Welcome to Part III of my look back at the fifty best albums of 2007. Don't worry. I won't be using any gimmicks this time around. This won't be in 3D. It's just the same old story and the same old song and dance, my friends. And from this point on, the entry will be Steven Tyler-free.
Part II was another reminder of how amazing a music year 2007 was. I can say, without hesitation, that the albums from the Avett Brothers, the Ponys, Stephen Marley, Dethklok and Dr. Dog could have been in the top ten of some of my past years' lists.
Part I had some stellar pieces, too, but I think Part II is really where things started to come together. The cream of the crop is definitely starting to form and albums 31-40 was just the beginning.
Based on the (un)popularity of this piece, a lot of people seem to be over 2007, but I need to make it clear once more, just how good the year was for music. It was easily the best year of the century so far and probably the best year for music since about 1994, or so. If that hasn't been evident up to this point, I hope that these next ten albums will start to make that abundantly clear. If not, we still have the top 20 to fall back on.
Back In Black
30. Black Francis – Bluefinger (Cooking Vinyl)
Somehow, quietly, Black Francis aka Frank Black aka Charles Thompson, the frontman for one of the most influential bands of all time, the Pixies, made one of the best rock albums of the year and also his best (and most consistent) personal effort since the secretly legendary Teenager of the Year. How can a man so revered create something so beautiful without being universally celebrated for it?
If you've given up on the man, this is the overwhelming evidence pointing to the fact that you have made a huge mistake. I hate to use the term "return to form", but that's pretty much what this is. It's not the Pixies and it's not Teenager of the Year, but it's a fun, raucous, non-stop party full of a lot of what you've been waiting for and a couple of surprises, too. The secret weapon is that there are so many of those "I can't put my finger on it" moments of familiarity and edge that can only be provided by someone who fronted one of the best bands of our generation.
I shouldn't have to spread the word about an artist of BF's magnitude, but this album has been criminally ignored. Sometimes, things fall under the radar and there is no good reason for it. We all mistakes and often, too many of us do it all at once. Now it's time to right that wrong and get this out there, because this may be the point of his career where he starts inspiring a whole new generation of teenage kids with guitars.
For fans of: the Pixies, Herman Brood, Pere Ubu
Same New Song
29. Band of Horses – Cease to Begin (Sub Pop)
BOH can frustrate you as much as they delight you, because you get the feeling that they will be making the same album over and over again for the next ten years. They do everything just a little better here. It's more mature, more sincere, more tender, and more focused, but I'm still not sure if it's better than the first album. Gone is a little bit of the raw energy that comes with a hungry band that has something to prove.
Now that they've settled into a groove, any of the already minimal fire that was to be found on LP #1 is all but gone. Luckily, they're really good at making sweet, thought-provoking pop music. The lyrics seem to be happier at times, but singer Ben Bridwell still sounds like he'd be comfortable hanging around at funerals all day.
All I know for sure is that #30 is the perfect spot for them. Last year, I put their debut album in my top 5 and in hindsight, that was a bit of a mistake. It was also a really crappy year for music, so who knows how far off I was? In 2007, they proved they have staying power, but I didn't want to place them higher than this because I can also see some repetition developing and in this day and age, it simply doesn't work.
They're going to have to find more than just one niche, because I predict that if they stay in this place, the same ol' same ol' will get tired fast. Simply look at a similar band — My Morning Jacket — and what they did on their superb Z and the possibilities immediately become obvious. Maybe Band of Horses themselves should do the same thing. The next level can be unlocked by simply paying attention to their peers. This album is gorgeous and has too many high points to mention, but it could clearly be so much better. This is the rare case where being in the top 30 is a mild disappointment.
