Top 57 Albums of 2007

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Mar 24 2008, 2:59

Full expanded reviews start here.

57. Silverchair - Young Modern
56. Beastie Boys - The Mix-Up
55. Bloc Party - A Weekend In The City
54. The Cinematic Orchestra - Ma Fleur
53. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
52. Clutch - From Beale Street to Oblivion
51. The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
50. The Smashing Pumpkins - Zeitgeist
49. Thrice - The Alchemy Index: Vols I & II/Fire & Water
48. Aesop Rock - All Day/None Shall Pass
47. Björk - Volta
46. Two Lone Swordsmen - Wrong Meeting/Wrong Meeting II
45. Rush - Snakes & Arrows
44. Tomahawk - Anonymous
43. Dinosaur Jr. - Beyond
42. Portion Control - Onion Jack IV: Corrective Audio
41. dälek - Abandoned Language
40. Jonny Greenwood - There Will Be Blood
39. Amon Tobin - Foley Room
38. Stars of the Lid - and Their Refinement of the Decline
37. Jesu - Conqueror/Sundown-Sunrise EP/Jesu & Elivium Split/Lifeline EP/Pale Sketches
36. Burial - Untrue
35. Recoil - SubHuman
34. Sigur Rós - Hvarf - Heim
33. The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
32. !!! - Myth Takes
31. Ulver - Shadows of the Sun
30. Maxïmo Park - Our Earthly Pleasures
29. Manic Street Preachers - Send Away the Tigers
28. Battles - Mirrored
27. Do Make Say Think - You, You're A History In Rust
26. Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
25. Future of the Left - Curses
24. Holy Fuck - LP
23. Substanz T - Beyond E
22. LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver
21. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
20. Maserati - Inventions for the New Season
19. Grinderman - Grinderman
18. Radiohead - In Rainbows
17. Editors - An End Has A Start
16. Neurosis - Given to the Rising
15. The Soulsavers - It's Not How Far You Fall, It's The Way You Land
14. Aereogramme - My Heart Has a Wish That You Would Not Go
13. El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead
12. Porcupine Tree - Fear of a Blank Planet/Nil Recurring
11. Pinback - Autumn Of The Seraphs
10. Pelican - City of Echoes

Pelican's Australasia and The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw were focused on dueling electric guitars (not banjos) with the repetitive drums and bass pushed back in the mix as a kind of post-metal and stoner rock amalgamation. Pelican claims this was a conscious decision, but the change in process is pretty evident on City of Echoes. Perhaps inspired by fellow Chi-townites Russian Circles to make the drumming more complex, the songs are now more a traditional instrumental rock band where all members are on equal footing. The drones, doom guitar, and shredding are now highlighted by percussion-work that drives the track rather than sitting in background on watch. In the opener "Bliss in Concrete" we hear a double-bass drum while the fills aren't predictable at all. Gone are those 10+ minute epics, replaced by tempos that ebb-and-flow through each track that take no longer than seven minutes. Intertwining Sabbath riffs play off each other with some folk adventures thrown in such as "Winds With Hands", the standard acoustic number found on their albums. The choice to write more compact songs is a refreshing take and Pelican is better for it.

09. Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero/Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D


Two years ago I whined about Trent's over-aged whining on Ah-With-Ah Teeth-Ah. Those complaints of juvenile lyrics are curbed on Year Zero, where he's focusing the angst outward through the perspective of fictional characters. Of course, if you're searching for life's meaning in song lyrics, you're looking (for love) in all the wrong places. Luckily, the music too is an improvement. While I enjoyed Dave Grohl's contributions, I really think I prefer the electronic drums present on this release. The hip-hop programming founding throughout the album may have been influenced by the work Trent did for El-P along with producing Saul William's The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust! Pre-release, he claimed the record sounded like Public Enemy and you can hear The Bomb Squad throughout, with synthesized industrial noises cutting through every track, including extended vocal-less sections.

There's all that talk about the marketing strategy used to back the album, which is supposed to be part of the album, not advertising, but whatever. All I care about is the music. The themes covered are at the societal level, using a fictional future to make statements of the present. For all the God-fearing dystopian police state expressed via the lyrics, there are bits like "Capital G" which are a thinly veiled dig on G.W. and his administration, exploring the indignation of the privileged complete with a pompous vocal delivery to match. With a possible part two in this fictional world planned for the future, I think sober Trent's expanded viewpoint is for the better artistically, so hopefully it leads him down more productive roads not involving personal anguish. For the remix album, check out the two stripped-down versions by New Order's Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert.

