You know, I’m just going to jump straight into it this year. The usual caveat emptors – as always, with these lists – exist, and I’m trusting you lot to be smart enough to know that by now. So, without further ado, here we go…
10. REM – Collapse Into Now
Although “Collapse Into Now” seemed to fly largely under the “hype radar”, it’s a completely worthy final album for a band of REM’s stature. Tunes like “Uberlin” and “Oh My Heart” stand up as some of the best in their catalogue, and reminded you of why REM matter so damn much. A band that absolutely poleaxe you with emotion, I’ll always bear fond memories of REM. And this was a great way to go out.
Standout track: Uberlin
9. Gotye – Making Mirrors
There’s this strange dichotomy going on in this record. Gotye manages to keep the album slightly off-kilter – ever so slightly “weird”, for lack of a better word – but at the same time, it remains an instantly accessible album too. I have no idea how Wally De Backer manages to walk that tightrope so skilfully, but he pulls it off with aplomb – as evidenced by the fact that he absolutely owned the ARIAs this year. Although this release was sold largely on the strength of singles “Someone I Used to Know” and “Eyes Wide Open”, it really is an album that you need to listen to in its entirety to understand De Backer’s talent.
Standout track: Eyes Wide Open
8. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Here We Rest
Dudes, it’s country and I dig it. Not a complicated record by any means, but no less a profound one. Jason Isbell seems to have hit back into his stride here, and following some forgettable tracks in his past solo efforts, “Here We Rest” hints that there’s still some greatness in the ex-Drive By Trucker yet. There’s still the occasional misstep in this album, but the highs – such as Alabama Pines and Codeine – make you forget all about that. Hell, this is the most honest record on this list. And I respect that.
Standout track: Alabama Pines
7. Ryan Adams – Fire & Ashes
A great album, but I can’t help feeling that this was Ryan and my break up record. It’s beautiful, polished, and undeniably Ryan… but just as I’m not the same person I was when I first heard Whiskeytown, Ryan’s grown and changed too. And while I find that a super-happy thing, I found listening to this album strangely tinged with this unshakeable feeling of sadness. A feeling like this is where DRA and I part ways. On good terms, don’t get me wrong… but parting ways, all the same.
Doesn’t change the fact that it’s a cracker album though.
Standout track: Kindness
6. Feist – Metals
So I doubt anything from Metals will be picked up for an iPod commercial, like “1234” was back in 2007. This is a far darker release, but it still allows Feist to intelligently play in that indie/mainstream stream that she so confidently straddles. It’s quite incredible how she’s managed to put together a release that will please both record execs and those who were hoping she wouldn’t shun her roots after the breakout hit of “1234”; not many artists could pull it off in such a stylish manner. But, you know the best part? I don’t think Feist gives a crap about any of that. I think she’s just doing what she’s always done… making music that matters to her. We need more like Leslie out there.
Standout track: Graveyard
5. The Antlers – Burst Apart
You know, I never quite understood the buzz about The Antlers’ Hospice, but man… did they turn me around with Burst Apart. There’s something absolutely haunting about this album. That floating, fragile voice from Peter Silberman filled with emotion, those ethereal chords, that reverence… the first time I heard this record, it was like the first time Radiohead woke me up. “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out” absolutely blew me away when I first heard it, and the album closer on this album, “Putting the Dog To Sleep”, is some of The Antlers’ best lyrical work to date; and, not for nothing, is absolutely heartbreaking.
Standout track: Putting the Dog to Sleep.
4. Portugal. The Man – In the Mountain In the Cloud
There’s just so much going on here. Portugal. The Man somehow manage to sit in a life raft, floating on top of layer upon sonic layer, and pull it all together with killer licks and melody into a hook-filled album; all the while making it look easy. While John Gourley’s vocals aren’t for everybody, I can almost guarantee you’ll find yourself humming along to 90% of these tunes. With choruses that were made for sing-a-longs, I think this is my favourite release of theirs since I first heard “Church Mouth” back in 2007. The only reason this isn’t higher in this list is that the album feels frustratingly unfinished; but it hints at greatness.
Standout track: Sleep Forever
3. Charles Bradley – No Time for Dreaming
That voice! That voice. You listen to Charles Bradley sing, and from the first turn of phrase you can tell dude has paid his dues. After decades of chasing his dream, Charles Bradley has finally released his debut record with Daptone Records at 62 years of age, and has it ever been worth the wait. Backed by the incomparable Menahan Street Band, this is a soul album as it should be: a release filled with authenticity. Unlike some of his younger contemporaries, Bradley was actually around to see folks like Otis Redding and James Browne perform in their prime, live. So when he sings, you’re listening to the days when funk and soul meant something. They say you can’t sing the blues until you’ve lived a full life… well, ladies and gentlemen, Charles Bradley has 6 decades worth of emotions to pour into his songs. And he’s not going to waste a second.
