Welcome to Part II of my look back at the fifty best albums of 2007.
The first six years of the 21st century were hit or miss, when it comes to music and, well, to other stuff… But 2007 was simply magnificent.
Just look at my first installment. Marquee names like Jay-Z, Kanye West, Spoon, Wilco and Bright Eyes barely cracking the top 50? Their respective releases could have made the top 20 or higher in lesser years, like the lackluster 2006, for example. And don't even get me started on the albums that didn't even crack the top 50. There are a few albums there that I could easily see in the top 50 if not top 20 of other years.
Then there were the newcomers and lesser known, but no less relevant artists. I almost had to wince as I placed albums from Caribou, Aesop Rock, Liars, No Age, Black Lips and Andrew Bird in the lower ten of my list. But every slight and oversight should be quickly forgotten and/or noted as a testament to the year in music that was 2007. And maybe if you see one of your favorite albums listed "too low", you may also ponder the fact that you might have missed something, too ("If album X is listed this low, I can't wait to see what's next!").
And when I'm finally done with my shenanigans, please point out to me anything that you think I may have missed. That's what this is all about: Learning about some great new music and sharing it with each other. Unfortunately, you're going to have to spend some more of your hard earned money in the process, but not all of the best things in life are free.
Brothers Gonna Work It Out
40. The Avett Brothers – Emotionalism (Ramseur)
Their primary genre could perhaps be best described as Americana music for hipsters: The Avett Brothers masterfully dabble in alt-country, folk, pop and Spanish music among other things. If they didn't do all of those things so well, it might come off as a tad bit grandiose, but it works for these guys. There's not a lot that's not working for them these days. If they respond to this momentum positively, they could take that big step from stellar to spectacular and before long, they will be impossible to ignore. Stay tuned. You may have no choice. Some of these tracks are so good, their bound to be beer commercial fodder before long.
For fans of: Bright Eyes; Loudon Wainwright III; the Jayhawks; Wilco; Cracker
Windy City Heat
39. the Ponys – Turn the Lights Out (Matador)
Chicago's the Ponys are a bit of an acquired taste, but it's through no fault of their own. Their music isn't exactly abrasive, although I'm tempted to call it "hardcore pop". It just needs to catch you off guard, that's all. If you listen to it in album form, from front to back, you may not be able to appreciate how beautiful some of the individual songs are, but when you put them on your favorite MP3 player's playlist and hit "shuffle", you'll be floored by their confidently slick chops.
Noise hasn't been this accessible since Sonic Youth's heyday. They seem to have come to terms with the fact that that kind of stuff only works in moderation. And when you're so good at making simply gorgeous music, then why the hell would you want to waste your time breaking all that stuff and bleeding all those ears? Thank goodness somebody out there is paying attention. True, raw, musical beauty doesn't need to be fucked with in any way. Except for that whole shuffling thing I talked about earlier. Trust me, some music needs to be mixed up just a little bit before you realize how put together it is and this is about as good as it gets without being absolutely perfect.
For fans of: Sonic Youth; Truly; Yo La Tengo; Bloc Party; the Animals; early 90's Brit pop
Soul Shakedown Revival
38. Stephen Marley – Mind Control (Universal)
This one is pretty easy. Stephen is the son of Bob, of course and if you don't know who Bob is, then you probably shouldn't be listening to music. The releases over the years from Robert Nesta Marley's seeds (Stephen, Damian, Julian, Ziggy, Ky-Mani, etc.) have been mostly hit or miss, but Stephen was surprisingly poignant on this one, although it's definitely a more updated (not always a good thing) version of his father's music. Instead of taking the legacy and trying to urbanize it, like Damian is fond of, Stephen seems to make a concerted effort here to make things more universal. Could you imagine how ineffective Bob's music would have been if he wasn't so open to the rest of the world? Neither can Stephen, thankfully.
When you put this next to Damian's best work, it's like listening to the traditional sounds of Natty Dread all over again. Bob was a rebel in every sense of the word, but he was also a genius visionary and while Stephen's voice is definitely reminscent of his father's, he will never have that wide scope that BM had. A musical messiah of that magnitude only comes around once or twice or so per generation. But luckily, he doesn't really need to. He keeps things simple here and is smart enough to at least take a glance at his dad's blueprint every now and then while Damian and everyone else seems to be trying to outrun the past.
No matter how much we try to be our own people, our parent's influence inevitably rubs off, whether they're dishwashers or rock stars. At this point of his life, Stephen is going through that, whether he realizes it or not and it happened in just enough time to help him create what may be one of the best solo reggae debuts in the history of that genre. Let's hope his father never leaves his side. Or ours.
For fans of: Bob Marley; Ziggy Marley
37. Horrors – Strange House (Loog)
This wonderful band takes the best elements of goth and punk music and combines it with a keen pop sensibility and an unusual confidence for a band that likes to wear black all day, everyday. It all makes for one of the most unusual albums that you would consider pulling out at a party. It's dark, groovy fun that will make you praise Satan and move your feet at the same time. They're not always fooling around, but their so enjoyable that even when they're being vicious, they're still vicacious. Horror hasn't been this fun since the Munsters. But this is much cooler than that. Just don't wake Grandpa.
For fans of: Joe Meek; the Cramps; Screaming Lord Sutch; the Damned; the Makers; the Ramones
Vulgar Display of Power Pop
36. Queens of the Stone Age – Era Vulgaris (Interscope)
Mainstream radio seems to have forgotten, but I'm here to remind you that Queens of the Stone Age remains one of the best and most important bands in the world to this day. I think the incredible Josh Homme still misses his old bandmate Nick Oliveri dearly, but that doesn't mean he still can't kick your ass all by his lonesome. He's got a band and some guest stars as usual, but at the core is Homme's heart and soul.
