Friday, December 28, 2007
Best Albums of 2007
I'm surprised that, in sorting my iTunes by year and cramming almost 7 or 8 albums into a week long period, how many good albums actually came out this year. It doesn't help most of the albums didn't sell, have promotion, or were popular, so the perception for me was that this year was awful, but there's some great stuff that went in under the radar, especially the 4th quarter. Also, I have to make notice that I was disgusted at how predictable, banal, and boring all the popular music websites lists were. Rolling Stone tried throwing a curve-ball with Kala, and Pitchfork continues to employ a bunch of tone-deaf retards with BA's in literature and shitty lo-fi garage bands that strive to mix the "atmosphere of Three 6 Mafia with Sleater-Kinney's riotgrrl polemics!!!!!". Ugh. Only two of the writer's lists were decent on that ziggurat of failure. An obelisk of twee, if you will.
Anyway, here's my best of list. Apologies for the lack of uniformity to the jpegs.
37.Bjork, Volta- I guess? I stopped checking in after Verspertine, really. Medulla had it's moments, though
36. The Hives, The Black and White Album- If I give it 4 more listens in '08, it might move up to the 20's, but though a solid record, it just wasn't that great or catchy. I'm just happy to've seen 'em live, really.
35. Les Savy Fav, Let's Stay Friends- Eh. I hate the sound of all of these bands, but there were three songs I liked. Sort of.
34. Behold...The Arctopus, Skullgrid- On principle alone, they deserve mention, dammit. Ridiculous tech metal? YES. Great record, but it's at 32 just because, like Dysrhythmia and Electro Quarterstaff, I don't see myself listening to this album very often, unless I'm studying or in a prog mood.
33. Blu & Exile, Below the Heavens- A more likable West Coast Lupe Fiasco that, with another record and the right beats, could easily become a solid B-level MC, catalog-wise.
32. Communication Corporation, I.P.O.- No one’s heard of them outside of my school, and they’re the only good thing to have come from there, despite Dan Deacon and Regina Spektor’s popularity. Really cool and odd mix, sort of like Parliament’s odder side with Oingo Boingo and and white trash leanings. I think you’d have to get the record from me direct to check it out, haha.
31. Insect Warfare, World Extermination- A really consistent grind album, that I checked out from one of the metal album rip blogs I frequent solely based on the band name and album cover. Shallow, but it worked out and it’s solid, with a few tracks actually breaking the mold of most grind and merely being okay and not great, specifically “Self Termination”. The drumming is ridiculous and I love it, but there are two songs that dip oddly into mathcore and deathcore out of nowhere. Still, fun album. Way to go, Texas. If only they’d do the more mid-range grind throat vocals I love so much instead of this half-guttural crap.
30. Talib Kweli & Madlib, Liberation- I won’t shut up about this EP. Mostly because the phrase “good Talib Kweli album” is a complete fucking misnomer, along the lines of “Islam is a religion of Peace”. But, offered for free in early Jan/late Dec 2006, this record is really really good and Talib is actually interesting and consistent. For a change. Too bad it’ll never happen again since that whole Kweli/Common/Mos Def/OkayPlayer crew fails on every level. Oh, and fuck DefJux.
29. Busdriver, Roadkillovercoat- A couple of okay songs, but so far his first record to disappoint me. The dip into TV on the Radio musical territory is predictable, but still great. I sorely regret not going to see him when he was touring with Deerhoof (!!!). Now why is he on Epitaph?
28. Obituary, Xecutioner’s Return- The latter half of the album is unremarkable and not really great or bad, but the first 6 or so tracks are great and a refreshing burst of both good Obituary and old school death metal, albeit sludgy in a rock way (And in standard tuning with the tone knob with 0, no less). Ralph Santolla needs to chill out on the blues-shred.
27. Dizzee Rascal, Maths + English- Still not that deep, but has some genuine bangers, especially the UGK track
26. T-Pain, Epiphany- It had filler, but considering how awful Rapper Ternt Sanga is, it’s a miracle I can say it has some addictive, amazing songs at all. His next album will probably be ridiculously good. I honestly believe that.
