2007 Recap: 100 albums to hear, pt. 4 (No. 25-1)

By • Dec 28th, 2007 • Category: Columns

25. “Graduation” (Roc-A-Fella)
Kanye West
Released: Sept. 11

While the Chicago rapper’s first two albums changed the face of hip hop (to look and sound like him); his third LP is arguably his best. His always-expansive production has grown to include even more oddball samples, including a pairing with 2007′s golden boys, Daft Punk. His rhymes are at their wittiest, and his hooks at their catchiest, on a record that feels like it is the culmination that “Late Registration” and “The College Dropout” were building toward.
Hear: “Stronger” and “Champion”

24. “The Hair, The TV, The Baby & The Band” (Merge)
Imperial Teen
Released: Aug. 21

The best thing about musicians who grow up with an ingrained appreciation for 60s pop, is that eventually they come around to recording some of their own. For Roddy Bottum, it took leaving Faith No More to realize where is heart – and ears – really were. Imperial Teen’s fourth full-length incorporates all the passe pop you’d expect from a guy who grew up with California sunshine, but with a level of grit from those years ignoring his roots. The album is just as dancey as the “next wave” acts the band help to inspire, but with the same mature quirks that the foursome has perfected.
Hear: “Shim Sham” and “Do It Better”

23. “Favourite Worst Nightmare” (Domino)
Arctic Monkeys
Released: April 24

On the band’s record setting sophomore album (the first record to debut with every song on the U.K. charts), it picks up where the brash, and also record setting, debut quit. The always-tight foursome sounds even more confident during these dozen tracks. So much so, that you could almost imagine the 20-somethings needing only one take to riffle through each track. An while it has just as many jarring stops and starts as that breakneck first record, it also has a degree of passion about it and thoughtfulness the group had only hinted it was capable of.
Hear: “Brianstorm” and “Do Me A Favour”

22. “Asleep At Heaven’s Gate” (Brushfire)
Rogue Wave
Released: Sept. 11

The knee-jerk criticism to this record is one of the year’s big mysteries. On Zach Rogue’s first release out from beneath Sub Pop’s umbrella, he is able to bask in the sunlight of glossy production that had plagued his music up to this point. On his first two records, Rogue Wave never sounded like a band that wanted to be as lo-fi as it was, but rather like a group trying to stay within restraints and maintain a forced level of DIY. However, this Brushfire debut is big and powerful, and Rogue sounds as if he has reached the sonic level that his earlier days were inhibiting.
Hear: “Like I Needed” and “Harmonium”

21. “A Night At The Ritz” (New Line)
Released: Sept. 25

The Chicago quintet’s New Line debut is not as new-wave revival as it’s lead single suggests, nor is it as power pop as a few of it’s deeper cuts confirm. It’s a schizophrenic output that jumps between rock, and dance, and intimate tales with superficial disguises. But throughout the 13 tracks, the group never sounds short on having a good time … and bouncing pianos and drum-on-your-steering wheel beats are a big reason why.
Hear: “Paralyzed Prince” and “Company Calls”

20. “Myths Of The Near Future” (Polydor)
Released: Jan. 29

The English ensemble has garnered as much attention this year for spawning a new phrase (“nu rave”) and for the act’s wild live shows with ramped allegations of in-house drug use and audience sexual exploitations. But the truth of the matter, is that this Mercury Prize-winning debut is less about reviving the days of warehouse dance parties and ecstasy-popping culture, as it is about spooky and acidic rock’n'roll.
Hear: “Golden Skans” and “Gravity’s Rainbow”