08. The National - Boxer

Bucking the trend of those expressing a Joy Division-like vibe, Ohio-originated/Brooklyn-based The National aren't characterized by primitive musicianship to go along with their dour lyrics. The powerful drumming in this record is some of the best found in rock for its nuance and variety, not complexity. "Mistaken For Strangers" drum production gives Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" a run for its loud money to go along with the woe-is-us lines such as, "You wouldn't want an angel watching/Surprise, surprise/They wouldn't want to watch". At home he's a tourist, yeah? Singer Matt Berninger has a deep baritone that can compete with Michael Gira of Swans/The Angels of Light. "Squalor Victoria" has "Sunday Bloody Sunday" rolling snares and strings over Berninger's stream of consciousness middle-class melancholy that will likely be the only song to ever use the phrase "middlebrow fuck-up". The apologetic and almost defeatist Boxer is even more bleak than its 2005 well-praised predecessor Alligator, but it is also more fleshed out with piano, trombone, flute, and orchestra. You can still find sweetness and hope under that cold, dark soul.

07. The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters

Whereas most Scottish bands make an attempt to hide their accent in order to reach larger markets, The Twilight Sad's singer James Graham seems to consciously emphasize his Glasgowian brogue. It's one of the many charms expressed by one of the best bands to debut lately. Combining shoegazer and post-rock into an epic and noisy form of melodic heartbreaking music, their intricate arrangements are drenched in distorted guitars and... an accordion. Their vibe is absolutely melancholic, with quiet folk excerpts on adolescent past exploding into cacophonies of screaming wails. These youthful, cathartic passages redefine the anthem. How's that for hyperbole?

06. Queens of the Stone Age - Era Vulgaris

Out of the gate, the Queens earn marks for a Silence of the Lambs reference in the first track and it's all about making the grade, ain't it? The lines "It's truly a lie/I'm counterfeit myself" from "I'm Designer" steers our course toward the posturing and the rat race of fame that I can only hope a crack in the earth's crust will swallow whole someday. While leader Josh Homme's clever lyrical quips brought me to attention, it was really the music that resonated. Disorienting guitar effects on "Turnin' on the Screw", the sexual swagger of "Sick, Sick, Sick", "Battery Acid's" buzzsaw guitar, and the non-album title track with Trent Reznor guesting on background vocals are all strong suits when compared to their past four albums. I thought Lullabies to Paralyze was a bit on the dull side for the album's duration as the band was realizing its identity post-Nick Oliveri, but with this album they're back into full form.

05. The Dillinger Escape Plan - Ire Works

While there has been plenty of band turmoil, Dillinger have still managed to keep their work cohesive with 1999's influential Calculating Infinity. Continuing the string of math metal with tempos change at breakneck speeds, they are now expanding their palette to the chagrin of some. The "Black Bubblegum" falsetto singing is a continuation of the chorus from Miss Machine's "Unretrofied" and their Justin Timberlake cover on the iTunes-only Plagiarism EP. "When Acting as a Wave" is the perfect marriage of metal and glitch. While it's typical for a DEP review to compare them to Mike Patton, I simply have difficulty listening to "Milk Lizard" and not hear Mr. Bungle with the horn hits and piano coda. They manage to stay true to their intense core but move in directions that keep anything from getting stale.

04. Wintersleep - Welcome To The Night Sky

With their third album, Halifax's Wintersleep finally decided to name one of their releases. Jolly good show. They also brought in Scottish producer Tony Doogan (Mogwai, Belle & Sebastian) to record their exponentially improved songwriting. "Weighty Ghost" is the obligatory handclapping sing-along with a few more anthems, "Oblivion" and "Archaeologists", thrown into a mix. The lyrics seem to be a series of disconnected thoughts on the unknown and inexpressible. I think the only weak part in the whole duration is the slow intro to "Murderer", however that works much better live without the delayed, compressed drum effect. Otherwise, the drumming does stand out (he also plays with Holy Fuck) and the build-ups in closing tracks "Laser Beams" and "Miasmal Smoke & The Yellow Bellied Freaks" are some of the most evocative pieces of music made last year. Existential questioning never sounded so joyous.

03. Low - Drums and Guns

2007 was the year that I become a Low convert. I had only listened to 2002's Trust in passing a couple times, not realizing the previous year's Things We Lost in the Fire on Kranky was absolutely masterpiece. While watching a documentary on Scott Walker, it was mentioned his focus on the silence between sounds highlighted his musical brilliance and Low follows much of the same philosophy. Trust's follow-up The Great Destroyer was interesting enough as they went in a bit of an accessible direction from their usual sparse compositions, however Drums and Guns is a whole new take on Low. Slowly strummed guitar and a barebones drum kit take a backseat to electronic samples that stay put in the corners of the aural space. By that, I mean this is one of the most extreme stereo productions I've ever come across. Voices, clicks, and tones are pushed to the left or right channel and are never pulled. This is Low's Kid A, but with heartfelt male/female duets and free of all that alienating paranoia. For something as simple as putting tracks in one channel, this album is really effective. The highlight is the rerecording of "Murderer", originally released as a vinyl-only EP five years ago.

