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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The top ten albums of 2007

The music you need to catch up on before New Year's (+AUDIO)

Published: December 7, 2007
Section: (Audio/Video), Arts, Etc., Music Musings


It seems that with every passing year, the musical creative output continues to grow and prosper. Whether or not that’s true remains to be seen, but 2007 has presented an odd array of sounds from newbies and old hats, with plenty of surprises abound.

While there has easily been more than ten great albums produced this year, from the likes of Andrew Bird, Saul Williams, Parts and Labor, the Arcade Fire, Spoon, Pinback, Justice, Grinderman, Animal Collective, Muscles, Dinosaur Jr, The Go! Team, Deerhoof, Gallows, the Cribs, Dartz!, the Arctic Monkeys, Bjork, and countless others, there are ten that really come to mind as slightly greater than the rest of the best.

These are the albums that have been impossible to ignore (at least in my mind), on constant playback throughout daily life, and get stuck in your head for months on end. In any case, here are the top ten albums of 2007.

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Leor’s commentary

10. !!! – Myth Takes

While the eyes of scenesters turned to the baile funk coming out of Brazil, the New York via Sacramento ensemble !!! (pronounced “chk chk chk”) produced one of the funkiest albums of the year.

Although their name and fan base could convince anyone that the band is practically a self-absorbed experimental-art group, it’s anything but, as they churn out a 21st century dance, hip-hop, funk, and indie fusion that is as accessible as James Brown. After displaying their musical chops on the quietest track “Myth Takes,” !!! kicks it into high gear with “All My Heroes Are Weirdos” and “Must Be The Moon,” two tracks that inject adrenaline and funk right into your hips and head.

Much of the rest of Myth Takes keeps the energy and the dance party going, with “Bend Over Beethoven” and “Break in Case of Anything” spilling into one another and “Sweet Life” exploiting the “loud-quiet” dynamic in brand new ways. !!! have managed to make a dance album that’s not so much a myth as an all-out party.

9. Battles – Mirrored

Speaking about experimental-art rock, here is one band that truly knows how to rock. Battles have emerged as a pseudo super-group from the same bohemian art-rock scene that has birthed the likes of TV on the Radio and Parts and Labor.

With their debut Mirrored, Battles let the music do the talking, as their art-prog-rock cum metal-techno combination is nothing short of riveting. If the monstrosity of a seven-minute single “Atlas” doesn’t bowl you over, or the oddly timed jazz and math rock “Race:In,” then the quasi techno funk-hop of “Leyendecker” is sure to beat around your mind for months at a time.

All it takes is four musically-experimental guys with plenty of chops to make the kind of rock that is sure to attract Motorhead fans and Miles Davis fetishists alike all while making a musical collision that simply breathes, “the future is here.”

8. Panda Bear – Person Pitch

It took awhile, but one individual in Animal Collective is finally getting his due. Stepping out of the shadow that is Animal Collective’s ever-growing popularity, Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear), has come into his own, as Person Pitch shows a certain maturity in songwriting style, and a sense of musical warmth and congruity that was absent from his earlier material.

While Panda Bear has become the toast of the blogosphere, rabid music bloggers fail to even touch upon an important fault in Person Pitch: it’s far too short. As the excellent Brian Wilson-ian singles “Bros” and the suburban tribalism of “Comfy in Nautica” were quickly spread across the Internet, it left only four tracks for the avid music fan to discover. Still, a song such as “Good Girl/Carrots” is worth its weight in hype, exponentially displaying Panda Bear’s skillful abilities to craft nu-folk yarns like never before.

7. M.I.A. – Kala

The music world was in dire need of someone like M.I.A. It’s a good thing we’ve managed to find her and not some third-rate knock off she’s no doubt inspired with the release of Kala. After the underground success of Arular and its undeniably catchy single “Galang,” M.I.A. is back with a surge of confidence, un-renowned political idealism, and utterly astonishing beats.

While it’s a little disconcerting that M.I.A. rips off artists such as the Pixies wholesale (note the chorus of “20 Dollar” and “Where Is My Mind” are the exact same lyrically), M.I.A. is still the only artist who manages to combine feminist principles, terrorist chic, and Third World cultural hegemony with grunge beats, hip-hop synths, and sampling that is simply mystifying. Say what you will, but listen to “Hustle” or “Paper Planes” and try not to be utterly infatuated.

6. Maritime – Heresy and the Hotel Choir

The thought of another Maritime album just a year after the pop opus that was last year’s We, the Vehicles happened to be more than a little unnerving, especially with the departure of former Dismemberment Plan bassist Eric Axelson. Fortunately, Maritime is on a creative roll as Heresy and the Hotel Choir builds on the emo-pop bliss of a sound that they’ve created.

Although not as immediately irresistible as Vehicles, their new material is no less arresting: with the permanent addition of two more members, Maritime’s arrangements sound fully fleshed out as frontman Davey von Bohlen has proven himself a master of songwriting. It may sag a little in the middle, but with more than a handful of gems ranging from the pure pop that is “Hours That You Keep” to the mixture of post-emo and the Arcade Fire in “With Holes For Thumb Sized Birds,” Maritime have proven that they are simply too good to pass up.

