2007 Year-End Review: Top 100 Albums 25-1


The waiting is over. The circle is completed with Collectives and their Members; Supergroups; Innovators and Traditionalists; Nomad Formations; Marketing Lecturers; An egoless DJ..eeeh?; Sonic Terrorists…

The 25 chosen ones are at just a mouse’s click.

25-THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS-Challengers (Matador)
Awaited as one of the sure contenders for album of the year, “Challengers” left a bittersweet impression. All was well in the songs’ front, with another excellent harvest from the pens of Newman, Bejar & Case; but the Canadian supergroup took the MOR route, instead of carrying on the fresh power-pop one that prevailed in “Twin Cinema”, ageing and putting a bit more weight in their sound. Even so, few bands today can challenge the Pornographers in melody and live vitality.

24-SPOON-Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge)
After an erratic career stretched over more than a decade, Spoon has completed the indie circle that has dragged them so many comparisons with alt giants like Pavement or Pixies. The Austin quartet found themselves in the best of shapes for “Ga ga ga ga ga”, a flawless collection of accessible pop gems with a touch of the experimental and rich ornaments. Hoping to follow Modest Mouse’s credible trail to mainstream recognition, they remained halfway through the achievement of their commercial ambitions.

23-LES SAVY FAV-Let’s Stay Friends (French Kiss)
A Six year hiatus without releasing any new material, recharging their creative batteries, “Let’s stay friends” could be counted among the sweaty Brooklyn band’s finest work. Lone runners carrying the torch of 90’s rock, hopping effortlessly from grunge to post-punk and Fugazi’s-era hardcore, capturing the energy of their amusing and incendiary shows and receiving the illustrious visits of Emily Haines; Enon and Eleanor of The Fiery Furnaces.

22-LOW-Drums And Guns (Rough Trade)
Our favorite Mormons’ first “political record” arrived after a period of upheaval that saw a bass player replacement and Alan Sparshawk’s breakdown. It continued with their collaboration with Dave Fridmann, getting rid of the opulent Barroque trademark from the Mercury Rev producer and coming back to the trio’s accustomed sobriety, wrapped in just slight hints of electronica in a new dose of intense slowcore and vocal grace.

21-BEIRUT-The Flying Club Cup (Ba Da Bing!)
Young Zach Condon struck camp of his itinerant Orchestra Gulag to migrate from the Balkans towards the traditions of rural France. It experienced few changes in the process, thanks to the common use of instruments in both destinations. The dejá-vú sensation afflicting his nostalgic sepia tones in accordions, mandolins and brass, grew up in textures and overtones and it didn’t diminish the strength of a personal music journey started from his room in Albuquerque.

20-JUSTICE-+ (Ed Banger)
The production duo from Paris conquered the title of Dauphins of Electronica, Daft Punk’s heirs, from their giant illuminated cross pulpit. A debut album, after years of being in demand remixers, where the pair developed original block rocking beats and added hard-rock aggression to the evolution of house music. It was “D.A.N.C.E”, though, with its Jackson 5-esque vocals and excellent changing T-shirts clip what opened the doors to massive success via a troubled MTV.

19-GRINDERMAN-Grinderman (Mute)
Nick Cave began a new project, reducing his Bad Seeds to a quartet next to Jim Sclavunos, Warren Ellis & Martin Casey, in which they revisited the cruder, more experimental pastures of Cave’s own Birthday Party, as well as those of arid blues and garage rock, somehow balanced by their decades of fine musical experience. The raw, violent beauty of its main theme “No Pussy Blues” struck down upon us with the great vengeance and furious anger shared by every track in the album.

18-IRON & WINE-The Shepherd’s Dog (Sub Pop)
From his humble beginnings when he was considered a country version of Low, Sam Beam has progressively widened the palette of his influences. In “The Shepherd’s Dog” he furthers the path opened with the “Woman King EP” through world music and folk, dub, reggae..; more suggesting than showing those references as part of subtle arrangements that enrich his songwriting, without losing their ordinary intimacy. It may not be his best work, yet his more diverse and ambitious.

17-PHOSPHORESCENT-Pride (Dead Oceans)
On a first listening this album could be discarded for sounding too much like Bonnie “Prince” Billy. A second one uncovers a little common choral richness, with up to fifteen people collaborating on backing vocals (Jana Hunter; members of Dirty Projectors, Castanets and other emerging indie and anti-folk bands). Further listening reveals Matthew Houck as a first rate songwriter, in the same bag of contemporaries like Grizzly Bear, diving in the waters of traditional folk, country and psychedelia to build epic landscapes of serene beauty.