Everything else from here on out will be more obvious and much easier picks, but the bottom line is that Cease to Begin is still a very good album. The vocals and melodies are passionate and heartwarming. The rock is a bit soft, but the messages are sincere. The earnestness shines through, even when name-dropping ex-NBA players with cool names. ("Deltef Schrempf")
For fans of: Built to Spill, Satchel, Neil Young, the Shins, Nada Surf
The Exclamation Joint
28. !!! – Myth Takes (Warp)
Any album by !!! is bound to be among the best and most rewarding albums of any given year because they love to have a good time and their main objective is to do the same for you. They do that by making dance music for clubs where glow sticks are nowhere to be found. These guys rock and they roll, but they groove better than any of that.
The album is like a non-stop dance mix that you won't have to hide around certain company. This music really could be for anybody and that's one of the many reasons why I'm surprised by their lack of popularity. They're generally well known, but not yet a household name like they should be. I think they're one of the best bands in the world right now and the fact that they can matter and still make fun their number one priority is a talent in and of itself. Hmmm… Shame-free dance rock that even your mom might like. Sounds like something we should all get behind. I'm as big a cynic as the next guy, but sometimes you just have to let go and allow some joy to creep into your life. Your feet will thank you.
For fans of: LCD Soundsystem, Chromeo, the Rapture, Gang of Four
Dead Can Dance
27. Burial – Untrue (Hyperdub)
Not much to say about this one. Especially not about the artist himself, who is doing his best to keep his identity a secret. As far as the music goes, it's simple, moody electronica at its near best. The sound is eerie and dreary, but the drums and other mystical noises keep you awake. Each song blends nicely into the next one and while many sound similar to each other, most have a dynamic, or dark element that keeps you hanging around. It's too cinematic to be overly depressing, but it is quite creepy at times. In the future, this will be the background music for a good ghost story. Put this on while writing your next book or screenplay and you may just have the next the Shining on your hands.
For fans of: the Knife, Portishead, Kode9, Moby
You're the Man Now, Dawg
26. Common – Finding Forever (Geffen)
Common has been making relevant music for a long time now and while album after album has been an important part of hip hop culture, there have also been some major missteps right next to some near-masterpieces as far as each individual track listing goes. Many of his die hard fans contend that he should be as big if not bigger than his partner in crime, Kanye West. This is the first time he's had an argument in a long time, if you ask me and quite possibly the first time ever. He can't write or rhyme a crossover hit the magnitude of one of West's, but he has a lot less filler here than Kanye had on his last LP and that's why this one ranks higher. There are 2 or 3 songs here that are among his best ever and the rest of them just so happen to be almost as good.
The beats here were stronger than before, but Common himself is still the only one that is holding him back. His rhymes can get a bit preachy and repetitive at times and he gets more and more uncomfortably close to trying too hard to be controversial with every new release, something that turns me off of Kanye at times, too.
All these two cats need to do is just stick to the basics, find some magical beats and rap naturally over them and they will still be on the top of their games. But if they start getting caught up with the cars, women, and other braggadocio that is now unfortunately a huge part of mainstream rap, they may sell records, but they will be losing a huge fan base full of people like me.
I can't blame them for wanting to sell records, but I can blame them for being hypocrites. Either crossover completely, or keep things raw and true. No more of this in between bullshit. This was a step in the right direction for Common, as he stands out as a humble Hank when compared to cocky Kanye, but after seeing him show up in American Gangster, I could easily predict a negative change of pace next time around. He used to despise what rappers like T.I. stood for and now he's doing movies with them. Something doesn't smell right about that.
But this album feels good on its own, in spite of what he has done before or what he may do in the future and that's why it deserves a spot right here.
For fans of: Brother Ali, Pharoahe Monch, Kanye West, Talib Kweli, Slum Village
Dead Poetry Jam
25. (tie) Atmosphere – Sad Clown Bad Summer/Sad Clown Bad Fall/Sad Clown Bad Winter & Strictly Leakage (Rhymesayers)
25. (tie) El-P – I'll Sleep When You're Dead (Definitive Jux)
25. (tie) Sole & the Skyrider Band (Anticon.)
