Here’s what I was listening to. One of my criteria for getting onto this list was that you had to release two good albums in 2007. Not really the case, but it seems like a bunch of people had not one, but two good albums in them this year. It was actually hard to pick a top 20, there were at least 10 more records that could have nudged their way into this year end list. My first impression after compiling this thing is that Merge Records is very well represented here. It wasn’t intentional, it’s just that label just seems to get better and better. With the success of Arcade Fire and now Spoon they’ve got the cash-ola to keep bands on even when they don’t break it big after their first or second album and also have them tour a lot. Keep up the good work Merge!
Mp3’s are up until 2008 and then they turn into pumpkins. And for the buy links, I’ve linked to the label if it’s an indie, and if not, the link is to where the best price and most reliable mail I could find. Of course you can always make a trip down to your local record shop to get most of these, instant gratification can be a good thing.
1. Pelle Carlberg – In a Nutshell
In a nutshell, this is a great album. Pelle Carlberg has been making records for a while now, but he totally hit his stride with his second solo record. It’s funny, heart wrenching, and very clever. You get an excellent duet with Ida Maria, a song about Mike Joyce of the Smiths and a one that Billy Bragg coulda written in Middleclass kid. Throw in the fact that this album contains my son’s favorite song of the year (he’s nearly killed it for me he’s played it so many times) Crying all the Way to the Pawnshop! It has literally been in the stereo since April.
2. Sondre Lerche – Phantom Punch/Dan In Real Life
Really the number two album here is Phantom Punch, but the soundtrack to Dan in Real Life is so good that you should hear that too. Phantom Punch was a total departure for Lerche, adding power to his pop, think Jason Falkner, and Elvis Costello. In fact when I first heard Phantom Punch I immediately though of Falkner and how he can create a pop song that on the surface is so basic and catchy, and only on subsequent listens do you begin to appreciate the complexity of musicianship. Each song is like a erm, Phantom Punch. Get Phantom Punch, and have your socks knocked off.
3. Electrelane – No Shouts No Calls
Like they know what they’re doing, Electrelane decided to call it a day after releasing their best album yet. Going out at the top, at least at your artistic pinnacle is definitely the way to go. At first I thought that they had made the girl version of Up for a Bit with the Pastels, but the more I listened I realized they had just incorporated more pop hooks into their kraut crossed sonic youth infused guitar grooves. What resulted was an Electrelane record you could not only groove to, but one you could sing along to as well.
4. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
From the beginning stolen guitar riff from the Cure’s 10:15 on a Saturday Night to the Tubular Bells feel of the Ghost of You Lingers to the Motown horns of You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb to the Billy Joel sound of the Underdog, and then the nothing but Spoon influencing themselves of Don’t You Evah and Japanese Cigarette Case, this album stole from some great sources and made them all their own. I remember thinking when I first heard it that I’d be tired of it in a month because it was so immediate, the hooks were right out in front just asking to be snatched up, but it’s December now and these songs still stand up and sound just as fresh as the first listen. It’s a record that the Britt Daniel and Jim Eno had been building to all along and in the end it’s Spoon pure and simple and one of the best American rock n’ roll records in a very long while.
5. Arthur & Yu – In Camera
Steeped in sounds of the 60’s, something of a cross of the Velvet Underground and the Free design, this album is a study in a melancholy sound that even sounds like it was recorded somewhere on a dusty road. It wasn’t really a dusty road where it was recorded, but at home and I think that’s what makes it so immediate and warm, these songs burst out of your speakers and take you back to a time where you actually listend to music on your stereo…beautiful stuff.
6. hollAnd – The Paris Hilton Mujahideen/Love Fluxus
I suppose if push came to shove, I’d pick PHM, but barely. After nothing for something like five years, this year we got two albums from Trevor Kampan’s hollAnd. Both albums are cut from the same minimalist cloth, with lyrical bent being the only real difference between the two records. PHM takes a political, anti war them while Love Fluxus is more about L.O.V.E. Put them together and you get an excellent double album worthy of the title Love and War, only much shorter.
7. Caribou – Andorra
Why this album is found in the electronic section of every record store, I will never know. Dan Snaith has forsaken his previous electronic bedroom creations and gone full on psychedelic shoegaze with a real band. Granted those psychedelic, shoegaze sounds could be found on previous Manitoba/Caribou albums, but this is the first record that he’s made that will hold you by the collar from start to finish. If A.R. Kane were still around today, they would be in Caribou.
8. Gruff Rhys – Candylion
It may seem a little strange, me picking this album as #8 instead of Gruff’s full time Super Furry Animals Hey Venus. Where Hey Venus seemed like the band weren’t sure what direction to go, Candylion suffers no such problem. Gruff new exactly what he was aiming for with this acoustic flavored, Moricone crossed with Donovan collection of songs. What is even stranger about this album for me was that it wasn’t the excellent pop hooks of Candylion or King Arthur that kept me coming back, but the 16 minute Skylon!, a tale about a bomb disposal expert that saves the day,hooks up with the actress, and has a love child all on a single flight. Rhys is full of ideas and this album contains some of his best.
9. Timo Räisänen – Love Will Turn You Around
A majority of the pop music coming out of Sweden is heavily influence by the UK scene of the late 80’s. Timo Räisänen has a bit of that going on, but he’s more in tune with some of the hair bands of that time too. Maybe it’s his voice which can easily slip into a falsetto, that makes me think of Asia, Journey or even Europe. I know by writing that last sentence, may have caused your eyes to roll, but I mean those comparisons in the best possible way. It’s the heartfelt angst of his delivery, really that reminds me of those bands, the rest of it is pure Swedish pop pleasure.
