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Best of 2007: Top 20 Albums (10-1)

November 30, 2007

 

Radiohead

#10 Radiohead – In Rainbows

Being a Radiohead fan ten years ago is no guarantee that you care any more. The last decade has been marked by a progression into more introspection and obscurantism by the biggest art rock band of the 90s. So it’s impossible to look at In Rainbows without reference to all that’s gone before. Which is unfair, because if this was the first or second album by an unknown band, it would be hailed as a landmark. The sounds are still heavily influenced by the IDM and experimental electronica of recent albums (the likelihood of Radiohead making another straight-up guitar record is precisely nil) but the songs are more immediate. Some even scale the same heights a bunch of British one-hit wonders did back in the mid-90s with an album called The Bends. If you’ll permit me saying that.

Radiohead – “Jigsaw Falling into Place”

 

Bishop Allen

#9 Bishop Allen – The Broken String

Last year was a golden year for twee pop with stellar efforts from Camera Obscura, the Radio Dept and mainstays Belle and Sebastian. Fortunately for boys and girls who like their music cute and fey, Brooklyn’s Bishop Allen have pulled together a bunch of their best songs from 2006’s twelve EPs (that amazing year again). The instrumentation is idiosyncratic, the lyrics are whimsical and clever and the melodies are likely to stick in your head. More than enough to tide us over until the next bumper crop.

Bishop Allen – “Like Castanets”

 

The National

#8 The National – Boxer

Their last effort, Alligator, crept up on many a music fan following its early 2005 release. Now The National have made a similarly complex record, one that improves with repeated listens. Something has changed, though. Where Alligator was permeated with a rage that burst out of control on the rockier numbers, Boxer is much calmer. It feels more like resignation, maturity, whatever you want to call it. It’s also a more consistent-sounding album without being sameish – dark, moody and beautiful. The taste may be an acquired one, but you’ll be glad you persisted.

The National – “Apartment Story”

 

Menomena

#7 Menomena – Friend and Foe

Abstract indie rock trio Menomena have hit the medium-time with this album and deservedly so. Their odd-ball blend of samples, loops and live instruments (including baritone sax – a sadly underutilised instrument) is alienating and engaging simultaneously. It means each song hits you twice, with an immediate and a delayed impact. But it’s deceptive because you never really have a handle on their songs, even on repeated listens. The moment a song’s verse is starting to make sense, the chorus opens up and a new, puzzling dimension is revealed. You can keep chasing this album for years and it will still be fresh.

Menomena – “Air Aid”

 

Iron & Wine

#6 Iron and Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog

Much has been made of Iron and Wine’s shift from solo acoustic project to full-band extravaganza. In truth, Sam Beam is still making the same music as always, full of melancholy and the warmth of the Deep South in summer. Nevertheless, the new sounds, arrangements and production tricks keep things interesting and make this album an essential addition to the Iron and Wine canon, rather than just more of the same. The draw-card is still Beam’s honeyed voice and his gentle guitar-strumming, which are both in fine form. So you really get two Iron and Wine albums in one – the one you were expecting and the one that catches you by surprise.

Iron and Wine – “Flightless Bird, American Mouth”

 

Andrew Bird

#5 Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha

The ferociously-talented multi-instrumentalist Bird has hit the jackpot with this one. It’s a perfect collation of everything good about indie rock over the last two decades. It’s slacker rock, it’s literate chamber pop, it’s songs about ancient history, it’s vocal lines that soar like Jeff Buckley never went anywhere. It’s whistling. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I figure that’s because Andrew Bird is probably a hell of a lot smarter than you or I. And he makes better albums than we do.

Andrew Bird – “Fiery Crash”

 

Jens Lekman

#4 Jens Lekman – Night Falls on Kortedala

He’s an odd one, Jens. He’s a phenomenon with the hipster kids. He is signed to cooler-than-cool label Secretly Canadian. And yet, you can’t help suspect that he’d quite like to be Barry Manilow. Kortedala is a stunning album, but it’s packed full of grandiose romantic statements, delivered with complete earnestness over syrupy strings. This shouldn’t work. Perhaps it’s because he mixes it all up with brilliant off-beat samples and hilarious character portraits and because, curiously for a native Swedish speaker, he’s one of the best English-language lyricists working today. It would take longer than the album’s running time to explain why it’s brilliant, which means that it stands on its own. No more words necessary.

Jens Lekman – “I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You”

 

Feist

#3 Feist – The Reminder

It’s all FM-radio easy-listening pap, some will tell you. But that’s not an explanation of why Leslie Feist’s fans are so in her thrall. For my money, she’s one of the most versatile vocalists to appear this decade. Her songs are deceptively simple – like old jazz standards that only come to life when a truly great vocalist breathes into them. Each vocal turn evokes so many emotions and imbues the (nicely un-clichéd) lyrics with layers of meaning. It’s a much more focused effort than 2004’s half-originals, half-covers Let It Die and the quality of the best tracks is similarly excellent. If you don’t “get” Feist, it’s your loss.

Feist – “Honey Honey”

 

Apparat

#2 Apparat – Walls

German techno is entering a bit of a heyday right now. Kompakt’s micro-house sound may not be as trendy as it was a few years ago, but other labels like Get Physical, BPitch Control and Shitkatapult are more than taking up the slack. Shitkatapult main-man Sascha Ring’s Apparat project isn’t actually that “techno”. Walls has a lot of beats and bleeps, but it’s more an electronic pop record. Some of the tracks sound like Thom Yorke (“Arcadia”), others like Justin Timberlake (“Holdon”). All of them soar and all of them sound amazing.

Apparat – “Fractales Pt. 1”

 

Hammock

#1 Hammock – Raising Your Voice…Trying to Stop an Echo

Ambient music can suffer from it’s “barely there” nature – it can sound beautiful, but it can also be forgotten as soon as the track is over. US duo Hammock overcomes this by mixing up equal parts droning ambient and shimmering shoegazer pop. The songs may blur into each other, but they ebb and flow effectively over time, peaking in gorgeous melodic passages before receding into subliminality, then bursting forth again. Sigur Ros and Slowdive are obvious touchstones, but Hammock generally sound like themselves. Which is an amazing thing to sound like. And the best album of the last year.

Hammock – “Shipwrecked (Flat On Your Back)”

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One comment

  1. Great list! I hadn’t heard a few of these and I’m glad I didn’t miss them.



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