This hasn’t been any ordinary year. 2007 saw what many heralded as the demise of the major label with Radiohead’s self-released album, the recent resignation of a hip-hop mogul from his throne atop his label and the deaths of a number of legends. But more so than any of these headlining highs and lows, 2007 will be remembered as an incredible year for music.
A rebirth of the long-since waning hip-hop scene as well as the return of several indie rock mainstays, 2007 seemed to be the year of the comeback. Be it the aforementioned Radiohead, electro-lords Battles, indie-troubadours Of Montreal or MCs like Ghostface Killah and Jay-Z, this year was spattered with countless stellar releases.
As such, this list was exceedingly difficult to formulate. We don’t claim it to be infallible or even correct. This list encapsulates what we at The Michigan Daily felt were the 25 best albums of a year littered with best albums.
1. Radiohead – In Rainbows
Over the course of 10 early October days, Radiohead managed
to generate a buzz the likes of which most bands will never see. Of course, we all know the story by now – the surprise announcement, the name-your-own-price download and the middle finger to the recording industry are all things that only a band of Radiohead’s popularity
and stature could pull off.
Unfortunately, now that the band has signed with XL Recordings, we’ll have to wait for another group of independently-minded superstars to create the New Music Order. Nevertheless,
we’re left with one hell of a great record. On In Rainbows, Radiohead has moved in one of the few directions left for such an inventive group: back toward pop. This is by far the least-strange album Radiohead has released in years. Still, it’s anything
but shallow. As relatively straightforward as In Rainbows is, it possesses an intensity only a band that’s reached the edge of experimentation could achieve. Welcome
back to earth, guys. It’s good to have you.
2. Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam
Most bands don’t make it to seven albums, let alone seven great and distinctive LP’s, but Animal Collective isn’t most bands and its career arc is almost as reptilian as its sound. After its last two stellar LP’s, a let-down was seemingly inevitable, and with Panda Bear’s Person Pitch blowing minds with its AM psych and setting the bar impossibly
high, how could Animal Collective outdo itself? Let Avey Tare take the reins for a while. This is his album and it’s his vocals that carry anthems like “For Reverend Green,” “Fireworks”
and “Peacebone.” The craziest thing is that Strawberry Jam has already gotten me wondering
where Animal Collective will go next. Collaborate with R. Kelly?
3. M.I.A. – Kala
Don’t mistake M.I.A.’s pop sensibilities for aesthetic vapidness. The British-Sri Lankan artist kicked off 2007 with one of the year’s most musically diverse offerings, without compromising the bold political message she delivered on her 2005 debut Arular. Kala takes listeners from the disco streets of the Bollywood scene (“Jimmy”) to the world of psychedelic ’80s new-wave pop (“20 Dollar”) to the unmentionable atrocities of third-world genocide (“Hussel”) and then back to contemporary Top 25-friendly London (“Come Around”). On “Paper Planes,” she samples a series of disturbing gunshots, juxtaposed by the cha-ching of a cash register, overpowering an innocent chorus of chanting children. What message is M.I.A. trying to send? You decide. In the meantime, M.I.A.’s addictive beats and powerful melodies are entrenching her well-deserved place in modern music.
4. Panda Bear – Person Pitch
I don’t really care about The Beach Boys. I know they supposedly wrote the book on white-male vocal harmonies and their music is more complex than your average pop confection. The bottom line: Though Panda Bear often draws comparisons to the famed surf-rockers, you don’t have to love The Beach Boys or be some kind of music scholar to enjoy Panda Bear. Person Pitch is a spiraling hypnotic album filled with lush melodies and buoyant rhythms. Songs like “Take Pills” and “Bros” layer sample upon sample, and then just seem to grow organically in different directions. It’s pop with patience. Rarely does an album sound so studied in its creation, yet immediate in its listening. This was the best album in the spring – and now, as bitter winds keep us sheltered indoors, it fits even better.
5. Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
In 2005, Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes got himself so depressed that he sold the track “Wraith Pinned To The Mist (And Other Games)” to Outback Steakhouse. While the wisdom of that decision is debatable, the quality of Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, the other product of his depression, is not. An honest-to-God concept album, Fauna tells the story of Barnes’ descent with striking clarity – at one point, he begs his own serotonin for help. The record’s upbeat electropop belies its thematic darkness, but reinforces the chemical denial of the lyrics.
