Albums of the Year: 2007

1.  The National — /Boxer/
In a year that saw face-plants from the Shins, Modest Mouse, Interpol, and the other usual suspects, Brooklyn’s National made what is probably the only clear-cut Great record of the year.  When I reviewed Boxer this summer, I called Matt Berninger’s exploration of 21st-Century American disenfranchisement “perfectly controlled and composed music that describes lives that are far from ordered.”  Five months later, Boxer feels just as fresh as it ever did, and more personal. Berninger’s stories, like any good bit of writing, reveal a security that can be missed the first time around but better felt on subsequent listens.  The men — and all of his main characters are men — end up in lovers’ arms, aware  that they can get somewhere better.  It’s depressing music, to be sure, but there’s hope there somewhere.
2.  The Arcade Fire — /Neon Bible/
3.  Bruce Springsteen — /Magic/
At the risk of being redundant, it’s been Bruce Springsteen’s year.  Springsteen, a student of rock ‘n’ roll above all else who also happens to be a fan of the National, has to be aware of his rising star in the indie community.  So it should come as no surprise that “You’ll Be Coming Down” successfully mixes Arcade Fire’s “Keep the Car Running” with the melody from the Killers’ “When You Were Young” (which is itself a Springsteen rip-off).  “Livin’ in the Future” is vintage Springsteen circa /Born to Run/, complete with a bleating sax intro by Clarence Clemons.  But Bruce is most intriguing here when he’s trying new things, such as the brooding “Devil’s Arcade” and the dark honky-tonk of “Gypsy Biker.”  It’s a ragged disc, the kind of emotional workout that Springsteen has made his stock and trade since the ’70s.
4.  Wilco — /Sky Blue Sky/
5.  Panda Bear — /Person Pitch
/  A solo platter from Animal Collective’s drummer may be the last thing I ever thought I’d put on a positive year-end list.  But when “Comfy in Nautica” swells in with its Beach Boys backing track and clacking hand-claps, it’s hard to argue.  /Person Pitch/ came out in the spring, but it’s by all means a winter record — though Panda’s voice is buried in reverb, the record is still fuzzy and intimate, simultaneously inviting and alienatimg.  Despite what others have said about it, the 12-minute “Bros” could stand to be trimmed down, but Panda’s not one to let off the happiness.
6.  Feist — /The Reminder/
7.  Levon Helm — /Dirt Farmer/
Listening to the frayed Cajun-folk of /Dirt Farmer/, it’s hard to believe that former Band drummer Levon Helm ever struggled with throat cancer, much less nearly lost his singing voice.  Helm miraculously recovered and set about to record what may be the most soulful record I’ve heard this year.  Sometimes “comeback records” seem more geared to moving units (you know who you are), but /Dirt Farmer/ finds Helm singing in passionate jubilation, sustained by true gratitude that he is able to sing at all.  His contemplative swamp-thumping drumming style is as strong as it was thirty years ago with the Band and lends the album rock attitude to match the thunder in Helm’s pipes.
8.  Various Artists — /I’m Not There /(Soundtrack)
9.  Do Make Say Think — /You, You’re a History in Rust/
10.  Akron/Family — /Love is Simple/
Only a band like Akron/Family could be praised for being innovative by employing standard song structures.  The Brooklyn nü-hippies have never been known for their ability to wrangle in a tune, but that’s changed (well, relatively speaking) with /Love is Simple/.  The record comes across as some bizarre 19th century Appalachian praise-and-worship service re-imagined by Sonic Youth, which isn’t terribly far from the truth.  From the campfire jam “Love, Love, Love (Everyone)” to the Neil Young-esque “There’s So Many Colors,” the group shows their ability to stretch genre lines, but the real winner here is “Ed is a Portal,” a banjo jam that continues towards a jumping chant and ends with a coda lifted from a late-70s dub reggae record.  Despite its title, though, /Love is Simple/ comes across as a negative to the National’s /Boxer/; the tracks begin to feel threadbare after a few listens as one begins to realize that the only hope being promised an abstract notion of good feelings.  It doesn’t take away from the music’s energy, but it turns out to be pretty hollow praise from such an excited group.

*Note: if done now (April 2008), this list would include Animal Collective’s Strawberry Jam very high and Panda Bear would be much higher

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  1. […] beat it, and has recovered 80% of his singing voice, then came back to record Dirt Farmer, one of my favorite CDs of last year.  Listening to him talk in the “Poor Old Dirt Farmer” video, it’s clear that his […]

  2. […] album, in other words), I couldn’t really tell you much about In Rainbows.  When I put my top ten list together back in December/January, it didn’t even cross my mind to put Radiohead on the list […]



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