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Year In Review 2008 | Food | Cinema | Theater | Dance | Art | Books | Classical | Live | Recordings

Best of 2007

Critic: John Brodeur

1. Spoon

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Britt Daniel hit his stride as a songwriter around Kill the Moonlight; here, he and his band have finally nailed it in the studio. A hodgepodge of sounds ranging from ’60s soul (“You Got Your Cherry Bomb”) to deconstructionist pop (“The Ghost of You Lingers”) to the hand-clappiest candidate for single of the year (“The Underdog”), Spoon’s best album yet arrives as a swaggering masterpiece and doesn’t make a false move for 36 hypnotizing minutes.

2. LCD Soundsystem

Sound of Silver

On their second full-length, James Murphy and company ditch the canned goods for some real freshness, in the form of more live instrumentation and some of the year’s best singles (“All My Friends,” “North American Scum” . . . all of them, really). Murphy’s lovable snark is one of the greatest things to happen to pop music this decade.

3. Radiohead

In Rainbows

Sure, some of the songs sound like glorified demos, but that only goes to show that Radiohead’s trash would be most bands’ treasures—it’s their best record since OK Computer. And have you seen the discbox?!

4. Joe Henry

Civilians

It’s no secret (or is it?) that Joe Henry has produced a long string of literate, stirring recordings, but Civilians is his most consistent from front to back since 1996’s Trampoline, thanks, in part, to a supporting cast that includes such no-name hacks as Bill Frisell and Van Dyke Parks. (Yes, that’s sarcasm.) “Our Song” may be the best song of Henry’s career, and that’s saying a lot.

5. Wilco

Sky Blue Sky

Go ahead, try and tell me one more time how boring this record is. Just goes to show you’re not listening (sure, you fell asleep, whatever). Sky Blue Sky is the band’s best overall collection of songs, and the performances—particularly the oft-discussed guitar interplay between Jeff Tweedy and six-string alchemist Nels Cline—are sublime. Wanna fight?

6. Grinderman

Grinderman

A side project of sorts, Grinderman finds Nick Cave and three of his trusty Bad Seeds turning out some righteously rough rock. The Farfisa-fueled garage blast of “Honey Bee” and one gloriously blunt exploration of the middle-aged-man’s psyche (“No Pussy Blues”) are alone worth the trip; “Vortex” ranks among Cave’s best ballads. This one hits on all levels.

7. The Arcade Fire

Neon Bible

Forget about all the blog hype and the Springsteen references, take a step back, and listen again. See? It’s really, really good. While Springsteen’s Magic was excellent in its own right, it felt like a reliving-past-glories affair. Neon Bible is firmly of the now and the what’s-to-come, and that’s why they’re here instead of the Boss.

8. Emma Pollock

Watch the Fireworks

Prepare to be surprised by the solo debut by Delgados founder Emma Pollock. Fireworks doesn’t blaze any uncharted territory, but the surprise lies in the sheer volume of good songs, and the grace with which Pollock traverses her pop universe. Very easy to listen to, in the best possible way.

9. Silverchair

Young Modern

I’m just as surprised as you are, but these former children of grunge have made an ambitious and right killer recording here. They reference such classic acts as Queen, Bowie, the Beatles and Pink Floyd, all the while sounding perfectly modern; and that little blond kid has grown into one mighty fine singer and songwriter.

10. Fountains of Wayne

Traffic and Weather

Welcome to the first filler-free FOW release. If you have any questions, please direct them to Yolanda Hayes at window B.

Best of 2007

Critic: Mike Hotter

1. The Besnard Lakes

The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse

This song cycle impresses for the mood it sets: cathartic, but not overblown, serious, yet not melodramatic. It captures the elusive, soul-bruised undercurrent of an era, much like In the Aeroplane Over the Sea did a decade back.

2. !!!

Myth Takes

!!! (usually pronounced chk-chk-chk) are a bunch of stellar (and underrated) musicians who aren’t afraid of getting goofy with their disco-rock-funk experiment, making for one of the most entertaining releases of recent years.

3. Bruce Springsteen

Magic

That Seeger Sessions thing really got his mojo working again, I guess.

