The best way to describe how I feel about the music of 2007 is "wide open." I don't think I've ever had such an eclectic list of favorites as I do for 2007. My list features pop, rock, hip-hop, R&B, dance, and some stuff I might best describe as "other." There are releases that are indie and not-so-indie, as well as releases that are critically acclaimed and surprisingly underrated.
Even as I still digest potentially great albums released late in the year (albums by Lupe Fiasco and Ghostface Killah, for example), it's time to recap my 10 favorite albums of 2007, in no particular order:
Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam: 2007 was the year that I really discovered Animal Collective after hearing a track here and there. When I first heard Strawberry Jam, I couldn't fathom what I was listening to. My reaction was somewhere between WTF and giddy admiration. There was just no way the music on this album should work, let alone be enjoyable to listen to. However, it just did. It's excellent electro-folk-pop on a drug that has yet to be invented, let alone outlawed.
Jay-Z – American Gangster: Don't call it a comeback. Call it a return to form. Jay-Z sounds positively rejuvenated on American Gangster as he tackles familiar territory. Backed by great beats (including some by the also-rejuvenated Diddy and his crew), Jay-Z has created his best album since The Black Album and his most consistent album since The Blueprint. Although it's best enjoyed in full, the songs can stand alone quite easily. While it may not be better than his great albums, it certainly deserves to be mentioned right along with them.
Justice – † (Cross): Somehow, some way, Justice avoided the pit of one-hit-wonderism and the shadow of Daft Punk to craft an immensely (and unapologetically) fun dance album. For other artists, a perfect little track like "D.A.N.C.E." would be the peak of their career. For Justice, it's not even the best song on their album. No matter how uptight you are, you will be move right along with the music on †, especially when you least expect it.
The Go! Team – Proof Of Youth: When I first listened to this album, I was a little disappointed. It sounded a lot like the group's debut, Thunder, Lightning, Strike. Eventually, I figured out that it didn't matter if it sounded like the first album as long as it sounded good. This album is like a good sequel as opposed to a tired remake. It's a blast to listen to and even manages to have a quiet moment or two. It's as good a pick-me-up album as I've ever heard.
Kenna – Make Sure They See My Face: The genre that best describes Kenna is pop but at the same time, it doesn't even begin to describe him. On his excellent sophomore release, Make Sure They See My Face, he goes from power pop to rock/pop to electropop to dance pop without missing a beat. It's the type of music that U2 or Duran Duran could make but it also feels unique and modern due to the stellar production (mostly by Chad Hugo and Kenna himself). There really isn't much pop music like this album out now and every time I listen to it, I wonder why it (and Kenna himself) keeps getting overlooked.
Radiohead – In Rainbows: So much has been said about Radiohead's "pay-what-you-want" experiment that we've almost forgotten just how good In Rainbows is. There are a lot of albums where low bitrate MP3s are more than sufficient. This is not one of them. However, it is good enough that its excellence shined through even the least ideal means of hearing it. Also, it was refreshing to hear a band that seemed to come to terms with itself. They will never make another The Bends or OK Computer or Kid A. By just trying to make good music as opposed to topping what they did before, they succeeded in making an album that deserves to stand alongside their very best.
Common – Finding Forever: Common enjoyed a creative, commercial, and critical resurgence with the Kanye West-guided Be. Part of me was worried that Finding Forever would just be a retread of that wonderful album. I should've known that Common and Kanye were too good for that. With a wider variety of songs and a bit more non-Kanye production, this album stands apart from his other albums. In a genre that's perpetually youth-oriented, this album feels mature. This is a hip-hop album that your parents could enjoy and I mean that as a compliment.
Kanye West – Graduation: Common's Be and Kanye West's Late Registration came out in the same year and I couldn't really pick one over the other. Finding Forever and Kanye's Graduation both came out in 2007 but this time, I have to give Kanye the edge. Although this album isn't actually the best of his career, it is an album where Kanye is at the top of his game. Graduation addresses and "corrects" his perceived shortcomings from previous albums with a surprising precision. He expands well beyond soul samples, streamlines the proceedings by cutting skits, and keeps the track list to a minimum. He takes chances and continues to open up his sound to other producers. He showed real growth on this album as an artist and producer and I enjoyed every minute of it.
The White Stripes – Icky Thump: No album in 2007 elicited a stronger response from me as a listener than The White Stripes' Icky Thump. Upon first listen, I loved this album. I listened to it almost nonstop from the moment I got it and several tracks took a spot as my favorite song from the album. Although I had a strong positive reaction from the album, I couldn't bring myself to review it. I'm not exactly the biggest rock person, so quite frankly, I was a bit scared of sounding like an idiot in my review. Regardless, I loved damn near everything about this album from the sound of Jack White's guitar to the insanely catchy rhythms and wonderful songwriting. I usually shy away from picking a single "best" of anything. However, if I picked a "best" album, this would be it.
Lifesavas – Gutterfly: The Original Soundtrack: I had never heard of Lifesavas before I listened to Gutterfly. After I listened to it, I wondered why I hadn't. Inspired by blaxploitation films, this is an album that manages to have some social conscience and some fun at the same time. This is an album with one of the more heartfelt hip-hop songs of 2007 ("Long Letter") as well as great collaborations with Camp Lo, Fishbone, and George Clinton. I think it's probably one of the most underrated albums of 2007.
Those were my 10 favorites. Here are the ones that almost made it to the list:
Ledisi – Lost & Found: This songstress's major label debut is an excellent collection of smooth, understated R & B.
Redman – Red Gone Wild: I have to commend Redman for not only coming back after such a long hiatus but also for making an album that sounded like he never left.
Bjork – Volta: A glorious return to rhythm for Bjork but I have to admit that I didn't like it as much as I thought I would.
The Chemical Brothers – We Are The Night: This is a solid, enjoyable album and two of its tracks, "All Rights Reversed" and "Saturate," are among my favorite songs of 2007.
Yoko Kanno – CM Yoko: The fact that an album made up entirely of music composed for commercials almost made my list should say something about its quality.