25. Necro, Death Rap- I've been interested in at least checking the quality of Non-Phixion/Ill Bill/Necro for a while, ever since the ads for Prefix For Death aired ad nauseum during Headbanger's Ball in 2004. Surprise, surprise, Death Rap is good. No, really. I always thought it fascinating that that whole crew not only love both hardcore NY rap and death and trash metal, but do both in their free time. Usually people in rap have shit taste in rock and metal, and vice versa, but the Gym Class Heroes-esque rap Necro does incorporating the names of a horde of metal bands in a song attests that the guy knows his shit. Plus, on this album, he somehow managed to have great beats, if you ignore the awful hardcore/metalcore-rap tracks. But the mish-mash of influences and the fact that the guy had been doing this for 20 years enables him to have the understanding of how to actually meld the atmospherics and George Romero-isms of the best old school metal with good rapping and really fun, creepy beats. Creepy in that awesome, "Dawn of the Dead" way, not creepy like Thom Yorke's paranoid bleating over a minimalist soundscape and etc. I never though I'd say this, but I recommend checking the record out, it's consistent enough, and he's actually a very competent rapper, save a few tracks. Redundant lyrics are the main drawback (name dropping everyone from Euronymous to Malcolm McLaren and doing 14 tracks about fucking you up gets old), but that's compensated by the album's positives and just as an example of something even rarer than a Mewtwo: A good horrorcore record.. Plus, Jedi Mind Tricks suck now, so this is a good alternative for all your angry white NY rap needs.
24. Radiohead, In Rainbows- Nothing shocking here. Just a haunting album with still prevalent jazz influences and a weird woodsy otherworldliness and paranoia. It’s Radiohead-on-autopilot, and it’s still a solid album with a few really interesting moments, but in now way is there much to be surprised or ballyhoo about on the record.
23. Wu-Tang Clan, 8 Diagrams- Like 11 good songs, see the best songs of 2007 part II blurb. Also, why is Shavo Odajian playing bass? Damn, homie.
22. Styles P, The Ghost Sessions- Surprisingly likable pre-album album. Some of the best NY beats I’ve heard all year. Beats 8 Diagrams because I genuinely liked this record better, despite how much more interesting 8 Diagrams is.
21. Saul Williams, Niggy Tardust- Better than Amethyst Rockstar and the last two NIN albums, not as good as Saul Williams. But then again, not much is. Surprisingly downbeat and melancholic and tends to have very obvious Reznor-isms musically, that work well enough.
20. Pig Destroyer, Phantom Limb- It takes me forever to digest PxDx albums, and this wasn’t an exception. It’s alright, which is still miles above most drum/guitar albums released this year. Still fast and heavy and a haphazard mix of grind, thrash, hard rock and death metal, and now apparently with a guitar tuned to G! If you ever wondered what a distorted didgeridoo sounds like over blastbeats, listen to Phantom Limb.
19. The Arcade Fire, Neon Bible- What annoying pieces of shit. But still, good album. If only it had less filler, I might consider buying rather than stealing this thing from Soulseek. LOLZ.
18. Sean Price, Jesus Price Supastar- “...it was all cool at first, you know, rappiiiiiiing about nooooootiiiiiiiiiiiing...” 30year-old’s>20 year olds. I deleted half the record for not being as great or immediate as the 7 tracks I loved, but really, this album is pretty fucking consistent, despite my elitism. And the God needs to pay his light bill, cop the record.
17. Jay-Z, American Gangster- I realized recently that there isn’t a Jay album that I like the whole way through. Every record had shitty tracks or filler or lame verses. Really puts things into perspective. In regards to catalog, the best Jay albums are, in order, Reasonable Doubt, Vol 1, Hard Knock Life, Blueprint, and this, with this record having more good songs than Blueprint or Hard Knock Life, but suffering from waaaaaaaay too clean, light, and glassy production and Jay’s still subpar rapping and lack of editorial vision. He’s about a B-/C+ still. Next year? I guess. Still hoping for a classic eventually.
16. Calle 13, Residente O Visitante- Warmer, less reggaeton, weirder, and denser than the first record, but that also meant the rewards required a lot more listens. I still enjoy the first album more, but it suffered from some filler while this manages to continue the wacky, worldly and artistic take on Hispanic rap that they’re blowing up from.
15. Deathspell Omega, Fas...- Basically a spiraling maelstrom of black metal, just incredibly serpentine and busy. From the onset of the first notes, my mind halves and eats itself. I can’t explain it, but there’s such a Neurosis-y/Converge-y comfort zone for me with Deathspell. Probably all the esotericism and angular guitars and monk-like persistence. I still don’t know how I feel about this album, and it’ll probably be months before I really absorb it, but for now, as polarizing and tech-metal (Finger tapping! Trills!) as it is, it still delivers. At least until I get around to hearing other good recent black metal. Pretension wins.
