The Best Albums of 2007, pt. I

So here are the conditions: I am going to tell you about the albums I listened to that had some kind of effect on me this year. Too vague? Put it this way: all of the albums did something to me--got in my head so much that I had to listen to them again, then again; made my jaw drop as soon as they started; made me think "where the hell did this come from?"; etc. Not scientific, but I am not a scientist (unless you're talking about libraries, in which case I am a Library Scientist). Furthermore, since I'm incapable of putting things in lists, I'm going to cite the albums that grabbed me in a nonlinear fashion, devoting a post to a couple of them, and saying as much as I can muster about them. After I'm done and I've done some reflecting on it, I'll attempt to name one of them my "best" album of the year.

Oh, and don't think that you can just sit back and let me do all the work here: I want to know what you think the best albums of the year were. Why? Because I care what you think. Plus, I want to know about all of the good music I don't know about, didn't have a chance to listen to, or haven't get around to listening to on my iPod yet. So give a brother a hand. Send me a comment and let me know if you like, love, or hate the albums I mention, and if I missed something, let me know about that too. Cheers.

Okkervil River - The Stage Names

This album falls under the jaw-dropping category, as well as the "where did this come from?" one. I had heard about them for a while, but never listened to any of their albums. As soon as I heard this, suffice it to say I went and heard all of the other ones about as fast as I could.

This band gets called "literary" about as much as does The Decemberists, but seems to enjoy a far smaller popular audience than that band, which is a shame that one hopes The Stage Names will rectify, but who knows. "Literary" is as useless a label for music as is "alternative" or "grunge," but apparently is meant to signify that a group's lyrics are a tad more complex than "Wild thing, you make my heart sing, you make everything, groovy," but more often than not implies pretension or preciousness. Well, this album suffers from neither affliction. The first track, "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe," rocks harder than one would expect a group of "bookish" lads to rock, and when the closer, "John Allyn Smith Sails," segues into a laughing reprise of "Sloop John B," let me say that even though I'm an incurable Beach Boys nerd, I think it's hard for anyone to hear that and not break out in an ear-to-ear grin. This is a hell of a charming record, and this group deserves to be someone's favorite band.

The Raveonettes - Lust Lust Lust
Fierce Panda Records

I don't think this album has been released in the U.S. yet. That's our loss. This is sexy, downbeat, candy-coated music from the Jesus and Mary Chain's hot Danish godchildren. The track "You Want the Candy" is a mission statement of sorts: they know we want the candy, the dirty sweet candy, so here's the sweet sweet candy. It feels bad, but it tastes real good. This record belongs in the pantheon of great break-up albums.


the cure for lycanthropy said...

All right Jake, you asked for it. By the way, I haven't heard the Okkervil River but I keep reading press about that guy comparing him to Dylan...weird. Jagjaguar records is located in Bloomington Indiana in what is nasically a closet. They are also responsible for the inimitable Oneida, whom I must handily recommend.
I'll begin my own lenghty list with the admonition that I've been rummaging through the back catalogues of old soul and afrobeat lately, and getting heavily in to ambient music and (mostly) obscure krautrock bands like Aamon Duul, etc. I've just been checking out anything new. For instance, Joy Division. I became a fan this year, I never knew. So the list is varied.

The first four reign supreme this year, with the Wipers getting about twice as much play as everything else, then it's in no particular order.

Bruce Springsteen: Nebraska
I came late to the party on this one. I have always been quick to write off the Boss as a N.J. choad who road coattails. Not so, not so. After discovering the stark beauty that is Nebraska my entire outlook on the dude has changed. Again, I'm sure I'm late to the party so I won't get too into it. Suffice it to say that the album makes me cry sometimes. (and, alternately, want to beat up Ryan Adams for trying so hard to rip him off)

Shuggie Otis: Inspiration Information
This thing is quite simply amazing. I listened to it while spending a week on the beach in Florida, and a week hasn't gone by since when I haven't put it in. It's on Dave Byrne's Luka Bop label as a "World Psychedelic Classic (vol.2)." I have another record in this series that blows me away, too. "Love's a Real Thing: The Fuzzy Funky Sounds of West Africa." You gotta get it.

