I don’t claim to be a music man. Then again, I know what I like. Here are my votes for the best albums of 2007, in no particular order.
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
Who on earth ever thought that slightly religious-inspired rock could ever be hip again ? Well, Arcade Fire put the “Jesus Christ, this sounds great !” back into Christianity. The title track, Neon Bible, is only an interlude on the album, but might be the warmest song of the year. There’s a version of it performed live in an elevator (!) floating around, it’s an essential. Will & the Gang sure know how to weave melodies and structure a song (No Cars Go and The Well and the Lighthouse are recommended). The album feels more consistent, more mature than their debut, Funeral, and although the group seems to have the occasional sound-mixing problems when performing (performing with a dozen of musicians which like to juggle a variety of instruments around during songs really requires an octopus-like creature at the PA system), I can’t wait to see them live.
The Good, The Bad & The Queen – The Good, The Bad & The Queen
If Damon Albarn doesn’t make it to the best album list, the world is spiraling away into oblivion. Everything this – oh, let’s be fair, ego-tripping – artist touches turns into solid gold. (Blur, Two magnificent Gorillaz album). The critics always entitled this group as being “Damon’s Super Band”, and they make a fair point. Somehow he managed to recruit the legendary The Clash bassist Paul Simonon, world-class guitar player Simon Tong (The Verve, Gorillaz) and afrobeat wonder Tony Allen. Did we mention he hired Danger Mouse (of Grey Album and Gnarls Barkley fame) as the producer ?
And then Damon went all Barn again, and instead of making a straightforward rock-the-roof-off record, he released a haunting fin de sciècle piece of work, with sound scape-driven songs and slight hints of Gorillaz-esque electronic toying around. Everything really seems to revolt around Albarn’s voice (he does all the vocals), and it works out wonderfully. Kingdom of Doom – which may sound like a very bad title for a Black Sabbath album – is the crown piece of the album. Damon at the piano launches the song, and it explodes in a lovely refrain. Pay attention to the closing track too, which looses itself into a haunting three minutes of guitar noise.
Radiohead – In Rainbows
The wait was long. And at the moment when fans all around the world were listening to Hail to The Thief for the billionth time, a small post appeared on the Radiohead Scrapbook (it’s an artist term for blog). “Hi there, the new album will be out in 10 days”. You can’t give them much credit for their marketing campaign, simply because they didn’t have one. Thom – pinko commie for some, green environmentalist for others – and the band decided to let the audience put a price on the album. For a limited amount of time, you could download the album from Radiohead.com at any price. Yes, cheapskates, that includes ‘for free’. For me, it was the best 15 pounds spend this year. Then again, it’s all euros here anyway.
The album has a very perfectionist feel to it. For example, it contains Nude, a song which has appeared in a thousand versions for ten years live, but was never recorded in a studio, until now. The opening track (and first single) 15 Step seems to have it’s influences in Thom’s solo work, The Eraser (2006), but that’s about the only one. The other tracks vary from ballad (All I need) to in-your-face-rock (Bodysnatchers), all covered in the genious arrangements that make this band so special. Another good example is Reckoner, which contains a magnificent vocal piece which thrives completely on Thom’s voice and Greenwood’s guitar play.
People like to compare with previous Radiohead albums, but yet again, you can’t really compare it to anything they’ve done before (and that’s a bold statement for a group which might have touched every spectrum of modern music). It sure has less of the electronic plucking we saw on Kid A, less of the depressive feel we all know from Amnesiac, but it most certainly is not a return to the straight-on guitar approach from Pablo Honey or The Bends. Money well spent, and hands-down the best alternative record of the year.
Daft Punk – Alive 2007
If people would ask me what I would have done different in my life, it would be the following: I wish I would have passed my exams in the summer of 2006. Whilst I was working hard to get them right in the second term, all my friends were out to a show they described afterwards as “the best f***ing two hours of their life”. As far as I know, my friends lead quite a dull life, but then again, statements like these must mean something. After getting my hands on a bootleg of that evening, I could cry. That year, that dreaded summer which will haunt me to the end of my days, the Robots came to town.
And they sure know how to throw a party. Two hours of non-stop hits from their decade-spanning carriere of ground-breaking electronic music, not just blended together like your average DJ would do on a Sunday, hell no. When the robots play the records, they do it with style. Having access to all the ingredients which make up the killer tracks, they add some spice to the dish by swapping basslines, adding new effects or combining song elements in a way that makes you think that all the songs they ever
made were just building up to this Masterplan.