19. “Cassadaga” (Saddle Creek)
Bright Eyes
Released: April 10

With each release, Conor Oberst has refined his uber-literate storytelling. Whether that’s learning how to best utilize his wavering voice, or admitting that his tales don’t lose their sincerity when packaged in a straightforward manor. Which makes this arguably his best album to date. During the course of these 15 tacks, Oberst is as grandiose as ever, but never self-righteous or over indulgent. Yet these songs also are as personal as anything in his extensive catalogue, although baring his soul has never been a problem for the Nebraska songwriter. It plays like a performer who has spent years searching – for himself, for love, for politics, for a movement, for a cause, for a friend, for a little peace and quiet. And “Cassadaga” just happens to be the answer to each of those quests.
Hear: “Four Winds” and “Hot Knives”

18. “Bigger Than Your Boyfriend” (Self-released/Dischord Direct)
Washington Social Club
Released: June 26

This sophomore album from these D.C.-natives is the opposite to many of the band’s left-leaning peers. While Ted Leo and Al Gore paint doomsday scenarios, this five piece spends its time reminding us that its still OK to smile. Martin Royle’s lyrics are politically charged and socially aware, but feathered throughout tales of sex and the everyday accomplishments that keep us all chugging along. Over rocking guitar anthems, Royle spends these dozen songs balanced on a razor’s edge between a social responsibility to inform and a personal desire to look on the bright side.
Hear: “Monuments” and “Kids In The Back”

17. “The Fragile Army” (TVT)
The Polyphonic Spree
Released: June 19

Although this Texas-based band has included upward of 25 members since its 1999 conception, this third LP is the first time that the entire record conveys the multitude of its size. From its opening note, Tim DeLaughter leads his cast of musicians through 12 enormous songs that finds the Sprees with their collective voices and fingertips cast to the sky. Having abandoned their robes for faux-military uniforms, and continuously numbering their songs from one album to the next no longer feels like a compulsion, “The Fragile Army” is a stark contrast to its name, as the large act sounds its strongest ever.
Hear: “Running Away” and “Younger Yesterday”

16. “We Can Create” (Mute)
Released: June 19

Performing under the name Maps, James Chapman builds waves of shoegazer atmosphere through layers of sharp electronic noises. Recorded in not only the musician’s home, but specifically his bedroom, these 11 hypnotic tracks leave the speakers or crash through your headphones, blanketing everything in their path with a dense and an almost entrancing barrage of strings and industrial trickery.
Hear: “So Low, So High” and “Elouise”

15. “Astronomy For Dogs” (EMI)
The Aliens
Released: March 19

Forming from the remnants of the beloved Beta Band, these three Scots entertain 60s psychedelic influences more than previously, but also funnel a more straightforward style of rock’n'roll through these 11 songs. While sliming back the head-in-the-clouds atmosphere from their Beta days, the trio flexes its guitar chops while double, triple and quadruple tracking the vocal harmonies to near-choir proportions.
Hear: “Only Waiting” and “I Am The Unknown”

14. “Untrue” (Hyperdub)
Released: Nov. 5

A year after the producer’s debut LP garnered international – and surprise – praise as one of the year’s top albums, the follow-up bests that self-titled release in every facet. The London soundsculpture’s dubstep style is hauntingly low key and equally as engaging. The swirling onslaught of synths work as a sweet-and-sour contrast to the stop-on-a-dime percussions.
Hear: “Ghost Hardware” and “Archangel”

13. “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” (Merge)
Released: July 10

Since crossing paths with producer Mike McCarthy a half-dozen years ago, the Texas foursome has inched further toward experimental indie pop on each subsequent release. On the band’s sixth LP, it again relegates guitars to secondary instruments, relying heavily on brooding piano parts and a slew of percussion instruments. And on moments when the ol six-strings aren’t handled with kid gloves, the band jams through Elvis Costello-inspired hiccup rock’n'roll with unabashed energy. But this record – and the band – is at its best when front man Brit Daniel splices in those punchy guitar moments when you least expect them.
Hear: “Rhythm & Soul” and “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”