Standout track: Why is it so hard?
2. The Roots – Undun
From what I can tell, I’m kind of in the minority with my admiration for that album which has me puzzled. A concept album that tells – in reverse – the tale of Redford Stephens’ rise and death in just 40 minutes, it’s a fleeting piece of brilliance from The Roots. Listening to this album is a completely different experience; and yes, I mean experience in the purest sense of the word. With The Roots’ skill with narrative, it’s near impossible to listen to this album without having a full-on movie playing in your head. And Black Thought is so clinical, so aggressive on this album it’s friggin’ scary.
Depressing, oppressive, slightly off… and brilliant.
Standout track: Make My
1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
You know, when I first heard Bon Iver‘s sophomore album, my initial reaction was: whooo boy, this is going to piss a lot of people off. The album was undeniably brilliant, but such a departure from For Emma, Forever Ago that I thought fans may have found it hard to adjust to. Sometimes I underestimate people, and it was a pleasant surprise to see this album praised by… well, pretty much everyone.
When I first wrote about this album, I said “This is one of those albums that takes a few spins before it’s the memory of your favourite girlfriend’s scent. That comfortable, warm smell of strawberry vanilla.”. And I still stand by that. It’s timeless.
Unapologetically leaving the “cabin in the woods” mythos behind them, Bon Iver is the most confident and complete sophomore release I have ever heard. I can’t wait to see where Justin and Co. go next.
Standout track: Towers
And there you have it, folks… agree or disagree, those were some of my favourite albums for 2011. For those of you who have Spotify, I have all the above albums (plus one or two that didn’t quite make it onto the list, but who were in the running) available for listening here. Oh… and Merry Christmas, everyone!
In the course of writing this blog, I come across a lot – and I mean, a lot –of music. Some of which I’ll blog about, some of which never seems to get its own post.
I was organising my files recently, and came across plenty of songs that I probably should have told you all about in 2007, but which – for whatever reason – never quite spurred me to write a full post. So, in clearing out these files into the “2007 Releases” folder, I thought I would do a bit of a roundup post, and combine them all here.
In other words, please note that this is NOT a “best of 2007” compilation; it is simply a post of good songs from 2007, that you should hear.
With that out of the way, let’s get onto the music!
(Once again… to all new visitors, simply click the “play” icon next to the song name to listen)
All The Way Down by Glen Hansard
One of the most talked-about soundtracks of 2007 – and deservedly so – was the Once OST. Comprised of songs by the films two stars (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova), the soundtrack was hauntingly beautiful.
This song, “All the way down”, along with “Leave”, was perhaps my favourite of the album. The aching line “You have broken me, all the way down” easily wins my award for most breaking lyric of the year.
I managed to catch Hansard with his band, The Frames, when they were opening for Bob Dylan on his recent tour out here. They were amazing, and confirmed to me that the man is easily one of the most important voices in modern music.
I’m still surprised that this didn’t make an entry.At 24, Basia Bulat is another artist that I should add to my “Artists to watch for in 2008” category.
Her youth belies an intensely creative soul, and an artist who is totally unafraid. Obvious influences include Joni Mitchell (to whom she has been compared more than once), but Basia displays a voice and style that is all her own; sometimes fragile and whispy, and at other times strong, passionate and sultry, Bulat is the master of changing her vocal delivery to suit the content of the song.
This song, “I was a Daughter”, is taken from her “Oh My Darling” debut album, and was easily my debut album of the year.
Oh. And did I mention she’s my musical crush for 2007?
A little Morning Jacket, some Shins,and a hint of Built to Spill, and you’ll end up with something like Band of Horses. This song, taken from their “Cease to Begin” album, is more emotionally direct than anything from their 2006 debut, “Everything All the Time”, but despite the desperately cheese-laden title line, the song is a gorgeous slow-jam, with the cracking “If things start splitting at the seams and now / It’s tumbling down hard” showcasing Bridwell’s expressive voice.
Well! Didn’t Andrew Bird grow up in 2007? The rueful reflection of Bird’s 2007 release, “Armchair Apocrypha”, and in particular, this song, “Heretics”, had me more excited about Bird than his past releases.
The off-kilter pop songs are still there, but there’s something more about his reflection of the world as something beautiful, yet unsettling, in this album than his previous.
Here’s to more of this.
