Welcome to part four of my look back at the amazing music year that was 2007. After these ten, you will see the top ten, but as you could probably gather by how low some of your other favorites ranked on my top 50, these ten albums are just as essential as the top ten. Everything in the top 50 is worth owning, but these are part of the upper echelon. Your wallet will not be very happy, but your ears will be thanking me for years.
20. Mustangs & Madras – La Lechuza (Latest Flame)
With last year's impressive field of thoroughbreds such as Band of Horses, HORSE the Band and the Ponys, who would have thought that the darkest horse of them all, Mustangs and Madras, would be the lone horse to end up in the top 20?
I had never even heard of this band until, on a whim, I read a review of this album on AllMusic.com and instantly picked up a copy for myself. I was rewarded with a fun, energetic set of post punk stylings that left me with a level of excitement I haven't experienced since the first time I listened to At the Drive In, a band that no doubt had a similar effect on these young, fresh fellows.
The tempo shifts from various tones of dark feel and subject matter to epic and progressive rhythms and time changes, but the overall sense is that of a hungry, explosive band who is ready for big things and has the talent to pull off an even bigger upset next time around.
For fans of: At the Drive In, Gang of Four, the Cure, Jawbreaker, Dismemberment Plan
They'll Make Great Pets
19. (tie) Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam (Domino)
19. (tie) Panda Bear – Person Pitch (Paw Tracks)
Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox) is a member of the Animal Collective, so I decided to lump these two outstanding, out there opuses together. Both albums are chock full of colossal cuts that are often unnerving noise-fests, but thankfully, are more commonly fun, melodic oddities that will grow on you when you least expect it. This music is definitely not for everybody and it's the kind of stuff you have to work with, to fully enjoy and appreciate, but there are also sections that showcase an amazing potential to create something even more potent and even some crossover appeal. But I get the feeling these wild animals would rather stick with the challenging stuff, thank you very much.
For fans of: Beach Boys, Grizzly Bear, Enigma, Caribou, Mercury Rev
18. (tie) Patton Oswalt – Werewolves and Lollipops (Sub Pop)
18. (tie) Steven Wright – I Still Have a Pony (Comedy Central)
I didn't listen to every comedy album released in 2007, but of the ones I did listen to, these clearly were the two best. Any fans of cynical, sarcastic, smart, visual, risky and really funny stand up comedy are strongly encouraged to pick up these two outstanding discs immediately.
For fans of: Brian Posehn, Zach Galifianakis, George Carlin, Marc Maron, Mitch Hedberg, Jim Gaffigan
17. Thurston – Trees Outside the Academy (Ecstatic Peace)
This isn't Thurston Moore's first solo album, but it sort of sounds like one at times. It's been a long time since I've heard him sound so free. I expected something more noisy and cluttered, but I was delighted to find some pretty straight forward stuff here.
Sonic Youth is supposed to be his mainstream project and even that can get weird at times. Here, the work is pretty focused and consistent throughout and most of the songs work magnificently from track to track as well as on their own. Any long time fan of Thurston and SY knows that Moore is capable of having a good time, but he hates to show it, or more accurately, he relishes in not showing it. So, it's nice to see him really let go (to an extent) for once. TM is so naturally talented, even when he's fucking around with friends, he can still feed your ears the goods. In fact, it may just be when he's at his best.
For fans of: Sonic Youth, Pavement, Guided by Voices, Lou Reed, Bob Mould
16. Sonny Rollins – Sonny, Please (Doxy)
This album from the jazz legend actually came out in 2006, but it didn't seem to get much love then and I didn't get to listen to it until 2007 rolled around, so I'm including it here. The nearly 80 year-old Rollins unleashed his first album in 5 years and it rivaled the excellence of that year's release from friend and fellow jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Sound Grammar. Sonny Please is not his most groundbreaking, or even his best work, but it's so sweet, smooth, and enjoyable, you'll have a hard time leaving it off your playlist for years to come. Any fan of the golden age of jazz will want to give this one a spin soon and may never stop.
For fans of: Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, James Carter, Charlie Parker
Celebrate Good Times
15. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver (DFA)
I've always been a little skeptical about the magic that LCD Soundsystem supposedly posesses. Ever since Daft Punk is Playing at My House became a phenomenon, I kind of wondered what the big deal was. I didn't really care for the first album as much as I thought I would and that's probably because I didn't give it a fair chance. The key to enjoying this album was forcing it into my rotation and that's why mp3 players are so beneficial to the listening experience.
My strategy for 2007 was to take every album that would be considered for my best of list, throw them on my iPod and just let the shuffle option take control. Certain albums are easier for me to appreciate when I don't have to listen to them in album form. This is one of those that worked better for me when the songs caught me off guard individually and that's how some of them came to be instant classics.
I don't know what makes me think that explaining part of my process would be of any interest to you, but it should delight you to know that this is one of the best albums of the year, which is clear even to a dummy like me. They were one of the first bands to make dancing cool again and the tradition continues here.
