The Year in Music
By the time this paper hits the stands there will be God knows how may of these lists on magazine racks, in papers, and floating in the internet ether. It feels like some publications exist mainly to publish top-something lists. It's a compulsion--in the music press more than anywhere--to quantify our culture, to add it up, score it, rank it.
They all start to look the same. The order might be different, but the players stick around. By the fifth one you scan, the surprises are exhausted. Yet, here we are, giving you another one to parse, debate, and criticize--and you will, fervently. And we're proud to present some oddballs, make some actual introductions.
If there's one thing our results say, it's that much music flew under the radar this year. And that our team of critics' eclecticism will never be called into question. Nary a Neon Bible or In Rainbows was uttered. Our Top 10--while, of course, littered with some usual suspects--is rife with freaks, and just behind them is a line of albums--from freaks and fetishes to radio-pop (check the full ballots online to see who voted Britney)--that could stretch to the Beltway and back. Once the ballots started coming in, we were very worried that the 18 City Paper music writers polled had screwed us over with a 150-way tie for fifth. 2007 was that good of a year for music.
If 2007 was the year of the dance crossover--Justice, LCD Soundsystem, and the Field are fairly ubiquitous on this year's lists--it was also the year of clattering, droning oddballs and sunken-eyed basement lurkers. How did they infiltrate? How did Valet--whose droning icebox of a record barely saw the light of day off the West Coast--overtake Kanye West? Well, that one's easy. A couple of us with Cascadian roots were lucky enough to hear it, be blown away by it, and score it accordingly. And Parts and Labor bumping off the Field? Well, you can thank former CP music editor Jess Harvell for that one. The favorites got no love here, and if the following list proves anything, it's that there is hope for third parties. Democracy works.
The following was compiled from weighted ballots of 18 regular City Paper contributors including Rahne Alexander, Brent Burton, Michael Byrne, Raymond Cummings, John Darnielle, Jared Fischer, Neil Ferguson, Michael Alan Goldberg, Geoffrey Himes, Allison Levin, Marc Masters, Michaelangelo Matos, Bret McCabe, Mike McGonigal, Al Shipley, Brandon Soderburg, and Mikael Wood. We let the one tie stand. (Michael Byrne)
1 M.I.A. Kala (Interscope)
How to get one's head around this breathless tour de force, this disquisition on the state of the world and other insurrectionary biz, as presented by the Sri Lankan refugee who composed it in response to being turned away at the U.S. border? Simple. Forget all that and just listen to the thing. Hear the way the Bollywood sample seals "Bamboo Banga" like a glittering Ziploc top. Pay attention to the bass burbles sending "Boyz" upward like a hot-air balloon over a Pixar rendition of the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. Concentrate on the timbre, both cracked and luscious, of nearly everything on "Mango Pickle Down River," from the water-droplet percussion to the voices of the young Wilcannia Mob. By the time you get to the wheedling Clash samples and impossibly lovely vocal lilt and gunshot hooks of "Paper Planes," it's impossible to miss: In a good year for sonic expansiveness, no one made a bigger, more generous noise than Maya Arulpragasam. (Michaelangelo Matos)
2 Dirty Projectors Rise Above (Dead Oceans)
Dirty Projectors' Dave Longstreth shattered the idea of the concept/cover album with this re-imagining of Black Flag's foaming-at-the-mouth hardcore cornerstone Damaged. Rise Above--Longstreth's delicate warble and cooing backup singers in particular--has no truck with the anger and revulsion of its source material, instead giving way to an ecstatic, hyper-rhythmic record that, of all things, sounds like flamenco bent into six or seven dimensions after a mug of indie Kool-Aid. A rabbit hole of an album, the intricacy--the reinvention of the basic idea of song (à la Deerhoof/Grizzly Bear)--makes Rise Above an infinite listen, Black Flag conceit aside. (MB)
3 UGK Underground Kingz (Jive/Zomba)
UGK rapper/producer Pimp C passed away, tragically, earlier this month, less than two years after being released from a lengthy prison sentence that had temporarily sidelined the Texas hip-hop veteran's career. But in those two years of freedom, he saw the group he founded with Bun B two decades ago reach its apex, releasing the chart-topping Underground Kingz, and finally a generation of Southern rappers who grew up on UGK hailed them as legends. And that final double album he left us with is every bit a country-rap masterpiece, worthy of its spot alongside classics like 1996's Ridin' Dirty. (Al Shipley)
4 Spoon Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge)
After six albums, how Spoon maintains both its soul and its hold on the sound of the beat-down is remarkable enough without the band pulling new musical ideas out its giant Texan brain at every turn. If you felt alienated slash betrayed by the near showoffishness of pop craft from Gimme Fiction, Britt Daniel--throat as perfectly expressive and sandpapered as ever--and company have returned to their constituency. "Don't Make Me a Target," just as deft and addictive as "The We Get By," and "Underdog" speak for themselves, but "Black Like Me" is truly for the folks. (MB)
5 Jesu Conqueror (Hydra Head)
Onstage, Justin Broadrick still plays each tectonic guitar riff with his torso thrusting downward in anguished slow motion, his head nearly snapping off his neck. This body rock made sense in his days spreading thick feedback tar over the cement thump of Godflesh, but using the aerated language of early-'90s shoegaze, the music Broadrick now makes as Jesu moves more like snowstorm drift than a metal machine street-sweeping over everything in its path. The riffs on Conqueror are still huge, the tempos implacable, and the deep fuzz bass the band's connection to "heavy" music. But you suspect Broadrick didn't come to a song title like "Weightless and Horizontal" by accident. (Jess Harvell)
