Looking back over 2007, I can’t help but feel like this was a very disappointing year for music. I found myself slipping further and further away from “indie rock,” a genre which was becoming incomprehensible and frustrating for me. I came across a few highlights, as the list will show, but I probably spent more time flipping through old records and trying to get a grasp of the Chicago jazz scene than I did eagerly anticipating new indie rock.
I’m fairly certain that I’m going through a down phase as far as music is concerned. The last time I felt this way (2004), I stopped reviewing CDs for Brainwashed. Now, I’m moving over to reviewing books for PopMatters. These phases come and go, but even though I’m not completely invested in new music at this very moment, there are still some albums I really enjoyed and that I hope find a wider audience. Also, there’s plenty of stuff I’m more than happy to say bad things about.
My Ten Favorite Albums of 2007
Audio excerpts provided for songs you may not have heard.
When it comes to music, I like to be surprised. I hate being able to anticipate what’s coming next in a song, and that’s something that occurs far too often. Liars, however, can’t be beat when it comes to surprises. Album to album, song to song, they’re as varied and creative as they come. Liars was pretty out there for an album that’s supposed to be a “return to structure,” and for that I am thankful. When I reviewed this for PopMatters, they toned down my effusive praise, but I’ll gladly say that I think they’re the best band in rock today.
Probably my best find of 2007, Lazarus Beach was a hell of a lot of fun to listen to. It’s joyful and clever and witty, everything indie rock should be. These are a bunch of great guys and you can tell they enjoy what they’re doing. “Falling Out of Favor With the Neighbors,” with its burlesque vamping and atomic age allusions should be all over the place. It’s excellent.
3. Chicago Underground Trio – Chronicle
This record completely bowled me over. I had previously reviewed Slon, and while I liked it, it didn’t make a huge impact. Chronicle, on the other hand, is revelatory. Cornet player and bandleader Rob Mazurek is having a creative year most musicians would kill for, and this is only the first of his two productions on my list.
4. Les Savy Fav – Let’s Stay Friends
(My Review @ ALARM)
On the face of things, Les Savy Fav seem anarchic and wild, yet they’re one of the most controlled and consistent bands out there. This album was nice, a little pleasing reminder that straight-ahead indie rock can still pack some punch. Like Through the Sparks, Les Savy Fav knows enough about music to subvert and distort expectations, turning the old and overdone into something uniquely their own.
5. Jed and Lucia – Candles in Daylight
(My Review @ NowOnTour)
This album has been floating around for a while, self-released, but 2007 is when it really seemed to pick up steam. Anyway, that’s when I reviewed it, so I’m including it on the list. Sweet, sonorous singer-songwriters Jed and Lucia blend a winning acoustic softness with subtle hints of electronic embellishment. They remind me somewhat of Glen Hansard and MarkÃ©ta IrglovÃ¡ from Once. It’s delightful music, and I’m happy to see them getting some notice. Their song “Perpetuate the Cycle” recent was featured in an episode of Nip/Tuck.
6. Exploding Star Orchestra – We are all From Somewhere Else
Where jazz meets post-rock, there’s Rob Mazurek. He’s heading a whole orchestra of Chicago jazz luminaries here in a cosmic suite of impressive and outlandishly ambitious tunes. Makes a nice companion piece with Chronicle, exploding that album’s claustrophobic intensity into a spiraling supernova.
7. Eluvium – Copia
It’s simple and delicate post-rock, with piano-driven songs like “Prelude for Time Feelers” and “Radio Ballet” forming a wicked centerpiece. Copia feels cinematic in its scope, even though it’s not overloaded with bombastic scoring. Eluvium has a light touch. Even the concussive bursts (fireworks? cannons?) in “Repose in Blue” sounds majestic rather than explosive.
I was lucky enough to meet with these guys and write a nice feature on them for ALARM a few months before Friend or Foe came out. I knew it was a great album then, but seeing the positive reactions to it once it finally was released was very satisfying. It’s nice to see a good group of guys who put a lot of energy and thought into their work get rightfully deserved praise. This album was a major step up from their debut, and is still immensely impressive over a year since I first heard it.
9. Fred Lonberg-Holm Trio – Terminal Valentine
Lonberg-Holm is a cellist, but one who doesn’t conform to what you might expect from a traditional cellist. He dominates the cello, squalling and scratching all over it, coaxing sounds from it that you’d never think could come from such a staid and proper instrument. I’ve heard him in experimental quartets and with the quasi-free Fast Citizens, but efforts like Terminal Valentine give Lonberg-Holm plenty of room to work, and it’s a wonderful thing to hear.
10. Glenn Jones – Against Which the Sea Continually Beats
(My Review @ PopMatters)
Far lighter and brighter than his debut solo effort, Cul de Sac’s Glenn Jones put together another solid, engrossing collection of acoustic tracks paying tribute to John Fahey’s American Primitive style. The virtuosity at work is exceptional, and it’s easy to get lost amidst the overlapping melodic lines Jones’ weaves with his nimble hands.
