There were many, many great albums this year, so it is with difficulty that I construct this year’s top ten list. Any of my honorable mentions could easily take that #10 spot, as could many other albums I don’t even mention. In any case, I obviously recommend all of these albums, which are not only musically and lyrically rich, but also the most unique and forward-thinking of the year.
10) Justice, +: The French duo known as Justice released an album simply titled “cross” (the Christian symbol, not the word) and it took the dancefloor by storm in 2007. The mostly-instrumental big-beat electronica forges an uber-cool soundsystem that may or may not be a concept album (with songs like “Genesis,” “Let There Be Light” and “Waters of Nazareth”… one wonders), but is undoubtedly the best dance album of the year.
9) Waterdeep, Heart Attack Time Machine: This independent, homespun recording from Don and Lori Chaffer is one of the richest, most subtle folk albums of the year. Includes some truly beautiful ballads (“Easy Does It,” “Diana,”) and lots of whistling and finger snapping. Maybe a couple hundred people have actually heard this gem (and you can’t find it anywhere but online), but it’s definitely worth checking out.
8) Arcade Fire, Neon Bible: Not quite the tour-de-force, decade-defining album that Funeral was, but this sophomore album does anything but slump. Featuring some truly epic anthems (“Intervention,” “No Cars Go,” “The Well and the Lighthouse,” “My Body is a Cage”) that utilize more intricate instrumentation and even the occasional pipe organ, Neon Bible is every bit the blood, sweat, and tears catharsis of its predecessor.
7) Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha: Another year, another exquisite album from Andrew Bird—Illinois’ favorite whistling folk hero. Apocrypha is a treasure trove of wordy lyrical passages and fine-tuned musicianship, never predictable but always easy listening. Songs like “Imitosis” and “Heretics” show Bird’s ability to be both weird and classic, and songs like the amazing “Scythian Empire” display his keen poetic grasp of modern American culture.
6) Peter, Bjorn and John, Writer’s Block: This Swedish trio follows in the footsteps of countryman Jens Lekman in concocting an infectious Motown-folk sound, even adopting a name that evokes a 60s folk staple (Peter, Paul & Mary). Their debut album, Writer’s Block, contains some whistling wonders (“Young Folks”), radio readymades (“Amsterdam”) and one of the year’s best overall songs in “Up Against the Wall.”
5) Band of Horses, Cease to Begin: This album is brimful of addictive pop melodies and sweet low country goodness. Sub Pop’s latest iteration of Shins-brand sugar pop/rock offers something less derivative and more musically interesting than most of the bands going this route. Cease to Begin feels a little bit country (“Detlef Schrempf,” “Window Blues”), a little bit rock and roll (“Marry Song,” “Is There a Ghost”), and a little haunting (“The General Specific”) in the way that the gothic South is meant to be played.
4) Panda Bear, Person Pitch: Panda Bear is the side project of Animal Collective’s frontman Noah Lennox, and even though Animal Collective’s weirdly beautiful Strawberry Jam made my honorable mention list as one of the best of 2007, it’s Panda Bear’s Person Pitch that—remarkably—pushes things even farther into the beautiful recesses of new school psychedelia. Lennox, who sounds like the Gen-Y version of Brian Wilson, fashions a painstakingly detailed, nuanced album full of buzzing layers of murmurings, oblique lyrics and repetitive samples. It’s one of the true masterpieces of the digi/DIY post-pop generation.
3) Explosions in the Sky, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone: This album, released early in 2007, has got to be one of the most overlooked triumphs of the year. The Austin instrumental outfit (perhaps most known for its Friday Night Lights songs), makes music that soars and rumbles and bashes you around in its sheer emotional tumult. This latest album shows off an increased compositional complexity (each of the three guitar lines frequently follow separate melody lines) that gives unuttered voice to a variety of universal human emotions.
2) Radiohead, In Rainbows: Though not in the vein of the rock-minded OK Computer or the experimental epic Kid A, In Rainbows is in its own way just as progressive. Though not a concept album in the traditional sense, Rainbows is a strikingly cohesive collection with gorgeous ethereal ballads (“Nude,” “All I Need,” “House of Cards,” “Reckoner”) and a few more Hail to the Thief-era rock songs (“15 Step,” “Bodysnatchers”). On the whole, it’s an album that pushes Radiohead in a new, more sonically soothing direction, while retaining some of the cutting-edge experimentation that has defined the band.
1) The National, Boxer: The National is a New York band that has built upon (and in the case of the beautiful Boxer, improved upon) the brooding urbane sound of Interpol, with perhaps a little more of a toned down, soft stroke. You might say Boxer is the musical equivalent of an Edward Hopper painting. It’s an album for lonesome, alienated city dwellers with cold hands and warm heats, full of catchy love songs (“Slow Show,” “Start a War”) and pseudo dance-rock anthems (“Mistaken for Strangers,” “Squalor Victoria”) to compliment a long night out in the pavement jungle.
Honorable Mention: Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? Burial, Untrue, Animal Collective, Strawberry Jam, LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver, Rosie Thomas, These Friends of Mine, Jens Lekman, Night Falls Over Kortedala, M.I.A., Kala, Over the Rhine, The Trumpet Child, Feist, The Reminder, Sunset Rubdown, Random Spirit Lover.