16-MENOMENA-Friend And Foe (Barsuk)
The first Menomena album released in Europe, and third in their career, represented a giant qualitative jump for their music, thanks to an unquestionable mix of experimental innovation and conventional form, expressed in solid arty pop-rock songs. The Portland trio was often compared to Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips or Radiohead, with whom they share many virtues and some defects. In “Friend & Foe” they put themselves at the same level with all of them. “The Pelican”, “Wet & Rusting” or “Rotten Hell” were only some of its highlights. The year ended with an unexpected Grammy nomination for its creative artwork.

15-RADIOHEAD-In Rainbows (Self Released)
Still holding the best band in the world brand, Radiohead broke the strings with both their major record label and the experimental electronic spider web they were trapped in and gave the record industry a master class on how to market a record in the digital era, so successfully that the business side of the band nearly overshadowed the music. And how was the music like? Radiohead sounded relieved, enjoying their new found freedom, slightly coming back to the sounds of their past classics, lighter and brighter but without getting rid of an ongoing sense of gravity and self-importance. No alarms, maybe, but definitely a few surprises.

14-ARCADE FIRE-Neon Bible (Rough Trade)
Montreal’s finest began the year with a presentation mini-tour in cosy churches and town halls and ended up packing arenas and stadiums, with everybody, from LCD Soundsystem to Bruce Springsteen popping in. After their debut became one of this decade’s defining records, the industry opened its arms in search of a replacement for the already senile latest generation of rock dinosaurs, and the band obliged earnestly. “Neon Bible” was no “Funeral”, but kept and evolved enough of its epic and artful spirit to avoid disappointment.

13-BLITZEN TRAPPER-Wild Mountain Nation (Lidkercow)
They came from the bluegrass and alt country scene; after two self-released ventures, the third chapter in the Trappers’ discography embraced a diversity that could only be found elsewhere in American rock anthologies, stopping briefly in Seventies AOR; nineties grunge; country-rock; all of it linked with the strong lo-fi component that populated the best records by Pavement or Beck. In less competent hands, that heterogeneous collage would have been dismissed as mere lack of personality. The Portland band throve on it.

12-YEASAYER-All Hour Cymbals (We Are Free)
In 2007 Brooklyn was once again a hotspot for new talent, often specialized in genre bending. Yeasayer played with a set of instruments worth including in a Real World compilation; an orgy of sitars, bass and Middle Eastern and African percussions, made to fit within the rules of the best US pop-rock. Halfway between Midlake and TV On The Radio; their harmonies owed to The Beach Boys; their synths’ riffs had a certain whiff of prog and dad-rock from the seventies, bringing us memories of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” period.

11-BURIAL-Untrue (Hyperdub)
The first Burial album discovered dubstep to the world, the sound that automatically made him a critics’ darling, originated over the dance foundations of UK’s nineties Two-Step, but taken to the dark side via claustrophobic drum and bass and stripped-down electronic dub. The second offering from the anonymous London producer is even better: this time he brought the songs to go with it, from the awesome “Archangel” to the chillingly majestic “Raver”. More suitable as a soundtrack for Blade-Runner-like dystopian nightmares than as a vehicle for driving people to the dancefloor, “Untrue” reveals itself worthy of its masterpiece tag, with a potential for mainstream crossover that end of the century artists like Massive Attack or The Aloof once enjoyed.

10-ANIMAL COLLECTIVE-Strawberry Jam (Domino)
After entering Dave Fridmann’s sonic beauty parlor on their landmark album “Feels”, most of the Animals alternated responsibilities in the collective’s new album with going back to their natural habitats to release solo projects. “Strawberry Jam”, their eighth album, kept an instinct for transgression alive and carried on with their psychedelic utopia intact in another wonderful collection of unique strangeness, closer to Panda Bear’s shiny pop in its first half and to Avey Tare and the rest’s endless quest for innovation in the second.

9-OF MONTREAL-Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?/Icons, Abstract Thee EP (Polyvinyl)
Progressively filling the weird and wonderful spot left vacant by The Flaming Lips; throwing in a penchant for camp Scissor Sisters would be proud of and a much poppier attitude, this indie bunch from Athens, Georgia –No, they are not Canadians- were getting there after more than a decade down the line. “Hissing Fauna”, their career best, despite the colourful arrangements and flowery choruses, it was also their darkest, product of Kevin Barnes dealing with a period of depression. The outcome, though, couldn’t have been any more lively or satisfying.

8-DEERHOOF-Friendly Opportunity (ATP)
Still veering towards more conventional grounds, Deerhoof seemed to have reached ideal balance point in their ninth record, circumscribing a whimsically experimental art-rock to the limits of ten short-length songs, cramming in a whole universe of own ideas. Who else could mix noise rock, mariachi trumpets, marching bands and electronic hooks with a “choo choo choo choo beep beep” killer chorus in just one song (+81)? Like an abbreviated version of themselves that missed none of their strengths, not even the departure of Chris Cohen could overshadow their triumph.

