top albums of 2007

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Top 20 Albums of the Year (16-20)

Thousands of discs were released this year, but only 20 could make the final cut. With the most scientific of instruments (headphones, and sometimes CD players) we whittled down this year?s releases, and for the past three Thursdays, we?ve delivered five of our faves. Let us know what we missed, and what you loved.

Britney Spears, Blackout (JIVE)

16_britney.jpg The weirdest chapter in Britney Spears‘ incredibly weird year was that amid the rehab(s), the head-shaving, the VMAs bombing, the pole-dancing video that made Lindsay Lohan‘s I Know Who Killed Me look like actual art, the paparazzi run-ins, the child endangerment and the actual blackouts, Britney was able to turn out the album of her career. The 12-song Blackout isn’t art, per se, but it reflects what pop music in 2007 is so well that you wouldn’t be faulted for mistaking it as such. How much does its achievement have to do with Brit? Who knows. It could be that she sleepwalked through the making of it, showing up at the studio inebriated and letting producers like Danja, Bloodshy & Avant and the Neptunes do their progressive thing while she essentially rubber-stamped the stomping dance tracks with her notoriously unremarkable larynx. But it matters not: if on Blackout, she’s just the puppet she’s always been accused of being, she’s puppeting remarkably well. In the end, it’s reasonable to assume that she had a hand in selecting what made Blackout‘s final cut, and if that’s the case, she made up for a year of bad decisions with 12 fabulous ones.

Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (MERGE)

17_spoon.jpg With a title so dadaist, it?s ironic that Spoon?s sixth album is their most clear. But maybe it isn?t so ironic: the album?s title is taken from the onomatopoetic piano line that courses through the album?s second track ?The Ghost of You Lingers.? Rather than sail over the heads of their fans with the prickly, oblique lyrics frontman Britt Daniel has become famous for, the band seems to have gotten down to the bedrock elements of music ? sounds and feelings. Examples of the band?s movement toward sincerity riddle the record: Daniel tells his own genesis story on ?Finer Feelings,? empathizes with the long shot on ?The Underdog,? and even allows listeners behind the curtain on ?Don?t You Evah,? which begins with a studio joke between band members. The band get deeper into their influences, following in the foot steps of their punk-pop forefathers the Clash and experimenting on the down-beat reggae ode to a femme fatale ?Eddie?s Ragga.? ?You Got Yr Cherry Bomb? recalls Phil Spector?s production, filled with heavy reverb and horns. Breezing by in just 36 minutes, the band prove there?s no genre they can?t deftly maneuver.

Kanye West, Graduation (DEF JAM)

18_kanye.jpg Haughty is as haughty does. Hip-hop?s most reliable MC hasn?t given up on positioning himself as hip-hop?s most successful MC ? you know, hitting the club with all that fresh sh*t on and something crazy on his arm. But his bluster (?I always had a passion for flashing?) has oodles of creativity behind it, and it?s been a long time since any mic fiend dropped three home runs in a row. The rhymes may not be as perfect as those on College Dropout or Late Registration, and subject matter may be a tad monolithic, but with the striver-speak of ?Good Life? and ?Stronger,? the Luis Vuitton don can definitely lay claim to his hat trick.

Feist, The Reminder (INTERSCOPE)

19_feist.jpg As has been pointed out several times over, Feist once sang ?It may be years until the day my dreams will match up with my pay.? It only took about three years. The former punk-screecher turned filth-rap posse member turned Canadian musical collective member has worn many hats during her career, but it turned out Feist?s solo songs would spawn the most success. From the now ubiquitous revival-type feel goodery of ?1 2 3 4? (you know?the iPod song), to her vamping ?My Moon My Man,? to her update of the Nina Simone?s ?Sea Lion Woman,? Feist appears to have assembled the type of self-revelations (?I?ll be the one to break my heart,? ?There?s so much present inside my present,? ?You?re changing your heart, you know who you are?) that take people thousands of dollars and years in analysis to come to.

