Friday, February 15, 2008

Tops In Pops '07

I bought probably half of what I usually buy in a given year. I blame it on my Ipod. After purchasing one in early spring, I spent the first half of the year importing my mammoth collection into the little bugger and the other half of the year continually giddy over hitting the 'shuffle' button and being surprised by what comes out. Still, I did manage to discover some new bands, cherish some old ones and find a few diamonds in the rough. Here, in order of preference, are my favorite albums of 2007:

1. Radiohead "In Rainbows"- Anyone who knows my predilections in music will understand that pretty much any Radiohead release will shoot directly to the top (yes, even their experimental and almost non-musical efforts like "Kid A" and "Amnesiac"). But this year, Radiohead's "In Rainbows" earns its spot by laying out a solid return to form with pretty straight forward rock that echoes back to their days of "Pablo Honey". The guitar is simple, the drums push the melodies, and Thom Yorke hasn't attempted to hide his voice behind electronic manipulations. For sheer rock and roll, "In Rainbows" is brilliant and it re-affirms my belief that Radiohead are not happy with simply pushing the envelope, but staying in front of the pack and choosing to look back momentarily.

2. The National "Boxer"- Lead singer Matt Berninger's crooning, baritone voice would feel right at home in the smoke-filled lounges of 1970's Vegas, and with "Boxer", The National have become pretty close to filling the spot as my new favorite band. If one can take the self-defeating lyrics- which reel off like negative counterparts to the world weary musings of Greg Dulli from The Afghan Whigs-then The National are just the band for you. And that speaks volumes about this band when one actually cares to listen to the lyrics. The music is startling, but the words cut like a knife. Their music has been compared to the likes of Interpol, but there's something more at work here. While their previous release, "Alligator", scores just a little higher for me personally, "Boxer" is a knockout regardless.

3. The Arcade Fire "Neon Bible"- Canadian band The Arcade Fire create a wild merging of music and sounds. Integrating old fashioned rock, a brass section, church style organs and a Polyphonic Spree chrous of voices, their music reaches magical heights at times. Very similiar to the sound of fellow Canadian band, The Broken Social Scene, they often front up to 10 band members. And when you listen to their music, you get a sense of every single personality, as if their individual musical talent is fighting to be heard and erupts in one joyous blend. Their stuff is simply indescribable. "The Neon Bible" is another huge step forward that blasts pretty much everything else out of the water when listened to in one sitting.

4. Once Soundtrack- A sure-fire artistic coup to take musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova and build a film around their ingratiating abilties as naturalistic performers and even better musicians. They portray a couple on-screen who meet and make some pretty impressive music together (literally, not figuratively). Hansard, part of the Irish band The Frames, places his music not only as the soundtrack for the film, but the emotional foundation for the characters and dramatic thrust of the entire narrative. This has been called the best musical of the modern age, and I wouldn't disagree.

5. Interpol "Our Love To Admire"- Continuing to mine the Joy Division sound of the 80's, Interpol's latest album is more of the same but their lyrics have grown increasingly dark and their pulsating sound has begun to dig a little deeper. This is a great entrance point for any new admirers and an evolving mid-point for long time fans.

6. Dinosaur Jr. "Beyond"- After I placed Dinosaur's new cd, "Beyond" into the player, it immediately transported me back to 1993 when I first discovered this racous, guitar-heavy grunge rock band. Even the album cover- a black and white photo of a party thrashed living room and couch with half of a human body disappearing beneath the cushions- gleefully recalls the early days of grunge. Frontman and guitarist J Mascis has bounced through several projects, but the current release sounds like they never missed a beat. It's certainly nothing new, but its exactly this timelessness that I adore.

7. Asobi Seksu "Citrus"- I featured this band in an earlier blog posting, and while their sound is a little more pop-tinged than I usually like, there's something very inviting about female singer Yuki Chikudate's airy, ethereal voice wafting against the heavy sound of James Hanna's guitar and drummer Ben Shapiro. This is definitely mood music, and Asobi Sekse (Japanese for 'playful sex') can put you in a variety of moods.

8. Foo Fighters "Echoes, Silence Patience and Grace"- While The Foo Fighters are certainly capable of producing ready made FM hits ("The Pretender"), their newest outing also slows things down a bit, mixing in some slide guitar on slow, ambling songs as well as other experimental efforts. It still remains clear that for sheer musical ability, Dave Groehl was pretty much the driving force behind Nirvana's sound while Kobain was the deliverer of its tortured soul and voice. "Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace" is exactly that- an album that impresses and intrigues with each new song as it turns its back on commercialism after the first hit.

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