The year is now over. Finished, complete!
Ian threatened, but never made good, on an awards ceremony for his favorite ‘everything’ of the year. YouTube films, albums, songs, professors, and so on. When I came home, 96.5 the Buzz does its “Top 10” segments, where each disk jockey picks their favorite ten albums of the year, and plays three songs from each, as a type of sample.
I decided that I’d like to do that. Mine is a little scaled down, because I don’t listen to quite enough music for a full top ten. This year was pretty good though. I’m doing a top five, with two honorable mentions. Each album will have a handfull tracks of note, some of which will have accompanying full audio.
In truth, I’m not sure what I hope to accomplish by all this. As I got on though, I find music to play an increasingly large part in my life, and I devote a lot of time to finding new music (see: stealing it from Ian) and keeping up with a large number of my favorite artists. I listen to it when ever I have time, and even when I don’t. I’ve found a lot of stuff I enjoy, and a little I don’t. I’m not saying by any means that my music tastes are the best, the most refined, or even respectable.
This is the stuff I really, truly love listening to, and I want to share it, just in case someone else may enjoy it as much as I did.
Here we have two records that I didn’t play quite enough to merit calling this a “Top 7”, but they were certainly of substantial quality and depth, and thus merit at least a tip of the hat.
We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
– Modest Mouse
Oh Modest Mouse. I love their formula for albums. They write a really, really amazing single; it’s like they sat down and thought, “what will sell a record like nobody’s business?” and they write that song. Remember ‘Float On’? Well this year it’s called Dashboard.
That tune just has all its ducks in a row, and Modest Mouse just pushes it to the limit. It’s really hard not to like, and I know I’ve been guilty of playing it a few times in a row. ‘Fire It Up’ is a good example of the rest of the record. It’s sortof a bait-and-switch, in that hardly any other songs have the drive or energy of the single. It isn’t bad, just different. Most of the other tracks are far slower, more laid back. They really lay on the naval theme indicated by the title, which is fun. As always, the band delivers what I’d say are the cleverest lyrics I’ve heard. In the middle of the record, they reprise into an up-tempo song just one more time with <>We’ve Got Everything, which synthesizes the best of ‘clever lyrics’ and a misfit pop sound. If you like ‘Dashboard’, this is the song that will keep you listening, at least until midway through the album. At least for me, at this point, I’m in the mood, and I finish it out, despite them laying on some trademark instrumental pandemonium in the closing tracks.
Our Love to Admire
I was really, really excited for this album. I first got to know Interpol through 2004’s Antics. I found out last year that this is only a frail shadow of their previous release, Turn On the Bright Lights. The difference was glaring, in that I really liked maybe two tracks on Antics, and the rest was just noise. Turn On the Bright Lights was the complete opposite, where I love nearly ever song. So I was curious to see what was next for Interpol. Would the trend continue, and would I hate EVERY song on the new album?
Fortunately not. Our Love to Admire is evidence that Interpol is really making an honest attempt to mature as a musicians. It’s way more balanced, in that there aren’t a few standout tracks, and then just a bunch of iffy stuff. Every single track is really, really solid. The opening track, ‘Pioneer to the Falls‘ sets the mood, and they don’t turn back.
The songs go fast, they go slow, they’re happy (for Interpol anyway) or they’re depressing, it doesn’t matter. The quality of music fluctuates very little. From the single, ‘Heinrich Maneuver’ to one of the final tracks, ‘Who Do You Think?’, they do a grand job of making sure each track is up to snuff.
Which is essentially my one gripe. There’s really not standout songs that change the tone. I absolutely refuse to listen to this album if I’m under any type of stress, because if listened to in the improper mood, their doldrums can drive one mad. If you just want to brood though, this is your record through and through.
Top 5 Albums of 2007
Here they are: my favorite music released this year. There’s a little more audio in this section, but please keep in mind that any track mentioned in the bold face was mentioned for a reason, and is certainly worth a listen through any other venue you can manage.