These three artists have their differences musically and have even had personal differences with each other, (Sole and El-P had an infamous public battle with each other about ten years ago) but they definitely are being grouped together for a reason. Slug of Atmosphere is the silliest one, but he knows when to get serious, El-P is the most acerbic one, but he knows how to have a little fun, and Sole is the abstract genius with the brand of dry humor and wordplay that might possibly be best served for the Monty Python set. All three are major pillars of the underground scene and don't figure to be going anywhere anytime soon.
All three are at the top of their game here and that is especially refreshing when it comes to Atmosphere, who I had nearly given up on a year or two ago when Slug seemed to be losing some direction. But he came back with a vengeance in 2007 on 4(!) superb releases — 3 EP's and one, internet-only full length — full of their best work since the legendary Lucy Ford EP's. Slug seems to have made a conscious effort to shut people like me up as he sounds more urgent, hungry, and determined than he ever has. You can call it the "quiet storm", as these 4 releases seem to have been hugely ignored by the public at large, but I can say with near certainty that anyone who was paying attention can attest to the furious fun that Slug and producer Ant brought to the table. Slug's calm, cool and strong confidence proved that he is interested in putting his name on the map of all-time hip-hop credibility and not just as it pertains to the underground.
For fans of: k-os, Brother Ali, Jurassic 5, Murs, El-P
El-P is as angry and cynical as ever, but he may also be at his furtively funny best, here. He has never been my favorite out of these three, but he has easily been the most consistent and he quite possibly has just forcibly grabbed the torch from Sage Francis, who took a step back for the first time in his career on his own 2007 effort, Human: the Death Dance. This is also El-Producto's most consistent individual release as far as a "track to track" basis goes and the perfect amount of fine guest appearances, led by the suddenly rejuvenated Trent Reznor, adds that special touch of a little something different here and there to make sure that things don't get old too quickly. Not that you have to worry about that with El-P anyway. He's still one of the most unique voices around today and along with these other two fellows (and countless others) continues to be one of the main reasons that the underground has, for years now, overtaken the mainstream and become the official home of "real hip-hop".
For fans of: Aesop Rock, Cage, Sage Francis, Trent Reznor, Sole (whether he likes it or not)
Sole has always been ahead of his time. His poetic cadence and deft witticism is over too many people's heads, but he hasn't sounded this accessible since Bottle of Humans, the album that should have made him a living legend. It will still be a bit much for those who are accustomed to a more basic, or shitty brand of hip-hop, so anybody without a brain or who was born in the late 80's or early 90's should stay away from this. But for those who miss the days when gifted lyricists were as important as the perfect beat and when knowledge was one of the most important elements of hip hop, this will be more your cup of tea. Sole will never be for everybody, but I think it says a hell of a lot more about the state of our world today than it does about the artistic ability of one Sole, because when it comes to pure artform, Sole is one of the most genuine purveyors of it that you will ever meet.
For fans of: Buck 65, Saul Williams, De La Soul, El-P (whether he likes it or not)
Reservations For Two
24. (tie) Bless 1 – Starving Artist (self-released)
24. (tie) Citizens of Sleep – Sometimes I Just Can't Get Outraged Over Copyright Law (barakanoel.com)
The music industry is having a hell of a hard time right now, but that hasn't stopped this from being one of the most exciting times for music in many years. Two of the most dynamic rap releases of the year not only came from artists that I had never heard of, but they were also both available for free via the internets. This was by far the best money I've never spent and I therefore plan on shelling out some legal tender to these individuals as soon as possible.
Bless 1 came out of nowhere with the voice of a seasoned veteran, commanding respect and demanding the world's attention by blessing the mic with frightening precision and poise. The ceiling is infinitely high for this mc with talent that could fill the Grand Canyon and I'm hoping that the industry takes notice soon, because he most certainly deserves a permanent "Place in the Sun".
