Tuesday, January 08, 2008

You know what's exciting? If you're a nerd, you're probably saying "A year-end best-of list!" Or possibly "Starbuck and Buffy in a frackin' tag-team nude mud-wrestling grudge-match with those chicks from Pushing Daisies!" But don't say that out loud. Anyone within earshot is honor-bound to wedgie you and steal your Dungeon Master's Guide.

Anyway, I can't offer you pictures of the grudge-match (although I hear they'll be featured in next month's issue of The Nation), but I do have a year-end best-of list at the ready. It's about music! Nerdy music! For nerds!

My iTunes tells me that I have more than 50 albums that came out in 2007. This is a lot for me, especially given that my lofty position as co-editor of The High Hat means that I am on no PR radar screens and don't get free albums. So, eMusic is responsible for most of my 2007 albums, although I bought a few from iTunes and Waterloo Records here in Austin. I liked a lot of them, but I didn't love many. There were only a few A+ albums, but a lot of A/A- albums, and sorting through those has been a bit confusing.

So, here's 1 - 25. I like a few other albums that didn't make the list, like Baroness's Red Album or Linda Thompson's Versatile Heart, but I didn't love them enough to hit the A range. Both were B+ albums, easy, though.

Top Ten

1. Akron/Family – Love Is Simple
I've liked both previous Akron/Family albums, but both have had a few too many 90 degree turns around their blend of mannered alt-folk and woolly free jazz. This one integrates their sides with a transcendence that drives their point home. I love it. This is only one of the world-music exploiting bizarro-freaky indie-folk music I seem to have fallen in love with. Other contenders in this genre are Yeasayer, Panda Bear, Animal Collective, and Skeletons And Kings Of All Cities. All four of those albums are pretty great, and I had a hard time deciding where to put them on the list. I think I scored them by how fatigued I felt after repeated listens. All really spoke to me, and I thought each would make the top ten at different points in the year, but I've grown a little more frustrated with each for different reasons. The Animal Collective in particular is disappointing because I've loved their previous two albums so much. But their decision to clarify the vocal lines, increase the role of the loops, and de-emphasize their relationship with real acoustic instruments felt like they'd lost the organic part of their music.

2. Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala
This guy's easy to compare to a handful of great - if iconoclastic - singer/songwriters, but he's really his own thing: a clever pop jokester with a devastasting emotional left hook. I've gone gaga over Jonathan Richman and Stephin Merritt at various points in the past, and this guy's the equal of each in some ways.

3. Deerhunter - Cryptograms/Flourescent Grey EP
These albums are two different things, but they manage to be cohesive and complementary even when pursuing vastly different aims. The albums bathes everything in a psychedelic wash, but the pop heart of the songs beats through the haze. The EP is just the opposite, full of hooks that can barely disguise their weirdness.

4. Battles - Mirrored
Squelchy proggish geek-rock. This would be the nerdiest (and yet most groovin') music on the list if not for Dan Deacon.

5. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
Bird's songwriting continues to grow more resonant and beautiful and weird. He's the aural equivalent of Michel Gondry.

6. Menomena – Friend and Foe
There's a handful of dull songs on here, but the great ones appear frequently and are fun little puzzles that you could spend the better part of a day working out.

7. The National – Boxer
When people talk about U2 or Bruce Springsteen, they talk about inspiring anthemic music that digs in under the skin and refuses to let go. U2 and Springsteen sound nothing like that to me, but this does.

8. British Sea Power - Krankenhaus? EP/Grizzly Bear - "Friend" EP
Two mini-albums of greatness. BSP has always struck me as a great - if overly mannered - band. Their EP of this year was just great. Grizzly Bear reworked a few tracks and shed some of their inhibitions in the process, and this EP sounds drunk in the best way. The cover tracks are pretty lame, though.

9. My Teenage Stride – Ears Like Golden Bats
May putting this album in my top ten be the most conservative thing I do all year. MTS channel The Clean, The Chills, and The Bats like champions. This album sounds like the music I loved when I was 17, and again when I was 25, and again when I was 33, and again now.

10. Nina Nastasia & Jim White – You Follow Me
Two instruments: guitar and drums. One voice. But it sounds like an orchestra of emotion. I expected something more quiet and resigned than this, but this is much better than I could have possibly expected.

The Rest

11. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - 100 Days, 100 Nights
12. Wooden Shjips - s/t
13. Yeasayer - All Hour Cymbals
14. Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass
15. Panda Bear – Person Pitch/Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam
16. Parts & Labor – Mapmaker
17. Dan Deacon - Spiderman of the Rings
18. The New Pornographers - Challengers
19. Shearwater – Palo Alto
20. Pelican – City of Echoes
21. Deerhoof – Friend Opportunity
22. Mekons - Natural
23. Fiery Furnaces - Widow City
24. St. Vincent - Marry Me
25. Sunset Rubdown – Random Spirit Lover

Probably not too many surprises here. Some artists I've loved in the past didn't get me in quite the same way this year. That's the way it goes, I guess.


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