Top 50 Albums 2007
By The Staff
40 :: El-P
I'll Sleep When You're Dead
Boogie down tumble blocks collapsing on open sound sources; we get El-P’s thing now, so there’s no illusion to maintain. Think of the disjuncture: rather than adopting some sort of Daft Punk costume shit to reflect his supernova production his promo shots always just feature him in a room. In a hoodie. I love it, ‘cause like, it’ll be a picture of him and Aes in a kitchen just hanging out; meanwhile, his album is on in the background robbing stars of their gravitas. But whether El-P consciously or un- navigates a juxtaposition between the sound he cultivates and the personal image he abdicates, I think the biggest attraction to macro-Jux and micro-El is the weird way their music invites close listening (like, your head right up to the speaker, squished). It’s there that, funneled by the sound, you get lost in wordplay and language, driven into the micro-seconds between the grueling components of a grueling soundscape by overlapping lips and syllables. You can trip or fall, or try and climb back out of the increasingly Tetris-like rabbit hole, but either way it’s close-quarters once you get inside an El-P song, even though the architecture is as assured as the way he exploits the English language.
39 :: Von Südenfed
This album sounds like a conflation of rain, piss, and vinegar; it’s messed up, incoherent and adamantly blasé. One could adequately sum it up as Mark E. Smith scatting over some cool beats, and one would be right: Tromatic Reflexxions is essentially a genre exercise, but also an exercise in mind-melding, genre-hopping execution. So the dude from the Fall catches up on the last decade of pop culture only to have those Mouse on Mars cats meet him half-way and half-awake, running through and re-contextualising their beeps and blips into a cross-pollination of festivities.
Stuff sounds bleary and warped, sure, but it’s only the gross putty that the sonic inventiveness of these guys shoots through, imaginative and exciting and always coming up roses. “Chicken Yiamas” is bunny-boiler Waits, and “The Rhinohead” is pop through and through, being nothing more than pop without pop: its barrelhouse keys fed into pure melodic squalls and imperfect sense. Like the rest of the album it makes no tangible sense, and makes the most of that. The mess of sounds suits Smith well: fresh off a successful Fall studio reunion, he’s at his abstract, apathetic best, his echoed blurts and barbs ladling this thing with an almost comical grandeur. Tromatic Reflexxions is a resounding success, convivial and amusing and almost always clever.
38 :: Field Music
Tones of Town
Tones of Town is the kind of record that deserves to be on this list, but whose justification is tough to put into words. More often than not, calling an album “pleasant” is the type of backhanded compliment that we here at CMG specialize in. It’s like calling someone’s haircut “interesting,” or saying “how fun” when you unwrap your Christmas gift.
But Tones of Town is, redundant as it may sound, pleasant in a good way. From the elastic melodicism of “Give It, Lose It, Take It” to the tight, trim phrasings of “She Can Do What She Wants,” Field Music have crafted a thoroughly pleasing and enjoyably whole work. It may not blaze many artistic trails or rocking off your mismatched socks, but its worth is apparent to a discerning listener. As much as a record can “update” the Kinks’ guileless genius for the aughts, this is that record. The bridge of “A House Is Not a Home” sounds as if it was grafted into the mix directly from The Village Green Preservation Society (1968), but the house here shakes and rattles through its hooks with a distinctly modern feel. Throw in the fact that this is a (gasp) sophomore full-length studio release, and you’ve got a package complete enough to land a spot in the rightly heralded pantheon of 2007.
If that still sounds like faint praise, you’re a cynic. Lighten up.
37 :: Justice
This album isn’t just “D.A.N.C.E.” nor is it a Dan Deacon/Girl Talkish cosmetic novelty that blurs Sound 1 with Sound 2 and walks away from its own flash in the pan curiosity with a smug look of self-indulgence. That’s been some of the kinds of crit directed at this gem, but neither is † just mix tape fodder or a serendipitous coincidence of fleeting fun that just happened to doff a squelchy synth hat in the direction of the summer of 2007. Justice may be reaching for our and Kanye’s obvious pleasure zones, sure, but they’re doing it in such a fascinating way, graphing prog sensibilities onto club chic to present a unique take on club-ready jams outfitted with the gothic architecture of the antiquated electric organ solo. It’s like listening to a contemporary disco remix of “Whiter Shade of Pale,” is what I mean. And even given the reasonable Daft Punk comparisons, we should still watch out: DP does Krautrock/motorik really isn’t the same thing as Justice fetishizing Hugh Banton, Tony Banks, or any other English ivory art rocker. Sure, it may be doing the same thing, but in deflating the solemnity of this renaissance-wistful and well-traveled prog-trope balloon, Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay have consistently re-developed that seed and cache that made their 2005 single “Waters of Nazareth” so exciting: groovy gravitas. I mean, who didn’t want to hear “Saucerful of Secrets” as the hottest jam of the summer?