When Josh holds back, I think he does so on purpose. He does it for those of us who understand what he stands for and don't expect him to crossover. And it actually works in his favor at times because you get a more challenging version of the same badass sounds that he's been a part of since his days in Kyuss. The songs are more layered and the themes aren't so obvious and in your face. I would like a couple more blistering tracks, but like usual, I can't complain with the final product here. It's just damn good rock n' roll music and frankly, I don't need anything more.
35. the Twilight Sad – Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters (Fat Cat)
This breathtaking group from Glasgow, Scotland are some of the best songwriters you've never heard of and that is plain to see by simply looking at the names of the songs. Poetic titles such as "That Summer at Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy" set the tone for just what you'd expect: Lush, introspective and often emotional (but thankfully not "emo") indie pop rock. The vocals and lyrical imagery are just as bombastic as the percussive noise they try to throw in for dramatic effect. These reflective epics full of melodic melancholy will take you off to a far away land (maybe Scotland) in no time and set your memories free while creating some new ones.
For fans of: the National; Interpol; Editors; Walkmen
Only Halfway Joking
34. Dethklok – the Dethalbum (Williams Street)
The funniest thing about this album is that it's the mastermind of a comedian, cult hero Brendon Small, but it's still one of the finest metal releases of the year and most "real" metal musicians would kill for Small's technical prowess. For those who have seen the show that spawned this project, Metalocalypse or another Cartoon Network classic known as Home Movies, you already knwo that Small is a mastermind of more than just the art of laughter. Here, he puts an "S" in front of it and brings forth the slaughter. The metal roars, grinds and thrashes with the best of 'em here and while some credit must go to Strapping Young Lad's Gene Hoglan (who plays drums on the album) and the numerous other guest appearances, Small still deserves a huge pat on the back for being able to bring the fury while still fucking around. Many metal bands have been accused of secretly being a joke, but now it's easy to see that you can still be upfront with the funny and not lose one bit of your edge. Take notice, rock stars and for fun's sake, please stop taking yourselves so seriously.
For fans of: Metalocalypse; Strapping Young Lad; Cannibal Corpse; Tenacious D; Dimmu Borgir; Brian Posehn
Welcome to Jam Rock
33. Dr. Dog – We All Belong (Park the Van)
When I fell in love with My Morning Jacket a few years ago, I found more than just the gift of their music. I remember them constantly giving props to one of the supporting bands on their tour, Dr. Dog, so I just had to check them out for myself. That turned out to be another great decision. What happens here is an album almost as good as MMJ's landmark Z. The only problem with this album is there are only one or two amazing songs. What makes it so good is that there is nothing that comes close to resembling a bad one. Certain songs will sound like filler until they catch you off guard, out of the blue and prompt you to audibly murmur something like "Holy shit, that's good!" This is one of those records that has those many intangibles that make it such a comfortable listen. Many of the songs sound like old favorites the first time you hear them.
For fans of: the Band; My Morning Jacket; Beach Boys; the Beatles; Meat Puppets
32. Antibalas – Security (Anti)
The afro-funk, jazz and sometimes reggae sounds of Antibalas are known to create quite the frenzy in concert, so it is no surprise that their energy is one of the most apparent attributes on this studio album that sometimes sounds like it was recorded live in an amphitheater. I don't know what they're always getting at, but it constantly sounds like a revolution is going on and apparently, the revolution is a fuckin' party, man! Thus, you will dance with your thinking caps on and grin like an idiot while you have your fists raised up high. This sounds like something you'd listen to while taking the subway home. I wish I lived in NYC, just so I could listen to this while doing just that.
For fans of: Hepcat; Chicago; Fela Kuti; NOMO; the theme song for classic tv show the Odd Couple; Tortoise
They Like to Score
31. (tie) I'm Not There Original Soundtrack (Columbia)
31. (tie) Johnny Greenwood – There Will Be Blood Original Score (Nonesuch)
31. (tie) Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof Original Soundtrack (Warner Bros.)
31. (tie) Robert Rodriguez – Grindhouse: Planet Terror Original Soundtrack (Varese Sarabande)
31. (tie) Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Story Original Soundtrack (Columbia)
The world of film is also important to me, so I had to give a nod to my 5 favorite movie music albums of the year. You get a little bit of everything here. With I'm Not There, you get an oustanding lineup of some of the greatest indie rock stars paying tribute to the legend that is Bob Dylan, then Quentin Tarantino digs in the crates once more to find some of his favorite known and unknown artists from the 70's to help him paint another beautiful picture, while his brother in arms Robert Rodriguez gets a little help from some of his other buddies and makes some rhythmic background music to go along with all the horrific fun that is Planet Terror and, finally, John C. Reilly channels Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and even Billy Joel and Bob Dylan (I would love to have seen Reilly get a chance to show his stuff in the aforementioned I'm Not There) in the hilarious, fake biopic Walk Hard. But all of them may have been overshadowed by Radiohead's Greenwood, who provides a stunning backdrop that is the perfect companion for the masterful, troubadour filmmaking of one Paul Thomas Anderson and his bleak masterpiece, There Will Be Blood. All these films were wonderful, but they perhaps would not be complete without these impressive contributions.
For fans of: Ennio Morricone; Pulp Fiction soundtrack; Bob Dylan; Radiohead; Johnny Cash