6. Battles – Mirrored
If there was ever any doubt that the members of Battles were hyper-intelligent androids sent from the far reaches of the Harmony Galaxy, Mirrored erases it. Every moment of the metallic melodies is executed with laser precision while the group simultaneously layers incoherent vocal lines to the mix, pushing the album farther toward an otherworldly realm. And yet, with an album so alien, it seems comfortingly familiar, fitting squarely in the evolving indie-/art-rock scene. Lead single “Atlas” rides the danciest bounce this side of Timbaland while the poles “Race: In” and “Race: Out” bookend the disc with sheer adrenaline and heart-racing percussion. Where they come from is irrelevant. They’re here now.
8. Sunset Rubdown – Random Spirit Lover
Spencer Krug’s taking risks. “Should I try some tribal chanting? Sure. How about a track about riding leopards? Definitely.” Do they all make sense? Maybe not. But somewhere in the swirling, galaxy-sized mind of Sunset Rubdown’s leading man, everything does. The same goes for the album. Every track works its way to a riveting climax, and the whole thing explores three different movements of sound. It’s a well-tailored suit. Nothing is out of place. Chaos interlocks with carnival sideshow riffs and falls into melodic, charming running water riffs. You’ll hate it if you pick and choose tracks. But if you listen to it in whole, hold onto your headphones – you’ll hear the leading man in indie rock at his best.
9. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
James Murphy has not lost his edge. The man behind the keyboard and drum loops finds a balance between cold, repetitive electronica and heart as he grows up on Sound of Silver, LCD’s sophomore release. From the tumbling sirens of the “Someone Great” to the battered piano of “All My Friends,” the New York lover knows when to keep it simple and when to empty the sounds of his synthesizer into layers of catchy, danceable noise.
10. Kanye West – Graduation
Perhaps the most anticipated rap album of the year, Graduation was also among the best. It isn’t car music: It’s headphones music. And it’s damn good headphone music. Songs such as “Good Morning” and “Everything I Am” are smoother — both musically and lyrically — than anything Kanye’s done in the past. And it’s not like there’s no flair — the Daft Punk sample for “Stronger” made for one of the better singles of the year. Kanye might not have had as much fun with this album as he did with Late Registration, but Graduation proves he’s better as mellow and serious than boisterous and obnoxious.
11. Jay-Z – American Gangster
In the fall of ’07, former Def Jam Recordings President Shawn Carter caught a glimpse of his past life in an advance screening of “American Gangster.” Hova’s infatuation with the crime epic led to a series of inspired studio sessions and an album of the same name. His vivid imagery and lyrical dexterity on tracks like “Pray” and “Fallin'” make American Gangster a worthy addition to Hova’s expansive back catalog.
11. Feist – The Reminder
Feist’s vocal ability wildly manifests all over The Reminder. From stacked harmonies resembling synth wood pipes to a growling, pissed-off-preteen overdrive, she is willfully whimsical. It’s gorgeous. Lyrically, she’s quainter than Neko Case, more nuanced than Nora Jones. Her hits, “1234” and “I Feel It All” are solid enough, but “The Path” is a single acoustic guitar, a few concert horns and a whole lot of crickets – it’s a singular track, a standout on an record full of outstanding tracks.
ANDREW SARGUS KLEIN
12. Lil Wayne – Da Drought 3
Before Tha Carter III was leaked and Lil Wayne decided to overplay himself with mixtapes, there was the masterful composition, Da Drought 3. Weezy spit his raspy flow over 27 different instrumentals to make one of his most focused and admired creations to not be sold in FYE. Even though the instrumentals are from other songs, he makes every track his own, and laces them all with his memorable style and exceptional flow. Though it never reached the Billboard charts, Da Drought 3 is still one of best pieces of hip-hop to come out of ’07.
13. The National – Boxer
It’s almost too damn subtle. Matt Berninger’s rusty voice dominates throughout, and the sleepy, plodding drum lines nestle right up against the interjections of horns and piano plinks. But then you hear the lyrics. It’s the most honest and emotionally precise album of the year (“You get mistaken for strangers by your own friends” and “Do you really think you can just put it in a safe behind a painting, lock it up and leave?”). Between the throbbing gems like “Fake Empire” and the breezy, unemployed-but-I-need-to-find-a-job-now feel of “Start a War,” Boxer shreds your heart and meticulously patches it back up at least 17 times. Nope, not subtle at all.