10. The Clientele – God Save the Clientele
The Clientele haven’t changed a whole lot since their first recordings on Suburban Light, but each album sees the band adding a little something new to make it just a little bit different. This one was recorded in Nashville with Mark Nevers (of Lambchop) with Louis Philippe providing string arrangements again. They’ve become a foursome, adding Mel Draisy to fill out their sound on keyboards and violin. It’s all the same, yet different. Nothing here is going to make you a Clientele fan if you weren’t already, but if you already are a fan, then you know that this is easily the best Clientele of them all hands down.
11. Monkey Swallows the Universe – The Casket Letters
The second album in this list by a band that decided to go on infinite hiatus. Unlike Electrelane, Monkey Swallows the Universe specialize in acoustic based rock. No sophomore slump here, in fact the band greatly improved on their debut with a more confident sounding record that wasn’t afraid to be beautiful and quiet on Statutory Rights, or rock out like on Mary & Elizabeth. But don’t miss the stand out duet on this album the Ballad of the Bride. Sorry to see this band leave us, just as they seemed to be hitting their stride. Main monkey Nat Johson looks like she may be going solo, check out her myspace page for the latest.
12. The Rakes – 10 new Messages
Unfortunately this never saw the light of day in the US. I remember when it was released back in March, a lot of people didn’t think it was as good as Capture/Release and so it seemed to fall along the wayside. Yes it’s not as good as their debut, but it’s still really good. The first half of the record is nearly flawless with Trouble, We Danced Together, and the World Was a Mess. The Rakes were trying to stretch their legs a bit and try to go beyond the one trick post punk pony, and they largely succeed. I still don’t know what the song When Tom Cruise Cries is all about though.
13. Euros Childs – Bore Da/Miracle Inn
Another guy that thought one album in a year was not enough. Bore Da is this former Gorky Zygot Mynci’s Welsh album and Miracle Inn is the English one. Which one is better and really number 13? I choose the double album that has The Welsh answer to the Beatles Good Morning (Bore Da), Henry A Matilda Supermarketsuper, Over You and the M Ward-ish Horse Riding. You really should have both.
14. Shout Out Louds – Our Ill Wills
The first thing I always seem to read about the Shout Out Louds is that singer Adam Olenius sounds like Robert Smith of the Cure. Yes he does but no one was saying that around the time of Howl Howl Gaff Gaff. This album trades in the power pop crunching guitars for more moody numbers, and I suppose that Our Ill Wills’ mid-80’s influences of New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, and yes, the Cure, bring out that voice resemblance more on Our Ill Wills. There are some great string arrangements on Normandie and South America, but The song that made this album for me was Hard Rain. It’s the last one on the record and is 7 minutes and 27 seconds of great guitar, cowbell and moodiness.
15. Emma Pollock – Watch the Fireworks
I’ve said this before, that I think this album is better than anything the Delgados ever did. I probably shouldn’t repeat that, because I know there are a lot of Delgados fans out there. I always appreciated the Delgados, but their music never really reached out and grabbed me like Fireworks did this year. With it’s straightforward pop songs that have a slight country feel (Here Comes the Heartbreak), or reminiscent of label mates the Throwing Muses (Acid Test), or a more close to home Delgados sound (New Land), she does it all and does it all very well.
16. Pants Yell! – Alison Statton
Indie Pop is funny thing (at least with me) if it’s too twee it makes me roll my eyes and pass it by, Even bands that seem to have all the right ingredients and influences like Voxtrot can fall short. When it’s done right, and I don’t know what right is, I just know it when I hear it, it can be oh so good. These guys have got it going on (save the name), excellent use of horns, a good singer, cool organ and a tight sound, obscure references, and those horns! (yeah, I know I already mentioned them, but they really are killer). They’ve got a little Lucksmiths thing going on, I’m convinced that the beginning of Reject, Reject is a Lucksmiths song. If you’ve got 10 bucks and don’t know what to do with it, go out and buy this record, it will make you happy.
17. Richard Hawley – Lady’s Bridge
More of the same quipped many reviews for Lady’s Bridge. Yeah, but when you have a back catalog like Richard Hawley that’s a pretty big compliment. His fourth album doesn’t so much break any new ground, but it does incorporate some new things like rockabilly on Serious, and politics on Tonight the Streets are Ours. What is amazing is that Hawley seems to knock these records off without breaking a sweat, solid record after solid record, and Lady’s Bridge is no different.
18. The Fine Arts Showcase – Sings the Rough Bunnies
What do you do when you are obsessed with a band and you have a band of your own? Well if you’re Gustaf Kjellvander, you record an entire album of that band’s songs. Rough Bunnies songs are striped down affairs and the Fine Arts Showcase dress them up a bit, giving them a more fleshed out sound. It seemed a little odd when I first heard of this project. Why do Fine Arts Showcase cover a bunch of someone else’s songs when their own stuff is so good.? The album turned out so well, I don’t ask that question anymore.
19. Richard Swift – Dressed Up for the Letdown
The Kinks? Harry Nilson? The Beatles? Elton John? I know, I know those names are thrown around quite a bit when describing bands and singers. Richard Swift rightly deserves the comparisons, and this album should be heard by more than just a few music geeks. Swift specializes in the oh so depressing beautiful pop song with lots of horns and piano to move things along under the cover of what sounds like a happy pop song. Dressed up for the Let down is cut from the same cloth as last years excellent Beneath the Branches from Kelley Stoltz, more good company to be in.
20. The Elephants – The Elephants
A late entry in this years album race, but the Elephants happy, feel-good pop songs quickly won me over. This Danish band’s self-titled debut was packed full of high energy songs, powered by boy-girl vocals, harmonicas, twangy guitars, banjos, strings and the very important hand claps. If they would have thrown in the kitchen sink this may have charted higher.