4. Josh Ritter

The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

A meditation, refutation and continuation of the singer-songwriter mythos, spanning down from Guthrie, spinning through Zimmerman and winding up in a corn-fed 31-year-old guy from Idaho. Not perfect, not ground-breaking, but before long Ritter might wind up making a classic.

5. Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter

Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul

I first fell for this disc upon its release in March, and found myself returning to it throughout the year; Sykes’ alluring voice and intriguing sensibility, coupled with the great performances of her band, has me lashing myself to the mast whenever I hear her sing.

6. Caribou

Andorra

With the strongest release from 2007’s bumper crop of bedroom Brian Wilsons, Canadian transplant Dan Snaith departs from the more banging tracks of years past to deliver a moody sort of electronica. It evokes drives through unfamiliar cities, and day rides where the map flies out the window—you drive faster, both to keep up with the sound, and to try in vain to outrace your memories.

7. Meat Puppets

Rise to Your Knees

Hey, it’s no II or Up on the Sun—hell, it’s not even Forbidden Places—but it’s the best they’ve done since, and for that this Meathead is very happy.

8. Devendra Banhart

Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon

A sprawling mess of an album that works best when Banhart crosses his Tropicalia roots with his seeming fixation on T. Rex.

9. Iron and Wine

The Shepherd’s Dog

Like almost all the albums on this list save the top three, this CD seems to peter out about halfway through. But the highlights are stunning, and to hear Mr. Beam stretching beyond what’s expected of him is heartening for whatever’s next to follow.

10. Robert Plant and Allison Krauss

Raising Sand

This album would have to be included even if just for T-Bone Burnett’s production work, with its minute attention to details of tone and space. Though some songs fall flat (the single is vaguely embarrassing), there are a few stunners, especially the cover of Gene Clark’s “Polly,” with its perfectly understated performances by Plant and the always amazing Marc Ribot.

Best of 2007

Critic: David Greenberger

1. Robert Wyatt

Comicopera

It happens less often than leap year, but any year with a new album by Robert Wyatt is a better year.

2. Nick Lowe

At My Age

Taking his inspiration from the lifelong career artists of country and soul music, Lowe shows that he’s aging like a dignified gentleman.

3. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

Raising Sand

Though I’ve respected them both, I’ve never owned an album by either one of them (and that includes Led Zeppelin). In this era glutted with duet albums, this is one of the few pairings that’s truly about the sound of two blended voices singing in harmonic unison.

4. Wilco

Sky Blue Sky

The combination of Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline is in full flower here, as the former’s songs become springboards for the latter’s guitar, calling to mind San Francisco ballroom era soloists John Cipollina and Jorma Kaukonen.

5. Levon Helm

Dirt Farmer

The last living singer from the Band got his voice back after a bout with throat cancer. It has a richness that’s further informed by his joy at being healthy and creating music. Robbie Robertson may hold the keys to the Band’s bank account, but that smooth operator couldn’t touch the heart of soul of Levon Helm with a limo full of his Hollywood pals.

6. Michael Hurley

Ancestral Swamp

In the country I rule in my head, Michael Hurley would be on a postage stamp—and not just one stamp, but all of them, and it would be right now, while he’s alive.

7. Richard Thompson

Sweet Warrior

This is not only the stellar set of songs we’ve come to expect over the course of Thompson’s 40 years of recording, but also his most bristling band outing of the decade.

8. The Mabuses

Mabused

I’d assumed they’d disbanded, so this return of the Mabuses was not only a mysteriously hypnotic jolt, but also a welcome psychedelic balm.

9. Crowded House

Time on Earth

Re-formed this year, and touring after a 10-year layoff, Crowded House made a new disc that didn’t get the attention it deserves, perhaps because it competes with the band’s resonant past work. But here it is, waiting to become part of your life.

10. Duke Levine

Beneath The Blue

Levine is a guitarist-for-hire based in Boston, and many have heard him without knowing his name. This latest instrumental set manages to showcase his fluid skills, but, more importantly in terms of making a lasting album, it’s a portrait of his impeccable taste in material, his supple band, and his evocative writing.

Best of 2007

Critic: Kirsten Ferguson

1. Bruce Springsteen

Magic

At the Boss show in Albany this fall, the fans cheered for his new songs nearly as much as they did for the old; at one point, they sang along to Magic’s great “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” lifting up the wistful tune with a sea of voices. That’s a testament to the quality of his new album: Its songs can hold their own alongside the classics.

