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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Top 15 albums of 2007

The year 2007 was the year of lo-fi for me. Although my favorite mainstream/indie artists released some good if not great albums it was the DIY folks that truly gave me something memorable. Soundtracks also made a huge, if not late comeback in 2007 reminding me why music is always the most important element in a film. All these albums are truly “albums” in every sense of the word.

I chose these albums based on a variety of factors, but mostly if I like all or almost all the songs. Not much science to it so let’s get this underway:

(Note: this is in alphabetical order according to album title)

Tinyfolk: Bill
Original Post
Tinyfolk on myspace
Russ Woods and sometimes Meghan Lamb make music as Tinyfolk and with every release they offer something new, exciting and inventive. With the release of Bill, lo-fi music took a bold step in a wonderful direction and I don’t think Tinyfolk’s ever been weirder and more confident than here. This album is a testament to dreaming big while maintaining a striking level of intimacy. Tinyfolk’s lyrics often seem distant at first, but you will be struck often by how emotional they really are and more importantly how emotional you will feel. With Bill Tinyfolk completely sheds any comparisons and has created one of the most original albums of 2007 or any year.

Key Tracks:
“Dear Apollo”
“You Can Call Me Al”
“Really, Really Blue: A Tale Of Unrequited (Perhaps) Romance and Lizardry”

Bright Eyes: Cassadaga
Bright Eyes site
Why the newest album from Conor Oberst and friends is getting ignored is beyond me. I think the rest of the world still wants him to be bitter and an alcoholic. With Cassadaga, Conor grew tired of being tired and took some time off to gain perspective and insight to the world he’s blazed through in the last few years. The result was one of the best country albums in years and another step ahead of the pitchfork salivating crowd. Lyrically Conor has never constructed poetry better than here. Surreal, yet grounded, sentimental, yet insightful, sentences flow like the tide and roar with a level of assurance that shows an earned maturity. Musically Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott are permanent members proving that Bright Eyes can be a group effort. Here they shine, making the music an essential and often powerful accompaniment to Conor’s lyrics. Really, It’s a brave new world and that place can be found in Cassadaga.

Key Tracks:
“Four Winds”
“If The Brakeman Turns My Way”
“Cleanse Song”

Jon Crocker: Edison-Free Sediment Volume III
Jon Crocker on myspace
The third album in a trilogy of records that do not feature guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, or any form of electronic manipulation, Jon Crocker’s Edison-Free Sediment Volume III is one of the best releases in his catalogue thus far. The man, the myth, the beard makes best use here with his booming voice and versatile mandolin. If you haven’t heard Jon’s voice prepare to be blown away, I certainly have every time I see him perform live. Here he continues in the traditional fashion of storytelling featuring songs about re-imagined high school romances, the Mercedes as a center point for suburban excess and one of the best disses to Thomas Edison this side of my own twelve-page muckraking of the bastard. Each song encapsulates several moments in time and all together they weave a history of this shaky life held together by Jon Crocker’s commanding voice.

Key Tracks:
“How To Be Alone”
“Thomas Edison”

Kanye West: Graduation
Original Post
Kanye West's site
Most rap albums to me often feel bloated and unnecessary, but with Kanye West’s Graduation he cuts the fat and makes one of the most solid rap records in recent memory. Although I love him for his intricate sampling techniques that are aren’t as present on this album, he fills that gap with some of his best rhymes and solid hooks. And Kanye knows he has created some of the weirdest, yet accessible songs in his career. His ego has never been more troubling (to himself and others), but damn the man knows how say something and say it big. Graduation is packed with songs memorable beyond their years and promises to be the calling card for Kanye West from now on.

Key Tracks:
“I Wonder”
“Good Life”
“The Glory”

Paul Baribeau: Grand Ledge
Original Post
Paul Baribeau on myspace
I kicked off Foggy Ruins Of Time with a review of Grand Ledge back in August. Even if the review looks a bit rough now, everything I said still stands. This is a great album. Paul Baribeau is known for putting together messy, almost-too-personal, melodic songs that do not hold back. Grand Ledge is a step forward for Paul because the songs still retain everything great about his first album, but hit newer highs because of the focus and discipline that went in to constructing each song. To say something is calculated and raw might seem paradoxical but with Grand Ledge you can hear the sounds of a man getting a hold of his own immense talent by channeling it into nine brilliant songs that never let up.

