An explication (Feel free to invalidate my list). I spent almost no time with the sort of mainstream rock that has been on other list (Spoon, The National, Band of Horses, etc.) and absolutely zero time on Braffian rock like the Shins. I’m sure more time on the former would put one or two of those on my list, not sure about the latter. Anytime, work kicked my ass this year, and this list was only created with some late December cramming. Of the brilliance and placement of 1-5, however, I am sure. Enjoy. And stay brilliant out there. Out.
10. Justice – Cross
So, I just grab the stem here? It won’t burn my hand, will it? OKAY, thanks Mssrs. de Homem-Christo and Bangalter. Sure I loved D.A.N.C.E. as much as they next guy, but the real gems were found in the instrumental selections on Cross, from full-throttle noise beauties like “Let There Be Light” and “Stress”, to the more accessible “Phantom Pt. 1″ and “Genesis.”
9. Blonde Redhead – 23
If Blonde Redhead made a movie soundtrack, the resulting film would have a budget of $14 trillion. Everything about its anthemic, graceful sound implies fast cars racing on smooth pavement, flowing gowns and diamond-studded hands holding expensive champagne, as suitors look on in impressive suits. That is to say, Blonde Redhead’s music is gorgeous and sprawling. Potential lost in the gloss? 23 (and indeed all Redhead albums) is incredibly calculated math rock, fundamentally sound. A winner, all around.
8. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
Bring on the earnestness. Let’s tackle the weighty themes. Let’s pretend that “(Antichrist Television Blues)” is about Jessica Simpson’s dad. It is true this album is Brucian, in that it tackles the dishy issues found in dusty towns, but, like all good albums, it extrapolates that into larger issues graspable by the larger populace. Bruce seemed to be consumed with escaping or remaking his towns, Arcade Fire seems focused on escaping the nadirs of life itself.
7. Times New Viking – Present The Paisley Reich
Hilarious that teens from Columbus, OH (Go Buckeyes!) deliver a line about NYC (not that the line was intended to convey that) greater than any past musician or poet. “I don’t want to die in the city alone.” So many disparate great tracks. From the knowing “Devo and Wine” to the sheer frenetic madness of “Let Your Hair Grow Long” to the patient, Pavement homage “Love Your Daughters.” Noise pop rock, done perfect, for 28 minutes.
6. Fiery Furnances – Widow City
I’m still waiting for a 60s-inspired solo album from Eleanor Friedberger, but, while I do, I will enjoy some “Restorative Beer” and Matthew Friedberger will enjoy the title of the most frustrating genius. Friedberger, as chiding parent, gives you what (he thinks) you need, rather than what you want. The song, unsurprisingly, are rich, fuzzed-out tapestries of folk, electronica, Middle Age troubadour, and who knows what else. A rare gem under the scuff.
5. Deerhunter – Cryptograms/Florescent Grey EP
Fear me not if I walk past you singing “Patiently, patiently, patiently, patiently.” I’m just remembering how good Deerhunter’s output was this year. You can dissect Deerhunter if you’d like, but I find it to be a rare beast whose parts contain no sum of its whole. It rocks; it weeps. I can imagine (incorrectly) that this album was filmed on a hill – where the storms lay ahead and the summery wake behind. Everything changes.
4. Electrelane – No Shouts, No Calls
I’m pretty sure there is not a tighter album in this year’s list. Not quite electronica, not quite rock, but pure gold. As a band as focused on textures and landscape as meaning and emotion, it’s not the sort of brilliantly damaged album that seems to attract the most attention these days. But the songs traverse a tightly orchestrated path, rewarding the attentive listener with unheralded surprises. Witness “Tram 21,” an amalgam of surf rock, Stereolab-style humming, feedback, and Clean-frenetic synth.
3. LCD Soundsystem – Sounds of Silver
Many keyboards have composed peons to James Murphy and his band, and this entry shall not be any different. Sounds of Silver feels more cohesive than the S/T album – and best of all, it doesn’t feature songs from four years ago. The rave-ups “North American Scum” and “Us v. Them”, long the band’s staple, actually come nowhere close to the pathos of New Order-ish “Someone Great” and the methodical “All My Friends.” Our favorite band is getting wistful, and it doesn’t entirely make us wistful for the “Beat Connection” days we hold so dear.
2. M.I.A. – Kala
Good luck to the future author that tries to explain this album in 33 1/3. Kala is a rich stew of baile beats, dance hall, Bollywood, disco, and probably more than a few invented genres. It also touches down on a number of American hip-hop nabes. From the kick-drum adrenaline rush of “Bamboo Banga” to the languid “Paper Planes” to the manic dance hall “Boyz”, M.I.A. comes, correct, with the power-power.
1. Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
In the case of two albums being pretty equal, which, of course, is rarely the case, I would normally boost the ranking of the more adventurous album. That’s why it took me near forever to decide on M.I.A. topping my list. Kala is a pan-cultural concerto. Of Montreal is the coolest Martian cruise house band ever created. Of Montreal wins for being (nearly) ineffably better. I’ll try to explain. It’s wittier; it’s sense of showmanship is (surprisingly) a smidge better; and its best songs touch upon six different elements to Kala‘s five.
After Dark compilation
Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam
Arthur & Yu – In Camera
Bat for Lashes – Fur and Gold
Deerhoof – Friend Opportunity
Glass Candy – B/E/A/T/B/O/X
Handsome Furs – Plague Park
Harvey, P.J. – The Piano
Panda Bear – Person Pitch
Radiohead – In Rainbows
Best specialty album that couldn’t be included:
Daft Punk – Alive 2007
Artists whose albums predictably disappointed this year.
Low – Drums and Guns
Kanye West – Graduation
Albums whose judgment is hereby pushed to 2008
The Eight Diagrams - Wu-Tang Clan; the Big Doe Rehab – Ghostface Killah