2007 wasn't the best year for music I've ever heard. It didn't have a truck load of five-star material, but it had a bunch of largely satisfying releases, ones I'll probably still be listening to well into 2008 and beyond.
Thanks in part to Blogcritics, I was able to listen to and get a hold of a bunch more albums than I normally would have. And of course, the more music you listen to, the harder it is to narrow your favorites down to a short list. So instead of just another top 10, I've decided to do things a bit differently and group my favorites in groups of sevens, in honor of the year that was.
The first list consists of full-length CDs that got the most love and spins in my stereo system, the second list being just a sample of other artists whose work I dug not quite as much but deserves inclusion in any year-end list. My third list will be in "Part Two" of my 2007 best-of lists, since the first two run rather long. [None of these releases are ranked in any particular order, in case you were wondering.]
My Absolute Favorite Albums of 2007
1. Travis – The Boy With No Name: These Scottish rockers are highly underrated in America, for whatever reason. They are one of the primary reasons bands such as Coldplay even exist — though the two bands don't sound much alike — yet they put out great albums such as this that don't sell well in the U.S. Whether it's dreamy, goose bump-inducing instant classics like "Colder," infectious guitar pop rockers like "Selfish Jean" and "Under The Moonlight (featuring KT Tunstall)" or the radio-ready romantic pop of "Closer," this CD is a winner through and through.
2. Band of Horses – Cease To Begin: The quick follow-up to 2006's Everything All The Time, this CD is no sophomore slump for the Seattle-now-South Carolina sextet. Whether it's southern, jangle-style rock and pop on the likes of "General Specific" and "Is There A Ghost," or softer, more country-leaning numbers like "Marry Song," there's not a bad track on this album. And these tracks work just as well live, too.
3. Smashing Pumpkins – Zeitgeist: As one of the biggest Pumpkins and Billy Corgan fans in the world, even I got aggravated with the marketing of this album, which would be a strong contender for comeback album of the year if you included all the strong b-sides and bonus tracks from all five thousand editions of it. Even if you don't include great bonus tracks like "Stellar," "Death From Above" or the acoustic "Zeitgeist," it is a very strong album.
Out of the twelve tracks that comprise the original edition, all but maybe three or four of them are repeat-worthy: the shoegazy "That's The Way (My Love Is)," the Brian May-like scorching guitars of "Tarantula," the good-time hard rock of "Bring The Light" and "(Come On) Let's Go!," the heavy crunch of "Doomsday Clock," the dramatic, Mellon Collie era-ish "Bleeding The Orchid" and the symphonic pop of "Pomp And Circumstances."
It's too bad the Pumpkins let the marketing of Zeitgeist get out of hand. Download all the bonus tracks yourself and make your own version of it. Then you will see how impressive this album really is and that Billy Corgan is still capable of writing great music after all these years.
4. Explosions In The Sky – All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone: When I saw the Pumpkins in Boston, MA, last October, this Austin, Texas all-instrumental, post-rock band simply blew me away with their live set. In the 1990s, the Pumpkins had such acclaimed acts like Grant Lee Buffalo and Fountains of Wayne open for them. But EITS is easily the best opening act they've ever had, IMO. I was somewhat familiar with this band's music going into the concert and knew they had several albums out, but from the first notes of their show I was sold, and later got a hold of this album. Short as it is, AOASIME is full of majestic soundscapes and tones that remind me somewhat of Sigur Ros, and the rush of loud guitars, delicate piano and epic song structures are Mogwai-ish in their quiet-to-loud dynamics. Another instant winner of an album.
5. Down – Down III: Over The Under: You've got to give it up for Phil Anselmo. When he wasn't trying to ruin his or other people's lives with drugs and alcohol abuse, he always managed to work hard and long enough to become one of the great singers in modern metal, largely with the now tragically defunct Pantera. But supergroup Down, lead by Anselmo and musicians from C.O.C., Eyehategod and Crowbar has been making heavy, southern and stoner metal (with Black Sabbath influences) since 1995. Their third album, Over The Under, written with Hurricane Katrina in mind — Anselmo is from New Orleans — is no less heavy and no less satisfying than their other two releases, NOLA and Down II. So go buy it if you don't already have it, metalheads!
6. Dinosaur Jr. – Beyond: Speaking of the '90s, listening to this, the first Dinosaur Jr. album in a full decade, it feels nostalgic, and is definitely return to form. It is also the first CD to feature the original lineup of J. Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph. Loud, noisy amps and distortion rule the day on tracks like "Almost Ready," but there are also a couple of softer, kinder melodic Lou Barlow numbers on here as well. This is a welcome development for the band, as Barlow didn't get to include a lot of his material on past Dino Jr records. It all makes for a truly rewarding listen, and another largely great comeback record by a legendary alternative rock band.
7. Silversun Pickups – Carnavas: True, this album came out in 2006, but it didn't pick up (pardon the pun) steam until 2007, when "Lazy Eye" and "Well Thought Out Twinkles" ascended to become hit singles for the band. When I first started listening to this CD near the end of 2006, it was the only album I listened to for weeks. "Three Seed," "Rusted Wheel" and the aforementioned singles are just some of what makes this record in ingenious mix of probable influences ranging from the shoegaze and dream-pop of Ride, Smashing Pumpkins, and My Bloody Valentine and the alternative stylings of The Pixies.
Having met the band in March of 2007 a day after opening for Snow Patrol in Boston, I found out from singer Brian Aubert that The Clash was an influence on him as well. You may not sense that listening to Carnavas, but you will find plenty of great songs on it nonetheless.
Seven albums I also dug, but not quite as much as the above list:
1. Carrie Akre – Last The Evening: This veteran Seattle singer and musician has peaked at the right time.
2. Bruce Springsteen – Magic: Another year, another solid batch of songs from The Boss. What else more is there to say?
3. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible: Sure I liked it, but the album was a bit over-hyped, I think. Having said that, Win and Regine Butler's new friendship with Springsteen is just beyond cool. And their performance together of "Keep The Car Running" last October in Ottawa was simply amazing. Watch it here.
4. Prong – Power Of The Damager: Another underrated and influential artist, this one from the power metal world.
5. Kings Of Leon – Because Of The Times: These Southern boys have gotten better by leaps and bounds since they first started in 2000. This, their third album, is their best and most ambitious album to date.
6. Jimmy Eat World – Chase This Light: Sometimes old-school emo, more often radio-friendly power pop, this influential group has made their best record since 2001.
7. Sevendust – Alpha. Another highly influential alternative metal act that got back to what they did best: recording brutally heavy, pummeling metal the way they used to on earlier records going back to the late '90s and early 2000s. It's not all memorable metal, but good enough for my tastes.