Granted, this is a belated post. I have an obsessive need to make sure that I have properly surveyed the best albums of the year. But it’s also good timing: last night was the Grammys award show. Of all the awards shows, the Grammys are the worst by far. The really great albums are all ignored because they are independent. The entire show is simply a marketing scheme. Granted, Herbie Hancock is a better artist than Rihanna or Amy Winehouse, but best album of the year? Not even close. Here, over a month late, is my list of the best albums of 2007. I welcome your comments.
1. The National, Boxer
The National have been quietly working in the background of the indie music scene for the past several years. 2007 was their year to dominate, and they came out with one of the most stunningly beautiful albums in recent memory. Boxer has none of the pretension and overwrought production that plagues so many groups today. Instead, with simplicity and grace, the National have created an album that gently creeps into your subconscious and establishes a home there. It’s not the kind of album that explodes when you first listen to it only to fade quickly with time; instead, Boxer is an album that grows and matures with age. It is one of those records whose genius I believe will only be further confirmed with the passing of time.
2. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
James Murphy is a musical genius, capable of crafting beautiful, catchy music that works as well on the dance floor as it does in your headphones. His first self-titled album was a stunning debut, and Sound of Silver amazingly improves on the success of his first effort. The songs in this album are more refined, more carefully composed, more textured. Murphy shows greater musical maturity in Sound of Silver, and for that reason, this album is equally worthy of the #1 spot.
3. The Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
People complained that Neon Bible was not as brilliant or creative as Funeral, the 2004 masterpiece by the Arcade Fire. But while true, Funeral’s near-perfection is virtually impossible to replicate by any artist, and Neon Bible is about as good as one could possibly expect. If this were the debut album by the Arcade Fire, there would be little about which to complain. That said, the album loses points for not ending with “No Cars Go,” which is the perfect ending to this album. The final track, while musically in keeping with the rest of Neon Bible, is a bit of an anti-climax. Also, the lyrics, while certainly more profound and thoughtful than just about anything else from 2007, are at times a bit forced and lack some of the subtle depth that characterized Funeral. Even so, there are moments of transcendent beauty and lyrical brilliance here that will long outlive an already amazing career for this talented group.
4. Okkervil River, The Stage Names
Okkervil River demonstrated great promise with 2005’s Black Sheep Boy. In their 2007 album, The Stage Names, Okkervil River delivered on that promise. The album begins with one of the best two-song openers of any album this year, second perhaps only to Radiohead. The second half of the album is not as compelling as the first, but the album overall remains a remarkable product deserving of wide acclaim.
5. Justice, †
Without question, this is the most “fun” album of the year. In a year of excellent electronic and dance albums, Justice stands out above the rest. The hit single “D.A.N.C.E.” is not the only song worthy of hit single status. The entire album is a musical carnival, with genres thrown together into a dance-pop blender to create an infectious heir to the Daft Punk throne.
6. Animal Collective, Strawberry Jam
Animal Collective are accused of being weird for weird’s sake, but this is entirely unfair. They have consistently made excellent albums year after year, and Strawberry Jam is their best to date. The opener, “Peacebone,” is one of the very best songs of the year, but whereas Panda Bear’s also excellent album feels a bit too monolithic, Strawberry Jam is much more diverse and exciting in its experimentation.
7. The New Pornographers, Challengers
When Twin Cinema came out, it marked the coming-of-age for the Canadian “supergroup” (though the title is somewhat misleading). With Challengers, the New Pornographers mellowed their sound, lengthened their songs, included more ballads, and came up with a refreshing new take on their consistently upbeat catchy indie pop. While this album frustrated fans of their earlier albums, Challengers represents a band moving beyond adolescence into adulthood.
8. Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
Of Montreal don’t know how to make non-catchy music. The songs on Hissing Fauna are contagious; they represent indie pop perfection. Moreover, their live shows are legendary. Glam rock + power pop + cross dressing stage shows = exactly what we need to get through another winter (and another lame Grammy awards show).
9. Radiohead, In Rainbows
Certainly the most anticipated album of the year, In Rainbows is probably Radiohead’s most beautiful and pleasing album. While not wholly successful—after the first two-song punch, the album settles into a calm rut that makes some of these songs rather forgettable—the album is still a wonderful addition to their already accomplished oeuvre. While In Rainbows often sounds like the B-sides for Kid A, it is nevertheless still the work of arguably the greatest band making music today.
10. Rock Plaza Central, Are We Not Horses
Granted, this album came out in 2006, but it wasn’t released internationally until April 17, 2007. Besides, I did not give it any recognition last year, and it would be inexcusable not to mention it here. Despite glowing reviews, Rock Plaza Central flew way under the radar with their concept album, Are We Not Horses. The album is aptly compared to Neutral Milk Hotel’s masterpiece, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, particularly on the album’s musical high-point, “My Children, Be Joyful.” While perhaps belonging on last year’s list—though Doug Freeman of the Austin Chronicle placed it on his 2007 best-of list—it’s an album that deserves to be heard again and again, year after year.
11. Studio, Yearbook 1
12. Liars, Liars
13. Battles, Mirrored
14. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
15. Panda Bear, Person Pitch
16. Earlimart, Mentor Tormentor
17. Muscles, Guns Babes Lemonade
18. Burial, Untrue
19. Sally Shapiro, Disco Romance
20. Dirty Projectors, Rise Above
21. Jens Lekman, Night Falls Over Kortedala
22. The Tough Alliance, New Chance
23. Iron and Wine, Shepherd’s Dog
24. Kanye West, Graduation
25. Blonde Redhead, 23
Honorable Mention: Once (Music from the Motion Picture)