5: Wincing the Night Away
The Shins have gone in the direction I hope Interpol is heading in. They manage to hold the quality throughout the album, [the track Pam Berry being a weird exception to this] but also are able to keep the tone varying enough to hold listeners with shorter attention spans. It also doesn’t hurt that their music has a strange, pleasant, sedative effect that just makes me relax a little more when I listen to it. The single, ‘Phantom Limb‘, carries the earlier portion of the album, but is nonetheless representative of what follows it.
‘Australia’ is the peppier (like you thought that was possible) little brother of ‘Phantom Limb’ and is a good lead in after the opener, ‘Sleeping Lessons’. I mentioned earlier a change in tone, and ‘Split Needles‘ is a good example of that. It’s darker, but still up tempo, and rougher, but still polished-sounding. The latter half sounds more like this, and the shift is what I like best about this record.
All in all, this is a huge improvement from Oh, Invetered World, two of whose three good tracks were cannibalized by the film Garden State [the third is Know Your Onion!, which is a lot of fun]. It’s a much better album over all, and works as a whole, not simply a few catchy songs, and some weird filler. Definitely worth picking up if you’ve ever liked even a single Shin’s song.
4: Neon Bible
For the longest time, I hated this album because Ian wouldn’t shut up about it. I just got sick of hearing how awesome it was… Given it’s position on the list, I hardly need to explain the ensuing change of heart once I actually heard the album. It is THAT good. Like the Modest Mouse record, Arcade Fire picks a theme and sticks with it. There’s is a bit more complex though: the encroaching attributes of religion left unfettered lend it committing corporation-like crimes. The other interpretation being that consumerism has become a type of religion in our culture. I don’t honestly know for sure, but those were some of the ideas that came to mind, listening to the songs. Hence the name, Neon Bible. No track better sums this up than one stuck right at the heart of it all, ‘Intervention‘.
Accidentally listening to ‘Black Mirror’ inevitably sucks me into listening to the entire album. The title track ‘Neon Bible’ is a stoic declaration of the futility of everything, if in fact this adherence to a corporate religion is the case. One of the final tracks, ‘No Cars Go’ strategically is placed at the end, to keep you listening, and make sure you hear ‘My Body Is a Cage’. I wrote that final track off for the longest time as a black sheep of the album, but listening to it all the way through, and allowing it to build and make its point, it deserves to be in there just as much as the radio single Keep the Car Running.
3: In Rainbows
This is Radiohead’s highly anticipated follow-up to Hail to the Thief, and their first record following the expiration of their previous contract with their record company. They don’t seem to be put off by this new found lack of anchorage. In fact, to no one’s surprise, they’re embracing it. In Rainbows was released online, for free, if you wanted, but donations are encouraged. The physical release on CD won’t even come until sometime in January of 2008.
As someone who didn’t really like Hail to the Thief instinctively (it’s growing on me, but at a snail’s pace), I love this record. I feel like it takes just enough from all their past projects, Kid A and Amnesiac‘s more technically based sound, paired with the slightly more traditional sound from OK Computer and the albums previous to it, and a dash of the ethereal that makes Hail to the Thief a bit scary to listen to at times. A great example of this is ‘Reckoner‘, which I’ve no qualms about saying is the best song on the album.
The first half of the album flows very nicely together, almost into a single song. The tone changes in the middle of the forward-slash of ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’, and carries right into ‘All I Need‘.
This doesn’t stop the halting and haunting closer ‘Videotape’ from absolutely stealing the show. I’ve purposefully omitted it’s audio because it makes so much more sense where it is on the album. It’s best enjoyed where it is. Like all Radiohead, you’ll either love it or hate it. Different fans will be attracted to this record because it is structured like a more typical record, with more typical songs, and even a radio single, ‘Jigsaw Falling Into Place’, which I used as an entry title some months back. Then again, some die-hards may hate it because it isn’t weird enough.
I feel it represents a culmination of Radiohead’s musical experience, and reflects on the wide range of material they’ve put out. Few bands could write a record with all pistons firing in a harmony such as this.
2: In Our Bedroom After the War
Earlier this fall, I had the pleasure of listening to a previous Stars album, Set Yourself on Fire. They opened that record with what is probably still my favorite track of theirs, and in fact the title track of that album, ‘Set Yourself on Fire’. This record is no different. The opening pair of songs, ‘The Beginning After the End’ and ‘The Night Starts Here’ are a powerful, driving force to open a record with. The first is an instrumental with bass that begs a subwoofer, or at the very least a decent car stereo, and segues beautifully into the second, which is the standout track of this record. ‘The Night Starts Here‘ begins timidly enough… but at around 1:15 in the song, a fair bit of distortion turns the track into a force to be reckoned with.