5. Aereogramme – My Heart Has A Wish That You Would Not Go

Call it trite, but Aereogramme has made one of the most heart-wrenching albums of the decade. It could be due to the fact that the Scottish metal band broke up over the summer, making My Heart Has a Wish That You Would Not Go their final effort.

In any case, it all works into the fact that My Heart is arguably Aereogramme’s most consistent, pop oriented, and fulfilling album to date. Dropping almost every perceived notion of “metal,” sans their powerful guitar work, Aereogramme have developed an album that, as practically every critic has mentioned, is cinematic in both its scope and flow.

In any case, almost every track in My Heart is gold, from the opening disjointed guitar line opening “Conscious Life For Coma Boy,” to the Craig B’s final emotive gasp on “You’re Always Welcome,” Aereogramme’s swan song just might be their best.

4. Klaxons – Myths of the Near Future

Nu-rave has become the new instantly hated sub-genre of British pop, created thanks to three well-read Londoners who make up Klaxons. Whatever the name of the genre may be, their debut Myths of the Near Future has become a pop-goldmine in their native U.K., rightfully earning the trio critical praise, a blossoming fan base, and the prized Mercury award.

It isn’t enough that Klaxons have created three of the year’s best singles, but they’ve managed to create a creative coup by making an entirely great album – something other musician media darlings in the U.K. forget to do.

Aside from the semi-dud of opener “Two Receivers,” the album is chock full of the Klaxons’ unique sound indie dance pop that’s collided with 80s post-hardcore with more angles than a hendecagon. Be it the breath-filled beat of “Golden Skans,” the tribal-esque, bass-driven “Isle of Her,” or the spastic-beat of “Magick,” Klaxons appear to have an arsenal of literary-referential, futuristic pop gems in their arsenal. Whatever the future may hold for music, let’s hope that for Klaxons “It’s Not Over Yet.”

3. Antelope – Reflector

As most of the other artists in the top ten have made remarkable albums expanding their own musical palette, D.C. trio Antelope continue to show that sometimes less is more. With just ten songs that culminate in just over twenty-five minutes, Antelope’s Reflector show the omnipresent power that punk, in all of its meanings, can have. Reflector is the type of album that slowly grips the listener and refuses to let go, as the trio combine post-emo pop, math rock timing, funk and hip-hop aesthetics into a minimalist sound that is ever-more apparent in the band’s D.I.Y. cultural background.

With each member taking turns at singing, Antelope truly are a collective, with Reflector’s only weak point being that it’s all over far too soon. Whether it be the convulsive funk of “Dead Eye,” the oddly harrowing “Wandering Ghost,” or the downright beauty of “Reflector,” Antelope’s music and presence goes to show that grassroots punk with a lot of heart can outdo even the best mainstream production sheen any day of the week.

2. Dizzee Rascal – Maths + English

Listening to the first minute of Maths + English, Dizzee Rascal carries himself as if every moment of his life led up to this one particular moment, or album. Dizzee’s third album is the stuff of dreams, the kind of music that lives up to whatever hype the British Press doles out; in essence, it’s just too good to turn down.

Maths + English is the kind of album that transcends all notions of genre and time period to become part of the historical context in which it was created (modern London) and become an important part of its greater cultural memory (great British pop). Be it the gangsta styling of “Where’s D4 G’S,” the giddy pop of “Wanna Be,” the agit-pop grime of “Temptation,” the instrumental playfulness of “Flex,” or the pure hip-hop pop of “Pussyole (Old Skool),” Maths + English is chalk full of instantly great music.

With all of its guest musicians, instrumentation trickery, deep-seated sociological commentary, and lyricism, Dizzee Rascal manages to shine through as the independent figure to bring a project of this momentum together, and that is a tribute to his incredible talent.

1. Radiohead – In Rainbows

Over a month after it’s initial online release and it’s still a little difficult to fully grasp Radiohead’s In Rainbows without either over or underestimating its importance. Whatever statement Radiohead was trying to make, either musically or otherwise, it’s made quite a statement: in terms of socio-cultural-political-historical importance, Radiohead’s unorthodox method of releasing its material has no doubt made In Rainbows the most important album of the year in that respect.

Yet it is the musical content of the album, purely in its individual aspect, which has made it the best album of the year; throughout the entire album there is not a bad track, except for a single misstep. “15 Step,” propels Radiohead even further in their ideal to challenge themselves conceptually and musically, while “Bodysnatchers” is the kind of great rock Radiohead were making before they became worldwide heralds of alternative music.

“Nude,” “All I Need,” and “Videotape” are all breathtakingly harrowing and beautiful in their own way, while “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” and “Reckoner” offer a testament to the essence of Radiohead’s greatness – succinct alternative pop that, even at that explanation, is still hard to box into a definition. Even the misstep “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” is slated to be their single, showcasing the musical ingeniousness of the band: if one of the “worst” songs on the album is pegged for a single, the other tracks must surely be classic.

In either case, In Rainbows offers a fine finish for 2007 from one fine band – whether or not it’s Radiohead’s final album is to be determined, but it’s certain the album has made a believer out of at least one previously unconcerned music fan, and that says it all.