For fans of: Common; the Roots, One Be Lo, Percee P, old LL Cool J, Typical Cats
It's also time for the world to wake up to the effortlessly layered and nearly perfect lyrical stylings of Citizens of Sleep, fronted by underground legend waiting to happen, Baraka Noel. This is raw energy at its best and in its natural essence. It is something fresh and new, but it will also bring back fond memories of a time when hip hop was fun and when rapid-fire, tag team vocals were practically a prerequisite for becoming part of the game.
It's a shame how people keep whining about the demise of rap music when stuff like these 2 albums exists. Instead of doing some research and approaching the light at the end of the underground tunnel, they concentrate on the negativity that dominates the majority of mainstream rap. That's their problem. I'll be over here whether you decide to join me or not. And by the time you get here, you're going to have a lot of catching up to do.
For fans of: Arsonists, Atmosphere, El-P, Oddjobs, Funkdoobiest
The Wrath of Sean
23. Sean Price – Jesus Price Superstar (Duck Down)
In 1996, Sean Price was one half of one of the most promising young duos in rap, Heltah Skeltah. After releasing the cult classic Nocturnal, things were looking bright for the pair, but one failed album and a few personal woes later, he was basically out of music altogether. Luckily, he didn't fall too far and when he resurfaced as a solo artist for the first time, he unveiled something that he had been apparently hiding for nearly a decade: one of the strongest personalities in rap music today.
He always had the raw ability, as he displayed with Heltah Skeltah, while he was still known as "Ruck". But it was like as soon as he decided to use his real name as his stage name, the true, inner voice was unleashed and what a powerful, confident voice it was. He raps about drugs, violence, money, and other stupid shit like that, but he does so more creatively than the average mc and uses enough tongue-in-cheek sensibility for it to not sound too abrasive or run-of-the-mill. His latest full release is probably his best and he deserves some praise for at least that much.
For fans of: Heltah Skeltah, Black Moon, Smif N' Wessun, Justus League, Cappadonna
Even Better Than the Real Thing
22. Lil' Wayne – Da Drought 3 (Young Money Entertainment)
I didn't hear all 937 of Lil' Wayne's mixtapes last year, but most people say this was the best and I can see why. I admit I slept on Wayne for a long time, but I have my reasons. When he first came out, his style wasn't my cup of tea and even as he started to improve, I was still turned off by his violent streak. It's hard to digest the work of an artist who has basically alluded to the fact that he may have killed a couple people at some point.
But on those days when you can put that aside for a few minutes and just look at this as simple entertainment, you will find one of the best "improper" albums of all time and something that's probably better than any of his respective studio releases. The most electric lyricist in the game today spits metaphors and similes that would make Marshall Mathers piss himself and his wicked sense of humor and laid back attitude make it hard to believe that this guy would ever seriously harm somebody. (Let's hope it's not true.)
The cocksure veteran will be the first to tell you that he's at the top of his game, but it's still impressive to hear him clearly trying hard to excel and striving for perfection. Who knew the mainstream could be hiding the shiniest diamond in the rough? But if he's smoking something other than all those blunts, it's going to be hard for me to support this guy.
For fans of: Eminem, Ras Kass
Dead Solid Persistence
21. Machine Head – the Blackening (Roadrunner)
This was far from the most progressive or original metal release of 2007, but it may just have been the most technically sound and perhaps the best produced, as well. The taut riffs and compact vocals call to mind Metallica's heyday without so much of the symphonic structure. The confidence and aggression doesn't feel overwhelmingly genuine, but it's still somewhat effective. The songs are more workmanlike than their competitors, but you can't deny the overall musicianship and the final package is undoubtedly impressive.
None of the tunes here really sound like much fun, which is something I kind of look for in this cynical age, but they still leave a good taste in your mouth. You'd like to see a bit more experimenting, but you can't argue with an album that delivers in so many other areas. This is a huge step forward for a band that thought about calling it quits a few times over the years. This is a good starting point on which to build a huge structure and with their current focus, there seems to be little room for a letdown and I don't foresee one.
For fans of: Pantera, Metallica, Sepultura