2007 in Records

Wednesday, December 19, 2007



2007 has been an odd year to say the least. Here are 50-something albums from the last 12 months (or so) that I love, or at least think are worth talking about briefly. They’re in an order, but not necessarily the order, if you get what I mean. Which is to say that the first fifty are, more or less, the list I submitted to Stylus for our premature year-end poll; the rest are afterthoughts and late encounters.

1. Patrick Wolf – The Magic Position
From the moment I first heard it in January or February this was always going to be my ‘number 1’ for the year. Perhaps, as with a lot of things, my affection for it was a hangover from not quite being affectionate enough towards his previous effort, at least at the time - Wind In The Wires probably now cemented firmly as one of my favourite records ever. Three very different live performances across the year (joyous in Bristol, truculent in Birmingham, beautiful in Exeter) sealed the deal. Yes, it’s bigger, brasher, poppier than he’s been before, but there’s still as much beauty and heart and character. The lack of impact it’s made on end-of-year polls, be they website, magazine or newspaper derived, has left me puzzled; surely this is an obviously terrific album of wonderful songs that ought to appeal to everyone?

2. Electrelane – No Shouts No Calls
A discovery late in 2006 during my anti-compression crusade, Electrelane quickly cemented themselves as one of my favourite ‘occasional’ bands; like Long Fin Killie I’ll not think of them for weeks at a time, and then have a couple of days where I listen to nothing else, and think they’re the greatest thing ever. There’s a heart-on-sleeve emotionalism and will to communicate on this album that was lacking, or hidden, on Electrelane’s previous efforts. I think I played this more than any other record from 2007.

3. Caribou – Andorra
Dan Snaith’s fourth album, the second since his litigious name-change, gets close to being that thing; the Holy Grail of what I’m looking for in music, that record I can play again and again and again and never tire of, that makes everything else redundant. Poppy, psychedelic, groovey, jazzy, electronic… it’s all hear. The sound of summer. Every day.

4. Battles – Mirrored
Todd emailed me saying, simply, “I think you might like this” with a link to download Mirrored back in about March. I’d seen a thread discussing them on the Stylus staff messageboard, but hadn’t read it. Initially I felt like it blew my head off; the retreat to jazz in the middle third and the slightly overbearing production made it seem, on second, third, fourth listen, to be a gimmick. Continued exposure revealed a true determination to propel everything and everyone into the future. Seeing them live sealed the deal. This really is a revolution.

5. Acoustic Ladyland – Skinny Grin
A late 2006 release, the momentousness of this caused it to hang on in my esteem; it does what Battles do, in a sense, only from another direction – jazzheads appropriating rock and pop and electronica and the avant-garde rather than the other way around. I can’t wait for what they do next.

6. 65daysofstatic – The Destruction Of Small Ideas
This embodies a lot of things for me, most notably the simple and pleasing fact that I’ve not been wasting my time. Yes, I’m biased a little, probably, but also… this really is great, and brave too, and if I am ‘retiring’ from music journalism, then I’m glad to bow out having influenced the making of this. Excellent guys, as well.

7. LCD Soundsystem – The Sound Of Silver
There are a couple of guys at Stylus (which I will continue to refer to in the present-tense as the staff messageboard still exists) who dislike, sometimes strongly, The Sound Of Silver. Even those two amazing songs in the middle. Or, perhaps, they quite like those two songs, and hate the rest. Me, I love it, still, although don’t play it that often for some reason; the reason for that certainly isn’t the usual “it’s too loud” junket, though, because this is an outstandingly well mixed and mastered record, as well as being funky, kinetic, moving, and cool. Much more to this than the debut. I guess I don’t want to spoil it. A CD release for 45’33” completed a remarkable 18-month spell for James Murphy; musical man of the year without a doubt.

8. Stars Of The Lid – And The Refinement Of Their Decline
Ambient, as pure as it gets, moving into modern classical. I’d be hard-pressed to describe it to you, except… slow… and vatic… and beautiful. Moments emerge but disappear again, and the intangibility makes those moments all the more poignant. An enhancement to whatever calm pursuit it accompanies.

9. Studio – West Coast
The most hipster release of the year; I wanted to like Stragey more, but can’t. The start of this Balearic revival thing? The guitars, the beats, the falls into plains of nothingness, the twists and turns. Actually brilliant; A.R. Kane, Disco Inferno, Underworld, krautrock, postpunk. Awesome.

10. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Yes, it’s too loud, but it’s also great. My introduction to Spoon. Those beautiful guitars. Those adenoids. Those Ringo drums in the final track! These excellent semi-songs that don’t need anything more.

11. Beirut – The Flying Club Cup
If you were mourning Patrick Wolf’s transmogrification into a fluorescent pop stomper, then Beirut followed up his acclaimed but crunchy and insular debut with something that might just tide over those who pined for something more… winsome? Organic? Owen Pallet joins Zach Condon here, adding strings across the record and vocals to one song, too; one can’t help but think what these two teamed with Mr Wolf might achieve. Excellent songs, excellent music.

12. !!! – Myth Takes
Funky and psychedelic all at once, and with Nic Offer’s foul-mouthed attention-deficit-disorder personality reigned in. Their best record by far. Just get the grooves!

13. Six.By Seven – If Symptoms Persist Kill Your Dr
Another sign that my efforts didn’t fall on deaf ears; Six.By Seven got back together, retreated from fake noise, and re-embraced drone, detail, and real noise. Comments on their website suggest they’ve read my bitchings. I’m glad, again. Take with headphones, LOUD.

14. Working For A Nuclear Free City – Businessmen And Ghosts
Another hangover, this time because I simply didn’t get to this Mancunian quartet’s debut album in time to include it in 2006’s flurry of polls. Perhaps too much to take in if you don’t already know the debut proper. Mastered a touch too loud. I hope they have a future.

15. Panda Bear – Person Pitch
I treat this as an ambient album; Not to bang on – actually, fuck it, to bang on and on and on and on and on – I’d like this an awful lot more if it wasn't so flat and one dimensional sounding, physically; I like the ideas, I like the melodies, I like the sonic juxtapositions and the actual ‘tunes’. I don't like the fact that I can’t climb inside it, that it feels like a plank of wood or pane of glass or sheet of steel. I can’t put it on and feel it flow around me in three dimensions. Hence, ambient. Which I feel is a shame, because there’s a lot of pop in this record, I just can’t touch it.

16. Bjork – Volta
This revealed more of itself as time passed; the Timbaland cuts, while great, have fallen in my estimation from being the best things here to being… just part of the album. I mourn the outright oddpop of Debut, still my favourite record by her, but Bjork can always be relied on to bring something intensely involving in her music. And oh! Those horns, those massive, mournful horns, like the whalesong from whales the size of Jupiter.

17. Apparat – Walls
Trendy poseur techno-come-rock-come-ambient. Not sure why this fell through so many cracks after Orchestra of Bubbles didn’t.

18. The Field – From Here We Go Sublime
An awful lot of people chucked their nut over this record at Stylus; it’s good, but it’s very… it doesn’t break my brain like Orbital did when I was 16, and from some of the superlatives I was party to, that’s what it should have done. Very straightforward, very 00s – linear, semi-ambient (through rendering as much as intention); I can’t imagine kids dancing to this, and not because it’s secretly a prog-orchestral concept album (like Orbital), but because… it’s not very dynamic, or exciting. It’s ambient with a beat.

19. Menomena – Friend And Foe
After losing faith so spectacularly with The Flaming Lips it was nice to discover a band doing something… not so much similar, as… that fills the gap? Grandiose oddpop with clattering percussion. The piano wins, I think. Best artwork of the year, too.

20. PJ Harvey – White Chalk
Subdued, piano-led, beautifully rendered, White Chalk might be a concept album about death; it doesn’t sound like anything Polly has done before. I love her guitars, but I love her more.

21. The Tuss – Rushup Edge
Aphex Twin, even only half paying attention and pretending to be a Cornish woman, still brings it. If it’s him. More than ever before he seems to be making music just for himself; what seemed like marketing gimmicks in the late 90s (the facemasks, the videos) are gone, and the marketing gimmick here (pretending to be a Cornish woman) seems like a genuine attempt to make people fuck off and leave him alone. Maybe.

22. Von Sudenfed – Tromatic Reflexxions
Not a collaboration so much as an actual bona fide new ‘band’, this is more than just Mark E Smith fronting Mouse On Mars. Similarities with LCD Soundsystem are clear, but unimportant, and more distant than you think at first.