Black Mountaineers Amber Webber and Joshua Wells side project, Lightning Dust, came out of nowhere and knocked me on my ass. While Black Mountain displays it’s 60s psychedelic love, Lightning Dust is far more sparse, and far more reflective.
This track, “Listened On”, from their debut album (fittingly titled “Lightning Dust“), is ghostly, quivering, and beautiful.
I came across Patrick Park relatively late, with his second album, “Loneliness Knows My Name”, but at that time was undecided as to whether he lived up to the hype or not.
With his 2007 release, “Everyone’s in Everyone”, however, this doubt is solidly put to rest. Patrick Park is one of those artists who can reflect your emotions is a single line.
This track, “Nothing’s Lost”, takes your head against it’s shoulder and consoles you with it’s lulling rhythm.
With it’s Nickle Creek-like tones, this was one of the singles of the year for me. A mixture of indie-folk, roots melodies and alt-country, the music of Great Lake Swimmers is at once graceful, comforting, full of loss and isolation, and ridiculously beautiful.
An ethereal whisper of an album that is hauntingly beautiful, “Ongiara” (from which this song, “Your Rocky Spine” is taken) is a must-listen from 2007.
Skinny Love by Bon Iver is a song that grows in power the more you listen to it; as if, with each individual listen, it breaks a little more of you off. I’ve heard it described as a “quiet, gentle punch to the heart”, and I couldn’t put it better myself.
A song of desperation, loneliness, and loss such as this one resonates deep in your heart; listen to his plaintive “I told you” lines, and you’ll know what I mean.
The album from which this is taken, “For Emma, Forever Ago” is one for the weepy folk-lover in all of us.
2007 saw Rogue Wave release their third-studio album, and the first for Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Fairytales label, “Asleep at Heaven’s Gate”; hopefully, this will be the one that catapaults them to the masses.
This album has a shimmer and jangle that wasn’t as prevalent in their previous releases; and there is something ridiculously catchy about this handclapping single, Lake Michigan.
I know, I know; Arcade Fire? How much more mainstream can this blog get?
Seriously though, Arcade Fire’s 2007 release, “Neon Bible”, was a ridiculously good album. Coming off their scorcher debut, “Funeral”, most critics weren’t expecting them to follow up with something as worthy as this.
While Neon Bible certainly sees the band taking on some big issues (particularly the religion questioning “Antichrist Television Blues”), it never lets you forget that, ultimately, Arcade Fire are about celebration.
Never more evident is this than on the single, “No Cars Go”. Spine-tingling, wailing vocals, combined with drumming that punches the song along, and instrumentals that build into an almost film-worthy epic ending show that Arcade Fire are here to stay.
Well, honestly… when you get down to it, when have The Weakerthansever disappointed us? 2007 saw them release the excellent “Reunion Tour” album, which I cannot recommend more. In fact, I’ll rather let Paste Magazine’s review speak for me:
“These are songs of brutal beauty, little rock n roll vignettes that perfectly capture the malaise of the peculiar, disorienting times in which we live.”
This track, “Sun in an empty room”, highlights John K Samson’s incredible command of narrative lyrics; indeed, as much as he protests against the label, Samson really is an indie poet laureate. His weary, wry observations possess an underdog nobility that you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere.
I’ll be honest: Hard-Fi’s 2007 release, “Once Upon a Time In the West” didn’t quite live up to their debut album “Stars of CCTV” for me. There’s something about the anger in their songs that seems to have lost its authenticity for me.
However, that’s not to say that the album was totally without merit; this single, “Tonight”, was one of the better products from the album, and with it’s ghostly strings and chant-along chorus hints that there may be life in the boys yet.
While Wilco’s 2007 release, “Sky Blue Sky” was widely criticised by fans as being a back-slide by Jeff Tweedy into the classic-rock gospel, it produced perhaps one of my favourite Wilco tracks of all-time, “Impossible Germany”.
It’s a warm and inviting listen, one with jazzy chords filtered through the ever-present alt.country guitar licks. There’s no noise here, no strange distortions that have peppered Wilco’s latest releases… and I for one think the song is perhaps one of the most powerful Wilco songs for it.
Peaceful on the surface, demented under the water; this is Wilco at it’s best.
Low is not, and never has been, for everyone. Pretty much defining the genre of “slowcore” with their appearance in 1993, they have, however, certainly displayed their longevity.
In 2005, Low attempted to break away from their slowcore label with the harder, bigger sound of their “The Great Destroyer” album. Considering the mixed reception to that album, most thought the band would return to their signature sound. Most thought wrong.