Key Tracks:
“Nothing To Say”
“Hard Work”
“Better Than Anything Ever”

Rambling Nicholas Heron: Here In Dreamland
Orginal Post
Rambling Nicholas Heron on myspace
One of the last albums I heard for consideration on this list, I’m so happy I was able to get it before the end of the year. Here In Dreamland is an example of a great album that could have been potentially overlooked for how late in the year it was released. Rambling Nicholas Heron knows how to make an album and that craft is often lost in today’s “shuffle” age, but Here In Dreamland contains all the highs and lows necessary to make it an experience all the way through. Filled with tenderness, ambitions, hopes, kiss-offs, surprises and instrumentals, the name of the album can be taken quite literally and each song’s quality is even more highlighted by what comes before and after it. Start at track one and get whisked away, Here In Dreamland.

Key Tracks:
"Pillow Book"
"As If I Didn't Know It"
"Born To Sleep In The Sun"

Various Artists: I’m Not There
I'm Not There soundtrack on myspace
The soundtrack to Todd Haynes masterpiece I’m Not There may seem daunting at first and at thirty-three Dylan covers and one bootleg from the man himself (with The Band) you are bound to find one or two that you don’t like, at first. I particularly am a fan of covers and 2007 was a good year for them, but what makes this soundtrack great is that for hardcore Dylan fans there are new gems to discover, for first timers there are some interesting takes on the classics and for everyone there is a sense that there is a reason why Bob Dylan often rivals and eclipses the influence and song-writing power of The Beatles.

Key Tracks (It’s a double album so it gets six!):
Jim James & Calexico-“Goin’ To Acapulco”
John Doe-“Pressing On”
Iron & Wine With Calexico-“Dark Eyes”
Karen O & The Million Dollar Bashers-“Highway 61 Revisited”
Sufjan Stevens-“Ring Them Bells”
Antony & The Johnsons-“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”

Radiohead: In Rainbows
Original Post
Radiohead site
It took me a long time to get my head around this album and I’m still not completely sure I get it. While I see the usual praises for Radiohead’s return to simplicity or whatever I’m not convinced of that reaction. That is a reason why some scoff at the album and whatever camp you fall in I don’t believe you have given it enough listens and you may simply be writing it on or off based on your initial, intellectual reactions. However, In Rainbows operates on a higher plane than any of us and that’s how I still feel. Every song moves a certain way, but we aren’t seeing the entire picture. I can sense the hidden pieces every time I listen and I can feel it in my skin, in my heartbeats, and in my throat. Radiohead have constructed something quite extraordinary, extrasensory.

Key Tracks:
“15 Steps”
“House Of Cards”

Tinyfolk: Little Mice And Other Things That Go Skitter Skitter
Original Post
Tinyfolk on myspace
Formally released in 2007, Tinyfolk’s Little Mice And Other Things That Go Skitter Skitter is an album that contains the parts of Tinyfolk I was first introduced to and the parts of Tinyfolk we know now and beyond. It runs the gamut from sweet to melancholy with lyrics that make you laugh sweetly or fall into a deep sense of longing. Its diversity is startling and Russ Woods writing has never been as straightforward as it is on this album. I think that’s what makes this a worthy rival of his album released later in 2007, Bill. Both show an amazing level of intimacy, but while Bill is grand and epic, Little Mice And Other Things That Go Skitter Skitter still shows Russ Woods messy, doubtful and with a deep hunger for making the best music he can make.

Key Tracks:
“Love Is A Thing”
“Emma’s House”

Arcade Fire: Neon Bible
Arcade Fire site
This is the only music by Arcade Fire I have heard and as an album Neon Bible works incredibly well. There is no weak link in the chain and the orchestra behind this wall of grand noise is something to behold. Its grandiose yes, but unlike most emo-epic bands, there lacks that smirk and sense of self-consciousness that makes those bands too transparent to take seriously. This album is incredibly intricate and I wish I had a better set of headphones to soak in the ocean created by each song’s church choir-like approach to playing. Yet, nothing is supplemental; whatever you are hearing or not hearing is carefully laid out to rush into your ears like a cold shower. Neon Bible hits the ground running and tackles all the big issues, but it’s a big band and they handle it.

Key Tracks:
“Neon Bible”
“(Antichrist Television Blues)”

Isaac Arms: Old Artificer
Original post
Isaac Arms on myspace
Old Artificer may be my favorite album of 2007. Released quietly and without little commotion even in the lo-fi community, Isaac’s little solo album will break your heart and put it back together again. He used to be part of the twosome Blanketarms (which we all hold dear in our hearts), but even without Leila Grey, her presence is still felt all over this album. His love for her is the thing that holds him together and every song is for her even if it may seem like he’s trying to get something for himself. This album is fragile, messy and wondrous. It goes by too quickly and it makes me mad that very few copies of this album exist, yet those extraneous thoughts get thrown out the window while I’m listening because there is nothing like pure love to break you, shake you and change you for good.