12. “Wincing the Night Away” (Sub Pop)
The Shins
Released: Jan. 23

The opening track of The Shins’ third LP, “Sleeping Lessons” is the band’s career in a microcosm. It starts quietly, not demanding any attention, but builds until it is barreling ahead with a British-invasion amount of speed. By the time the track is finished, despite having more instrumentation than you could shake a hipster’s ironic T-shirt at, it’s front man James Mercer’s flawless voice that stands out. Which, in fact, can be said for the other 10 tracks on “Wincing.” No matter how textured the tunes get, it’s the human element of each that makes this record so darn enjoyable.
Hear: “Australia” and “Turn Me On”

11. “Kala” (XL)
Released: Aug. 20

On this Sri Lanka-by-way-of-England emcee’s debut, the beats changed direction and moods with a videogame sort of regularity. The performer hipped when she should have hopped, and stopped cold just as the tunes began to get great. But on her second record, M.I.A. has grown into a full-on commodity. No longer relying on the bizarre to conduct a crowd, her vocal stylings command the sort of attention that her backing tracks always have. Now able to captivate while bouncing around with a Pied Piper-like control, this second album finally is worthy of the attention that she’s been given since her start.
Hear: “Paper Planes” and “Down River”

10. “Andorra” (Merge)
Released: Aug. 21

Dan Snaith’s new label, Merge, seems to have given him the duel existence that his music always has lacked. As an experimental popster, his goofy-meets-electronic-tomfoolery always has worked either as individual clips or as a complete long-play. But until now as Caribou (or before changing his name from Manitoba), the music never has been able to work as both. Yet the tracks on this Merge debut can be taken as one-off singles, or enjoyed within the context of the release’s nine tracks.
Hear: “Eli” and “Melody Day”

9. “We Were Dead Before This Ship Even Sank” (Epic)
Modest Mouse
Released: March 20

Oh to be a wallflower during the conversation when Isaac Brock told his Modest Mouse band mates that Johnny Marr – ex-Smiths guitarist and former member of one of the largest selling acts in U.K. history – was going to join this bunch of Pacific Northwest scruffy dudes. But the result of this collaboration continues Modest Mouse’s string of near-perfect releases, dating back to before the band’s major label days. But the strength of these 14 songs doesn’t lie in Brock’s genius lyrics or in Marr’s unmistakable guitar. It results from the guest backing voice of Shins front man James Mercer, which adds an uplifting comparison to Modest Mouse’s usually harsh yelps.
Hear: “We’ve Got Everything” and “People as Places as People”

8. “In Rainbows” (Self-released)
Released: Oct. 10

Forget Radiohead’s history as one of this generations most important and innovative acts. Ignore the way that the band successfully reinvented itself twice before with near-perfect results. And pay no attention to the way in which the band’s seventh LP turned the music industry upside down and redefined sales and distribution. All that aside, the songs on “In Rainbows” are the group’s best since 2000′s “Kid A,” and maybe even “OK Computer.” An apparent need to take the road less traveled had left Thom Yorke overcompensating for his traditional major-label home by recording jarring and intentionally alienating music. But now, the quintet meets its weird quota by being without a label, which seems to be the justification that the members have needed to go back to making the closest thing to streamlined rock’n'roll that Radiohead can.
Hear: “Bodysnatchers” and “Nude”

7. “Loney, Noir” (Sub Pop)
Loney, Dear
Released: Feb. 6

The 10 songs on this Sub Pop debut mirror the writing/touring process of Emil Svanangen. Each tune on this LP starts off sparse, with Svanangen opening each of these twee-pop numbers by himself. But they each bubble into glorious songs with a full cast of extras supplying backing harmonies, vocals, plush chamber sounds and a seeming orchestra of instrumentation. It parallels the solo performer’s path from writing the songs at home to performing them on the road. For what began as an individual project needs upward of six people’s company to bring them to life on the stage … as Loney, Dear also morphs from a solo Svanangen into a group effort.
Hear: “I Am John” and “Saturday Waits”