The Wipers: Box Set
The coolest Seattle band of all time. This has sat in my car for months, the four-track demo of "mystery" at the end of Over the Edge is a highlight. Greg Sage shoulda won a grammy.

Comets on Fire: Avatar
Sub Pop, unfortunately, has this generic production process going on for mastering their records. But this one towers above sonic aesthetics and achieves greatness as a modern psych-rock masterpeice.

a couple others without explanation that have sat heavy on me this year:
Spoon: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
High on Fire: Death is This Communion
Expo 70: Animism
Sunburned Hand of the Man: Fire Escape
Tool: 10,000 Days (don't say it...)
Trapeze: Medusa
Labradford: Me Media Naranja
Midlake: The Trials of Van Occupanter
Mirrors: Hands in My Pockets
Melvins: a Senile Animal
Husker Du: Metal Circus, Zen Arcade
The entire GBV catalog (my summer...)
Tony Allen: Progress
Awesome Color: S/T
Pharoah Overlord: III (gay name...but you really oughta hear it)
The Byrds: Turn! Turn! Turn!
Delia Gonzalez and Gavin Russom: Days of Mars (pure Carpenter creepy)
Hot Snakes: Automatic Midnight
Groundhogs: Thank Christ for the Bomb
Roky Erickson: Gremlins Have Pictures
All things Magnolia Electric Co.
(Fading Trails)
Mogwai: My Father My King E.P.
Shellac: Excellent Italian Greyhound
This Heat: Out of Cold Storage Box Set
Tim Hecker: Harmony in Ultraviolet
Wilco: Sky Blue Sky (everyone gets on me for this, folks say it sounds like the Eagles...)
Randy Newman: 12 Songs
Big Star: 3rd
Cat Power: The Greatest
Fairport Convention: just one song that has become my favorite song of all time: "By the Time it Gets Dark" I realize I'm prone to hyperbole, but this one won't change.

And finally:
three different "Learn French in Your Car" kits. I've had it up to my fucking ears with French.

Bedheaded said...

Thanks, Jeff:

Other than that "Essential Bruce" set that came out a few years ago, all I have of his is Nebraska. As far as I'm concerned, that's all I need. I heard "Magic," and I don't think it's a bad album, but it didn't make much of an impression on me. I guess I'm just not his target audience, but I have a hard time imagining just who would get really excited about it. It has glockespiel and Clarence Clemmons on sax, so it's the kind of thing where if you're into that kind of thing, you'll be into it. It seems that Bruce is never going back to Nebraska, and I guess that's a good thing.

Jagjaguwar is like my favorite label right now. Between them and Secretly Canadian, which I guess is affiliated in some way, there's Jens Lekman, Black Mountain, Magnolia Electric Co., and on and on. They're like the new Matador.

That Comets on Fire album is pretty badass. I like Six Organs of Admittance too...man, if you ever wanted to bury yourself in a band's back catalog, there you go...

I got onto big Husker Du and Byrds kicks at different points this year. The Byrds thing mainly had to do with realizing that David Crosby was more than the crazy walrus looking guy from CSN who had been busted running kilos of smack in a sailboat somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico. I don't know if you've ever heard the first two Crosby/Nash records (they only did three before Crosby got in his sailboat for the Gulf), but I think they're pretty good--suffice to say, a lot better than anything CSN and sometimes Y managed to fart out. Speaking of Y, I recently read "Shakey," his controversial almost-authorized biography. Pretty entertaining stuff. It says something when Stephen Stills comes off looking like the world's biggest asshole cokehead, while David Crosby ends up looking like an OK dude who had a little problem with coke. Oh, and Crosby has a cameo in Dylan's "Chronicles: Vol. 1", which is awesome; I think he wears his cape in it.

I used to feel this weird kind of guilt about liking Wilco, as though liking them was the same as thinking "One of These Nights" was the best song ever released in the seventies. I don't know where that comes from, but I've gotten over it. And at this point, I think you can say that whatever scenesterish better-than-thou garbage that came from has long since evaporated. I mean, if it's some sort of pissing contest where you have to compare the latest Wilco record to whatever else kind of indie rock thing is hot at the time, I think at this point you can say that Jeff Tweedy's won the war many times over, 'cause he's still here, and I don't even know what it is that's supposed to be better than him. And I think now we're at the point when you start to see bands branching off of them as influences.