7-M.I.A.-Kala (XL)
Our favorite sonic warrior gave confusing signs before the release of her sophomore album. Dismissing Diplo at the controls, who still stayed around for the finishing touches, the rumored Timbaland production was reduced to a single track, already anticipated on his star-studded album; Instead, it was Switch in charge of most of the tracks’ breathtakingly contemporary style. Bringing the sounds of the third world’s streets to hip western kids, M.I.A. redefined the idea of globalization. Neither the punch in the face of “Boyz” nor “Jimmy” Bollywood retro hit the charts, which fuelled some criticism about her lacking of a new “Galang”; but this is likely to change with the imminent arrival of the Clash-sampling highlight “Paper Planes”.

6-THE NATIONAL-Boxer (Beggars Banquet)
Formerly greeted as the American Tindersticks for their richly arranged, intimate sound, this five-piece formed in Brooklyn but originally from Cincinnati are on their way to become one of the most essential US bands of the decade. The National’s fourth album saw them expanding in many directions, with a little help from indie icons like Sufjan Stevens or members of Clogs. It showcased a more gothic sound and an even more introspective feel to melodies and lyrics. Although plagued with fine moments, “Fake Empire”, a reflection about the public’s political apathy over the current state of affairs, stood out as one of this year’s best songs.

5-BATTLES-Mirrored (Warp)
Fresh after compiling their first EP’s, these veterans from bands like Don Caballero and Helmet debuted properly. Battles wrote the new chapter in post-rock’s evolution, just when everybody thought it was agonizing, applying the teachings from math and angular rock to it. With “Atlas” they amazed us like no other, sounding like The Smurfs on acid being fostered by Gary Glitter. The rest of “Mirrored” was equally energetic, progressive and mind-blowing.

2008 belonged to James Murphy: his omnipresence as the coolest man in contemporary music was even more pronounced by the release of “Sound Of Silver”, improving on his recipe for an ideal cocktail of the best indie rock and dance ingredients. Some of its most electronic tracks were edited off his former Nike running project (Something Great); some others added a certain political context (North American Scum); Murphy also completed with A-levels a degree on power ballads (All my friends), bringing Franz Ferdinand and John Cale for covers in truly old-fashioned way. Could have been a five star album, if only it didn’t end in such a cheesy manner…

3-PJ HARVEY-White Chalk (Island)
For her eighth album, ninth if we count “4 Track demos”, PJ Harvey went back to Dorset and replaced her guitar for a piano, writing all its songs with it. In “White Chalk” she put on a Victorian outfit; unleashed the haunting vocals of her inner child and wandered again into the darkest corners of the female soul. Impregnated with a ghostly, nearly gothic atmosphere, by getting out of her comfort zone she’s produced an astonishing work, her best since the Rober award winning “To Bring You My Love”.

2-LOS PLANETAS-La Leyenda Del Espacio (BMG)
Perhaps of local interest only, as Spanish rock is little known beyond the country’s boundaries, but the ambition and scope shown by Los Planetas had no rival anywhere else in the world this year. Reaching a career point where many other bands would have been a shadow of their former selves, the band from Granada left behind fifteen years at the peak of what was formerly called alternative music and gathered their strengths searching for a new goal: a reply to the late master Camaron’s flamenco landmark “The Legend Of Time”. They adapted each composition to a different “palo” (Sub-genre) of flamenco with amazing dexterity; linking their former Anglo-Saxon heritage (echoes of Bob Mould, Spiritualized and many others) with the Andalusian-rooted history of flamenco-rock and releasing the most important record that Spanish popular culture has seen since another flamenco singer, Enrique Morente, next to Largartija Nick revisited Lorca’s universe in industrial fashion. The same singer came along, in sign of approval, for the closing track in an album of unexpected resonance.

1-PANDA BEAR-Person Pitch (Paw Tracks)
Noah Jones’ sophomore solo project, away from his role as drummer and general weirdness instigator in Animal Collective, encapsulated an immense beauty, lying somewhere between the lush arrangements and reverberating vocals of “Pet Sounds” and darker, loop-based, dub and electronic trips. Devoted to the wonder of drugs, the uppers’ vibe pervading every track could work as a cure for seasonal affective disorder. For trivia lovers, it’s the first time in Rober’s history that an album by a band and another by one of its members are among the best of the same year. This time, though, individual achievements were superior to those of the collective.

TOP 100 ALBUMS 50-26
TOP 100 ALBUMS 75-51
TOP 100 ALBUMS 100-76