36 :: Andrew Bird
Is Armchair Apocrypha really the middle child to Bird’s more critically popular offspring The Mysterious Production of Eggs (2005) and The Swimming Hour (2001)? Because it seems everyone and his grandma is eager to bemoan the fact that Armchair lacks Eggs’s flat-out showstoppers (“Fake Palindromes,” “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left”) and The Swimming Hour’s genre-happy pluck. Fair enough, I say, but surely you can level criticism that relates to the album itself? The second half of the album is too, uh, slow, the naysayers retort. Well, what you call “slow” I call beautifully unassuming and languid. Take “Scythian Empire”: you don’t need to cogitate over its extended metaphors for the inevitability of death to appreciate the song’s lattice of delicate vocal harmonies and violin pizzicatos. So while Armchair doesn’t pioneer any new sonic territory for the artist, it finds Bird fine-tuning—dare I say perfecting?—the sound that’s been coagulating in his zany little bowl o’ fire since 2003’s Weather Systems. Even if time is “a crooked bow,” as he sings on “Armchairs,” the path ahead has never looked straighter for Bird. Despite all our arguing.
35 :: MoHa!
I get why we should classify Norwegianism as out or experimental or noise or whatever; I get why this is on Rune Grammofon; I get why my intellect should be lost in this thing while my body does nothing. But, while there is precious little “roll” to be found on MoHa!’s follow-up to Raus Aus Stavanger (2006), I want to call this record “rock”—because this shit is visceral, it is hard, and if you let it hit you it will break your bones. Because, when it’s all said and done, it still basically sounds like an awesome guitarist and an awesome drummer riffing off each other in search of the ultimate way to wreck your shit. It’s just that their ultimate way involves methods far fresher and more free-form than we’re accustomed to from, say, the White Stripes. Plus, Meg White’s not awesome.
Lest I mislead you, let me emphasize the fact that this is some really insane improv that’d just as soon kick your genitalia on a corkscrew ride up your spine (embedding them in your gray matter) as try to prod any of your pleasure centers. Most albums would have you rolling your eyes at a track that’s basically a minute of silence, but by the time you get to “Jolly One (White Guilt Fills the Room)” your seared ear drums will be begging for it. And isn’t that a little more “rock” than conventionalized rock? This music doesn’t just rage against strictures political and social (though those are certainly included on the “to fuck” list) but those that are musical and formal. With few of the trappings of rock Norwegianism is rock music at an essential level. You can’t control it any more than it tries to control you—which is to say, not at all. It’ll beat your ass all the same.
34 :: !!!
Usually as bands mature they expand their sound, adding layers of complexity to show their growth and mastery. Like, y’know: they hire someone to do a string arrangement for a ballad. Myth Takes is one of those rare albums that succeeds by doing precisely the opposite. Full disclosure: I have trouble recognising “Me and Guiliani” as the bowel-shattering-money-maker-shaker everyone suggests it to be and although I spent many a time listening to Louden Up Now it was my head that was engaged rather than my hips.
So: thank fuck for dumbing down. The riffs here feel intuitive and vital, the songs are tighter, the grooves deep and earthy. A genuine sense of fun and urgency burns at the core of the album, spilling out in elements like the elastic bass of “Must be The Moon” or the disco licks and punchy horns on “Break In Case Of Anything.” Before you know it you’re free-wheeling round the dance floor like Napoleon Dynamite on X. “Heart of Hearts” and the glam racket of “Yadnus” are the runaway successes—each has the power to convert a throng of bored clubbers into frugging dancing beasts. With Myth Takes !!! have shaken off the “dance for scenesters to like” tag to create an album as funky, ferocious, and volatile as Simian Mobile Disco, Justice, or Digitalism.
33 :: LCD Soundsystem
Sound of Silver
Welcome to James Murphy’s transitional album, an uneven affair, alternating between lavish and lazy, striking and stupid, and brilliant and bullshit. LCD Soundsystem is clearly at odds with itself, struggling to rewrite its mission statement as it argues between the notion of melding dance music with rock songcraft to keep that shit dirty for the floor. When the former approach succeeds (“Get Innocuous”) the fusion is dazzling, but when the dance hits have little more than a beat and a middle-aged white dude talking out of his ass (“Time to Get Away”) this album is a mere yawn away from a terribly unsexy slumber party.
