The Best Albums of 2007, pt. 3

Part 1 ~ Part 2

Even though I've mentioned many times that I don't listen to stuff that gets played on the radio, I've realized that some of the stuff might actually get played somewhere on the radio. Big as this country is, there just might be some commercial radio station out there that plays Okkervil River all day long, but wherever that it is, it isn't anywhere I know (unless you're counting college radio, which I'm not...which isn't to say college radio isn't awesome, which it is, especially if you live within the usually short broadcasting radius of your typical college radio station). Ironically, it seems that I often hear cool music being played or talked about on NPR programs such as All Things Considered or Fresh Air; often times they'll profile an interesting group or musician, and plenty of times I've heard cool stuff being played as bumper music on some of their programs. Sometimes, in the more snobbish sectors of music fandom, I hear "NPR Music" being referred to in derisive terms, as in "that sounds like the kind of music you would hear on NPR," ironically (but isn't it always?) being said by people who are in fact the kind of people who would listen to said music, as well as the kind of people who listen to NPR regularly--I guess we can chalk it up to the tendency for "hip" and educated people to engage in self-loathing as a habit (hi, I'm Jake, and I loathe myself...) Ah, if only we could all live in Southern California and be able to listen to KCRW whenever we felt like switching on a radio.

Y'know, on second thought, I think I'll skip SoCal and just listen to Morning Becomes Eclectic over the internet....

Today's segment of the Best Albums of 2007 focuses on music that is just mainstream enough, in some cases more mainstream than others, to possibly be played on the radio, or to be purchased at your local Target, or to appear in a Passat or iPod commercial.

Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

This is the best album Wilco has ever done. If ever I'm asked what album to buy if someone has never listened to Wilco, I'm going to recommend Sky Blue Sky (then Being There, then Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, then Summerteeth, then A Ghost is Born, no maybe Ghost before Teeth...) I say this with no reservations. This sounds like the album Jeff Tweedy has been trying to make for his whole career. Everything works, everything sounds great. It's that simple. I can hear the self-loathing hipster in me making all the standard arguments against Wilco (actually, now that I'm a homeowner and a parent, that hipster's voice is a lot harder to hear). He's gonna say something about the Volkswagen commercials, something about the band not being the same now that Jay Bennett's not in it, something about them sounding like the Eagles (actually, Jeff heard that one)...WHATEVER, DUDE. Here you go: selling out means nothing anymore. In fact, considering that you essentially never have to pay for music anymore, selling your songs to Volkswagen is about the only way a non-billionaire musician can make money. Jay Bennett: tell you what, I don't really like Summerteeth that much. It's overproduced. I can listen to Pet Sounds if I want to hear Pet Sounds. And have you listened to a Jay Bennett solo album? It's great if you're interested in the production of music, but if you want to hear great songs? Not so much. And the Eagles? Screw that noise. This is plain great music. And Nels Cline's guitar work is beyond sublime; a coworker of mine complained that Cline was handcuffed by Tweedy and never gets the chance to really shred, but if you listen closely to Cline's fretwork on a song like "Impossible Germany," you'll agree that virtuosity sometimes has more to do with what one doesn't play rather than what they do.

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Raising Sand
Rounder Records

This might be the musical equivalent of stunt-casting. When I saw the two of them on the cover of this album, I just knew I wanted to listen to it. And to know that it was produced by T-Bone Burnett, the Coen Brothers' resident musicologist? Yeah, I was signed up at the gate. Part of my admiration for this has to do with my being a fan of the male/female duet, for instance: Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood, Johnny & June Carter Cash, Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, and so on. The difference between those duos and this one is the fact that in the rest of them, there was a male voice and a female voice, and y'know, I think Plant's voice might just be higher than Krauss's. We could go on about this, and honestly, this is a record that invites that kind of contemplation and more. There is plenty to like here, and plenty to keep you coming back. Along with this: they've got to be, ahem, "together," right? I mean, if you look at the back cover of this record, I'm pretty damn sure that one of them has their hand down the back pocket of the other's jeans...or maybe both of them do?

Feist - The Reminder

Oh, Feist. There's something about this woman that makes her irresistible; no, scratch that, there's a hell of a lot about her that makes her irresistible, chief among them being her sultry, sexy vocal cords, which are living proof that the best, sexiest voices often aren't the ones that hit the most octaves or do the trickiest acrobatics. Take Al Green, Marvin Gaye, hell, Kylie Minogue, and for sure Goldfrapp and our very own Leslie Feist. Is she the most attractive woman in the world? She may be no Jessica Alba, and that might be a really good thing, but damn can she play guitar, and that voice. Oh man. I'm looking forward to her reading of the Greater Chicagoland phone book I heard she was going to do. Hey, here's an idea for a great vocal duo: Jarvis Cocker and Feist. Could give Serge and Jane a run for their money, no?

