Thursday, November 08, 2007

TOP ALBUMS OF 2007

Ok folks, here it is--Spitting Out Teeth's Top Albums of 2007 list. It was a good year for music & I found it impossible to limit my list to a top 10, so instead you get my favorite 15. As an added bonus, there's a list of my favorite reissues & great albums from late 2006 that I didn't get turned on to until 2007.

Each album has a brief description of why I think it's friggin' awesome, as well as a letter grade to rate its degree of supreme sonic coolness.

Enough blabbing--here's the list:

#15 - White Stripes, “Icky Thump”


The White Stripes get back to what they do best—guitar & drum nostalgia rock. Sure, this was probably the most hyped album of the year (how many impromptu city-bus concerts can one band do?), but as usual the Stripes put out content to back it up. The sounds on this album really spanned the globe, from the Middle Eastern snake-charmer Clavioline sounds on the title track to the punk Spanish mariachi tones on their cover of “Conquest” to the Scottish bagpipes on “St. Andrew”. Maybe not a masterpiece (when will they translate the energy and rawness of their live shows to an album?) but a rocking good trip around the world in 48 minutes. B-

#14 - Earth, “Hibernaculum”


One of the great side effects of the recent popularity of post-metal acts like Sunn O))) and Boris is underrated innovators of the genre like Dylan Carlsson’s Earth are getting a critical reappraisal. “Hibernaculum” is an understated meshing of slow drone riffs with a touch of country-western twang. Great album to zone out & read to. B

#13 - Nadja, “Touched”


Whereas last year’s Spitting Out Teeth Top Albums list was the unofficial “Year of Twee”, this year took a dramatic turn to become “The Year of Post-Metal”. While Nadja doesn’t have the same name recognition as Southern Lord heavy-hitters like Sunn O))) or Boris, they managed to fly under the radar and release one of the heaviest and creepiest albums of the year. Imagine Black Sabbath-meets-My Bloody Valentine and you’ll start to get an idea of what this album sounds like. Deep and slow detuned guitar riffs with layer after layer of synth fuzz piled on top. And believe it or not, there actually are drums and vocals hiding somewhere behind the fog. B

#12 - Animal Collective, “Strawberry Jam”


What do you do when you’re a band who has already conquered avant-garde noise rock and successfully made the transition to experimental rock band? Well, release your most bizarre yet accessible album, obviously. Possibly the Collective’s most coherent and clean production, this is obviously a band that feels comfortable enough with their weirdness that they don’t need to cover up their bizarre lyrics and circuit-bent tones with layers of ambient wash anymore. Surprisingly, the very divergent side projects of the members (compare Avey’s “Pullhair Rubeye” to Panda’s “Person Pitch”) has obviously helped their collaborative work instead of hinder it. B

#11 - Mammatus, “The Coast Explodes”


Prog metal? Stoner rock? Heavy Psych jam? How the hell do you classify this album? I guess it really doesn’t matter—whatever it is, it’s just really good. “The Coast Explodes” is a powerful continuation to Mammatus’ eponymous debut the first track is actually Part Three of the “Dragon of the Deep” cycle that closed out the first album), maintaining the Sabbath-esque riffs and spacey phased-wah atmospherics, but it goes one step further in terms of production values, virtuosity and composition. Definitely a band that is high on my list for live shows I’d like to see. B+

#10 - Dungen, “Tio Bitar”


I doubt many will agree with me, but I actually prefer Dungen’s sophomore effort to their debut “Ta Det Lungen ????”. It’s darker, harder and the drum work is absolutely insane. Still not too keen on the vocals—maybe these guys will do an all-instrumental album next? B+

#9 - Deerhunter, “Cryptograms”


I guess this is what you would call “post-shoegaze”(?). While this album was quite over-hyped (especially by Pitchfork and its minions) it’s still a strong work, bouncing (literally) back and forth from experimental drone-scapes (“Intro”, “White Ink”, “Providence”, “Red Ink”) to Joy Division-meets-Marilyn Manson goth rock (“Cryptograms”, “Lake Somerset”) to electro-dance numbers (“Octet) to psychedelic twee rock (“Spring Hall Convert”, “Hazel St.”). A bizarre and eclectic album, to say the least. B+

#8 - Akron/Family, “Love Is Simple”


This album has really grown on me. Upon my initial listens, the hippie drum-circle chants and “love everyone” lyrics really drove me nuts. It took a great live show to make me realize what these guys are truly best at—all out, early Dead-esque rock jams. There is some incredible song crafting on this album, from the multi-part jam rock to hip hop symphony of “Ed is a Portal” to the ethereally delicate yet pulverizing “Phenomena”. Don’t make the mistake I did let the hippie playfulness overshadow the rock & roll—play this fucker loud. B+