23. Ulrich Schnauss – Goodbye
A return to real detail and dynamics after the bludgeoning, clipping 00s shoegaze of A Strangely Isolated Place; I blame M83 for fucking shoegaze up in the 00s. At times vocals interfere (the guy from Longview, wtf?), but when they’re out of the picture, this gets close to transcendence.

24. The Clientele – God Save The Clientele
I still like The Violet Hour best; some of the hazey reverb of that is gone, replaced by a more professional beauty courtesy of Lambchop’s engineer. It still sounds like The Clientele, though.

25. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
Recorded, played and composed with complete precision and good taste, there was little of the… whatever-it-was that made Yankee Hotel Foxtrot so special, and an awfully big sense that Wilco are now just a big old mature country-rock band playing 3-hour shows full of technically astounding guitar solos and songs about alimony, but… Tweedy’s voice, drunk-sounding as ever, adds the character that might otherwise be missing. Nowhere near as good as the last Loose Fur record, but still musical enough, still Wilco enough, to be worthwhile.

26. L’imparfait Des Langues – Louis Sclavis
European jazz; compositionally I’d imagine this is far more complex than the fusion-esque stuff I normally go gaga for; it’s also on ECM Records, and thusly recorded absolutely sublimely.

27. Do Make Say Think – You, You’re A History In Rust
Another introduction to a band I probably ought to have got around to ages ago; I think postrock is a floundering genre generally, but there are snatches of subtlety and breadth here that suggest strongly that Do Make Say Think are more than your average repeat-repeat-repeat merchants.

28. Two Lone Swordsmen – Wrong Meeting / Wrong Meeting II
Two old swordsmen, more like. Andy Weatherall said some disturbing things in praise of Riot City Blues about a month ago; I can only hope that it ‘saved him’ from being a ‘drugs fuck’ by making him stand back and think “good grief, if I’m enjoying this I must be a mess”. Nonetheless… Two albums, little more than a month apart, of a single vision, the first marginally more about tunes, the second marginally more about grooves. Some kind of robotic hoedown. Android-kraut-country. It works.

29. Ash – Twilight Of The Innocents
Their best album, in terms of an “album” that has songs which flow together. Some great moments of pop here, and some great moments of outright RAWK, too, not to mention some dramatic flourishes the like of which Ash haven’t produced before. But everyone ignored it; a tragedy.

30. Strategy – Future Rock
Just very smooth, very cool, slightly decayed-sounding ambient-disco-dub-postrock, if you will. Part of this Balearic thing.

31. The Twilight Sad – Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters
The voice, the inflection of and words sung by, is the most important thing here for me; MBV get mentioned a lot, and I guess there’s an amount of post-Arcade Fire drama too, but really… this is what Idlewild ought to have sounded like in 2007 – intensely Scottish, intensely emotional, intensely intense. It’s a touch too inflated for me sonically, guitars and drums and voices pumped up like a balloon and losing a layer of definition, but when that deep Scottish brogue twists another repetitious line I can forgive.

32. Miracle Fortress – Five Roses
Eno, MBV, Beach Boys… such common namedrops for the aspiring young musician. The first half of this record almost justifies it, particularly the song about girls and trains. Caribou did and does this shtick better, though.

33. Super Furry Animals – Hey Venus!
Return to form? Return to songs you can remember, is all. No, this doesn’t get anywhere near the soaring oddpop heights of Radiator or Guerilla, but it is tight, concise, touchable, memorable, and a whole lot more fun than the last… three (?) SFA records.

34. Pharoahe Monch – Desire
Token hiphop. Listened twice, enjoyed, forgot about it. Again, I should spend more time with it.

35. Matthew Dear – Asa Breed
Safe, bite-size techno for indie kids, perhaps; it’s distracted at times, searching for “songs” where it should be preserving texture, and a little too inflated for its own good.

36. Fraud – Fraud
Young London jazz that promises but hasn’t quite coalesced for me yet. If this list was properly ordered, this would be far further down than it is.

37. Floratone – Floratone
This was a late-in-the-year headphone indulgence flagged up to me by a friend; jazz-dub, or something. Production as important as composition as important as performance. Seriously dazzling on headphones; good on speakers, too.