2. LCD Soundsystem

Sound of Silver

Maybe the year’s best song in “Someone Great” and maybe the year’s best line in “North American Scum”: “New York’s the greatest if you get someone to pay the rent.”

3. Black Lips

Good Bad Not Evil

A spoonful of humor makes the garage rock medicine go down better; Black Lips are cheeky and irreverent when they’re kidding around (“How do you tell a child that someone has died?”) and even when they’re probably not (“Oh Katrina, why you gotta be so mean?”).

4. M.I.A.

Kala

Not quite as consistent as her debut, with a few duds, but the brilliance of the Modern Lovers-referencing “Bamboo Banger” and the Clash-sampling “Paper Planes” are undeniable.

5. The Black Angels

Passover

This Austin, Texas, band opened up for Queens of the Stone Age at Northern Lights this year, and while their dark, hypnotic jams kept the audience fairly entranced, they sound even better on record.

6. Common

Finding Forever

Bonus points for name-checking Obama and for one of the year’s best lines in his duet with Lily Allen: “Doin’ all she can for her man and her baby/Driving herself crazy like the astronaut lady.”

7. A-Trak

Dirty South Dance

Play this on the iPod at the gym and the elliptical machine damn near moves itself. Kanye West’s DJ took the vocals from mainstream rappers and set them on top of sleek electro grooves. Sounds terrible in theory, but in execution the two parts equal a much better whole.

8. Spoon

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Worst title but best use of handclaps, mariachi horns and Slick Rick sample.

9. Lily Allen

Alright, Still

The ersatz-reggae, with more than a passing nod to the Specials, sounded really good in the summertime. Allen sings so sweetly while she’s slipping the dagger in: “When I see you cry it makes me smile.” Therein lies her charm.

10. Amy Winehouse

Back to Black

She and her husband are a trainwreck all right, wandering bloodied, bruised and drugged-out through the streets; rock bottom could still be a long way down. Producer Mark Ronson borrowed Sharon Jones’ funk band the Dap-Kings (who deserve more of the credit) and a wall of sound from Phil Spector, but Winehouse herself (I think) wrote some great songs here. I recently saw an entire bar of grizzled barflies in Hudson Falls sing along heartily to “Rehab”—that counts for something.

Best of 2007

Critic: Erik Hage

1. Modest Mouse

We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

From pseudo-epic shifts to strange and energetic declarations to outright winning melodies, this album is complex and rewarding. And while at first listen it may seem that guitarist Johnny Marr leaves scant traces of himself throughout, one can still sense his esoteric, lightning-in-a-bottle guitar at times. Contains one of the great anthems of the year, “Missed the Boat.”

2. Arctic Monkeys

Favourite Worst Nightmare

Speaking of “Missed the Boat,” I took a lukewarm stance on this when it came out, but in the intervening months have become enthralled by the counterpointing guitar skirmishes, loopy rhythms and Raymond Carver-esque lyrical explorations about aging romance (particularly on “Flourescent Adolescent”). All of this from a band of early-20-something Northern Englishmen.

3. Cherry Ghost

Thirst for Romance

Some of the most beautiful, wistful, and haunting music of the year came from this Manchester, U.K., artist (aka Simon Aldred). “Mathematics” is the most gorgeous track I’ve heard this year, and Aldred is one in a great line of Manchester songwriters.

4. Bruce Springsteen

Magic

Culturally, we simply aren’t used to mythic artists producing some of their best work this late in the game. It would be like Bob Dylan producing Blood on the Tracks in 2000, or Pete Townshend sculpting Who’s Next right before the start of the Iraq War. Bruce must have had this one bottled up and roiling inside of him for a while, and it came out in one crushing wave.

5. Talib Kweli

Eardrum

In this hip-hop svengali’s corner of the universe, the classy and cinematic slam headlong into the rough and menacing. Consider this an authentic and enthusiastic recommendation, not just some jive-ass, white, 30-something critic trying to pepper his list with color (though I am jive-ass, etc.).