#7 - Feist, “The Reminder”


Possibly the greatest collection of individual songs on this list, Feist really came into her own on “The Reminder”. A bit of distance from Broken Social Scene has really allowed her to find her own unique voice, and what a voice it is. Despite having sustained permanent vocal chord damage from singing in a punk group in her early days, Feist has a beautiful, husky-yet-feminine style that can melt anyone. Beyond just being another pretty voice & face, she’s also a hell of an instrumentalist as well, playing everything from guitar to piano to electronic loops and featuring on of the best back-up bands in rock. Having seen her on tour, she definitely is an artist who is both completely on top of her game & having a hell of a time being there. Expect the follow-up album to be amazing. B+

#6 - Caribou, “Andorra”


Psychedelic and danceable, this is the album that I always knew Caribou could make. They're a shamefully underrated band and hopefully this time-machine of an album will help do something to change that. A-

#5 - Wolves In the Throne Room, “Two Hunters”


Dark ambient plays hand-in-hand with the darkest of black metal. Nostalgic yet progressive, sophomore release “Two Hunters” not only met the high expectations created by WITT debut “Diadem of 12 Stars” but boldly exceeded them. A-

#4 - KTL, “KTL 2”


While I was a bit disappointed by the only Sunn O))) release of 2007 (“Oracle”), I was blown away by another of Stephen O’Malley’s musical side projects, KTL. The group’s second offering (there are now three) is a dark and haunting ambient work, punctuated by jackhammer arpeggiated synth riffs and O’Malley’s trademark punishing fuzz tones. Far and away my choice for “Best Album to Listen to While Trapped in a Cave & Going Slowly Insane”. A-

#3 - Panda Bear, “Person Pitch”


What can be said about this album that hasn’t been said already….well, nothing I guess. Panda’s third (?) solo LP is a post-Beach Boys symphonic rock masterpiece, and pretty impressive when you realize it’s just “two Dr. Samples and a microphone” (sing in Beck voice). Deceptively pure and simple on first listen, “Person Pitch” is actually a very complex production. Do it justice and listen to it on headphones or, even better, loud and on vinyl over a good set of speakers. A

#2 - Of Montreal, “Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?”


The deserved backlash again electro-pop dance music is probably going to keep Kevin Barnes’ masterpiece off of a lot of the year-end best albums lists and that is a shame. Despite some of the most danceable pop beats to come out since Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” (these guys even got ME shaking my ass at Pitchfork this year), this is actually an incredibly dark and introspective albums, written by Barnes at an incredibly difficult period in his life (lyrics like “I spent the winter on the verge of a total breakdown while living in Norway/I felt the darkness of the Black Metal bands” is not your usual dance pop couplet). But despite the wrist-cutting lyrics about anti-depressants and doomed relationships, “Hissing Fauna” remains perky and fun with unique instrumentation and perfect production. A

#1 - Radiohead, “In Rainbows”


Innovative marketing techniques and music industry revolution aside, Radiohead put out an incredibly mature and complex work with “In Rainbows”. While not a masterpiece on the level of “Ok Computer” or “Kid A”, “In Rainbows” still contains some of Radiohead’s most finely crafted songs in years. It also shows a new-found confidence amongst the band members: after two albums of multi-layered sounds hiding half-assed song crafting efforts, “In Rainbows” takes a bare-bones production approach that lets Thom’s voice take center stage while bringing individual instrumental contributions to the top of the mix as well (I can’t remember the last time I could clearly pick out Phil’s drumming or Ed’s guitar solos—maybe “Pablo Honey”?). No more hiding beyond a wall of echo, effects and Johnny’s weird noises for Radiohead—this is an in-your-face rock album.

The most amazing thing about this album is probably the degree of development and evolution that these songs underwent. For fans who were first introduced to “Nude” during the OK Computer tour, the song made some dramatic changes in composition over the past decade, yet still maintains the beauty and elegance that made it unique. “Reckoner” underwent a complete transformation, but not in the usual “destroy a good song for the hell of it” way Radiohead usually does (“Motion Picture Soundtrack” anyone?)—instead they made it substantially better.