Key Tracks:
"Us Vs. Stuff"
"800 Days"
"Old Kentucky"

Shelby Sifers: Run Around, Run Around
Shelby Sifers on myspace
I heard so many rumblings about this girl I couldn’t resist a chance to check her out and without a doubt I have never fallen in love with a record/artist so quickly before. Run Around, Run Around is her second album and it’s remarkable. Her voice is unique, almost child-like and the production very minimal as to highlight her voice even more. Every song starts off small and quiet, but they build and build until their seething to escape and pollinate their wisdom to the rest of the world. It’s albums like this that rejuvenate my faith in the power of music. Like Shelby, our self-doubt should only be used to figure out this strange place. We should follow her example and Run Around, Run Around.

Key Tracks:
“Try To Understand”
“Start Taking Naps”

Jonny Greenwood: There Will Be Blood
There Will Be Blood soundtrack on wikipedia
Fuck the Academy for denying the score to 2007’s best film There Will Be Blood from consideration for this year’s Oscars. Jonny Greenwood has taken the film score and turned it upside down and inside out. To paraphrase Pitchfork, “Jonny Greenwood basically is playing an orchestra like he plays his guitar.” And that is exactly what is going on here. Dissonance is the ruler in this landscape, not the fields, but inside the mind of lead character Daniel Plainview with ambition so unparalleled that it can only appear terrifying and frightening to many. Yet, beauty peaks through and it tantalizes us to come join him, to want to succeed in his place. What Greenwood has constructed is a revolutionary leap forward for film music. Never has chaos been so welcomed with open arms.

Key Tracks:
“Open Spaces”
“Future Markets”
“Proven Lands”

A Drum And An Open Window: There Will Be Fields For Us
Original Post
A Drum And An Open Window on myspace
I want to explode when I listen to this album. The first time I heard A Drum And An Open Window play I had no idea who they were or what they were about and I left that show so inspired and bursting with creativity. On There Will Be Fields For Us the music and words are so joyous so infectious there is nothing that will stop you from wanting to go out into the world and make something of it. The twosome have created an interesting dynamic singing together that is never obvious or overstated. Both sing the parts they need, harmonious together on choruses and just doing what they do well. There is nothing convoluted here but they manage to throw in some cool melodica and xylophone solos as well as some beautifully constructed singing parts in several songs. This whole record exudes so much confidence, not in the “I know what I’m doing sense (even though they do),” its more about how much faith they have in themselves to express themselves regardless of whatever is around them. I think ultimately that is what There Will Be Fields For Us is about, the chance for every soul to say that yes, I will be heard.

Key Tracks:
“The Mount Eerie Show Song”
“Make Things”
“There Will Be Fields For Us”

John C. Reilly: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Walk Hard soundtrack on wikipedia
Even thought I still have mixed feelings about the film itself, it’s the John C. Reilly’s stunning voice that I really fell in love with. Yet, its also the writing team that constructed some flawless parodies that run the gamut from being outright absurd to transcending parody and actually become genuinely great songs. For me personally it’s the latter category that keeps me coming back for more, but I can’t help but laugh at the incredibly accurate parodies of Bob Dylan or the hilarious “Let’s Duet” with lines like, “I’m going to beat off all…my demons.” Again, John C. Reilly really has a commanding presence that I’m inexplicably drawn to and its also the versatility to jump styles from Roy Orbison to Johnny Cash to The Beatles that makes this soundtrack rewarding, even though I felt this versatility ultimately hampered the film itself. You don’t really need to see Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story to find plenty of continually rewarding gems in one of the best soundtracks of the year.

Key Tracks:
“A Life Without You (Is No Life At All)”
“Royal Jelly”
“Black Sheep”

So those are my favorite albums of 2007, but wait! There’s more!

Honorable Mentions (In alphabetical order):
Adam Faucett: The Great Basking Shark
Blues and country at it’s most intricate. Get haunted by Adam’s amazing voice and his original attack at many familiar themes. This is something timeless even though Adam’s sensibility is perfectly modern. A weird and beautiful record.

Eddie Vedder: Into The Wild
Poetic sketches of an internal score in Christoper McCandless’s head, you will have your faith renewed in Eddie Vedder and rock music as film score (Screw the Academy for not nominating this score either!). Also there is nothing like driving down Highway 1 blasting this along the edges of the ocean.