6. The Good, the Bad & the Queen

The Good, the Bad & the Queen

This is more than “yet another” project from the creative fulcrum of Gorillaz/Blur leader Damon Albarn. The primal throb of Paul Simonon’s bass, the distinctly English lyrical abstractions of Albarn, the creative guitar colors of former Verve man Simon Tong and the exotic percussions of Afrobeat legend Tony Allen add up to a striking and compelling work.

7. Rocky Velvet

It Came From Cropseyville

It took a decade for the local rockabilly warriors to release a proper album, and (as the cliché goes) it was worth the wait. In the intervening years, the boys have become a powerhouse, and, led by the nimble mastery of guitarist Graham Tichy, this is rock & roll manna from heaven.

8. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Baby 81

Dark, powerful and melodic. The ominous whine, scalding slide guitar and black groove of “Not What You Wanted” is another highlight of the year . . . and there’s more where that came from.

9. John Fogerty

Revival

One of the most underestimated artists of his time produces one of the most knotty, urgent and downright good albums of his post-Creedence life, distilling rock & roll, swamp blues, hard-edged Americana and that fearsome howl into one angry and masterful album.

10. Will Stratton

What the Night Said

Bennington student Stratton evokes a little Pink Moon-era Nick Drake here, a little Mojave 3 or Damon and Naomi there, but is also distinctly his own man, alchemizing dreamy lyrical expressions and wandering folk-pop into a gorgeous whole.

Best of 2007

Critic: David King

1. LCD Soundsystem

Sound of Silver

Like a synth-pop car-crash featuring Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, Gary Numan and David Bowie, Sound of Silver is easily the catchiest, most propulsive album of the year. From the obnoxious sarcasm of “North American Scum” to the warm cocoon of “Someone Great,” LCD Soundsystem manage to make an album that spans the gamut of emotions, all while making you want to dance, and they do it with cheesy synths, funny loops, and awkwardly charming vocals.

2. Radiohead

In Rainbows

An elegant study of love and loss, In Rainbows finds Radiohead less worried about what to label their music and more concerned with the music they are making. And then there was that whole Internet-release thing, which allowed fans to pay what they wanted to download the album. The second disc of material released with the In Rainbows box set shows off the fat the band trimmed to arrive at such a concise, beautiful collection of love songs.

3. Nine Inch Nails

Year Zero

My Top 10 list this year was a battle between my mid-’90s loves and my current tastes. But Year Zero didn’t make my list for nostalgia alone—in fact, Year Zero is a visceral return to Trent Reznor’s roots that, from time to time, gives me the chills the way Pretty Hate Machine did. The viral marketing campaign for the album was exciting, and the remix album that followed was inventive in that it allowed fans to remix every track themselves. It shows that Radiohead are not the only ones thinking about the future of the record industry. And tracks like “Capital G” and “Vessel” proved that all it takes for Reznor to make people shake their asses is a laptop.

4. Between the Buried and Me

Colors

The most ambitious metal of the year also happens to be the best. It’s not a mistake that Between the Buried and Me make both my top live and top album of the year list, because as ambitious as Colors is with its sprawling, death-metal prog, Tom-Waits, Queen-inspired freakout, it would be nothing if it could not be performed convincingly live—and, boy, can it be! Between the Buried and Me have laid the groundwork for a whole generation of hyper-progressive, hardcore metal albums that are sure to follow.

5. Jay-Z

American Gangster

American Gangster is one of the year’s better musical surprises. Using lush samples and crisp beats, Jay-Z delivers a masterwork inspired by the flick of the same name. A narrative about a man’s rise from life on the streets to become a powerful gangster, the album flows like a concept album, but each track has a complete life of its own, full of drive and drama.

6. Devin Townsend

Ziltoid the Omniscient

Is Ziltoid the story of an ultra-powerful alien conqueror who has come to Earth so as to pilfer all of our finest coffee beans, or is it that of a lowly chain-coffeehouse employee with an inclination to daydream? That is for you, the listener, to decide. But what is for sure is that Devin Townsend (formerly of Strapping Young Lad) has produced with Ziltoid his absolute masterwork. Part space-rock, part rock opera, part industrial-death-metal dirge, Ziltoid, labels aside, is quite simply one of the best rock albums of the year.