James Murhpy's vocal stylings are still a tad bit awkward, but they work flawlessly along with the drum and bass-heavy beats laced with funky guitars and vibrant synth action. They are a dance group, but it never completely feels that way and they don't exactly rock, either, but there is that certain, intangible thing that sets them apart from all those silly European dudes. Maybe it's the constant upbeat tempo, Murphy's tongue-in-cheek rock star self-assuredness, or the lack of spandex, but whatever it is, it works and they didn't just stick to the successful formula, but they improved greatly on it and added some much needed shine and maturity to the mix.
Staying away from gimmicks, like inviting a bunch of guest rappers into the studio, or singing in a foreign accent and sticking to the loose, party-like atmosphere in the stuido should make these guys a permanent fixture on "best of" lists for the next decade or so. It's funny. The more they seem to not take themselves so seriously, the more we take serious notice. They are a force to be reckoned with, but thank goodness they're nice enough to clue us in on their masterplan. Should be a pretty peaceful revolution and there will probably be lots of dancing going on.
For fans of: Spoon, Prince, the 80s
14. the Shins – Wincing the Night Away (Sub Pop)
I loved this album almost instantly, but after reading some lackluster reviews for it, I asked a few Shins fans I know what they thought. While most of them thought the album was good enough, they also seemed to be unimpressed. I kept asking because I thought it was their best one yet and wanted to make sure I wasn't going nuts or something. I'm guessing everybody else was looking for more bells and whistles and therefore missed the simple elegance of these slow and somber yet gorgeous pop songs.
You could say that there is nothing really new or groundbreaking added to the mix, but their souls, natural instincts, and ability shined through with their highest flying colors to date. The music is gentle but mystifying and the vocals are presented more like a conversation peace than song lyrics. This is best displayed when the words don't rhyme, therefore sounding more like unread letters to a loved one and a whole lot of it sounds hauntingly familiar and at other times, just downright haunting.
All of this will not blow you away because much of it is subtle and you've heard it from countless other artists, but it will surely leave you feeling comfy, warm and cozy, not least because the Shins do it more sincerely and sensationaly than the average band.
The thing I like best about this, their third album, is how the songs fit together. On their first two lp's, there were a couple moments here and there that stuck out like sore thumbs, but on this one, all hands are fully intact, holding a final product that may be the best collection of tunes to fall asleep to since Andrew Bird's Mysterious Production of Eggs.
Most Shins fans liked this album, but I was one of the few who went batty over it. I think everything they've made is a must own, but this was the first one that consistently spoke to me and kept me company on those cold and lonely nights like a close friend with all the right answers. The electricity may have been conserved for a healthy portion of the proceedings, but the internal light still glowed more than I could ever hope for. It turns out the Shins really can change your life. The most impressive thing is that they keep doing it again and again and in different ways. Call it a simple complexity. Or just call it beautiful music.
For fans of: the Smiths, Modest Mouse, XTC, the Cure, Flake Music
Out of the Park
13. the Field – From Here We Go Sublime (Kompakt)
I don't know if this is supposed to be trance music, or ambient, or whatever, but it's the second best dance album of the year. It's driving, straight forward, catchy, techno music and it's wonderful, even though a lot of it sounds the same until you catch the subtle nuances and clever samples folded in to distinguish this album as a track by track masterpiece rather than a non-stop dance party. Though, it works pretty good as both.
Any fan of classic electronica is going to want this and they probably already have it, but the rest of you who, like me, find this genre to be pretty hit or miss, will want to make sure you give it a spin, too, because this hits on pretty much all the levels all the time.
For fans of: Les Rhythmes Digitales, Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk, Aphex Twin
King Bruce Version
12. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible (Merge)
The indie darlings work hard for their crown and seem determined to not give it up anytime soon. This is about as close to flawless as you can hope for when you're listening to a group full of wild children who continually achieve the art of being cool so masterfully. These solid individuals could shoot their collective loads for corporate giants but they stick to their tiny, yet explosive guns instead.
The chips on their sturdy shoulders are in no danger of crumbling anytime soon and if you try to snatch it before that happens, be ready for the consequences. When you mess with the kings, sometimes you get treated like pawns.
For fans of: Bruce Springsteen, Talking Heads, Pixies, Decemberists, Islands, Walkmen
(Undisputed) Champion Sound
11. the National – Boxer (Beggars Banquet)
For those in the know, this was pretty much a universal smash. Just a brilliant set of memorable songs full of pretty arrangements and strong vocals powered by moody and clever lyricism.
If you like this, you can't help but feel a little smarter for getting it. I confess I do not know much about the band, but you may get the feeling that you're eavesdropping on a conversation between a group of great philosophers and better lovers (and livers).
There is a certain level of sadness laced in between a few positive vibrations, but it doesn't take away from their cool confidence that will keep your mind swirling while you chillax. This album is like a great film that you can't shake and don't really want to. Listen to the drama unfold. It's irresistable and hard to miss.
For fans of: Interpol, Pela, the Twilight Sad, Arcade Fire