Radiohead, In Rainbows – you’d have to imagine that if the same album was put out by an unheard of band from Brooklyn named after a Faust song, this would have been at the top of the lists for all the unctuous, musicophilic critics out there, *cough*pitchfork*cough*. Yawn, just another near perfect album from Radiohead, perhaps a little softer and more palatable for some folks compared to their recent efforts. Unlike Hail to the Thief, not a single weak track on this one, though I think “Faust Arp” could have been space better spent. Nonetheless, the rhythm section is brilliant as usual, beautiful strings as always, a bit more finger-picking than I remember, and Thom seems to turn down the overtly political and turn up the sensual and personal. Once again I’m left wondering if Ed actually appears on the album. I played this constantly for three days but could still listen to it now and melt away into my headphones and couch. God bless these guys. Oh yea, and they gave it away for free. Fuck you, record industry.
Wilco, Sky Blue Sky – For a long time I had heard of a band named Wilco, and I guess I had a vague sense that they were considered “alt-country,” but that was probably the extent of my familiarity. I listened to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot once on the road, probably somewhere between Alabama and Ohio, but I can’t really recall what I thought about it, not surprising given my mental and physical state at the time (I think I liked it). Unexpectedly, I managed to listen to Sky Blue Sky right when it came out, thank you AOL streaming, and fell in love from the get go. Just a beautiful collection of songs, some plaintive ballads with a few rockers thrown in, but all brilliantly and simply crafted with a tender touch that is as rare as it is awesome. Highlights include “Either Way,” “Impossible Germany,” and “Sky Blue Sky,” but most of the numbers on here do the job. The guitar work is impeccable throughout, but the solo on “Impossible Germany” is particularly amazing. I guess I should reach into their back catalogue to see if it’s all this good, but if this is the only Wilco album I ever hear, I’ll be more than satisfied.
Battles, Mirrored – if you only listen to one album from a math rock supergoup in 2007, this is it. Stone solid grooves pervade while crunching rhythms lock you in for a nice, long head-bobbing, foot-tapping session. A bunch of tricky little guitar parts and weird sounding keyboards to keep the other parts of your brain occupied too. My only problem with these guys is that they like to go to the Turkey’s Nest, a place I have always been too scared/have better sense to visit.
Animal Collective/Panda Bear, Strawberry Jams/Person Pitch – I hate to group these guys together as one entry, but let’s face it, I would have been hard pressed to identify which is which in a taste test. Not much more I can tell you about these that hasn’t been said in the numerous glowing reviews they’ve received, each well deserved. “Peacebone” on Strawberry Jams and “Bros” on Person Pitch could be two of the best tracks of the year if not decade (Anthony Lane once told me that great reviews must contain obnoxious hyperbole). I feel simultaneously smarter and dumber when listening to this stuff. Both albums seem less frighteningly insane than their previous efforts; glad to see they’re at least beginning to inch back towards Earth from the far reaches of outer space.
LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver – Again, this is on everyone’s best of list, and I think I read somewhere that even Jessica Alba likes it, but the truth is, this shit is pretty stellar any way you slice it. If there's any release that challenges In Rainbows for supremacy, this is it. Somehow it works whether you’re just chilling it out and coming down, or getting hyped up to go out and dance (or if you’re like me, sit in the corner and talk about Arrested Development). Great songs, witty lyrics, and impeccable “production,” though this is probably better described as “creation” as it’s all being done on a laptop anyway. There isn't a single note, beat, or utterance that isn't perfectly placed and joyfully crafted. Pure gorgeousness. I can’t wait for the next album from this dude.
Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew, Spirit If… – Broken Social Scene leader Kevin Drew puts out what I guess is a solo album and, no surprise, it sounds a heck of a lot like a Broken Social Scene album, which is to say, it’s really good. The opener, “Farewell to the Pressure Kids,” blasts you in the face before the album ultimately settles into a mellow vibe that is calm yet filled with emotion. “Tbtf” (an acronym for “too beautiful to fuck”) is, I imagine, about real life girlfriend Leslie Feist, who is definitely just that. As an aside, my many critics will point to the inclusion of Spirit If… and my omission of Feist’s The Reminder from this list as further evidence of my misogynist tendencies, an allegation leveled at me in the past. However, I assure everyone out there that I love Feist and that album does not appear here only because I have not had the chance to listen to it (remember, wonky audio-out for most of the year). Don’t let the fact that there are no other female artists prominently featured on any of the other albums I’ve selected fool you. I love and respect women as people and musicians. Promise.