The following tracks vacillate between slow-tempoed songs of a sweeter variety, and peppier sounding ones with topics that verge on the tragic. ‘Midnight Coward’, featured as the first entry with full audio this year, is an example of the former, with ‘The Ghost of Genova Heights’ serving as a sample of the latter. Unfortunately, I still can’t get on board with final two tracks. They’re sappy, and slow, and try to hard to be encouraging that it’s just more depressing. That’s really the difference between this and the only record that beat it this year, is a good closing. In my opinion, tragic as it is, they should’ve ended it on ‘Life 2: Unhappy Ending‘. It’s about as epic as a song like this can get, and would’ve been about as poignant of an ending as you could EVER ask for.
1: Our Ill Wills
-Shout Out Louds
Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, the album which preceded this one and marked the Shout Out Louds’ debut, was quite possibly the best record I heard in high school. Two of its tracks have been titles of Schrödinger entires, becuase this band’s Sweedish take on indie-rock-pop is just so damn catchy. And it isn’t the kindof catchy that gets you on NOW That’s What I Call Music: 405. It’s just the type of thing that after about two or three listens, you’re singing along, and by five listens you’re belting ever line. Or at least that’s how it is for me with these guys.
I wanted their new album so badly that I imported it as soon as it was released internationally, because the American release was just too late in the year for me, and I wanted it to listen to over the summer. Thus, I paid some outrageous price after hearing ‘Tonight I Have to Leave It‘ online maybe three or four times.
To my pleasant surprise, this wasn’t even the best track on the album. And that’s why this record is my number one. To find a track that’s BETTER than the one that made you purchase a record is incredible. It makes you wonder why they aren’t using THAT track to sell the album. Maybe it’s just a matter of opinion, but that’s what I took from it. That track, for me, is ‘Impossible‘.
It also doesn’t hurt that at the very least, half the album is of equal caliber to the first song. Any record that starts out that high and still manages to go up is deserving of the number one slot. For me, the primary place where a record fails for me is the end. I almost always will like the opening track, and I’m willing to listen, always, at least as far as my favorite song on the album, regardless of what falls in between. Past that favorite track through, things can get sticky.
Here, the instrumental title track ‘Our Ill Wills’ beautifully segues from the more driving, almost airborne frenzy and speed of earlier two thirds of the record into a graceful landing of the bittersweet finish. Immediately following the title track is probably the most energetic song about death I’ve ever heard, ‘Time Left for Love‘.
This goes into ‘Meat Is Murder’, a drudging, depressing track about lying that is almost too much to bear. If you can stick it out though, get through that depressing affair, the final track ‘Hard Rain’ gives you a glimmer of hope. It’s no happy ending, neatly tying off all the loose strings with a simple, rockin’ pop tune to make you forget all the sad stuff… it’s not that song. It’s track about living with the consequences of your actions and trying to persevere in spite of it all.
That type of honesty in a song really blew me away. And that’s why this album is number one. You get sucked in for the rush of the earlier tunes, and only when things slow down a little bit do you realize how much depth was in these tracks all along. A trick like that is what makes the Shout Out Louds probably my favorite band of the moment. I’ll leave a final track, the second one, ‘Your Parents Living Room‘, which is pretty representative, in and of itself, of all the things I just mentioned.
So there you have it. My top 5 albums, complete with honorable mentions and hopefully an enticing collection of audio clips. If you’re looking for something new, maybe different, any of these seven records is a strong bet. Feel free to let me know if I missed anything monumental this year that you thought should’ve been on this list along with, or instead of these records. That type of dialog would be incredible!
For another take on 2007, check out Ian’s Top Albums of 2007.
Back to Year End Lists.
[…] say that I approached Optica with some trepidation is putting it mildly. 2007′s Our Ill Wills is a frontrunner for my favorite album of all time, and in lieu of the disappointment […]