6 Battles Mirrored (Warp) . . .
In which a disparate bunch of critically lauded, technically brilliant, post-millennial musos single-handedly rescue post- and prog-rock from the grasping clutches of the hygienically, follicly, and socially challenged. Mirrored is sleek, slick, turbocharged futuristic robofunk. It's Fritz Lang's Metropolis via Afrobeat, Kraftwerk, and the Yellow Magic Orchestra. It confounds and confuses in equal measure; it has songs that turn in on themselves before spiraling into infinity. It has tricky time-signature changes and "challenging" chord progressions in abundance, but just when Battles veer dangerously close to art-wank territory, they pull back with a combination of humor, humanity, and sheer verve. Which, really, is no mean feat. (Neil Ferguson)
7 LCD Soundsystem Sound of Silver (Capitol)
James Murphy understands what it's like to pin your entire sense of identity on a song, and to make a fool of yourself in thrall to a groove. Even better, he understands how to translate all that inchoate longing and a lifetime of listening into amazingly well-produced tracks that bridge rock and dance music so cleanly that both sides clamor to claim him as their own. Then he writes lyrics so smart and full of feeling ("Someone Great," "All My Friends") and sometimes funny ("North American Scum") that they pin you to the wall--whereupon the music pulls you away from it to dance some more. (MM)
8 Valet Blood Is Clean (Kranky)
A record like this was written in the stars for Honey Owens, perennial shotgun-rider for a host of Cascadian shape-shifting bands, Jackie-O Motherfucker and Nudge being the most exported. Left to her lonesome, the result is this sometimes slyly arresting, sometimes barely there eerie ambient haunt that picks at the most fertile scraps of her band alumnus. Simmering zombie folk, rhythms that stretch and bend like light passing a black hole, that otherworldly deep-freeze of a voice (singing "my blood is clean/ but the devil's in me"), all of it steeped in a deep maroon ether. If it isn't stopping time in bottomless drones, Blood Is Clean is heartstopping in its unexpected moments of immediacy. In either case, it's a chill that runs soul-deep. (MB)
9 Yellow Swans At All Ends (Load)
This will go down in the annals of noise as the album Yellow Swans "went soft." But, really, YS was always a little soft to begin with, at least next to Load compatriots such as Mouthus and Air Conditioning. At All Ends--a vibe-y, New Age apocalypse record at heart--dives deeper into that sensibility, exploring the psych fog that licks at the edges of and the milky, melodic seep that coated their prior studio work (all two albums of it). Guitar lines step out and stare you straight in the eyes, vocals distill from distorted fuzz, sounds walls evaporate into ethereality. But, of course, it lingers only to get chased away by some variety of disturbed sonic stab. (MB)
9 Kanye West Graduation (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
Each of Kanye West's accomplishments just makes the next one sound all the more unlikely, and the three-peat he pulled with yet another solo album success was attained in the face of a sales war with 50 Cent that few expected him to win. More than that, Graduation's real triumph is the continuing expansion of West's formerly narrow, soul sample-based production aesthetic into a bright, dazzling array of house-influenced synths and strings on songs like the masterful "Flashing Lights," along with some loping Southern rap swagger, courtesy of Atlanta-based co-producer DJ Toomp. (AS)
10 Parts and Labor Mapmaker (Jagjaguwar)
Bent-circuit punk, Parts and Labor's distorted keyboards and electronic fireworks manage to brilliantly renovate the stodgy power-chord thrashing of indie rock, while adding a woolly emotionalism and a thrilling rhythmic pummel to 21st-century noise. But while Mapmaker may squeal with curlicues of distortion and swarm with feedback, sturdy songs like the brass-band blast of "Fractured Skies" or the air-punching anthem "The Gold We're Digging" are straight-up tuneful underneath the skree, bashing along a popcore axis that stretches from the politics of '80s hardcore to the earnestness of '90s emo. And all of the pink noise and textural whiteouts are tied together with the bonus of the year's loudest drumming. (JH)
The Unabridged List
Marc Masters1. Yellow Swans - At All Ends
Neil Ferguson1. The Good, the Bad, the Queen - Self-titled
Mikael Wood1. Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight
Al Shipley1. Sloan - Never Hear The End Of It
Allison Levin1. The Hives - The Black and White Album
Brandon Soderburg1. UGK - Underground Kingz
Brent Burton1. Jesu - Conqueror
Jared T. Fischer1. Icy Demons - Miami Ice
Geoffrey Himes1. Carla Bley - The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu
Mike McGonigal1. Valet - Blood Is Clean
Raymond Cummings1. Sightings - Through the Panama
John Darnielle1. Bowerbirds - Songs for a Dark Horse
Michael Alan Goldburg1. Clockcleaner - Babylon Rules
Bret McCabe1. Saul Williams - The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust
Rahne Alexander1. Pariah Piranha - Feel My Face Noise
Jess Harvell1. LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver
Michael Byrne1. Yellow Swans - At All Ends
Michaelangelo Matos1. James Murphy & Pat Mahoney - FabricLive 36
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