OK, anything you can describe as "pure Carpenter creepy," I have to hear right away.

That Shellac record is one of those that sat on my iPod and never ended up getting played. That kind of thing makes me sound like some kind of music bimbo, do you think? Like the records I don't listen to on my iPod are like pairs of shoes in some Valley Girl's closet that she never wears.

I still haven't come around to liking "The Greatest" all that much. It's hard for me to listen to it and not think about how she was about that close to ending up the next Karen Carpenter or Layne Staley or whatever. I mean, it's all in her delivery, which is totally incongruous next to the spotless Memphis-soul backing band. But the title track is one of the best songs she's ever done, I'll give you that. But by the time it gets to "I Hate Myself and I Want To Die," well, I guess sometimes you get a little to emotionally attached to people you don't know and only know through their artistic expression, and if you've ever had your heart broken when one of those people ends up going away forever, I think you tend to guard your heart a little bit lest it get broken all over again.

Paul said...

Maybe I oughta sit this one out. I heard very little new music this year; I have just lost all interest in rock. I mean, I have an ipod with roughly eight-thousand songs on it, but I just listen primarily to old shit that makes me laugh: Bob Segar, The Pod, and The Frogs. And as it was this year that You Tube evolved into such an inexhaustible source of media, I find that when I am not reading or writing I tend more toward absorbing documentaries, lectures, and what not. But Tom Waits’ Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards was exceptional.

Paul said...

Oh: but I intend to post the long-lost Occupants LP on ghostharpoon for download this week. So you chaps can maybe squeeze in an additional review before year's end.

ben r said...

I heard so little that was new this year that making my own list of favorites or least-faves would be pointless. I agree that the Shins' new one was kind of a disappointment in comparison to the last two (which is not to say that it was bad). Interpol and Modest Mouse never did much for me.

I have an earlier Raveonettes record that I'm pretty sure I got from you, Jake. It's quite enjoyable, although almost distractingly derivative of the JAMC.

Your enthusiasm for the Okkervil River (is that pronounced "oakerville" or "ockerville"?) record piques my curiosity, but if the Decemberists are a reference point, perhaps I should proceed with caution (not really a fan).

I probably listened to less music than usual this year, and the music I discovered for the first time was generally not new. A few things which got plenty of play at my house in 2007 include: The Exploding Hearts, M.I.A., Fear, Deerhoof, Elastica, Jonathan Richman, Tom Petty, Roxy Music, Broadcast, and more recently, Aphex Twin & Squarepusher (my knowledge of electronic music runs about an inch deep, but those last 2 guys are incredible).

I'm just now getting into them, but I think I can safely say that the Books are the shit. I guess that would be my big recommendation of something new-ish.

Happy holidays, everyone, and hope to see you in 2008.

Bedheaded said...

Thanks for the input, Paul and Ben. I'll definitely be glad to hawk any sort of musical output you care to make available, Paul. Would that be one that you didn't end up releasing?

The new Raveonettes is still derivative of JAMC, but there's plenty of new tricks to make it interesting in my book. And hey, in lieu of any actual new JAMC, this suits me just fine.

The only reference point that the Decemberists and OR have in common is the "literary" tag. Beyond that, there's not much in common, other than a slight folk-rock flavor, though OR tends more to the rock side of the scale.

jdw23 said...

Lots of great reading here.

I've had (and still have) several okkervil records...i like em but never got way into em.

raveonettes--i forgot they had a new one. i've got the first three records, do i really need another?

big ups to shuggie, comets on fire, husker Du, byrds.

shellac, boo. i sold their last one. so NOT into them anymore. still love At Action Park and Terraform tho.

BRUUCE.....I'm way beyond just a Nebraska fan, of course, but I would seriously check out Ghost of Tom Joad if I were ya'll. Very similar in mood and feel to Nebraska. Devils & Dust has some similar moments as well.