You may wonder then, with such flagrant hits and misses, how this collection snuck itself onto our “Best Of” list. It’s the sheer audacity of Murphy and co. to incorporate various elements of Eno (from his solo pop work to Remain in Light), New York done-with-free-love-how-about-free-fucking rock, and Gang of Four post-punk boogie with the DFA blend of organic and electronic music: they’ve shot for the moon and at least hit a few major satellites on their way out of the atmosphere. In short, the tracks that shine on this album are among the year’s best songs and the ones that fail have enough ideas to inspire a legion of bands in multiple cross-genres (if not LCD Soundsystem themselves on their next record). “Get Innocuous,” for one, is untouchable with that late ‘70s Chris Frantz groove rubbing all over the dueling beat (machine v. drummer) and although I’m not sure I can pull a definite meaning out of “Sound of Silver”’s lyrics, I’m positive that the music–with its alternating mix of abstract techno and funky synth filters (Kid A anyone?)–is wholly captivating. Haters (many of them on this website) wanted to kill this record in public and then sing “North American Scum” in the shower, but the believers and newcomers should sit on Sound of Silver and thank LCD Soundsystem for dropping a bumping, if sometimes difficult, sophomore joint. It’s one of the most interesting records of the year and it didn’t have to put its head all up in rainbows to pull it off; it just stuck to its familiar New York streets.
32 :: Ricardo Villalobos
I get why certain fans of minimal techno balk at Villalobos and especially at this odd contribution to a discography that is already complex enough. Let me just say it, though: the Glow’s review of this gem really missed the point. Sure, the dinky over-processed noise that constitutes opener “Groove 1880” has provoked people to tell me to turn this off, but that kind of misses the boat: you need to stay for the aesthetic process and watch how Villalobos transforms the most basic of elements into a giant mess of club-ready anthems. Sure: how Villalobos makes it from Oval to Los Jaivas-sampling Chilean folk in an hour and a quarter is baffling. And, let’s face it: listening to a theoretical dance set—especially from a DJ/producer who loves long grooves with only subtle change—may generally be an intimidating experience, but it’s that subtle approach that makes Villalobos so absolutely essential. Fabric 36 is like the DJ set version of his “Fizheuer Zieheuer” single: a polyrhythmic opus that lumbers from far away but funks on every deftly placed dime once you get inside. For my money percussion has always been Villalobos’ strong suit; here, that ability is on full display, and the drum sequence junkies among us will find the album as much a useful tutorial on percussion ideas as it is a killer set. Finally: if it’s still not working for you? Crank that shit. This album is not meant to be listened to in the background. My Rokits make this stuff sound like warm pudding with cold spoons lunging through the mix. It’s harsh, but we all still remember how to do the robot, right?
31 :: Parts & Labor
Let me be clear off the top that I simply do not know what I am talking about. When I refer to Parts & Labor as a metal band, feel free to join not only every other music fan but my internal monologue in a big, awkward cringe. Hey, at least I know that I don’t know, right? Socrates and shit.
Second preface: fuck you. Yeah, I know… genre blah blah influences blah blah blah. But I saw these guys live and they are fucking balls-out and loud and more metal than the total tonnage of speed-whatever bands I saw while growing up in Oshawa, which is saying something. Anything heavier than Nevermind (1991) is usually just wall-of-sound to me, and not in that good way. Even every hipster’s favourite metal import Death From Above The Year I Was Born could not find favour with yours truly. So let me be counted as one of the converted. I totally made devil horns.
When it comes to the studio versions, my love is even more tender. Mapmaker is a crashing, slippery squeal of a record, filled with bronzed vocal tones and double-kick drums. Big guitar moments here have more in common with Win Butler’s anthems than might seem, and the clatter taps into the long neglected Paul’s Boutique (1989) spot in my mind. I’m gonna go for the weird-connection hat-trick: the noise/song balance is so deftly maintained as to recall (if not quite match) Loveless (1991).
In fact, I seem to have written myself out of my own surprise. What I love about this record is not its similarity to my favourites in sound but in spirit. It doesn’t hurt that the Brothers find lots of melody in the mix. Yeah, for all my bluster, the key is perhaps that Parts & Labor sing songs now. Guess you do have to sell out to get my attention.