Alright, this has dragged on way longer than I had planned. I don’t know if anyone still cares about what 2007 albums I think were really good now that we’re 25 days into January, but I’m a completionist (though a lazy one), so here’s the top 5.
THE BEST 5 ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
5. El-P – I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead
With contributions from such guests as Trent Reznor, Cat Power, and the Mars Volta, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead is definitely not a typical hiphop album. Couple their contributions with El-P’s dizzying, complex production and his very distinctive delivery and rhyme style, and this album really sounds like nothing else I’ve ever heard (well, since El-P’s last album, I guess). El-P also doesn’t bother writing about typical hiphop topics either (girls, money, gold, etc), instead filling his album with songs about fear, despair, the terrible state of the U.S. (both at home and abroad), and the life of a prison guard on a post-apocalyptic prison ship who falls in love with a female prisoner (“Habeas Corpses”), among other things. This album is exhausting, depressing, brilliant, and the more I listen to it, the sadder I get that most people are unaware that hiphop is capable of being about so much more than boasting about money.
Favourite track: “Flyentology”
4. The National – Boxer
If I had to recommend a 2007 album to someone without knowing what type of music they listen to, it’d definitely be Boxer. I don’t necessarily think it’s the best album of the year (clearly, I think it’s around 4th), but I think it’s the most widely-likeable, and probably the hardest to hate. I think I’d play it for my parents, who refer to everything I listen to as “caterwauling”… I think I’d even recommend it to my brother who stubbornly still listens to Bryan Adams. This album is beautiful and huge and awesome. I guess if I have one complaint about Boxer, it’s that the second half is a bit too mellow, but the more I listen to it, the less I notice or care. It’s not mellow in a sissy way anyway, it’s mellow in a “we’ve proven how great a band we are, now listen to how awesome our singer’s voice is” kind of way. If you buy/download/steal this album and you claim you don’t like it, I don’t know what to tell you – you should probably stop listening to music. Either that, or you’re lying.
Favourite track: “Mistaken for Strangers”
3. Band of Horses – Cease to Begin
Even if you haven’t heard of Band of Horses, you’ve probably still heard them somewhere – their music is used in a lot of commercials, and I’m sure I’ve heard them on a bunch of tv shows – their sound would fit in nicely on a kind-of-crappy show that uses surprisingly decent music from time to time, like Grey’s Anatomy or Scrubs. They definitely would have been prominently involved in a particularly moving episode of Party of Five. Every song on Cease to Begin is super catchy and has, at one point or another, been stuck in my head for days at a time. Normally, this would mean that I’d get sick of an album really quickly, but I just can’t stop listening to this. Plus, they called one of their songs “Detlef Schrempf” for no apparent reason, which I think is hilarious – if they name a song on their next album “Rik Smits” or “Kurt Rambis”, I think I’ll have to make it the album of the year.
Favourite track: “Ode to LRC”
2. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
I don’t think it’s possible to fully appreciate how fantastic Neon Bible is until you’ve seen it re-created live in all its chaotic glory. Most bands don’t have to deal with details like what instrument each of its 8-10 members will play on each song, or how to pack up a pipe organ to bring it on tour, but Arcade Fire pull it off perfectly. Similarly to how Funeral was criticized for sounding too much like the Talking Heads, Neon Bible has been criticized for sounding too much like Bruce Springsteen. While their influences are pretty obvious sometimes, I still think this criticism is ridiculous for two reasons: only “Keep the Car Running” and “(Antichrist Television Blues)” really sound like Springsteen at all, and doesn’t the world need more music that sounds like the Talking Heads and (good) Springsteen, anyway? If the criticism was “they sound too much like Nickelback”, I’d say it’s valid, but sounding too much like something awesome seems like a pretty dumb way to discredit a band. Anyway, this album is amazing, they’re the best most fun live band in the world, and despite not being a particularly patriotic person, I’m proud that they call Canada home.
Favourite track: “Intervention”
Neon Bible was easily the album of the year… until October when a little band from England dropped this bombshell announcement on their website:
Well, the new album is finished, and it’s coming out in 10 days;
We’ve called it In Rainbows;
Love from us all.
1. Radiohead – In Rainbows
Time will tell how important the act of self-releasing In Rainbows on their website for whatever-you-want-to-pay will end up being to the old band/record label relationship, but it was definitely a very forward-thinking, ambitious move on Radiohead’s part. Personally, I think it was a brilliant anti-piracy maneuver – they knew it’d get leaked, so they endeared themselves to everyone by releasing it immediately and trusting their fans to pay as much or as little as they wanted for it, thereby re-couping a significant amount of the money they would have lost if everyone had just downloaded a leaked copy for free. Had this album been crap, it would have at least been an interesting experiment. Luckily, this is not the case. Despite having multiple absolute masterpieces in their catalog, I think it could be argued pretty easily that In Rainbows is Radiohead’s most-consistant (and possibly best) album ever. I’ve listened to it constantly since it came out, and every song has been my favourite at one point or another (except maybe “Faust Arp” which serves as more of an intro to “Reckoner” than a stand-alone song). This album is perfect, top shelf, 5 stars, 2 thumbs up, whatever. It’s so good that the b-sides album that came with the deluxe edition is probably one of the best 5 albums of the year.
Favourite track: all of them
Alright, all done. Next time I commit to writing a 4-part column, I hope it doesn’t happen right when work gets insane. Looking ahead to 2008’s albums, the only thing I’ve heard so far that I really liked is the self-titled debut of the hilariously-named Vampire Weekend. The list of albums coming out this year isn’t nearly as impressive as 2007 (at least on paper), but with personal favourites the Roots, Mogwai and Portishead (AFTER A 10 YEAR BREAK!) supposedly releasing albums at some point in 2008, it doesn’t look so bad.