6. “Armchair Apocrypha” (Fat Possum)
Andrew Bird
Released: March 20

For this violin extraordinaire, his time as a fringe member of the Squirrel Nut Zippers is far behind him. Today, he’s traded in his zoot suit for a more tailored one, and relies on his own crooning voice to ramble through his mesmerizing lo-fi minstrel-like storytelling.
Hear: “Imitosis” and “Fiery Crash”

5. “What’s The Time Mr. Wolf?” (Vertigo)
Released: Feb. 5

Drawing obvious comparisons to Yeah Yeah Yeahs (a trio, with a charismatic front woman with an odd sense of style, that relies on harsh guitars and thunderous drums), the English act is more fulfilling than its closest peer. The band’s bluesy R&B vocals over ear-piercing pitches are harder than even early YYYs’ EPs. Shingai Shoniwa’s voice has more range and is more distinct than Karen O’s. And her backing mates have a more commanding sense of challenging rock and radio sensibility.
Hear: “Don’t Give Up” and “Bridge To Canada”

4. “Neon Bible” (Merge)
Arcade Fire
Released: March 6

The Canadian ensemble has managed to survive the obstacle of recording a debut LP that was met with universal adoration, and the backlash that follows such lofty praise. The baroque act now can add this sophomore album to its list of accomplishments, as it met – and in some cases exceeded – the expectations of following a flawless debut. With a bit more urgency this time around, the sextet still sounds like it’s telling theatric tales of global wandering. But now it sounds a bit more of a hurry to get there.
Hear: “Keep The Car Running” and “Intervention”

3. “A Weekend In The City” (Wichita)
Bloc Party
Released: Feb. 5

If this were Bloc Party’s debut, the London four piece never would have been grouped with acts such as Franz Ferdinand and The Futureheads. Gone are those manic structures and sweaty undertones of the group’s debut. No longer does the quartet sound deadset on squeezing out every last dance move from its pummeling rhythms. No, had this album come first, the band would have found itself mentioned in the same stadium-ready breath as Coldplay and Placebo. Not that the music sounds anything alike, but rather it contains the seriousness and long-reaching aspirations of acts that shoot to be the biggest in the world.
Hear: “I Still Remember” and “SRXT”

2. “The Stage Names” (Jagjaguwar)
Okkervil River
Released: Aug. 7

As Austin, Texas’ Okkervill River crawls away from the morose and melodramatic outputs of its past, those expecting vocalist Will Sheff to lose any of his intensity will be pleasantly surprised. Although the band’s fifth album in seven years still features a handful of somber, borderline immobilizing, numbers, for the most part this record shows a choppier and galloping side to Sheff’s songwriting. Each tune is genuinely more upbeat and faster paced that the lot of his past material. And by doing so, “The Stage Names” plays as both a widely promising and widely fulfilling record.
Hear: “Unless It’s Kicks” and “Plus Ones”

1. “Sound Of Silver” (DFA)
LCD Soundsystem
Released: March 20

It’s been two years since James Murphy packaged a collection of his random singles into an eye-opening and ear-pleasing set of dance tunes. And it’s been a year since he kicked down the critical and commercial (literally, thanks to Nike) doorway during a 45-minute ad-spot-turned-album. But for the first time in the producer/performer’s career, Murphy doesn’t just sound great because you’re convinced that he’s cooler than you. On his early tunes, the New Yorker was able to parlay his iTunes-like record collection and vast knowledge of music history into timeless recordings. But they always felt like he was mining other albums for inspiration, regardless of how great it sounded. Yet on “Sound of Silver,” Murphy’s songwriting turned a corner. Now these nine cuts play like a complete record, as if the tracks first were written on an acoustic guitar or piano, and fleshed out later by years of club DJ experience. Instead, he dips into his rock vaults only to patch up a few holes, resulting in proof that you were right – he is cooler than you.
Hear: “Watch The Tapes” and “Time To Get Away”

Northwest Herald, Dec. 28, 2007

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