14. Ghostface Killah, Big Doe Rehab- I don’t know if I would buy this album. If you love good street-level NY rap, this album is flawless, but for the Ironman/Supreme Clientele/Pretty Toney/Fishcale heads, this is OK. Still, great stuff on here, if a bit predictable.
13. Justice, lowercase t- I wanted to hate this album so badly. Sooooo very badly. I resisted so much. But the blown out, shitty high mid-EQ overdone cage-rattling synths and occassionaly complete Daft Punk pastiche works in an era where even well-reviewed electronica isn’t really that great. I already despise hipster electro, but this shit has enough know-how, like Chromeo, to push a batch of good songs. Not really more than two or three crap songs on the album, yet maybe due to sequencing or something else, I cannot listen to this record in its entirety. And oddly enough, for electro/dance, there’s only once actual dance-able song, the best track on the album and probably my favorite song of the last couple of the months besides “Child of the Ghetto”, “Stress”. Riggodamndiculous. If I only knew how to break. I swear to God, I will play this song on repeat on 11 until the rapture starts in Brooklyn.
12. Chromeo, Fancy Footwork- Oh fucking shit this is actually good. I like Chromeo, and were one of a ton of bands I fell in love with based on a single or singles and then was disappointed by the album (like in 2003 when I somehow thought I’d enjoy Eighteen Visions and Atreyu…ugh). A review described “She’s In Control” as being completely true to electro and 80’s R&B, but to a fault where there weren’t really songs on the album. Now, this album is nothing but great hooky songs that build on the previous demonstration that Chromeo aren’t ironic douchebags, they know exactly what they’re doing and this isn’t simulacrum or a facsimile of the sound like most retro bullshit in this decade. Shit, the choruses of “Fancy Footwork” and “Bonafied Lovin’” even have the chord changes down perfectly. Plus, those ridiculous pentatonic synth riffs! Fuck me. I initially downloaded this when it came out months ago, and then deleted it since I was, am still, inundated with 10 gigs of un-listened-to or unabsorbed albums and didn’t concentrate on it. I regret that now, because I love this album. (And as a by-product of that delay, I missed out on the two sold out Chromeo shows in NYC next month.) This is just a really great, solid fun record, although there are moments where Dave’s affable player singing doesn’t hit the spot on a track or two, but I was dancing to the album in Queens yesterday while it was on my iPod, so they succeeded.
Note to Justice: You are not dance music if I can't dance to you. Chromeo get it, you should, too.
11. Grinderman, Grinderman- Rock music…in 2007? Am I hearing right? Actual, blues based, ballsy, funny, edgy, good, rock music in 2007? Shiiiit. And to think I’ve never listened to Nick Cave before this record. And never will, actually. Listened to this while playing "Okami", as well as Devin the Dude, I can’t recommend that combo enough. Sadly, this sounds exactly like what The Stooges’ The Weirdness could’ve been. This makes me kind of angry at Iggy Pop. This is literally a Stooges record, except laced with Cave’s weird serpentine proselytizing and very Americana/Beat Poet/The USA is fucked-up-and-I-revel-in-it lyrics. It’s refreshing to hear everything great about rock done one great consistent album, from the almost live-quality rawness and idiosyncrasies peppered throughout the music on the guitar to the fact that he fucking BUZZES for the chorus of “Honey Bee (Let’s Fly To Mars). One of few records this year I’d probably buy.
10. Patton Oswalt, Werewolves and Lollipops- Curveball motherfucker! Goddamn about time. I don’t believe comedy albums should be excluded from year-end lists, especially motherfucking Patton Oswalt. Not nearly as good as Feeling Kinda Patton, but NO OTHER COMEDY ALBUM IS. Bold words, even with all this Bill Hicks, Carlin, Demetri Martin, Todd Barry, Maria Bamford, Eddie Izzard, David Cross, Dave Attell, and Daniel Tosh on my iTunes. Still, really funny and smart, clearly showing that he was indeed a lit major in the construction of his material. A solid, satisfying follow-up.
9. Electric Wizard, Witchcult Today- It’s hard to fuck up doom metal. One, it’s extremely easy and fun to play. Two, it just requires tom-heavy drums, a guitar tuned down to c-standard and played through a bass-heavy amp, and a bassist, maybe distorted. Three, you’re just playing pentatonics, heavy blues, and flat fifths. Four, you never have to ever play faster than maybe 128bpm, unless you’re High On Fire. And five, even if you suck, you’re better than shit bands in other genres, since doom metal is so intrinsically hypnotizing and listener friendly. An external crushing bombast vulture. Electric Wizard, which I got inspired to get into because of Christian and my desire to listen to more doom and stoner stuff, are mockingly consistent and great. Heavy as shit, and completely engrossing.
