It might be difficult to find any album with three songs as strong as The Underdog, My Little Japanese Cigarette Case, and Black Like Me.
7. New Pornographers :: Challengers
So yes, these guys and gals made an album that sounds similar to their previous albums. And yes, they made an album where alot of the songs might even sound the same. The New Pornographers seem to have bottled the formula for creating catchy, singable pop songs. Some find that bad. I, on the otherhand, don't mind it. Fact is, since I've been spinning this album, almost all of the songs have been stuck in my head at one time or another. I like that and I like this album.
8. Band of Horses :: Cease to Begin
Not as good as Everything All The Time, but still a pretty solid follow up. Forget the haters that knock this band for its MMJ similarities, Ben Bridwell and company can rock when they want or take it down a notch and still deliver a quality tune. Doubt me? Check out Ode to LRC, Islands On the Coast, Detlef Schrempf, and The General Specific.
9. Son Volt :: The Search
Another nice collection of songs from Farrar. Although some are throw aways, Methamphetamine, Highways & Cigarettes, and Circadian Rhythm rank up there with some of Jay's finest tunes. For even more greatness, pick up the bonus disc, which includes other gems such as Carnival Blues, Exurbia, and Houdini Punches.
10. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings :: 100 Days, 100 Nights
Amy Winehouse might get all of the mainstream media attention for her "soulful" album, but it's Sharon Jones who released the most soulful album of 2007. With her magnificant band, The Dap Kings (the same band that backed up Winehouse), Jones delivers a sensational album that explores the subjects we expect from a great soul album - love, faith, and hardship - with her tight band and fantastic vocals. This album would probably rank higher if I had discovered it earlier. Where to start? I suggest the title track, Humble Me, Tell Me, and Answer Me.
Others worth mentioning:
Magnolia Electric Co :: Sojourner
Easily in the Top 5 if this weren't a box set. I figured a 4 disc set would be unfair to include since there are 4 discs of great stuff.
Okkervil River :: The Stage Names
I've never really enjoyed these guys until this album, probably because it's a little more "happy" in tone.
Rogue Wave :: Asleep At Heaven's Gate
Some really stand out tracks on this album including Cheaper Than Therapy, Lake Michigan, and Fantasies.
Wilco :: Sky Blue Sky
Although I was a little disappointed in the overall album, it's worth mentioning for my standout musical moment of the year: the Nels solo approximately 1:30 into You Are My Face.
Thurston Moore :: Trees Outside The Academy
Sonic Youth rocker does solo well. Mostly stripped down, there just was not enough time to digest it all for it to make the Top 10.
Music is good!