There seems to be a toss-off approach to music making lately, a desire to put quantity, genre-bending and fast-tracked musical evolution ahead of spending time actually crafting material. Fast food musicians everywhere should take note of Radiohead’s devotion and ability to pare down their songs to perfection. And it’s just a lush and pretty album, which there just aren’t enough of these days. A



REISSUES & NEAR-MISSES

Neil Young, “Live at Massey Hall”

It’s a shame that it took so long for this near-perfect album to be released, and an even greater shame that it’s not available on vinyl. Spend a few extra bucks & get the CD/DVD edition, as the documentary of the show is pretty unique. A+

Joy Division, “Closer” and “Unknown Pleasures” vinyl reissues

I haven’t been able to stop listening to these. As Herb astutely put it, as a result of the beautiful remastering job, its like listening to the albums again for the first time. If only they would re-release “Substance”…or even better, the single 45s. A+

The Stooges, “Fun House” vinyl reissue

Beautiful remastering of my favorite Stooges album; the raw energy of this album has never been clearer. I dare you to try to sit still while listening to “Down On the Street”. A

T-Rex, “Electric Warrior” vinyl reissue

One of the most perfect rock albums ever made, and certainly in my Glam Rock top three (along with Lou Reed’s “Transformer” and Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust). A

Witch, “Witch” (2006)

There are a lot of bands trying to resurrect the classic Sabbath sound recently, but no one pulls it off quite as well as Witch. Killer riffs, dark & kitchy lyrics and J. Mascis on the skins—how can you go wrong? A-

Miles Davis, “The Complete ‘On the Corner’ Sessions”

Columbia once again goes to the vault in an attempt to milk Miles Davis’ peak output. At least they’re doing a respectable job with it though. On the heels of the brilliant “Complete ‘Bitches Brew’” and “Complete ‘In a Silent Way’” sets come the full studio recordings of one of Davis’ most underrated works, the funky “On the Corner”. A-

Sunn O))) and Boris, “Altar” (2006)

I’ve written quite a bit about this album already, but I can’t stop gushing. Simply a masterpiece. A+

10 comments:

casey said...

These are great picks, and I even agree with most of 'em! Not so into that AC record, though. It just didn't click.

You know, I still haven't listened to that KTL album, and I think I accidentally passed on a promo. I shall buy it on your recommendation.

Oh, I didn't really get off on the Caribou, either. His records have always been solid, but this one seemed derivative of other stuff I already listen to, but not quite as good. As long as there are Zombies and Elliott Smith records, I'm good. Records like those don't require skittery beats. Besides, I think I already made an album that's better than Caribou's, called "Soft Rock," but no one ever heard it. Oh, well!

Wolves in the Throne Room is awesome. And I hope you inspire a few people to go back and listen to that Of Montreal album. I think it'll end up being one of their classics.

"In Rainbows" is as good if not better than I originally thought. And it was great that first day.

OK, sorry for so much blabbing. I'm waiting to be called for a Pacifica Radio interview, but it just ain't happening. I'm bored, and I WANNA GO HOME!

jay said...

Dissing on Caribou....I see another "Casey vs. Tanner" showdown about to begin in the comments section!

You definitely need to check out the KTL album.

casey said...

I'll take on Tan-Man anytime!

Actually, I think I'm gonna quit the B-town blogs. At least the comments.

Tanner M. said...

cmon now Casey - nothing wrong with a little of the ol' back and forth, a little, "yeah? and your momma too!" - a little "Wupp wupp", a little Eeeeeeeeee -oooonnng!!!

You know, intelligent discourse.

Honnestly - since i've gotten the Caribou album i stopped listening to it... it started out real strong it's faded out for me... It just doesn't have the psychedelic depth of Up in Flames, or the experimental krautiness of it's follow-up... It's pretty, but it's safe.

Will be good for a mixtape though.

Tanner M. said...

nice list though Jay - i'm with you on 80% of them, the 20% i'm like What tha fuck?! R U For serial?"

no, i kid.

can you tell i haven't had any human interaction yet today?

I'm learning to communicate telepathically with Oldham.

jay said...

I think it's the "safeness" of the Caribou album that appeals to me. I'm finding that as I get older I care less about about an album being cutting-edge or daring and more about how it fits into my moods, lifestyle and pace of life. Maybe this is how the gradual descent into "adult contemporary/easy listening" starts...

casey said...

Oh, yeah, Jay — you're totally fucked now.

Love,

The Voice of Experience

Herb said...

Great list. The only choice that furrows my brow is The White Stripes.

I'm with you on the Caribou. I love it. Have you seen the live version of Melody on Youtube? Made me like the song more.

That Neil Young Massey Hall might be my number one release of the year. What a fucking show.

Herb said...

oops. live Melody Day. Sorry.

Flatlander said...

I agree with the other guys about the Caribou disc. Melody Day is great but the rest just never did it for me. I don't think I've pulled it up since late summer.

Otherwise, I love the list. I particularly like lists with lots of albums I haven't heard yet. I'll start with the KTL disc. Thanks for the suggestions.