Monday, December 31, 2007

10 albums from 2007 (#1)

1. Akron / Family, Love Is Real

The latest entry in the attempt to write the great American psychedelic folk roadtrip album, and one of the most successful I've ever heard. This album is the triumphant album of experimental folk-rock that acts like Califone, Wilco, and the Flaming Lips have been almost-making for a decade now (and that Camper Van Beethoven were almost-making 20 years ago), but it also breaks from that framework periodically, expanding into ecstatic mind-expanding jams -- jams that locate the choice middle ground between the sloppy, shambalic, "No Neck Blues Band" type and the more polished, technically-efficient, "Phish" type, and consequently are more effective than either. Mystical in orientation, singular in vision: at its best, it's like a backwoods Americana version of the Boredom's Vision Creation New Sun. Essential.

Listen: Akron / Family, "Ed Is A Portal"

Sunday, December 30, 2007

10 albums from 2007 (#2)

2. Fennesz / Ryuichi Sakamoto, Cendre

Ryuichi Sakamoto, perhaps best known for his film scores, has been quietly making a name for himself over the last five years or so as one of the traditional musicians best able to collaborate with laptop-types. His airy piano lines create a sense of nearly architectural spaciousness, allowing room for the textural subtlety of his collaborators to be heard: his albums with uber-minimalist Alva Noto provide forceful (and lovely) demonstrations of this. His earlier album with Fennesz, Santa Sala Cecilia, didn't work as successfully: it was an effective enough swarm of MSP noise, but there are a lot of those around, and from collaborators of this caliber, I had expected more. Cendre is precisely the album I wanted: ravishingly delicate playing from Sakamoto, kept rough-edged by the contribution of exotic, fine-grained silts and drones from Fennesz. A grand, beautiful, flawless record.

Listen: Fennesz / Ryuichi Sakamoto: "Cendre"

Friday, December 28, 2007

10 albums from 2007 (#3)

3. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver

On my top ten list from two years ago, I praised the LCD Soundsystem debut as being deeply enjoyable but mostly devoid of anything resembling significant content. Perhaps the exception on that album was "Losing My Edge," a song that got simultaneously funnier and more sobering the more you were able to recognize the aging hipster's lamentations as your own. Sound of Silver takes this intersection between irony and melancholy its central emotional ground, and it inhabits it brilliantly, crafting songs that are wry, moving, melancholy, and still (relatively) dance-floor friendly. If there's ever been a better pop album about adulthood, it's not coming to mind.

Listen: LCD Soundsystem: "All My Friends"

Thursday, December 27, 2007

10 albums from 2007 (#4)

4. White Lichens, self-titled

A great pregnant thundercloud of a record. Each of the five drones collected here brood and surge and bristle, although spend enough time navigating their fields of electrical menace and you'll find nothing but mystic peacefulness at their center. A perfect soundtrack for some kind of as-yet-unrealized Tesla biopic. This disc represents a collaboration between Lichens (aka astral child Rob Lowe) and the heavy guitar duo White/Light: excellent acts in their own right, although neither has ever sounded better (and—full disclosure—I say this as one of the people who released the White/Light debut album a few years back).

Listen: White Lichens, "Belial"

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

10 albums from 2007 (#5)

5. Stars of The Lid, And Their Refinement of The Decline

It's true that each subsequent SoTL album grows softer and more edgeless, to the point where my associate D. Bauler can claim that they're now essentially making music for car commercials. But I'd be remiss in not including it in my list: it is two discs of grand, sad fanfare, in a year where grand, sad fanfare seemed all too appropriate. This is a music that makes failure into a kind of dignity, and that alone makes it a document of enormous value. Happy holidays.

Listen: Stars of The Lid, "That Finger On Your Temple Is The Barrel of My Raygun"

Monday, December 24, 2007

10 albums from 2007 (#6)

6. M.I.A., Kala

It may lack the revelatory force of her debut, and it doesn't exactly shine light on her famously slippery politics, but M.I.A.'s Arular follow-up contains enough head-scratching WTF moments to make it one of the year's most engagingly anarchic releases. A song about bird flu? A guest appearance by Timbaland? A guest appearance by a group of preadolescent aboriginal Australian rappers? Covers of the Pixies and the Modern Lovers? Sure, why not.

Listen: M.I.A., "Hussel"

Sunday, December 23, 2007

10 albums from 2007 (#7)

7. Rameses III, Honey Rose

Using a restrained and gentle palette (including steel guitar, banjo, hushed vocals, and what I'm pretty sure is a flute preset on a synthesizer), these British free-folkers produced a pastoral drone suite that became one of the discs I most frequently returned to over the course of the year. The five "themes" that comprise the album are built around a single, simple melodic motif, but it is elaborated on with such patience and confidence that the end result takes on a gravity that is both sombre and strangely lulling.

Listen: Rameses III, "Theme II

Saturday, December 22, 2007

10 albums from 2007 (#8)

8. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black

No one would claim that Amy Winehouse is a radical innovator, but her decision to dust off the girl-group / soul-diva song forms of the 60s and 70s is genius in its way. Call it homage or call it exploitation: either way, it turns out that a substantial amount of power still resides in those forms, and within the first thirty seconds or so of its opening track (the unavoidable "Rehab") this album has demonstrated that point swiftly, conclusively, and indelibly. The fact that the album maintains something close to that level of quality throughout its entire duration suggests that Winehouse may be a real talent to watch.

Listen: Amy Winehouse, "Rehab"

Friday, December 21, 2007

10 albums from 2007 (#9)

9. The Bird Names, Wooden Lake / Sexual Diner

Flat-out the oddest album I heard all year, which is saying something given the amount of odd music I listen to. Twinkly little bits of clockwork exotica, cartoon-falsetto sing-alongs, ramshackle pop structures, a Shimmy-Disc-esque drug haze pervading the lo-fi production: imagine the Residents importing some rubber-limbed anthropomorphic animals from an old-timey Max Fleischer short, and some self-replicating machine elves from one of Terence McKenna's DMT trips, and you're in the neighborhood. Refreshingly strange.

Listen: The Bird Names, "New Mexico"

Thursday, December 20, 2007

10 albums of 2007 #10

End of the year is approaching, and that means it's time for end-of-year lists... I'll start with my albums of the year, which I'll try to stretch out over ten posts to build suspense.

10. Various Artists, Untitled

The idea of a three-disc, sixty-artist noise compilation might call to mind the old Monty Python sketch "Crunchy Frog"—that's the one that features a sampler of sadistic chocolates, each more violently unpleasant than the last. And it's true that for each track on Untitled that works with subtlety and restraint (like, say, Jason Zeh's "Scant"), there's another one that brings the pain: full-bore mind flayers like Teeth Collection's "1 Untitled Track." But the low barrier to entry plus an insatiable zeal for networking have made the noise scene one of the most fertile and relevant musical subcultures of the last half-decade—a big compliation like this one represents the perfect snapshot of that scene's richness, stylistic diversity, and occasional unevenness. A perfect place for newcomers to jump in.

Listen: "Scant" by Jason Zeh

Listen: "1 Untitled Track" by Teeth Collection