8. Queens of the Stone Age, Era Vulgaris- It needs to be said that QOTSA are underrated and only made one shit album out of 5 records. Despite some musical and lyrical miscues, with the former being kind of shocking considering that problem absent from the first two QOTSA records entirely, the record is weird, even more acidic and robotic than before, and managing to evoke good 70’s rock without actually sounding like it. And, it’s the first record with absolutely no stoner rock influence at all, which new. Really, it’s like Rated R II, with the whole albums cues taken from “Leg of Lamb”. A cruel reminder that all other modern rock sucks.
7. Lupe Fiasco, The Cool- I really, really thought he’d hit the sophomore slump like Tower 2 (to paraphrase Phonte, “I make darkly funny and endearing 9/11 references in online posts about Lupe Fiasco”, from Little Brother), but nah, he makes an album more diverse and just as consistent as the first. Only four tracks I didn’t like, and two of them are growing on me, or rather, I’m learning to ignore what I hate about them. I can’t quite forgive the production in terms of EQ, which I guess to combat the lack of mids and muddiness on Food and Liquor, he and Soundtrakk overcompensated and made the album anemic. Low end? No, alright. Other than that, he annoyingly implies a technique on some tracks that I will ONLY accept from the guy who popularized it, Lil’ Wayne, the weird over-enunciating for emphasis or dynamics. Listen, this is almost as bad as whisper-rapping when anyone except Wayne does it, and Lupe should know better. I have to fight through “Paris, Tokyo” and “The Coolest” to not throw another dart at my giant Fiascogate cardboard cutout. Can’t fault the guy otherwise, he managed to make me keep the shitty Snoop track because he makes a shiva reference, and I’m not about getting hard for nerdy references, but I kept the abomination anyway. That’s a first. I have to make a note of how weirdly moody and melancholic all of Lupe’s stuff is. I think his insistence in thinking the Foo Fighters record was one of the years best albums (what? Lol) and the dour nature of even his pluckiest tracks are quite in line with alternative rock. So, as opposed to the lazy use of the term, I think this is genuinely “alternative rap”. I just hope he makes “Little Weapon” the third single, since it feels like that type of track. And “Hip Hop Saved My Life” is incredible.
6.Animal Collective, Strawberry Jam- How did I forget this record? I love the band as an idea and what they do, the stacked harmonies, droning riffs and entrancing rhythms. The problem was, only three songs on Feels were any good. They were amazingly weird and beautiful at the same time, like a folk-y 00's Beach Boys, and the consistency issues has been taken care of Strawberry Jam, which is pretty much one of the last records I listened to this year though one of the first albums I downloaded then promptly deleted due to disinterest and inundation. But though initially annoyed by the big change in the bands sound and approach, such as, like Behemoth, refining all of the overdubs and harmonies from a major feature and songwriting tool to just part of the atmosphere, and going from weird "I drank the punch, yah" psychedelic folk to this weirdly chunky, weirdly full and lush indie rock set-up, where nearly every track is a waltz time, 5 minute journey built upon a ridiculous amount of tremolo effect. After a while, it became very moving and engrossing in a way that I haven't heard in much indie rock this year, which is usually pretty disposable and, frankly, bad and haven't heard since Return To Cookie Mountain which I feel is one of the 10 best albums of the decade so far. Anyway, the album art is awesome, and it turns out the change in sound was a good thing. The record actually does sound wet and juicy and thick, like jam. Or maybe my synesthesia is acting up.
5. Battles, Mirrored- This record is ridiculous. I checked it out because of Joey and Christian putting it in their best of lists, so I figured, what the fuck, in the last minute cramming I’ve done the last week or so. And after two listens or so, it all unfurled as this crazy, crazy clusterfuck of a record. One, the guitar and drum tones are beautiful and this is one occasion where being flawlessly clean was a boon rather than hindering an album. There were alternations on the guitar sound, but it was never distorted, just super clean, slightly dirty, or glassy. And most guitarists can attest, if you’re going to be attempting the kind of inspired wankery on this album or a lot of playing in general, you have to be really good to not cower behind a minefield of over-compressed, mid-scooped distortion. Listening to the record, it struck me how powerful and dramatic it is when the spare vocal parts on certain songs do come in, and how all of the melodic figures and riffs on the album managed to be both complimentary in a compositional way and memorable. It reminded me of what I wanted Strawberry Jam to be, a logical electric continuation of previous Animal Collective albums. Really, it reminded me of the sound and dynamics of Dysrhythmia plus Animal Collective and a bit of Behold…The Arctopus’ spazziness and riffage, except exceptionally controlled and just managing to exist as tangible songs. Patton Oswalt once said his favorite records are the ones where you could tell they were having fun, and, like Grinderman, this record is just engrossing and fun. As opposed to Grinderman, it’s oddly bright and sunny, and glassy without being sterile. It’s a feel good prog record!