Highlight of the album might be the fantastic blend between Around the World and Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. It was meant to be.
The National – Boxer
One of my personal revelations these year. How could I miss this band for all these years ? A simple collection of brothers and friends from Iowa, USA (farm people, y’all), which make fantastic music. Shame on me that only their third studio album so far has captured my attention. It has the focus on melody/symphony of Arcade Fire, the firm guitar work from Interpol, and a lead vocal which brings up the Joy Division memories.
Although fairly short, the album has enough highlights to make up for its length. Opening track Fake Empire has a great build-up with different tempo switches, and sets up the stage for the rest of the album. First single Mistaken for Strangers is the most accessible song on the album, but most certainly not the best. The gold’s in the tail, people. The closing track, Gospel, is a masterpiece. From the lyrics (Invite me to the war, every night of the summer) to the melody, it all just fits. Warmly recommended, give these guys a chance in Europe. We’ve been through enough poppy trash lately, we could use it.
Feist – The Reminder
Another recent discovery. After hearing her beautiful voice on the latest Kings of Convenience album (she sings a refrain in the closing track), I checked out her work. This Canadian singer – which now is a Paris resident – has the proverbial ‘everything’. The looks, the voice and the songwriting talent. Yes, Britney and Christina, I’d rather listen to Leslie Feist for 20 hours straight than paying any attention to you two performing a lapdance in my living room.
Highlights of the album are the Nina Simone cover Sea Lion Woman (a subtle redub of Sea Line Woman) and the striking refrain of The Water. If you’re looking for a different angle on discovering Feist, make sure you check out the Boyz Noize remix of My Moon, My Man. It’s so hip it has difficulties seeing over its pelvis.
Interpol – Our Love to Admire
Ever since Interpol released Turn on the Bright Lights in 2002, the world fell for its solid guitar work. It’s nice to see that they take it into a different direction on this album. Apart from the standard Interpol formula – thriving bassline plus a rock-out refrain (Rest my Chemistry, The Heinrich Manoeuver) – the real gems of this album are the head and tail. In the opening track Pioneer to the Falls, the group displays a genuine interest in soundtrack music (they always list Ennio Morricone as one of their influences), which works out great.
The closing track, The Lighthouse, is another classic example where less is more. Only a simple guitar riff to simulate the rolling waves at the seaside, an organ kicking in later on, and Bank’s haunting voice to wrap it up.
Royksöpp – Royksöpp’s Night Out
A low-profile release of these Scandinavians, but it has two very strong points: first, the live version of Sparks, which turns the album version (a slow-dub, trip-hop tune) into a blazing anthem. Second, the Queens of the Stone Age cover of Go With The Flow. Josh Homme probably thinks it’s pretty queer, but when you listen to it you just know it fits.
Bloc Party – A Weekend in the city
Although a solid single (The Prayer) and an overall good first part of the album (Uniform, Hunting for Witches), the second part is a big dissapointment. What’s with this sweet lyrics and humpty dumpty love song at the end ?
Justice – Cross
People, forget about D.A.N.C.E. It’s nice, it has a funny video with arty T-shirts and stuff, but it most certainly is not the best part of this album. Plus, the annoyance level after the fifth listen is considerable. Waters of Nazareth had me thinking about Daft Punk’s Rolling and Scratching for the first minute. It’s brutal, it’s vigilant, it’s a song to go out and make old people miserable with. Then again, there’s a lack of variety in the next three minutes. These guys have the talent, but the other tracks on the album are far too mediocre to make it into the top list.
Arctic Monkeys – Favorite Worst Nightmare
Aside from the strong end (505 and Old Yellow Bricks), this album, although more mature than their debut, just doesn’t convince me as a whole.
Simian Mobile Disco – Attack Decay Sustain Release
Although Hustler and It’s The Beat are here to stick around, the rest of the album is far too mediocre.
Underworld – Oblivion with Bells
Sorry, Underworld just ain’t the brilliant innovators they used to be.
Vitalic – V Live
Terrible audio mixing (the crowd backnoise is way too loud, this sounds like a crappy bootleg) and poor renditions of otherwise powerful songs. Download a Vitalic liveset, cut it into pieces, and you’ve got yourself a bet