38. Siobhan Donaghy – Ghosts
So close to realizing what she ought to be doing; more consistent than the debut but without as many highs – when she does ascend though (final track) she does it better than ever before. Embrace the inner Kate Bush, and some real producers rather than trendy journeymen.

39. Queens Of The Stone Age – Era Vulgaris
At points disgusting and at points sublime; guitars unlike anyone else.

40. Radiohead – In Rainbows
It must be odd to be Radiohead, to have every half-thought and accidental move mulled over and acclaimed. This is a nice record by accomplished musicians, not too ambitious, not too obvious; that it lands like a hydrogen bomb in every year-end list going, greedily taking top-spot in many of them, seems utterly incongruous given the… slightness of its concept and execution. Radiohead are at the point now where a new Radiohead record is… just a new Radiohead record. It sounds like Radiohead.

41. Grinderman – Grinderman
Sex guitar.

42. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
I avoided this for so long because of both the unabashed hype and because the debut was so obnoxiously in-your-face – I enjoyed it, but couldn’t remember a second, like trying to conceive of details on a train speeding through a station as you stand still and try to avoid being sucked under. But Arcade Fire’s sophomore album was much more restrained sonically, even if not musically; they retreated to a church and made things more real, more involving, more rewarding. Still nowhere near what some would claim; this is just Springsteen with a banjo and a folk orchestra, from some angles.

43. Basquiat Strings – Basquiat Strings
Like Final Fantasy with the vocals taken out; token Mercury Music Prize jazz nominee; worthy, of course. Seb Roachford’s involvement made too much of. Beautiful in its own right.

44. Kanye West – Graduation
Another token hip-hop inclusion; Kanye’s an amazing producer but a shitty rapper. The Can sample is… inspired? Enough to make this Ege Bamyasi freak include this record just for that, almost.

45. Rufus Wainwright – Release The Stars
Big, gay, absurdly melodic, lusciously recorded – I should have enjoyed this an awful lot more. Not sure why I didn’t.

46. Bill Callahan – Woke On A Whaleheart
Smog loses his name and does a straight (almost) country album. Nice. I need to spend more time with it.

47. The National – Boxer
I’d hear this in record shops (now deceased) over the summer and think “I know this” but never place it; many people I know, from different places, in different ways, adore this band. To me they just seemed like “a good band”; nothing about them makes me want to love them, or even get to know them.

48. Phosphorescent – Pride
Beautiful rustic trampings; isolated like nothing else.

49. The Good The Bad & The Queen – The Good The Bad & The Queen
I wish Dangermouse would keep his mitts off records I’d otherwise like; Albarn has always been a master of beautiful sonics until he teamed up with the rat in the hat, who seems to mangle everything he touches. This dour, dank dub drive through England was rendered almost unlistenable to me; the edges blurred-to-migraine

50. House Of Blondes – House Of Blondes
An odd little record that I was asked to consider by its key creator over a year ago; it was only sent to me come October, so arduous did the mastering process prove to be; my fault, in a roundabout way. I say “little” record but really… it’s an ‘indie’ record, in the sense that it is independent, and fiercely so, but not necessarily “little”. I feel that there’s a narrative here but I’m not sure what about; perhaps a document of a Catholic upbringing? John Blonde’s voice has to be learnt before you can live with it, but the pianos, the guitars, the drums, the other ingredients that flesh out this rich, strange record; at times simple and redolent of things you can’t quite place, at others hinting at an extraordinary depth. Pretty excellent; surprisingly so – if this list was properly ordered, this record might have scraped into the top 20.

51. Voice Of The Seven Woods – Voice Of The Seven Woods
Kraut-country by way of eastern-tinged melodies, built on a bedrock of guitars; lovely, rewarding, musical; only recently discovered.

52. Empirical – Empirical
More young London jazz; not actually heard this yet though – it’s my “Christmas album” for 2007, the last CD I buy myself from the year before festivities kick in, but it’s an award-winner and I’m looking forward to it muchly.

53. Kevin Drew – Spirit If…
It just sounds like Broken Social Scene, doesn’t it? Half-a-dozen listens have left me with little more than the sense that I enjoyed it.