Rihanna, Good Girl Gone Bad (DEF JAM)

20_rihanna.jpg If Michael Bay or Jerry Bruckheimer were to spend their time writing music as opposed to blowing up tractor trailers in movies, this is the kind of record they?d make — a big-budget splashy blockbuster, all done up in vibrant Technicolor with the audio to match. Rihanna, a Barbados-born teen, had shown earlier promise with infectious hits like ?SOS? and ?Pon de Replay,? but nothing on the size and scale of Good Girl, which continues to spawn hits long after its release (and that was only last May, if you can believe it). First, of course, there was ?Umbrella,? where she stretches the syllables of the word in the chorus to fit the melody — ?Umbrella-ella-ella-ay-ay-oh-oh.? Genius. With its non-threatening, vaguely maternal offer of shelter from the rain, Rihanna welcomed fans by the dozen. She quickly followed that up with the Michael Jackson-inflected ?Don?t Stop the Music,? the sweet soul of ?Hate That I Love You,? the sad strains of ?Cry? and the tough stuff of ?Shut Up and Drive,? a song so powerfully poppy that they should probably seal it in a jar and bury it in the Nevada weapons-testing zone lest it get out and inspire generations to skip school and head straight for the studio. Who knew it was possible to craft pop so expertly in 2007?

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Top 20 Albums of the Year (11-15)

Thousands of discs were released this year, but only 20 could make the final cut. With the most scientific of instruments (headphones, and sometimes CD players) we whittled down this year?s releases, and for the past two Thursdays, we?ve delivered five of our faves. Let us know what we missed, and what you loved.

LCD Soundsystem, Sounds of Silver (DFA)

11_lcdsoundsystem.jpgJames Murphy is the patron saint of downtown cool, and anything he or his record label touches instantly becomes an indie treasure. What?s most extraordinary about his sophomore release is its accessibility — at its heart, this is a bubblegum pop record, and not the salty organic kind of gum you buy at the health food co-op, either. We?re talking Bubblicious here, people. Long renowned for long-playing dance-floor remixes and shoe-shopping house beats — his other record this year, 45:33, provides an excellent example of that — Murphy?s work on Sounds of Silver is discreet, short and frequently to the point. ?North American Scum? is precisely the kind of song you want with you at the gym, a self-deprecating slice of upbeat funk with lyrics that?ll never make the Republicans happy: ?New York?s the greatest if you get someone to pay the rent . . . and it?s the furthest you can live from the government.? Then there?s the new wavy ?Someone Great? and ?All My Friends,? a song so suffused with nostalgia and desire it sounds like it belongs in a John Hughes movie. It?s excellent, easy to listen to and innately underground, and it?s been a long time since those three elements intersected in a pop album. Yes, there?s a sense of unrequited longing here, but so much the better for Murphy if he keeps producing work like this.

M.I.A., Kala (INTERSCOPE)

12_mia.jpg For her second album, thinking-liberal’s pop star M.I.A. traded political sloganeering and an abundance of hooks for something much simpler: an album of bangers, bamboo and otherwise. Compared to her 2005 debut, Arular, Kala‘s beats are more propulsive, its messages are more opaque and its cultural mining is even stronger. The resulting album is all prowess and ire and recontextualized sound. It is, at heart, a hip-hop record, and because it’s so effective and singular and forward-thinking, it’s the heart of hip-hop in ’07, period. As always, M.I.A.’s speak-singy vocals turn charisma into a fine art. Her personality is so huge, she’d have Rihanna‘s career if the world were fair. But then, her whole point seems to lie in reminding us that it isn’t.

Band of Horses, Cease To Begin (SUB POP)

13_bandofhorses.jpg Let?s forgive them the fact that their songs are all about mood and aura, rather than ?feelings? or the problems that bring those ?feelings? about. And let?s forgive them the fact that the singer veers into Supertramp territory now and again. Let?s just bathe in the eerie pomp of the chiming guitars and the rhythm section?s splashy forward motion. Like U2 sleeping over at the Jayhawks? house, these guys make melancholy anthems that love to reverberate everywhere before they slink home with the echoes dissipating in the distance. Maybe it?s their recent move to North Carolina, but for a grandiose outfit there sure are quite a few moments where twang takes over. Dream pop disc of the year.