The Whore Moans, 5 Song Demo – “Lock up your daughters, hide your wives, born on the underside of hell’s own face, I found them outside in the dumpster, I hosed them off, and I brought them inside, have you heard of the rock’n’roll apocalypse that comes raining down from the sky, ladies and gentlemen, The Whore Moans!” This collection’s intro perfectly sums up the sound and prepares you for what’s to come – blistering hardcore fury, born on the underside of hell’s own face, indeed. The opening track, “Disappear,” is the set’s gem. The overriding guitar riff is drenched in bright distortion and provides anthemic bombast throughout. The highlight though is the shrill, shrieking, that’s-gotta-leave-your-throat-sore-as-hell vocals, classic hardcore screaming filled with equal parts desperation and jubilation. It sounds like homeboy was up all night hanging out with The Cramps, drinking jager, and stuffing razor blades into candy apples. I don’t listen to too much of this kind of music anymore, but it’s a carnal, guilty pleasure when done right. If you can’t crack open a few cold ones, crank the volume to the right, and enjoy this with some friends, you may want to check for a pulse.
Beirut, Lon Gisland EP – Ah teenage kids from New Mexico writing Balkan influenced World music. Ain’t America grand? Leader Zach Condon has a bit of the faux-afflatus affliction that I guess some teenage potential-geniuses, heavy on the potential, are prone to, but you can’t deny great songs. A solid collection of tunes featuring some pretty ukulele and slick horn lines. “Elephant Gun” was the feel good hit of the spring. What’s that term for a word that sounds like the definition of that word? (“Ring” is the example off the top of the head). Well, the first part of “Scenic World” (once all the instruments come in) is the musical equivalent of that phenomenon. Beautiful. A nice addition to the EP would have been their rendition of “Ederlezi,” a traditional Roma song. You blew it on that one, young Zachary.
Born Ruffians, Born Ruffians EP – A group of teenagers from Ontario, Canada (not to be confused with Ontario, California) put out one of the catchiest records of the year. Guitar driven pop with some enthusiastic melodies. Reminds me a bit of early Pixies with Frank Black’s deep and powerful howling replaced by a higher pitched sort of squeal, and it works just as well. This isn’t going to change anyone’s life, but I’m a sucker for this type of stuff when done well, and these gents sure do. Opener “This Sentence Will Ruin/Save Your Life” and its avalanche drum fills are the highlight.
Black Kids, Wizard of Ahhhs EP – Why are there so many EPs on this list? Is it because I have been caught up in the hype of the next big thing and are checking out bands just starting out, or do I just have a worryingly short attention span? These guys were definitely the victim/recipient of some serious internet buzz, but for once, it was backed up by some substance. Breezy pop songs that are more than overflowing with youthful exuberance belie the feeling you get that these guys know exactly just what they’re doing. “I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You” is retardedly good and I have the feeling it caused significant wear on ipod repeat buttons all over Williamsburg.
Soulja Boy, Crank That (Soulja Boy) – The first time I heard this song I was in a car on Gramercy Park doing two things I absolutely hate: 1) driving, and 2) listening to mainstream hip-hop radio. The second time I heard this song I was at a wedding in Puerto Rico doing two things I absolutely hate: 1) listening to wedding dance music, and 2) drinking by myself without either a guitar or TV remote in hand. On both occasions though I was transplanted away from my detestations to a magical land of steel drum beats and unintelligibly humorous rapping. This song is pure fun and ridiculousness, as is the dance that accompanies it, and it gets me pretty hyped to go out and do my thing, whatever that is. Even better than the song though is this synch-up made by some fan, just awesome.