Saturday, January 12, 2008

Top 10 Albums of 2007!

Okay, I am a bit late on this, but here it is. J.R.'s top 10 of 2007!

10. Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha

Layers and layers of sound blended with poetic moody, and storytelling lyrics make for a great, intelligent album full of interesting songs. Andrew Bird is really a genius on the acoustic guitar, violin, and Rhodes, and that is all on display in this album of diverse songs. Andrew Bird is probably the most talented musician on this list, the only reason he doesn't rank higher is the album lacks continuity. I still would highly recommend getting to know this one, especially if you appreciate musical complexity.

9. Ryan Adams - Easy Tiger

Another new album from the prolific Ryan Adams, one would think he would run out of good songs eventually. Well, he hasn't yet on this one. This album opens with Ryan at his most twangy and southern in "Goodnight Rose" then dabbles in pop, rock, country, without ever veering to far from the brilliance laid down by the first few tracks. That is with the exception of track number 4, "Halloweenhead", easily one of Ryan's worse written songs in years, and despite it's catchy beat and driving guitars, it drops this album down out of the top 5 for that one track alone. "Follow the Lights" from the EP of the same name would have fit in it's place to make this album feel much more congruent.

8. Laura Veirs - Saltbreakers

A little folk, a little pop, and a little art rock, all mixed in with poetic, organic lyrical content and the whimsical voice of Laura Veirs make this a beautifully creative album. Laura combines different sounds and varies between depth and playfulness, sometimes embracing both at the same time without ever sounding out of place in the album. The only downfall might be that it didn't hold my attention the first few times I listened, but while compiling this list I made myself listen to my albums from 2007 and this one, the more I heard, the farther up the list it made it. Definitely a strong number 8.

7. Sigur Rós - Hvarf/Heim

I think I mentioned this last time I review a Sigur Rós album, but it's not often that music I can't understand the lyrics to hold my attention, but Sigur Rós paint such a beautiful picture with musical textures and depth that no additional story is needed to fill the imagination. Havarf (Icelandic for "hope"), the first half of this album, takes you through a chilling yet strangely comforting ride, propelled by enormous, guitar filled crescendos. The second half of the album, Heim (meaning "home") paints a more mellow comforting picture, building slower and more melodically then the Havarfhalf of the album. The use of live recordings for the Heim half of the album really makes you feel like Sigur Rós wants to show you a bit of what "home" is for them.

6. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

Epic. You can't listen to this album without feeling like you are a part of something epic. Since their debut, Funeral, Arcade Fire has had a sound that seems bigger then life, but on this album they take it to another level. String and orchestral arrangements mixed with driving anthem rock and a heavy new wave edge just sound to big to contain. The quit in this album packs as much huge power as the loud places. The low point for me was the title track, oddly enough, but it leads well into the opening organ keys of the following track "Intervention", one of the highlights.

5. The Shins - Wincing the Night Away

Indie darlings, The Shins, have come a lot closer to meeting Natalie Portman's claims of life changing music (Garden State) with this huge step forward for them. Wincing the Night Away features The Shins at their most mature to date. Sounding like a band that has grown up beyond the easy melodic pop songs of their past to something bigger, bolder, and most importantly, more creative. I don't mean to put down their previous efforts, this one is just that much better. Still melodic and moody, but now offering so much more, almost "life changing".

4. New Pornographers - Challengers

This is my first experience with the New Pornographers (I think the name scared me off before), after thoroughly enjoying Neko Case's solo album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, last year I thought I would check them out. I didn't understand at first how you could have a band with Neko Case and not feature her as the lead vocalist. Upon listening I discovered that the combination of her and A. C. Newman sharing vocal duties and creating perfect harmonies, works so will with the driving power pop and intelligent lyrical content of this album. Indie pop doesn't get much better then this.

3. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

So, this album got kind of beat around by some reviewers, they thought it was a step backwards for Wilco, from their masterpiece Yankee, Hotel, Foxtrot and their incredibly unique A Ghost is Born. I completely disagree. While this album might not push the limits of music ingenuity like the last two, it does something else. With their previous albums Wilco had destructed their music to a point that was brilliant and complex, but not always enjoyable. With Sky Blue Sky, they are rebuilding music their way. These mellow, moody, simple songs display a stripped down Wilco, vulnerable, and exposed. While playing around with a bit of a 70's folk vibe, with plenty of jazz and blues thrown in, they still bring a completely unique Wilco sound to it, with Nels Cline's unmistakable and amazing guitar playing. Jeff Tweedy's voice fits so perfectly with lyrics that are so brilliantly moody yet refreshingly optimistic. This album is really the perfect follow up to the complexity of A Ghost is Born, it is a reminder that music can still simply be music.

2. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

After their last album, Gimme Fiction, Spoon had made a huge impression on me as a band to look out for. After this album, they have firmly cemented themselves as one of my all time favorite bands. Britt Daniel's gravely vocals somehow work perfectly with Spoon's bouncy, rhythmic guitar sound. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga combines that with a more atmospheric complexity then they have brought before. Spoon's ability to write and perform incredibly catchy tunes, and combines styles from many genres while intergrating their own unique sound will guarantee these guys stay at the top of my list for many years to come. Welcome to my favorites Spoon, keep up the amazing work.

1. Radiohead - In Rainbows

A new Radiohead album this year, how could it not be number 1 right? Well, maybe, but this is a well-deserved number 1. In Rainbows is so subtly beautiful and breathe taking it couldn't be anywhere else on this list. Subtle is not a word I would have ever used to describe a Radiohead release in the past. One review described it this way: " This is not a record that hits you over the head with how far this group is pushing the envelope; it's simply a phenomenal, well-crafted, and exciting album", I completely agree. While I have always loved that Radiohead pushed the envelope on what was music, and stretched me the same, this albums seems to be the perfect balance from everything learned from years of pushing. It feels like the summary of years of researching music and sound. There is a return of verses and choruses for the first time since 1997's OK Computer. All of this without sacrificing the interesting musical aspects that are Radiohead.

Almost as brilliant as the album itself was the way they released it. After being completely fed up with the music industry, Radiohead released it on the Internet for whatever you wanted to pay for it, and was delivered via download. As of 10 December 2007, the official In Rainbows download is no longer available and must be purchased for full price via iTunes. Other bands have been releasing their work in similar fashion since.

The National - Boxer
Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
Joshua James - The Sun Is Always Brighter
Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog
Derek Webb - Ringing Bell
The Avett Brothers - Emotionalism
Over the Rhine - Trumpet Child
Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
The Good, The Bad, and The Queen - The Good, The Bad, and The Queen

And in the "I can't believe I am admitting I like" this department:
Alicia Keys - As I Am