I look back at 2007 as a year of questions. It was a year where people asked queries like, "is 'John from Cincinnati' supposed to make any sense?" "who will be our next president, Rudy Giuliani or Hillary Clinton?" and "hissing fauna, are you the destroyer?"
In all seriousness, however my '07 was defined by hanging out in the basement of Fell Hall at Illinois State University. It was my senior year, an as a member of the Z106 rock music staff I listened to and rated new releases for air. I was also a DJ for three semesters, so I enjoyed this task both ways. I did an internship in the station that summer, so during my down time I had unprecedented access to free CDs, resulting in an equally unparalled time of new musical knowledge. I graduated that December thinking, "damn, these last 12 months were a lot of fun." Suffice to say, listening to the following albums and songs made for a great trip down Memory Lane.
I wrote out a year-end list in 2007, and even though I still agree with most of my picks I did overlook a few albums that I hadn't heard in full at that point (*cough* In Rainbows *cough* Sound of Silver) and nearly overrated others (in hindsight, Mark Ronson's covers disc Version seems more "fun" than bold or substantial). It was only my second stab at blogging about music, and these types of things do benefit from hindsight. I will concur with myself insofar that '07 was a bountiful year for indie-rock and electronica. Five years is my self-imposed minimum of determining whether a particular song or album holds up, so what remains essential a half-decade on?
1. In Rainbows, Radiohead. By default, this is the band's most romantic album. That is not to say that Thom Yorke and the boys have cheered up; buzzwords like "comatose," "nightmare," and "trapped" are sprinkled all over the disc. On their first self-released effort after bolting Capitol/EMI, Radiohead is more focused upon their introversion than ever, but instead of fearing society and technology the angst aims eerily inward. For all the electronic abstraction, they just want to be loved.
2. Neon Bible, Arcade Fire (1). Trading sepia tones and monochrome for brighter colors --hence the title-- we find the Montreal septet beyond mourning their youth and having a stiff drink after a long day's work. Immediately dismissed by some as Funeral Part 2, the Fire's sophomore effort holds up as a distinctively wrecked and defiant effort of its own valor.
3. Sky Blue Sky, Wilco (2). As much as I adored Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, it wasn't until Sky that I truly "got" Wilco. Returning to their alt-country roots while still keeping one foot in experimental pop, their sixth album evokes Neil Young circa Harvest, the end result sometimes sounding like '70s soft rock. Newcomers Pat Sansone and Nels Cline make the disc, their organ and guitar work respectively meshing well with Jeff Tweedy's yearning harmonies.
4. Sound of Silver, LCD Soundsystem
5. Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, Of Montreal
6. Wincing the Night Away, The Shins (3)
7. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon (5)
8. Icky Thump, The White Stripes
9. Boxer, The National (11)
10. Back to Black, Amy Winehouse (10). Yes, go ahead and judge. Winehouse spent the last four-plus years of her life in the tabloids, a shambolic train wreck of a woman doomed to an early grave by her impulses and narcissism. What she left behind, however was a very promising singing career, demonstrated to full effect on Black. It was her second full-length, her commercial breakthrough, and ultimately her last completed statement as an artist. "Rehab" and "You Know I'm No Good" are great songs, with or without the baggage of historical irony.
11. Because of the Night, Kings of Leon
12. Strawberry Jam, Animal Collective
13. The Reminder, Feist (4)
14. Graduation, Kanye West (8)
15. Favourite Worst Nightmare, Arctic Monkeys. What sophomore jinx? It's not my favorite Monkeys album --see my 2006 list-- but it contains two of their best songs ("Brianstorm" and "Fluorescent Adolescent"). If the big complaint about their debut was that they owed too much to the artists that influenced them, than Nightmare is the sound of a young band finding its voice.
16. Kala, M.I.A.
17. Challengers, The New Pornographers
18. The Cool, Lupe Fiasco
19. Attack Decay Sustain Release, Simian Mobile Disco
20. Widow City, The Fiery Furnaces (6). In some ways, the Friedberger siblings are like indie-rock's answer to Dim Sum: it's delicious if you love weird things, but only occasionally is it accessible to newbies. Their 2003 debut Gallowsbird's Bark is a decent starting point, but Widow City is an expert-level feast. The disc alternates from baroque pop to free jazz to proto-Metal, sometimes in the same song. If you get it, you'll love it.
"Chelsea Dagger," The Fratellis
"Ruby," Kaiser Chiefs
"Silver Lining," Rilo Kiley
"Back to the 101," Albert Hammond Jr.
"Don't Make Me Wait," Locksley
"3's and 7's," Queens of the Stone Age
"Thrash Unreal," Against Me!
"Lake Michigan," Rogue Wave
"Hard Sun," Eddie Vedder
"Falling Slowly," Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová
When I said 4 1/2 years ago that mash-up were in vogue and YouTube hasn't caught on to music videos yet... I guess I wasn't looking hard enough. I missed out on some awesome clips. Once again, the benefit of hindsight.
1. "1234," Feist. This well-choreographed, multi-hued clip actually did air on TV... in a 30-second iPod commercial. That was enough to turn "1234" into a left-field hit.
2. "What's a Girl To Do," Bat For Lashes. If you don't mind the "Donnie Darko" allusions, this video is a perfect match-up of visual and audio atmosphere.
3. "Can't Tell Me Nothin'" (Version 2), Kanye West. A pre-"Hangover" Zach Galifianakis and troubadour Will Oldman chill out at Zach's North Carolina farm in this dance floor hit expressing Yeezy's ambivalance to the hip-hop lifestyle.
4. "Atlas," Battles. Their 2007 release was titled Mirrored. Therefore...
5. "The Underdog," Spoon. Inspired by "Russian Ark," this daring single-shot video depicts a typical, "humdrum" recording session with Britt Daniels and company.
6. "100 Days, 100 Nights," Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings.
7. "Conquest," The White Stripes.
8. "Young Folks," Peter, Bjorn, & John.
9. "Peacebone," Animal Collective.
10. "Electric Feel," MGMT.
Honorable Mentions "Smile," Lily Allen; "Long Road to Ruin," Foo Fighters; "Phantom Limb," The Shins.