"I Feel it All" - from The Reminder
Buy it Here

Radiohead - In Rainbows

Gotta hand it to Radiohead: they're the only band I can think of who can make headlines just for releasing a record, and the only ones who can back it up with music that merits the world's attention. Who else does it? U2? Nope, I don't think so. How much did I pay for this record? Erm, the same as I paid for most of the records I listen to...ahem, well, anyway, you could call this a return to form, but Radiohead has never lost its form: it just invents new ones.

"Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" - from In Rainbows

Thurston Moore - Trees Outside the Academy
Ecstatic Peace!

Actually, you might not find Thurston's first solo record since 1995's Psychic Hearts at your local Target. But no matter where you have to go to find it, you by all means should seek out this record. It sounds different from anything he's done lately with Sonic Youth, thanks in no small part to contributions from J Mascis, Charalambides's Christina Carter, as well as from the always rock-solid perfect drumming of Steve Shelley, beyond any doubt SY's secret weapon since EVOL.

Ween - La Cucaracha
Rounder Records

You might call this record a return to form, but only if you didn't like Quebec, which I did, or Shinola, Vol. 1, which I did as well but apparently Dean Ween himself did not. Dean, I'm glad someone else, possible Geaner, has better sense than you. But anyway, Paul says this is their best since Chocolate and Cheese. I'm not sure about that, but it's pretty damn good. It says something when a band who used to be so subversive they improved a Leonard Cohen album cover by adding a Scotchguard bong to it nowadays is subversive for convincing lite-jazz icon David Sanborn to blow his sax over one of their tracks. That would be "The Party," which features the following lyric:

Later on when we were under the covers
I closed my eyes, then I drifted to sleep
I dreamt about me maybe throwing a party
And just how great that would be

And we said
We had the best time at your party
The wife and I thank you very much
We had the best time at your party
The wife and I thank you very much
And that's long after "Fiesta," which opens the album and sounds a lot like Herb Alpert playing the theme to Meatballs, and "Object," which hits all the scary-stalker notes like only Ween can do.


Paul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the cure for lycanthropy said...

I'm jumping on the Krauss, Plant thing, I wasn't sure what to think, and I did want it. Now, the whole Radiohead thing... what is their deal? It's a good record made by a band with (ostensibly) the highest global profile since U2. But, are they gonna keep making the same record over and over now that they've gotten as far over the "experimental" line as they think pop music should be pushed? I was a junky for "Hail to the Thief." I've listened to the new record twice since I downloaded it for free off their website. The delivery and distribution of said record is the most brilliant thing about it. "Bodysnatchers" grabbed me. As a fan of the guitar it's nice to hear them rocking, but I think everyone was blown away by "Kid A" and the direction they seemed to be taking, and now they've turned it into a bit of a formula. All this is not to say that they don't make great records, or that "In Rainbows" is not a great record (which I patently believe it is NOT), I'm simply saying they have become boring.

Bedheaded said...

Paul: I'll admit that the comparison to Pet Sounds doesn't work; the real reason I made it is I vaguely recall Pet Sounds getting namechecked a lot when Teeth came out. So basically I was being a lazy reviewer, which as I do more of them, I've realized is my style. As much as I carp on things being overproduced, I guess it might seem like I have something against production. I don't really, but in the case of Teeth, I felt like it gets in the way of the songs. It's hard to listen to "Shot in the Arm" and wish I was just hearing them play it live.

Jeff: I admit that as much as they've evolved, there is something of a formula to Radiohead, in that you expect their records to sound a certain way, which they usually do. I guess the thrill at this point is to spot the subtle changes they make in the formula from album to album, and for me at least, to hear Thom Yorke sing, which I'm glad he's more willing to do than he was circa-Kid A.

Paul said...

Sorry I had to delete my last post. I sounded like a jerk (surprise).

Anyway, I’m doing my best to catch up with your recommendations before year’s end:

“In Rainbows” is fucking great. I know what y’all mean; that are certain elements (the crooning falsetto, the symphonics, the not-surprising dissonant chord thrown in, etc.) that appear invariably on all of their records. Still, it’s as challenging as any rock record I’ve heard in a while, and the writing strikes me as light-years ahead of what most acts are doing.

“Raising Sand”: love it.

“Sky Blue Sky”: At your endorsement, I’m giving this one another shot. I heard it back in April and didn’t think much of it; it sounded to me then like the work of a very satisfied, wealthy group of men. Now, I’m really beginning to feel this shit. I don’t think that any of the other songs are as graceful or immediate as the title track, and I doubt it will become my favorite Wilco record. But The fucking Eagles? Naw.

Again, the clear winner here is “La Cucaracha”. It sounds like they went back to the Scotchguard bongs.