Thursday, December 13, 2007

Albums of 2007: numbers 11-20

So here it is. A bit of poking an tweaking and we have the beginnings of this year's best albums list. These are the records that have been most played and most enjoyed by me this year, all arranged in an order that was changing right up to the last minute. I've largely cribbed from the original reviews where they exist, so you may want to click back for a bit more info and if you're lucky, some more mp3s.

20. Elvis Perkins – Ash Wednesday

Back in May I said that this record felt substantial, and I still stand by this. Though it may be short on thrills and immediacy, its appeal lies in the more subtle areas. It doesn’t have much in the way of singalongs (except maybe May Day!) or even catchy tunes. But that’s not what makes it great. The greatness is to be found in the less obvious parts. A chord change here. A slight vocal inflection there. Then some well-employed strings and maybe a little touch of harmonica. It’s not even something that it’s easy to put your finger on, but once you’ve listened to his debut album Ash Wednesday a few times, you’ll know what I mean. It just feels, well, substantial. And soulful, heartfelt and brimming with thought-provoking lyrics. And often, like on Moon Woman II and Emile’s Vietnam in the Sky, just beautiful.

Read more of my review here.

Download: Elvis Perkins - Emile’s Vietnam in the Sky

19. Panda Bear – Person Pitch

It was a good year for Noah Lennox. Not content with playing his part in the brilliant new Animal Collective album and (reputedly) great live shows, he struck out on his own to make his own impressive record. Not a million miles away from his other band, his solo work showed more love for the more out-there elements of The Beach Boys. Studio trickery there may be in heaps, but it’s still a warm and engaging album, with a dash of pop sensibility for every piece of interesting experimentation.

Download: Panda Bear – Comfy In Nautica

18: MIA – Kala

On the opening track on Kala, MIA declares that “MIA is coming back with power”. This is not an idle boast. There’s just so much going on here, as you might expect from an album that was recorded in five different countries. Playground chants, pulsing basslines, Bollywood-style strings, Brazilian beats and hip-hop grooves. And that’s just the start. It’s synths without skinny jeans, R ‘n’ B without the empty bling and world music without the worthiness. The cynic may suggest that MIA just checks too many 'multicultural boxes' to be really genuine. But I say nah. In any case, I don’t care. Kala too good to worry about what demographic it’s targeted at.

Read the rest of my review here.

Download: MIA – Jimmy

17. Super Furry Animals – Hey Venus!

This album probably isn’t featuring in too many end-of-year lists, probably because they’re one of these bands who have been around for ages and they’re just not that hot any more. But they’re still good. I’ve got a vested interest because I’m a huge fan, and I like all their albums. Some of course are better than others, and it remains to be seen where Hey Venus! will sit within the SFA canon of greatness, but the signs look good. It seems to be a more stripped down affair than the previous albums, with less emphasis on electronic trickery and more on just the pure, simple great songs that always lie at the Furry heart of things. Simple, effective and total pop from the increasingly hirsute SFA – what more do you want?

Read more of my review here.

Download: Super Furry Animals – Neo Consumer

16. Amiina – Kurr

Though Amiina are Sigur Ros’ string section, they are not just Sigur Ros minus the waves of electric guitar and made-up language. They don’t have the epic sound that they contribute to on larger stages. Instead it’s lush yet understated. Strings sweep, but are subtly done. There’s nothing overbearing. It’s not just a string quartet either. Listen to a perfectly played glockenspiel, celesta, harmonium, harp and even musical saw. And though are no vocals, there is some gorgeous wordless harmonising on Hilli and Kolapot. Because of the quasi-classic nature of this music, it would be too easy just to have this on as background music while you do something else. But resist the temptation. Take time. Listen. Revel in the simple beauty of it all. Believe me, it’ll have you hooked.

Read more of my review here.

Download: Amiina – Sogg

15. Battles – Mirrored

The bloggers’ darlings of 2007, this is an album which is topping charts all over the place right now. Although there’s plenty in Mirrored to admire, it’s an album that’s less easy to love, so that’s why it’s not higher up my charts. It’s still a pretty exciting ride though. The singles Atlas and Tonto are still thrilling and elsewhere there’s a general sense of unpredictability which is very pleasing. It feels a bit improv, but all the time you really know that this is a band totally in control of what they’re doing.

Download: Battles – Race:In

14. Devendra Banhart – Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon

Like its predecessor Cripple Crow, Smokey... is another long album (16 tracks, clocking in at over 71 minutes), but also like the former LP it never seems too long, never outstays its welcome. That’s largely down to Banhart’s wilful eclecticism and seeming determination not to keep flogging the same dead horse. For someone who’s risen to prominence as a (freak?) folk artist, this album is more of a trip through the 70s, with plenty riffs that belong firmly in that decade, as well as some slick gospel, hippy rock, oddball latin-flecked Spanish language numbers, Jewish doo-wop (really) as well as the expected folky stylings. To some this may seem contrived, but I don’t think he’s trying too hard. There’s too much love for music going on here for that.

Read the rest of my review here.

Download: Devendra Banhart – Cristobal

13. Deerhoof – Friend Opportunity

More pop, this time from a less expected source. Friend Opportunity (with sleeve art by man-about-indie David Shrigley) is probably Deerhoof’s most commercial album to date, which is probably why I like it. But ‘commercial’ in the Deerhoof sense isn’t exactly chart appeal. They take the standard ingredients of a rock band, skew them far enough to always remain interesting and engaging but never far enough away to seem too arty and alienating. I guess it stands or falls on Satomi Matsuzaki’s vocals. If you like them, the rest should follow naturally. I love it.

Download: Deerhoof – The Perfect Me

12. Radiohead – In Rainbows

So much has been written about how Radiohead chose to distribute this album that it seems like it’s only now that people are beginning to write about the actual music. I’m so tired with hearing about how In Rainbows has changed the music industry. Only time will tell if it has. For now, it’s a fine record. Maybe even their finest in a while, but it’s not up the top of my list, mainly because I haven’t spent that much time with it. I know that it’s an album that’s easier to admire than love, but like Joanna Newsom last year, time spent with this record will no doubt bring a lot of pleasure. Who knows, maybe even the imminent arrival of my discbox will change things.

Download: Radiohead – Nude

11. Phosphorescent – Pride

Pride is another work of understated loveliness from Matthew Houck, showing again his ability to create warm, glowing pieces of hymn-like beauty, where his own cracked vocals are surrounded by a wheezing harmonica and the sound of a celestial harmonising choir. The further into winter we get, the more appropriate this album seems. It's not just good, it's also wonderfully evocative. It takes me to a crackling fire, low atmospheric lighting, a warm alcoholic haze that accompanies a happy, but reflective evening. Not many of these things are available to me at the moment in our central London flat where a small baby takes up most of our waking time and energies, but I can listen and dream.

Read the rest of my review here.

Download: Phosphorescent – A Picture of our Torn-Up Praise

2 comments:

bentrup said...

it's really great to see kurr on your list - it's been overlooked by too many people. there isn't really enough drama in the music for me to consider it one of the year's best, but it's solid and rewarding, even after many many listens. good call.

Rick said...

Great list!
Can't wait for the top 10.
Though I have to disagree on the Devendra. He shouldn't be in the top 20 this year.
Did you see the Cribs episode with him?