Maria Taylor: Lynn Teeter Flower
The second album from former Azure Ray songstress, this go around features Maria Taylor more confident, subtle and fierce. It’s a fine record and one of the best that Saddle Creek had to offer in 2007. Maria Taylor’s rise to glory is only just beginning.

SXEZSKOZ: The Titan Sting
Quite possibly the greatest student film score ever and one of the coolest film scores ever, Alfredo Barraza, as SXEZSKOZ, has created a beautifully nostalgic score that fits the psychedelic atmosphere of The Titan Sting (An equally fantastic student film at UCSB). About Mackenzie, Sir Sean Connery’s granddaughter and their adventure on a dangerous quest for the Titan Bee, the score works appropriately as a reminder of all the great videogames from yesteryear, but never suffers as a novelty. Again, another new step in the right direction for film music.

Rilo Kiley: Under The Blacklight
This is an album that people will get many years from now. I don’t expect anyone to love or even like it right now, but all I know is that I “get” it and I can’t help but really dig this album. Rilo Kiley’s John Wesley Harding if you will, Jenny Lewis sheds the convoluted lyricism of past album and gets right down to the dirty essentials.

So that’s it for the best albums of 2007, but I had to include this final note as well. It’s a special category:

Albums I Really Want To Love, But Are Somewhat Forgettable To Me:
Icky Thump and The Reminder

So I love The White Stripes and that’s not an understatement, but I just can’t get behind Icky Thump all the way. It’s not that the songs aren’t great, they show an amazing versatility by The White Stripes I have never seen before, but none of these songs seem to stick in my head. I don’t know what it is, but hopefully I’ll come to appreciate this album soon.

As for Feist’s second album The Reminder, this album suffers from the same problems as her first record; for such an amazing voice, the music is so incredibly bland and uninteresting. With the exception of songs like “I Feel It All” and “Brandy Alexander,” most songs fall flat when they should soar. Maybe it’s the disjunction between her voice and where the level of music production should be, but even with that voice it’s hard to sustain an entire album on its own.

So that’s it on that folks, even as we speak I’m finding other 2007 albums that I really enjoy, but alas, the list is as it stands for right now. These are some great albums (with the exception of the last two!) and I suggest you support them all and check them all out. Stay tuned for the best films of 2007 and a final best of round up!


Lshap Productions said...

very nice explanations. if i made a list like this many of the same titles like tinyfolk, drum and an open window and paul baribeau would be on there too. juno too!!!

but yea i like how you have annotated reviews rather than just list or even ramble.

Steven Ray Morris said...

I try to give highlights if you will and something new to say because I have reviewed almost half my list previously so I wanted to make these a bit different. thanks!

Librarian Russ said...

Wow! I got two in the top fifteen?! I'm totally, absolutely flattered. The weird thing is, I actually released three full albums in 2007: Bill, Little Mice and Platapeasawallaland. In the words of Meat Loaf (or perhaps more accurately, Jim Steinman) "two out of three ain't bad."

Ginny said...

great list! finally (i mean, as in you finally posted it, not that your lists aren't usually great!)! several comments (since i don't get to see you in person anymore to rant/rave hehe)...

though arcade fire is dark, i don't really think about them in terms of those emo bands... even though the lyrics on neon bible are more heavy-handed than those on funeral, it's more about the totality of the nighmarish but beautiful orchestration of it all that the more personal "my life sux" sort of screaming those bands usually place at the forefront of their mix. and seeing the band play live this summer was one of -- if not the best -- live concert-going experiences i've ever had!

paul baribeau would have made it into my top 30, had i managed to finish my epic list.

cassadaga isn't one of the best country albums in years -- that honor belongs to mr. oberst's glorious i'm wide awake, it's morning. or maybe whiskeytown's strangers almanac. in any case, i'm surprised the album was so forgotten by the time top albums lists of 2007 started being published. probably because it was so uneven. still, it did have some great songs.

Steven Ray Morris said...

haha I guess I wasn't trying to the compare Arcade Fire as being one of those bands, but lately there are a lot of bands attempting "epicness" lol

Bill and Neon Bible are good examples of "epic".

Anonymous said...

i think i liked paul baribeau's self-titled album a lot more than his second one. it's more memorable songs, like "i miss that band," "strawberry" and "never get to know" seem to really trump those of grand ledge ("ten things," "anything ever"). And i was a bit disappointed at how short g.l. was too.

and i agree that cassadaga was pretty good, probably not on my own top ten, but can you really call it country?

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