02. Minus the Bear - Planet of Ice

Gone are song titles like "Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco Twister" or "Hey! Is That a Ninja Up There?"; in are "Burying Luck" and "When We Escape". To quote Zombie Heath Ledger, "why so serious?" To claim that Seattle's Minus the Bear have lost their sense of humour is pretty silly, since their music has always had a weighty tone. Take "Get Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo" from 2002's exceptional Highly Refined Pirates where singer Jake Snider narrates, "You said, 'My life's like a bad movie,'/And I said, 'It's true of all us.'/You said, you said, 'I've got to wake up so fucking early,'/And I said, 'Maybe the director's turned on us'". For Planet of Ice, the band has gone for a colder sound as the namesake indicates, but it also manages to marry progressive and math rock with a dance-oriented approach. It's a logical progression from Menos el Oso released two years prior, where they've made the keyboards of new member Alex Rose more pronounced, while backing down the guitar-tapping of previous albums to focus on riffing and even solo shredding. All the songs are unique in themselves, with glitch-rock "Knights", up-tempo dance number "Throwin' Shapes", and dueling extended King Crimson-ish guitar interplay from "Dr. L'Ling" (which is maybe a Drawn Together reference?). The latter contains a repeated refrain, "I was afraid of becoming a casual business man on matters of the heart" which resonates pretty strongly with the album title. The group's youthful abandon, instrumental kineticism, and intelligent frat-boys lyrics (ha!) have developed to a point where I find Minus the Bear at their peak.

01. Oceansize - Frames

A full release every two years seems a daunting task for a band that expresses so many creative ideas on each album, but Oceansize have managed again. There were some interweb murmurs that their sophomore, Everyone Into Position, was too soft and mainstream because a couple of its tracks appeared on The O.C. and a few television adverts. Well shit, some people have to eat. Besides, that material was balanced alone by the juggernaut speed up/down song "A Homage to a Shame". On Frames, Oceansize left Beggars Banquet for their own label and expanded their palette a bit with string arrangements and more focused percussion-work. A negative-space logo (a red version of the same from 2005's Music For Nurses EP) express the bands need to focus on the areas many others ignore.

The album itself opens with an eight-plus minute "Commemorative 9/11 T-shirt", starting with three and a half minute instrumental containing subtle changes in the drumming with every repeat, covered with slowly building piano-like guitar tones and glitchy background electronics. "Unfamiliar" is the lead single that hits at six and a half minutes, however it was first released edited down to four minutes without any instrumental bridge. Can the music-going public get an attention span already? "Trail of Fire" is definitely the highlight of this release, with the band's three-guitar attack reaching musical climaxes that went far beyond my imagination of what I saw as musically possible. Its ethereal voiced breakdown leads into "Savant", which gets its Sigur Rós on (without the falsetto) while recalling "Long Forgotten" from their debut Effloresce. "Sleeping Dogs and Dead Lions" is probably their most aggressive song since "One Out of None" off Music For Nurses, with its Meshuggah-like math metal passages, screaming vocals, and post-processed vocal fuckery. The bonus closer "Voorhees" sounds cut together from a series of jams, which is likely why it's just a bonus.

Throughout the album, you can clearly catch a host of influences, from Pink Floyd to Swervedriver to Jane's Addiction, the latter of which they owe their namesake to. A blend of prog rock, post-rock, math-metal, post-grunge, post-hardcore, shoegazer, and whatever other forms of diverse rock you can think of are all present, but the final product is still solid and coherent. The band ended the year by releasing an online-only cover of instrumental "Walking in the Air" and I'm waiting with baited breath for Oceansize Pt. 4 in 2009.

Commenti

  • irishtim

    I had 4 of your top ten in my 2007 list........nice!

    Apr 23 2008, 20:07
  • Afterglew

    We're obviously both pretty brilliant and people should follow our cause.

    Mag 12 2008, 19:14
  • Adthey

    Great list. Some of the records you mention I found them not quite a long ago (wintersleep, aereogramme, porcupine tree) and they're great. Also, your list is pretty eclectic, something it's weird to find, so, congratulations ;)

    Mag 15 2008, 21:32
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