Those of you who have followed this blog for a while or who know of my former blogging habits probably know of my affection for music, especially rock music. Yeah, I subscribe to Paste, and I follow some of the big-time music bloggers to try to stay current on the indie/hipster music scene. And my boyhood dream was to be a big-time rock critic for Rolling Stone and/or play guitar in a punk rock band — to be a music-journalist-musician in the tradition of Lester Bangs. Instead, I’m a PR and marketing guy who plays guitar badly (and probably badly enough to be in a punk band) and who, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, still gets to play out his rock’n’roll fantasy on this blog.
So, it’s time to unleash my inner rock critic with a bonus Friday Five: my top five albums of 2007.
It wasn’t too tough to pick my top five. I’ve had three of them in mind since midsummer. It would have been tougher to select a top 10, though, and nearly impossible to select my top 20. There just weren’t that many great albums churned out in 2007.
But there were a few very good ones. Every one of these top five were solid offerings and deserved to be heard many times over. I think they all deserve more hearing by more people, which is one reason I’m blogging about them today. They’d make great last-minute Christmas or graduation gifts.
1. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible. This was one of the most hyped albums of early 2007. But Neon Bible lived up to the hype. I honestly didn’t think Arcade Fire, a funky group out of Montreal, would top its debut album Funeral. I’m not sure Neon Bible does, but it’s a different album. At times dark and brooding, at other times soaring and anthemic, evoking equal parts the Smiths, David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen, Neon Bible breaks new ground for the group while building on their eclectic strengths. Musical arrangements include everything from mandolins to a pipe organ, and the sound runs the gauntlet from big rock to ballad to new wave. Plus, the album is named after the first novel by John Kennedy Toole, whose posthumous novel A Confederacy of Dunces is one of my all-time favorites. So Arcade Fire gets bonus points for that.
2. Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? Runner-up for the oddest album title of the year (winner listed below), this early 2007 release by Of Montreal (who incidentally are not of Montreal, but hail from Georgia) is full of quirks. It’s danceable post-punk/post-disco in the style of Stereo Total but full of interesting sounds, rhythms and styles. The lyrics (and song titles) are smart in a smarmy-college-student sort of way, but that just adds to this album’s charm. What a fun and freaky mix of sounds and sorcery this album is — a joyous surprise that has kept me humming for most of the year.
In reviewing other music lists, I was surprised to find that this album did not fare as well among many blog critics. I can’t figure out why it isn’t at the top of everyone’s lists. But no matter. It’s my blog, my list, and my second-favorite album of the year.
3. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Okay, now we get to weirdest album title of the year, hands down. But another great album by this underrated indie band from Austin. I discovered Spoon a couple of years ago via their album Gimme Fiction, and fell in love with their rhythmic, minimalist style. Ga… is a richer, more complex offering, with more rhythm, more brass and more intricate arrangements than past offerings. Even so, Spoon continues to serve up the sound that has gotten them this far. This band is one to keep an eye on. Expect to hear big things from this band in coming years.
4. Bruce Springsteen – Magic. The Boss is back! And sounding like his old self. Once again hooked up with the E Street Band, Springsteen has created a nearly flawless album. Not since Born To Run has Springsteen sounded so — well, so much like Springsteen. I’m not sure what else to say about this album. The writing is strong, the music heroic, the range from folksy to raucous rock’n’roll. There is not a weak track among the 12 tunes on this record. It’s as Sprinsteenian as it gets. “Is there anybody alive out there?” asks the Boss on the title track. Yes, Bruce. We’re here. And we’re still listening. Because what you have to say still matters, and you say it so well.
5. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky. Starting out with a mellow, deceptively simple lo-fi tune, this year’s offering from Jeff Tweedy and his band is a return to Wilco’s rootsy roots. It’s a departure from the sound experiment that was Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which is probably their greatest album. But a return to roots doesn’t mean an abandonment of some playful experimentation. Guitarist Nels Cline takes center stage with luxurious riffs here and there to liven up this mostly mellow record.