The Most Disappointing Albums of 2007
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
I liked the Arcade Fire way before you did. (lol j/k omg [/sarcasm]) I have written proof. In the year end lists I’m seeing pop up on other sites, I’m surprised how many people are deluding themselves into thinking that Neon Bible wasn’t a complete disaster. That the best song on the album (“No Cars Go”) is at least three years old should be enough to convince people that something is amiss with the band creatively. Win Butler’s unusual desire to channel Bruce Springsteen vocally and lyrically is puzzling, to say the least. I don’t believe for a second that this guy ever worked a 9 to 5 job, let alone worked one long enough to write a song like “(Antichrist Television Blues).” God, even that song title makes me angry. Neon Bible might be the perfect example of how the intense hype and popularity afforded a band by the Internet echo chamber can sour a good thing before it even gets a chance to grow.
The percussion is too high in the mix, and Beam’s voice is obscured by gauzy effects. The spirit of this thing is just buried under layers and layers of sheen, and it’s very sad. It doesn’t have to be as rough as The Creek Drank the Cradle. Woman King was well produced, and still managed to sound crisp and vital. I feel like there’s a good album in The Shepherd’s Dog, it’s just hidden under a whole bunch of junk.
The New Pornographers – Challengers
After hearing the fourth New Pornographers album, I decided I probably only need two and a half New Pornographers albums. Each successive album has been half as good as the last. Mass Romantic was so transcendently amazing that such an equation didn’t immediately sink their worth, but now, I just can’t get too excited by the Carl Newman songbook. If anything, I view it as an impediment to future Neko Case solo efforts. Adding Kathryn Calder seems unnecessary (though if she takes over for Neko, that’s fine by me), and the existence of Calder’s Immaculate Machine seems redundant and silly, since they’re New Pornographer knockoffs anyway.
Clinic – Funf
(My Review @ PopMatters)
It’s a compilation, compiling not just a bunch of weak B-sides, but also everything that’s wrong with this band. Squandering their initial successes, Clinic has relied on cheap rehashes of their best songs and sly quotations of legendary songs to make up for their lack of content. It was cute at first, but the gimmick has worn thin, and Funf perfectly epitomizes the frustrating nature of this band. Hopefully it’s the last thing they ever release.
Johnny Cash – Live from Austin, Texas
(My Review @ PopMatters)
This is a pretty crass cash-in on the man’s post Walk the Line popular renaissance. It’s not an important performance, nor is it a particularly good one either. Ironically, it’s taken from a particularly low point in Cash’s career, when he couldn’t make much of anything happen commercially. My biggest problem with this record is an editorial decision the Man in Black made himself. Covering John Prine’s epic “Sam Stone,” Cash guts the song of its impact by refusing to sing the “Jesus Christ died for nothin’ / I suppose” lyric, effectively castrating the song. I understand his convictions probably prevented him from speaking those words, but to interpret the lyric as blasphemy is way off base, and from the man who insisted on playing Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” in its original form, it’s disappointing.
This Year’s Overrated Artists That Make Me Hate Music
There’s a veneer of insincerity about this band that I just can’t get past. Maybe it’s because they’re failed actors. Listening to their music, I get the sense that they don’t really enjoy playing music but that they enjoy being looked at on stage, any stage. They’re not a band for people who like music, they’re a band for people who want to be part of a scene. That’s alright, I guess, but the level of praise this band gets for the milquetoast, bland, sub-Death Cab music they produce is entirely unwarranted. To read Jenny Lewis being compared to Neko Case is appalling.
To be fair, my problem isn’t so much with M.I.A. as it is with the hyperbolic nitwits who feel the need to imbue everything she does with invented layers of meaning that simply don’t exist. The most insane and inane of such inventions came from the Pitchfork review of Kala, in reference to M.I.A.’s sampling of Jonathan Richman, New Order, and the Clash: “Whether we’re meant to infer anything larger (perhaps about colonization and cultural re-appropriation) from these little morsels is, of course, entirely up to us.” This is borderline racist. She grew up in the U.K. during the 80s and operates in the underground music scene, why is it strange that she’d nick from two of Britain’s biggest acts of all time and a time-tested American underground anthem? Strip all this patronizing faux-orientalism that fawning writers drape all over her and what remains is, at best, a purveyor of competent and catchy dance music. At worst, Fergie with better PR.
Broken Social Scene had two good songs. Why do we need Feist when Cat Power continues to make music? We don’t. Go back to Canada and sing to trees. People should listen to Nedelle or Thao Nguyen instead.
I went from being a really big Animal Collective fan to being embarrassed when people talk about their more recent releases. I didn’t care much for Person Pitch, but it wasn’t offensive. Avey Tare’s Pullhair Rubeye, on the other hand, is disgusting. Taking the album and flipping it so it plays backwards… I don’t care how it sounds; is there any better way to indicate how meaningless and disposable your creative output is? I hope we’re not talking about this record in ten years like it’s some kind of conceptual masterpiece/hoax. It’s an admission of emptiness.
Explosions in the Sky
Explosions in the Sky released their album so long ago I almost forgot how irritated I was with it back in February. They make gorgeous music. It shimmers and sparkles, and can be a really pleasant experience provided your in the right mood. Unfortunately, every one of their songs sounds exactly the same. People gave Godspeed You! Black Emperor a hard time for their admittedly predictable crescendo/resolution pattern, but EITS is way more repetitive and predictable than they ever were. Everything they do contains the same plinking, reverb-heavy guitar over a driving martial snare beat. It’s fine and all, but after three or four albums of this we need to stop pretending like each new release is another breathtaking addition to their oeuvre. The typical EITS song is like an elevator: It goes up, it comes down, but it always stays on a fixed track within a narrow shaft.
[tags]Best of 2007 Music, Indie Rock, Jazz[/tags]