4. Devin the Dude, Waiting to Inhale- This shit became part of me after about 3 or so listens. It didn’t really click, or rather, I didn’t get into the 5 or 6 beats that I didn’t initially like, until I let it soak in while playing Okami. This record, minus the awful Lil’ Wayne, Bun B track, is fucking amazing and a bittersweet reminder of the lyrical focus and sharpness that has been missing from rap since Eminem started sucking in 2002. That is the comparison to make, as that brand of fat-less, hilarious, engrossing lyricism is very much like the first two and a half Em records, as well as the best rap songs ever made. You can pop shit on a mixtape all you want (Lil Wayne and all of NY), but if you can’t write a great, memorable song lyrically and structural, and maybe even through layers and humor and adlibs on that shit, lest even be decent or have more than one bearable verse, than you ain’t shit. From elegant to elephant.
3. M.I.A., Kala- Only one bad song. And it’s darker, has more depth, and has more replay value than Arular, which I miss my copy of but apparently not enough to buy a new one. I’m serious in stating that if you don’t like M.I.A.’s music, not talking about her personality or politics or image, but her actual beats and melodies and hooks, that you have shit taste and your head is up your ass. One of four records on this list I actually purchased this year. Or at least, I plan on buying Graduation eventually. Still, something I can quite put my finger on prevents it from being higher on the list, something akin to the toasting and lyrical sketches still not being filled in enough, I think. I love how awkwardly off-key the third verse in “Jimmy” is. Also, she lives in my neighborhood, and I’d love for her to be my sugar mama. I got bills and shared interests.
2. Kanye West, Graduation- Hohohoho. This is a clusterfuck of an album. Lyrically, it’s mostly competent mnemonic place holding, but shit, that’s all I ask for in music. Anything beyond is just bonus points. And, clearly, despite some quotables on most tracks, Kanye said all the good shit on College Dropout, which absolves him from trying to outdo himself in that arena. But all the songs are on point. Even the bad ones are somehow still good in context of the album. Now, if he could’ve only not ruined that beat by enlisting Chris Martin to sing on it. What a dumb move for someone who claims to be so forward-thinking. Over time, this might shift down to 3 or 4, but for now, it’s definitely number two, for me.
1.UGK, Underground KIngz- Even with the bloated unnecessary-ness of a double album, still a great record, and sadly, a swansong. Even though it could’ve been sequenced a lot better, it’s a fantastic enough album for me to put myself through the two hours it demands. I kept 23 of the album’s tracks, but even if you shaved it down to 16 or 17, it’s the best album of the year.
Bonus Track!!! I haven't heard the new Wolves in the Throne room yet, or more than about 10 seconds of the first track, but I have to add this to the best of, though I can't really rate or put it in the list because I haven't listened to it yet. But regardless, it's probably good.
...y entonces!!! I also, though not anticipating the future shitty year that'll continue my shitty winter and fall, can't wait for the new Mos Def and 2 Trill and new Ludacris and Mastodon and Nas and etc. It should be an interesting 2008. Interesting about the year-end wrap-up is that I got to check out a lot in this last two months that I had missed or didn't dig the first time around, since I spent the majority of my time with things released before 2007. But seeing as my list is 37 albums long and that the top 15 is composed of albums I either own or will end up purchasing, this year was a lot better than I thought back in the summer.
...y mas entonces tambien!!! And an end of the year shoutout to my favorite blogs. Shoutout to Brandon for always being on point and interesting and making me want to make this blog in the first place, as well as being an analytical lit nerd about everything. Shoutout to Floodwatch for being on-point on music theory to a degree I hope to attain soon, or at least when it comes to drum theory. Oh, and being really informed on classical and electronica. Shoutout to DocZeus for being hilarious and bringing the hate. Last shoutout to Joey for the same biased reason I enjoy Brandon's blog, having similar tastes and opinions, plus your shit is mad organized and I'm easily impressed by effort.
I look forward to stealing from all of you.