54. Burial – Untrue
One cannot be a music journalist if one doesn’t have an opinion on the second Burial album. It’s probably a good job that I’ve ‘retired’ then, because though I’ve listened to this half a dozen times I’ve been uniformly unstruck by its magnificent depiction of late night urban isolation. I’ve been on a London night bus, many years ago, but just the once. A former work colleague, older than me but clued-in on a number of things musical that I also liked, recommended the debut, which struck me as being ambient dub with occasional two-step rhythms. This is… is it more of the same? More of the same with (more) vocals? It forms part of the stockpile of cultural goods that I intend to get round to one day, alongside the books and DVDs… I suspect it tops the Metacritic 2007 list because the only peoplewho wrote about it are those with a vested interest in describing its vatic concrete beauty. It means less in Exeter. I like cities best when seen from a distance. I’ll play it again soon.

55. M.I.A. – Kala
I feel like I have to refer to this too, given that I was the first person to mention M.I.A. on Stylus way back when; but all I’ve given Kala is one cursory listen while doing the cooking. Schizopop burnout? Possibly. Since the compression thing; hell, maybe since Soulseeking, I’ve been less desperate to hear it all; this, Burial, Pharohae Monch – these are things that aren’t to my taste that I feel ought to be understandable to me, because I’m a critic, perhaps. Now I’m ‘retired’ I might feel less compulsion to keep up?

56. Film School – Hideout
Like The National, Editors and Interpol, but focused more on texture than on dramatics. Bands like this are two-a-penny these days; Film School wont trouble Radio 1 but Hideout provided half-a-dozen pleasurable listens, which is worth more to me.

57. Mountain Of One – Complete Works
More ‘Balearic’ revival, or whatever; less naively sophisticated and otherworldy cool than Studio, less black-clad postrocker friendly than Strategy, Mountain Of One are basically unreconstructed hippies; there’s more Pink Floyd in this than there is disco, beardy old men playing long guitar solos with brief interruptions from impassioned female guest vocalists (Martina Topley-Bird, Tricky’s former chanteuse).

58. Iron And Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
I like it because it sounds like Califone, sort of.

And that is that, I think. I have no idea if I’ll continue with this blog now. If I’ll continue with writing about music at all. Already though I’m anticipating the new Elbow album and wondering if I should pitch a review at The Guardian or Drowned In Sound or somewhere else. I’m not sure. For now I have nothing left to say, I think. About music, at least. I think I have a book I want to write. But the point of writing, for me, is to be read, and then to speak afterwards to whoever did the reading.

Merry Christmas.

NJS

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

5 Comments:

Blogger Glen - 12:58 pm

I doubt very much that you'll have nothing left to say for very long.

There's a few thoughts in there I will take away for the "January" (ho, ho, ho) sales. I've hidden from music this year for several reasons and with this I have missed out on a lot. I didn't like the bits of Battles I tried though.

But yes. The book. :-)

 
Blogger Meatbreak - 10:30 am

Hi Nick. This is an interesting list, especially from someone so stoically anti-list like yourself. The fact that you're writing about albums you don't really seem to like suggests that you won't be able to drop this writing thing for a while. Your comments about Caribou are what makes it so special for me too. Patrick Wolf's in my top 50, if that's any comfort.

Write a book.

MxBx

 
Blogger senor poopypants - 6:17 am

Hey Nick, speaking of 65days, did you notice how Rolling Stone completely ripped off your Imperfect Sound Forever article with "The Death of High Fidelity?" I thought that was really cool.

 
Blogger paige - 10:42 pm

I miss your writing. Just finished reading my favorite piece of yours, the one about Wowee Zowee. I read it on Stylus last year, then stumbled across it in the Best Music Writing of 2007 today. Congrats on that. Hope to see more from you soon. Paige@austinist.com ....

 
Blogger Nick - 8:02 am

I've never even heard Wowee Zowee, let alone written about it.

 

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Nick Southall was born in southwest England at the tail end of the 70s, and is the youngest of three brothers. He has a degree in popular culture and philosophy and has written about music for Stylus Magazine, The Guardian and Drowned In Sound, amongst others. He likes red wine, expensive headphones, spicy food, and the Hungarian national football team of the 1950s. His favourite record is the last one he listened to. You can contact him by email via sickmouthy @ gmail dot com should you so wish.

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