Radiohead, In Rainbows (ATO RECORDS)

14_radiohead.jpgIt was a David & Goliath tale, if David were a band of insanely talented mope rockers and Goliath was the desperately floundering record industry. In short, the band revolutionized the music industry in 42 minutes and 34 seconds, with 10 songs: The band would offer its newest effort, In Rainbows, and whatever folks felt fit to pay, well, that?s the price of the album. It would be considered an impressive move by a lesser band. That the band was one of the most popular, and simultaneously respected, outfits in music today only compounds the coup. But to concentrate solely on marketing techniques, the implications of morality and the free market economic discussions this generates would miss the point: the band has made a gorgeous album. From the glitchy snares and waltzing jazz guitar of ?15 Steps? to the stark, maker-meeting ?Videotape? that seems to take its percussion from a funeral march, the album shows a marked change in the four years its been since Hail to the Thief. Gone is the politically tinged rock invective, and the verse-chorus-verse songs. Radiohead has made an opus, difficult to splice into song, and utterly captivating throughout.

The Shins, Wincing the Night Away (SUB POP)

15_theshins.jpg It?s amazing James Mercer can get a word out, let alone an album, without choking altogether. Following the release of Oh, Inverted World, indie director Zach Braff latched on to it, using the majority of the album as the soundtrack to his movie, and even having his protagonist Natalie Portman utter the phrase: ?This band will change your life.? That the band went on to make two records improving on the home-recording-honed formulae James Mercer devised for their debut is a feat. With their melodic base well-established, the band appeared to move outward from that point; experimenting with sound (?Sea Legs,? with its plastic bags popping as percussion) as well as perspective (?Phantom Limb? tells the story of two teenage lesbians alienated at their school).

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Top 20 Albums of the Year (6-10)

Thousands of discs were released this year, but only 20 could make the final cut. With the most scientific of instruments (headphones, and sometimes CD players) we whittled down this year?s releases, and each Thursday until the end of ’07 we?ll deliver five of our faves. Let us know what we missed, and what you loved.

Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight (WARNER BROTHERS)

06_rilokiley.jpg Indie rock likes to dodge refinement, so there were some grimaces when Rilo Kiley?s rather glossy third disc spilled open. A couple of years ago, singer Jenny Lewis and her buds were underground royalty, but they?ve always wanted their day in the sun, and Blacklight?s motley songs are proud enough of their mainstream aura to carry themselves with an enviable swagger. Like its model, Fleetwood Mac?s Tusk, this is a disc about craft and breadth. White soul, punk-disco, sunny twang ? each new track is just as dapper as it is daring. Believable, too. As Lewis injects coos and come-ons into her sex-centric lyrics, all the genre-jumping feels natural, a flurry of ways to express the feelings at hand, and a cool strategy for dodging stasis.

Amy Winehouse, Back to Black (ISLAND)

08_amywinehouse.jpg The beehive hairdo, nude lady tattoos and odd fashion sense marked Amy Winehouse an outsider from the get-go, a retro soul-singer who could sing like it was still 1968 and she lived in Detroit, not London. The collection of songs on her second record produced an impressive five singles including ?Rehab,? which has our nomination for song of the year, and the album?s title track, a hauntingly recorded lament about love gone wrong?as with Winehouse it so often seems to do. Back to Black garnered her six Grammy Award nominations; her 2003 debut, Frank, earned her a Mercury Prize nomination in the U.K. and the attention of New York DJ and party-boy Mark Ronson. His production work on her second album (not to mention the work he did with the year?s other famous Brit, Lily Allen) ushered Winehouse into the limelight and also created a neo-retro movement in pop. Everyone seems to have gotten the point: Back to Black features the contributions of everyone from Ghostface Killah to Ashford and Simpson.
Coconut Records, Nighttiming (YOUNG BABY)