14. Justice – =
Justice’s breakthrough track “D.A.N.C.E.” was so big this year, even the old folks at the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences noticed. With the now-Grammy-nominated single (starring the Foundation for Young Musicians choir’s pretty young things), and club entrance anthems like “The Party, stacked high with thick, hiccuping bass, the French duo put electro label Ed Banger on the map marked by a big, light-up cross. If = doesn’t make you dance, you best check your pulse.
15. Menomena – Friend and Foe
Born of joyously singable melodies, plodding though danceable bass lines and searing guitars, Friend and Foe comes about as close to classic indie rock as any album in 2007. And, miraculously, it didn’t suck. For the long-since stagnant genre Menomena’s sophomore effort was like bonging a gallon of Red Bull. It was downtrodden and melancholy, but simultaneously frantic and uncontrollable. It was the embodiment of the angst and precision that defined early indie-rock releases, without being too derivative. Friend and Foe is a 1997 release that came 10 years later, equipped with the technology and swagger of the new millennium.
16. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
On its triumphant return, Winn Butler’s musical machine effortlessly slayed the fire-breathing sophomore slump jinx, then pointed its sword to the sky as it stood at the (almost) summit of the American charts. Back are the cranking hurdy-gurdys and bellowing pipe organs, but instead of helping pay homage to David Bowie, Arcade Fire now transports a god-fearing, Nebraska-era Bruce Springsteen disciple to a melancholy midnight fantasyland in purgatory between dream and nightmare to come face-to-face with the prospect of mortality and overwhelming self-doubt. The tension is palpable in Butler’s urgent pleas as fate approaches.
17. Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
In 2007, Amy Winehouse’s distinct version of soul gained an international platform. Back to Black, her stateside debut, exuded a freshness unmatched by her contemporaries. Producers Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi responded to Winehouse’s affinity for classic ’60s soul with a collection of 11 tightly composed tracks. The Motown-inflected title track and the Ashford & Simpson cover “Tears Dry On Their Own” are standouts on an album that pushed genuine soul music back into the international spotlight.
18. Talib Kweli – Eardrum
Blending the swoons and chords of old gospel and smooth R&B with his hip-hop veneer, Talib Kweli developed a voice that spoke stronger and louder than any could imagine on Eardrum. The Brooklyn MC emerged from his rap hiatus with a product that shows growth, skill and longevity. It’s the strongest album he’s produced yet. By maintaining his concern for the issues plaguing his people and expressing it through lyrical aptitude, Kweli’s Eardrum needs to be heard. Who says socially conscious hip-hop is boring?
19. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – 100 Days, 100 Nights
Although the mainstream has taken its time to recognize the dap-dippers and their queen Sharon Jones – who, at 51, sings bigger, struts sexier and has simply got more it than the girl-child singers currently crowding her on the charts – there couldn’t have been a better nudge toward the back catalogues than 100 Days, 100 Nights. “100 Days, 100 Nights,” is the sultriest goddamn-that-man song in a long time, and when Ms. Jones moans “Maybe I need to slow it down just a little” and the band slumps accordingly into half-time, it’s near impossible for your heart not to break. (And that’s only the title track.)
20. Matthew Dear – Asa Breed
From the DJ that created the original “Hands Up For Detroit” (with the late Disco D, a fellow University of Michigan kid) comes one of the year’s most perfect pop albums – think Bowie-meets-Eno all over again. On his third album as Matthew Dear, the Ghostly posterboy delivers cleanly crafted electronic music stuffed with soul. Further messing around in this marriage of pop and minimal techno, Dear squeezes out more handclaps and jittery toms, steeping his effects in equal parts spaciness and country-western fatalism. The result? Songs alternately cuddly (“Pom Pom”) and doom-and-gloom (“Midnight Lovers”), but all very, very good for a dance party.
21. Liars – Liars
It might be difficult to say that Liars is currently the best band on the planet, but their résumé is pretty hard to fuck with. After a stellar debut and follow-up, the group seemed to find its stride with 2006’s Drum’s Not Dead. But the troupe thought otherwise. With its self-titled release, Liars cements itself as an unstoppable force, reinventing its sound once again. Liars sees the group return to its rock and punk roots, and stands as the most straightforward and accessible album the group has released to date. Though this incarnation of the group may be gone with the release of its next album, this disc will unquestionably stand as a stepping-stone toward Liars’s next record and fa