What a strange year.
Unlike most years, when I find myself all over the place musically, this year found me focused on a small collection of albums that repeatedly drifted into my ears. I'm not like this - I'm not one of those people that sits back and says, "What a crappy year for music this has been," but when I look back on 2007 for truly notable music, I simply come back to a small handful of my very favorite releases where most years find me struggling to pick which ones were my favorites. Not so this year - it's pretty cut and dried.
Are they artistically important? In some cases, yes, but does it really matter? What matters most to me, at least, is that the albums are ones that I'm going to be coming back to year after year. If they're not groundbreaking, earth-shattering redefining examples of music, so be it. This list, in a way, is a prediction of sorts - I am attempting to predict the albums that are going to have staying power with me, at the very least. And, who knows, maybe in a few years we can look back and these albums will have withstood the test of time for many others. I'm pretty confident they will, in fact.
Wilco - Sky Blue Sky: Opening with the gentle guitar of "Either Way," a film begins to unreel in my mind. The black screen, the titles, and then Jeff Tweedy's soft, scratchy voice crackles out "Maybe the sun will shine today" just as a scene of the open road is revealed. That's what Sky Blue Sky is to me – road music, an escape, transportation away from the everyday nothingness that often drives us insane. And, more than any other piece of music, escape is exactly what I did with this album since it came out earlier this year.
Wilco may have taken a quiet and calming turn here, but there's so much more going on. The music is subtle, revealing layers of intricate, thoughtful, and sometimes downright weird stuff going on underneath the top coating of amiable, easy-going tunes. Listen close and it's impossible to ignore jazz guitarist Nels Cline's contributions, or the unusual drumming that Glenn Kotche lays down behind the band. These elements take Sky Blue Sky from simply being a good album to being something that needs to be listened to again and again. It's an instant modern classic rock album – a rarity these days.
Crowded House - Time On Earth: Sometimes you just can't hear things right. Or maybe it's just me. I don't know - whatever the case, that happened here. Time On Earth eluded me for months after its release. As expected, given my love for Neil Finn's songwriting, a few songs grabbed me quickly, and that's exactly the problem with the album. Some of these songs were so good that they eclipsed all the others. In their brilliant light the album as a whole slipped away from me. I fell into a bad rut. I heard it in chunks - "this" little group of songs was great, "that" little group of songs was good, and others, well, I just didn't care for. The whole didn't jell - and this was unusual for me. I usually love an album or I don't. Something was wrong here, and I began to think it wasn't the music.