Best Albums of 2007

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)

Comments

Drew said…
What was up with Pitchfork's electronica craze this year? I do like the LCD Soundsystem album even though it's not something I would pop in on many occasions like I do Music Has A Right To Children by Boards of Cananda on a rainy afternoon.

I actually thought Panda Bear was overly derivative of Brian Wilson Smile or Pet Sounds, take your pick. I should give it another chance though.

I also reviewed In Rainbows at length (I'm so original eh?). I thought it was better than Hail, but yes - its weakness is that it trails off big time after about the "Fishes" which is a mesmerizing track.

A few not on your list worth mention that were in my top 10 (and some Pitchfork did not even review!):

PJ Harvey: White Chalk
Great Northern: Great Northern
The Good, The Bad, and the Queen
Air Formation: Daylight Storms
Band of Horses: Cease to Begin
Maps: Maps
Editors: The End Has a Start
Interpol: Our Love to Admire

The Bravery: The Sun and the Moon (many thought it was shallow, but I thought it was good fun)
I liked the album Rush put out last year (even admitting that is blasphemy to music snobs :-)

I reviwed 'em all at some length over at my little web home. Just do a search for "albums" up in the top right.

Oh yeah, if you like heavier stuff Down's album is really sweet and a standout when heavy music was so lame for 2007.

Cheers!

PS. I stopped bothering with the Grammys. If Yo La Tengo hasn't won anything by now it's not worth it. It's all about sales. But kudos to Mr. Maiden Voyage - that best album category at least has some roots that are worthy and usually surprising.
R.O. Flyer said…
Great list! Some of this stuff I haven't even listened to yet. Are you familiar with Low or Magnolia Electric Co.? If not, you should definitely take a listen.

Here's my list:
1. The National, Boxer
2. Low, Drums and Guns
3. Magnolia Electric Co., Sojourner Box Set
4. Joanna Newsom, Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band
5. Okkervil River, The Stage Names
6. Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha
7. John Vanderslice, Emerald City
8. Laura Veirs, Saltbreaker
9. Sigur Ros, Hvarf-Heim
10. Radiohead, In Rainbows
Ben said…
Good stuff, but I would have to move Panda Bear up above Animal Collective, even though what you said about the Animal Collective album vis a vis the Panda Bear album is true. It's just that Panda Bear's monolith is a dang good one.

Also I would move the Radiohead album up a few places too.

And I would like to recommend "Dystopia" from The Midnight Juggernauts for some fun David Bowie vs ELO type dancin' fun. They're like Muscles, but better.

Also, I would also recommend The Legends "Facts and Figures"
John P. said…
It is the nature of Top Ten lists to be at the whim of the author, so I wont argue over which artist should deserve this or that slot in the ranking. In fact, I wouldnt argue with your rankings much at all.

however, among the list of talented artists that are woefully ignored by the mainstream industry, I submit Josh Ritter to be one of the prime examples. In my opinion, he is one of the best lyricists writing today. His release this year of "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter" is continued proof.

If you havent heard his stuff, go check it out! Both the afore mentioned album and his previous "The Animal Years" have been on repeat in my Ipod for an embarrassingly long time.
Eduardo Osorio said…
Great. I would have liked your top 10 even more if you hadn't left Studio's album out, but great more people got to hear it last year.
dave b said…
Chromeo's "Fancy Footwork" #1
Kanye's "Graduation" #2
Common's "Finding Forever" #3
a. steward said…
Big time ditto on The National. That album is amazing, and it just seems like it came out of nowhere. I listened to their other albums after the fact and was not surprised that I'd never heard of them. I got to see them a few months ago in Portland and it was one of the best concerts I've ever been to. Just damn good rock music.

I seem to have enjoyed the new Shins album alot more than you did. It's definitely in my top ten. And where is Deerhunter?
D.W. Congdon said…
Drew: Thanks for that top 10; I haven't heard of some of them. I didn't care for the new Interpol, and the new Band of Horses just didn't live up to their debut in my opinion, though the opening track is great.

R.O. Flyer: Yes, Low is good, and this new album is definitely their best yet.

Ben: Thanks for the recommendations. I haven't heard those yet, and I'll check them out.

John P: I'm just starting to get into Josh Ritter, so I'll reserve judgment until I hear more. Thanks for the recommendations.

Eduardo: Studio was as high as #8 on my list, but it kept getting bumped around. In the end, I had to give Rock Plaza Central some love, but honestly, Studio could be in its place.

Adam: I didn't like the new Shins album; sorry! Deerhunter was really good, but it didn't stick with me. I'll give it another listen, though.
Drew said…
I agree with your take on Our Love to Admire. It's better than Antic which I thought was a terrible sophomore release. I think Interpol's problem is that they put out such an amazingly profound debut that nothing they do will live up to it unless they do a radically creative departure e.g. Kid A.

I will check out Band of Horses previous work as well which I have not done. I just can't get "No One's Gonna Love You" out of my head. It's such a gorgeous track.

Cheers.
D.W. Congdon said…
Hi Drew,

I actually really liked Antics. :) But you're right, their debut was just so good, everything else pales in comparison.

And yes, they need a major "Kid A"-type shift. Right now, every song sounds the same, though I think "Pioneer to the Falls" is one of their very best songs so far.
dan said…
And "No Children" is a good one to sing at the top of your lungs when drunk out of your mind and surrounded by 19 year old indie kids.
dan said…
Oops, I was thinking of the Mountain Goats, who I started listening to at around the same time as Band of Horses. My bad.
Erin said…
wow! great list! I missed this earlier. I have more hope for theology blogs after all! :)

i agree with drew about Panda Bear sounding too derivative, but honestl, it's probably just that I'm not into their sound.

I am greatly heartened reading this.
(that may be a sad comment. so be it.)
Katy said…
DREW: I love seeing the Editors on top albums of 2007! It makes me happy haha

D.W.: Fantastic list you have here. In Rainbows=incredible, Animal Collective=if you like these guys I strongly suggest taking a listen to Feral Children.

And finally ...I thought you might like a newer-ish artist, War Tapes. They have toured with The Bravery, Smashing Pumpkins and most recently, Tiger Army. They've been described as "Interpol meets AFI with a dose of The Cure".

Anyway, we're offering a free download of their song, "Dreaming of You". You can snag it here: http://sarathan.com/free/wartapes

If you get a chance to listen I'd love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to post the song and share it with anyone you think might be into it. For more info, check out www.myspace.com/wartapes

cheers,
Katy