However, just as the album is not a return to their signature sound, neither is it a continuation of The Great Destroyer. Rather, this album strips the songs to the bones and sinews; it’s something else entirely. Violent, scary and beautiful, with this album, “Drums and Guns”, Low show that they’re still kicking.
Undoubtedly one of the albums of the year for me, Iron and Wine’s
“The Shepherd’s Dog” displayed Sam Beam’s steady evolution from lo-fi folkster to refined popsmith.
This stonking single, “Boy With A Coin” showcases a far more lush and full sound that is employed on this album (surely a product of Sam’s collaboration with Calexico in 2005), and is easily one of my favourite Iron and Wine songs.
Included more in this list due to the fact that Thrash Unreal could prove to be one of the most important songs of Against Me!’s career.
2007 saw Against Me! release their first major label debut, “New Wave”, which is in stark contrast to their previously strong DIY ethos.
Lead single “Thrash Unreal” unveils a new penchant for pop sensibility, and the song shows the band’s strength for anthemic, infectious choruses. And – thankfully –Tom Gabel’s harsh growl of a voice remains intact here, and there still seems enough of the Against Me! punk left in the guys.
That said, have Against Me! sold out by their move away from Fat Wreck Chords, and recording with this far, FAR more polished sound?
Time will tell (I’m hoping not), but there’s no denial that the 2007 release, “New Wave”, and it’s lead single Thrash Unreal could make or break the band amongst it’s fans.
Let’s hope there’s still a “I Still Love You Julie” song left in the lads.
I’ve heard many people describe “Portugal. The Man” as a more accessible Mars Volta, and I think it’s a fair description; elements of The Mars Volta, and even The White Stripes pop up in their 2007 release, “Church Mouth”
With its psychedelic, bluesy prog rock tones, the album is one that you’ll either love or hate; but like the below single, “My Mind”, I encourage you to give it a few spins before making up your mind.
Another artist who will undoubtedly become huge in 2008, 2007 saw the debut of George Stanford. Endearingly simply titled “The EP” George Stanford’s 5-song 2007 release must simply be a taster for a 2008 full album release; and what a tasty taster it is.
This single, “Nikole”, showcases a piano balladry that fans of Ben Folds are sure to fall in love with.
If there’s one artist who debuted in 2007 who I would place a wager on becoming a household name in 2008, I would wager on it being George Stanford. If it’s not, it would simply be a crime.
From the opening lines of “I’ve been wasting my days good and reckless and true, I have danced in the dark at the edge of the water, swingin my hips at the black and the blue…” you know that The Alternate Routes are something special.
Sounding alternately like Ryan Adams during the verses (and, interestingly, current Cardinals drummer Brad Pemberton features on the skins here), and then David Gray in the chorus, Tim Warren is one of the more exciting voices I heard this year.
While this single, Ordinary, may give you a mainstream image of the band, I encourage you to listen to the entire album, “Good and Reckless and True”; it is a grand, rootsy, absolutely golden album that warrants your attention.
The National came in in 2007 and absolutely blew us all away. Far more understated than their 2005 album, “Alligator”, their 2007 release, “Boxer”, is perhaps the most fully realised release of the year by any artist.
A slow burn of an album, Fake Empire was the single from Boxer that grabbed my attention and held it; an absolutely crushing single, if you didn’t hear it in 2007, grab this now.
200 More Miles by the Cowboy Junkies (featuring Ryan Adams)
2007 saw the 20th anniversary of the massively importantTrinity Session album from the Cowboy Junkies, and to commemorate the occasion, the Junkies released a CD/DVD combo of performances in the same Toronto church where the original album was recorded.
As if Golden Tiger wasn’t enough for us (but then again, when it comes to Ryan Adams, can we EVER get enough?), the “Trinity Revisited” recordings saw Ryan partner up with Cowboy Junkies to release this beautiful rendition of 200 More Miles.
Ryan was born to perform with the Cowboy Junkies, and I couldn’t haven’t been more happy.
To me, Josh Ritter is one of the most underappreciated writers in the current rock/folk scene; witty, wry, rueful and intelligent, it’s time that Josh Ritter got his dues from the general public and not just music blog writers.
That said, I’m not sure that this “To the Dogs Or Whoever” will be the single, to do it. But damn it’s fun.
Who would have thought it? Despite the fairly lacklustre album released by Bright Eyes in 2007, “Cassadaga”, Conor Oberst somehow managed to get me interested in his material once again, thanks to the one redeeming single from that album, “Four Winds”.
You’ve brought me back from the brink of abandoning you Conor; and I hope that I stick around for a while.