07_coconut_records.jpgJason Schwartzman is a man of many talents. The former Phantom Planet drummer has enjoyed a successful and offbeat film career, starring in Wes Anderson?s The Darjeeling Limited this year and appearing as Ringo in Walk Hard. But he never gave up the music, as this latest project attests to. Self-recorded and produced, Schwartzman released Nighttiming on his own record label, so it didn?t get much play in the press. But it is one of the finest collections of pop music released in 2007, from the folksy humor of ?The Thanks I Get? to the disco-trills of the title track. ?West Coast? is one of the most wistful songs in recent memory, as Schwartzman sings: ?For a second there I thought you disappeared/ It rains a lot this time of year/ We both go together if one falls down/ I talk out loud like you?re still around.? It?s a sweet, sad number that recalls sunshine delays in California and New York City in the rain, and if you?re ever in need of an album you can drive to?without having to skip around tracks?Schwartzman?s got you covered.

Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (EPIC)

09_modestmouse.jpgBands break-up and artists go crazy attempting what Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock accomplished by accident. That’s not to say We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is a tossed-off affair — it means only that Brock and his band sacrificed none of the hallmarks of their sound on their way to the top of the charts. After two decades of work, the trailer park philosopher has hit his stride, finally fusing the harsh-quiet extremes he?s spent his career bouncing between. With the addition of former Smiths? guitarist Johnny Marr (and help from Shins frontman James Mercer) the band?s fifth album is a nautically themed endeavor — sailors traveling the globe, doomed to die at every port. The songs alternate between spiked guitars and barking vocals (?Florida,? ?Dashboard?) and lilting guitars and lisping whispers (?Little Motel,? ?Missed the Boat?). The band?s most inclusive, technically impressive album easily drowns out the indie faction?s cries of mainstream foul.

Jay-Z, American Gangster (ROC-A-FELLA)

10_jayz.jpgProving that there is life after, “I’m too old for this s***,” a post-post retirement Jay-Z turns out his most compulsively listenable album with American Gangster. Inspired by the film of the same name, Jay-Z’s chronicle of his life’s work (i.e. the hustle, in its legal and not-so-legal forms) offers a humble sense of nuance that was nowhere to be found in Ridley Scott‘s brutish picture. A slap in the face to hip-hop’s pervasive ageism, it’s the kind of album that could only be released now, at this point in the 38-year-old’s storied career. Maturity, patience, taste and humility are unfortunately not really associated with hip-hop, and yet Jay-Z offers an album rich in those elements. Sadly, the album has pretty much flopped. The kids just don’t get it. Not that they even had a chance in the first place.

HERE ARE OUR FIRST FIVE ALBUMS OF THE YEAR (LAST WEEK’S INSTALLMENT).

Related Content
Rilo Kiley Artist Info
Amy Winehouse Artist Info
Coconut Records Artist Info
Modest Mouse Artist Info
Jay-Z Artist Info

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Top 20 Albums of the Year (1-5)

Thousands of discs were released this year, but only 20 could make the final cut. With the most scientific of instruments (headphones, and sometimes CD players) we whittled down this year’s releases, and each Thursday for the three weeks we’ll deliver to you five of our faves. Let us know what we missed, and what you loved.

Dax Riggs, We Sing of Only Blood or Love (FAT POSSUM)

01_daxriggs.jpgThere?s only so many times you can listen to the umpteenth Eddie Vedder- or Chris Cornell-style crooner before vowing to shred your flannel. That, as it turns out, might be hasty: For every 3,000th 3 Doors Down, there?s at least one Dax Riggs, a manly man?s musician who?s got a throat as crusty and damaged as the BQE and miles of bad road behind him. (At one performance earlier this year in New York, Riggs, shirtless and sweating and wearing guy-liner, but not in the Ashlee-Simpson-is-my-lady way, limited his banter to the following: ?Magic is real.? That night, it was true.) Composed of short, filthy little songs, his low-octave growl and piercing shrieks make for cathartic relief from the radio. Songs like ?Demon Tied to a Chair in my Brain,? ?Dog-Headed Whore? and the utterly brilliant ?Didn?t Know Yet What I Would Know When I Was Bleedin?? — as fine a use for the future-perfect as any — evoke the presence of a real artist, someone who absolutely will not stop until he?s been exorcised completely. Fans of southern rock, take note. Please.

Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger, (LOST HIGHWAY)

02_ryanadams.jpgThere are a lot of reasons to dislike Ryan Adams. He?s the voice-mail-leaving, journalist-harassing, actress-dating enfant terrible of the alt-country world, a musician whose profound self-seriousness is rivaled only by his market-flooding output (three albums in 2006). But a funny thing happened with Easy Tiger: Adams got on the quality-control (and off the heroin and cocaine speedballs), took his own advice (referenced in his album title) and returned to his Heartbreaker roots, arguably what he does best. In abandoning his forays into AM radio with Gold and rock with Rock N Roll — hollow exercises — Adams has returned to emotionally wrought alt-rock, evidenced by the cracks in his voice and his display of his vulnerable upper registers. On ?The Sun Also Sets? Adams wavers between moan and growl, a sob caught in his throat as he outlines how easily relationships fall into disrepair. The sunny ?Two Hearts? belies the impending disappointment of a budding relationship, and Adams can?t resist a nod at irony when he summons a guitar solo by speaking its name on the inscrutable arena-rocker ?Halloween Head.? Hell, we even forgive him the Sheryl Crow duet on ?Two.? We?re just glad to have him back.

Abbey Lincoln, Abbey Sings Abbey (VERVE)

03_abbeylincoln.jpg The earthy jazz singer turned plenty of heads when she ditched her usual piano-bass-drums outfit and took up with Bob Dylan?s guitarist, Larry Campbell. But one person?s heresy is another?s revitalization, and the philosophical tunes that Lincoln?s known for not only fit right into the bluesy riffs and twangy peals, they resounded anew. Whether she?s singing about the way the world is falling down or questioning the wisdom of God?s judiciousness, she lets her 77-year-old rasp expose a song?s sentiment and sensuality. The way it slides between this melancholy program?s accordions and dobros is a joy.

White Stripes, Icky Thump (WARNER)

04_whitestripes.jpgWhen biography threatens to eclipse an artist?s work, the results are invariably poor. Between Jack White?s super-model marriage, Meg White?s incipient breakdown, major major-label expectations and the collective begging of indie U.S.A. desperate for something important, it?s little wonder that 2007 was the year that the White Stripes began to implode. That said, the candy-colored Detroit duo?s sixth studio album was a thoroughly engrossing affair, an ADD-suffering collection of songs that ran the gamut from the ridiculous (?Conquest?) to the sublime (?300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues?) to the classic (?You Don?t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You?re Told)).? There?s no denying that the album?s overall vision feels muddy, but then, that doesn?t seem to be the point: Rather, Jack and Meg are trying their best to put a smile on your face, and at that, this entry into their catalog is entirely successful. Yes, the spoken-word bit in ?Rag and Bone? becomes tiresome, and the bagpipes elsewhere are grating, but the exuberance with which the two approach their work is infectious, and the courageous way they build their material (and, in the case of Jack, their facial hair) is an inspiration. Anyone who claimed that Get Behind Me Satan would be remembered as their ?weird? record ought to polish their crystal ball.

Bjork, Volta, (ATLANTIC)

05_bjork.jpgVolta isn’t Bj?rk‘s most-forward thinking achievement, and that’s exactly why it’s such a breath of fresh air. The future, it would seem, has caught up with the reliably sci-fi Icelandic songstress, and so on Volta, she splashes in the streams of her memory. References dating back to her Sugarcubes day litter Volta‘s brass-and-beats framework, and, somewhat paradoxically, the result is Bj?rk’s most cohesive album since her 1997 masterpiece, Homogenic. Volta reaches a gorgeous peak with “The Dull Flame of Desire,” a duet with Antony and the Johnsons‘ Antony Hegarty that smolders and finally ignites thanks to Brian Chippendale’s pummeling drums. Future, past, present? Who cares when you have music that’s this transcendent?