….and we’re back.
Before getting down to business, here’s a short (probably unnecessary) disclaimer: I know there are a ton of good albums that came out this year that I haven’t heard yet. I’ve read a lot of year end lists, and three albums that I have yet to hear that seem to be on almost every respectable list are the new LCD Soundsystem, the new M.I.A. and the new Feist. I can’t stand Feist (as a solo artist, anyway), but I’m sure the other two albums (and many others that I haven’t heard) are really great. I hope to get to some of them eventually. Recommendations are welcome.
THE BEST 16-11 ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
16. Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew – Spirit If…
Oh, how I wanted to hate this album. I’m not sure why, but the whole “Broken Social Scene Presents” label just struck me as totally unnecessary and really pretty pretentious, like the BSS monicker carries some sort of heavy weight in the music industry, and is reserved for just a select chosen few. Really though, it seems like all you need to be a member of their silly club is to have a beard, a guitar, and a couple weeks worth of not bathing. Their last album as a collective was kind of clunky and bland, and I was left thinking that the member’s respective other band responsibilities were preventing BSS from re-capturing the sense of fun and spontaneity that made 2001’s You Forgot it in People so great. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been so worried, as this album is solid, and reminds me why I liked Broken Social Scene so much to begin with. I also think I now understand the whole “Broken Social Scene Presents” thing – this is not a solo album by any stretch, it’s definitely a Broken Social Scene album. All of the major players are here (Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning, Justin Peroff) and most of the other BSS-regulars can be found in guest spots, including the three ladies (Feist, Amy Millan & Emily Haines). This album is focussed on Kevin Drew rather than the whole collective though, so it’s significantly more focussed and together than their last effort. Standout tracks like “Lucky Ones”, “Frightening Lives” and “Bodhi Sappy Weekend” are as good as anything these guys have ever done. I find myself really looking forward to the 2008 release of Broken Social Scene Presents: Brendan Canning.
Favourite track: “Frightening Lives”
15. Jay-Z – American Gangster
I’m not sure if this is 100% accurate or not, but the story I heard was that Jay-Z saw an advanced screening of the Russell Crowe/Denzel Washington movie of the same name and was so inspired by the story of Frank Lucas that he wrote this concept album to accompany the movie in a week, with each song supposedly lining up with a specific scene from the movie. That’s pretty crazy if it’s true – I’ve seen the movie, and while it was pretty good, the only thing I was inspired to do was have a beer when I got home. Anyway, if anyone can put an album this good together in a week, it’s Jay-Z, but whether it took a week or a year, this a really strong return for the “retired” future owner of the Brooklyn Nets. Sounding fresh and interested for the first time in ages, Jay-Z’s storytelling is laid out on a surprisingly diverse-sounding collection of beats and samples, with a necessary and welcome focus on 70s soul to fit the mood and setting of the movie. There are no duds on this album; even the initially annoying “Hello Brooklyn” has redeemed itself after repeated listens. Top shelf.
Favourite track: “Roc Boys”
14. !!! – Myth Takes
The guys in !!! are either some of the coolest guys in music, or some of the lamest. These are the only acceptable scenarios that would lead to an album like Myth Takes. I’ve heard their sound described as “indie rock white boy funk”, which works about as well as any other description I can think of. This is definitely party music, a blend of funk, soul, punk, electronic and rock all at the same time, with (occasionally embarassing) dance music lyrics over top. For example, the chorus to “Heart of Hearts” sounds like it was jacked from an early-90s dance song by a band with an angry black rapper and some diva over-singing the chorus (C+C Music Factory, Snap, Black Box, etc). It shouldn’t work over the backing music, but for some reason, it does. I remember when I first heard this album, I thought it’d work better as an instrumental, but I’ve since changed my mind. The ridiculous lyrics are needed to keep the mood light, and to keep these great musicians from taking themselves too seriously. I think. I really don’t know. This album is sort of silly, but it’s original and fun, and that’s enough for me.
Favourite track: “All my Heroes are Weirdos”
13. Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam
Speaking of silly albums, Animal Collective’s Strawberry Jam is downright bizarre. The lyrics don’t appear to make any sense whatsover and I can’t even tell what instruments are used on most of this album – I imagine it’s mostly guitar and keyboards, but they’re so processed and filtered on most of these tracks, it becomes hard to tell. I initially discarded this album as unlistenable experimental crap, but every listen since my initial dissapointment has revealed something new and mindblowing. That said, I can accept the possibility that I just really want to like this album, as I have a lot of respect for anything that sounds so totally original. Definitely not for everybody, but it’s a really interesting album, and worth a listen if you’re feeling adventurous.
Favourite track: “For Reverend Green”
12. The Shins – Wincing the Night Away
I’ve long been a big fan of the Shins, ever since a friend of mine gave me the following (possibly drunken) review prior to a Broken Social Scene show: “the Shins. Good band. the Shins. check ’em out”. That said, I was worried prior to hearing this album that it’d sound exactly like their previous two albums. I should have had more faith. The Shins, having mastered the art of making catchy 3 minute pop songs for soundtracks about 30 year olds trying to find their place in the world, have grown and expanded their sound, and put together another great album without carting out the exact same old bag of tricks. The changes aren’t massive… really more of a tweaking and refining than anything, but significant enough that the Shins can’t fairly be labelled a one-trick-pony anymore. “Australia”, “Phantom Limb” and “Split Needles” (which strangely reminds me of a Rush song that I can’t think of) are easily as good as anything they’ve done previously. Another great album from the best band from Albuquerque, and possibly all of New Mexico. The Shins. Good band. The Shins. Check ’em out.
Favourite track: “Phantom Limb”
11. Kings of Leon – Because of the Times
Tennessee’s Followill brothers are getting better and better with every new album. Because of the Times is as straightforward a rock album as I’ve heard all year – an excellent collection of southern rock that is the perfect companion to some exercise, a long drive, or a drunken poker game in a hotel in Cleveland with four of your best friends while talking about BS and making ridiculous sports bets… or something along those lines. While the song “Charmer” is slightly less than stellar (it includes far too much random screaming), the rest of the album is near-perfect. If the Kings keep progressing musically like they have thus far, they’re going to be an unbelievable band very very soon.
Favourite track: “On Call”
Back soon with albums 10-6.