7. Bloc Party

A Weekend in the City

That death-disco thing was supposed to be dead, right? You know, the scene featuring bands like Franz Ferdinand and Death From Above 1979? Well, it may very well be, but if Bloc Party are forever to be defined by their original label, then death-disco is alive and well, because A Weekend in the City is a sweeping, indie-dance rock opera about life in London for a 20-something-year-old, black, gay man. It transcends labels and stereotypes; a good sign that Bloc Party have bright things in store.

8. Smashing Pumpkins

Zeitgeist

Yes, Zeitgeist very well may be on this list because of nostalgia. I’d like to think that isn’t true, as songs like “Doomsday Clock,” “(Come On) Let’s Go!” and “Bring the Light” rock like all the best Pumpkins tracks do, but as a teen of the ’90s, I know I worship at the altar of these fallen rock gods like no one should. Still, I don’t want to hear it, ’cause the Pumpkins got on my list the same way Springsteen wound up on every other critic’s list: Every generation needs a whiny Jesus.

9. Einsturzende Neubauten

Alles Wieder Offen

In a year of the untraditional album releases, Neubauten’s album stands out because the band have been operating a little bit like a public radio station for the past few years, taking donations from fans to produce their albums and giving back special releases and access for their support. But the important part of Alles Wieder Offen is that the band have released their most concise artistic statement since their defining releases, Haus Der Luge and Tabula Rasa. From spoken word to primal pipe bashing, Neubauten are a musical art project spawned out of Cold War-era Germany, and with their latest release they prove they are as artistically fierce as they were when they were banging scrap metal in a water tower in Berlin two decades ago.

10. Dax Riggs

We Sing of Only Love or Blood

Dax Riggs should be the musical voice of a generation, but thanks to circumstances and career choices, Riggs is an underground novelty, a muse for both metalheads and indie kids. With We Sing of Only Love or Blood, Riggs attempts to find a middle ground between blues, punk, metal and glam, and is successful not only because of his soulful voice, which can make a heart skip a beat and hair stand on end, but because of a group of musicians who, instead of playing to Riggs’ heart, play to his grit and his worn voice. Maybe the next one will be a soulful, swamp love song full of strings, but this one was a bar brawl, and a good one at that.

Best of 2007

Critic: Carlo Wolff

1. Radiohead

In Rainbows

I list Radiohead at the top more for the group’s subversion of the record industry than their music, though I think these tracks are largely beautiful (my version of In Rainbows is a Beijing-bought double bootleg CD I acquired in November on a mind-blowing China trip for US $2; what’s that you say about intellectual property?).

2. Michael Brecker

Pilgrimage

Brecker’s posthumous album is the toughest modern jazz of the year. Everybody in this trophy group plays for his life, making jazz of the rarest order: essential.

3. Feist

The Reminder

For the diversity and texture of her Europop; in particular, for “Sea Lion Woman.”

4. Fountains of Wayne

Traffic and Weather

Count on smart pop from these Jersey guys; what’s extra-cool is their take on consumerism and desire, in tunes like “Yolanda Hayes” and “Strapped for Cash.” Subversiveness rarely sounds so tuneful.

5. Maria Schneider Orchestra

Sky Blue

Big-band jazz at its most lyrical and expressive; this soars and more than lives up to its title.

6. St. Vincent

Marry Me

Annie Clark is a punchy singer and a resonant writer, making Marry Me one of the most striking alterna-pop (does the concept even work anymore?) CDs of the year.

7. Various Artists

I’m Not There Original Soundtrack

A concept album of Dylan covers for a concept movie about a real guy. Or is he? The songs are, that’s for sure. Fave: Charlotte Gainsbourg and Calexico pillow-talking “Just Like a Woman.”

8. Suzanne Vega

Beauty and Crime

A meditation on New York and film noir, Vega’s underappreciated jazz-label debut delivers what Norah Jones, that smoky folk-euse, hasn’t all these years: character and wit.

9. Bruce Springsteen

Magic

The Middle East meets Phil Spector in this sequel to The Rising, a resonant, politically charged return to E Street Band form. Greatest pop surprise (and a step forward for Springsteen): the gorgeous “Girls in Their Summer Clothes.”

10. The Redwalls

The Redwalls

For the fun of it.

 


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