Last year, I struggled to come up with more than 10 albums I was passionate enough about to write about, so I decided to stick to ten. No such problem this year, which was a rebound year for art in pop culture in general (as long as you kept paying attention after the summer), bringing me back to a top 20 list. As always, this is a list of how I feel right now, not an attempt to make a list for the ages, which is pointless. I’ve no doubt that this list would change over time were I to revisit it, and in fact hope there’s some great albums out there that I’ve missed, because that would mean there’s more great music for me to hear. I will say that I pretty much ignored any album released in December, so if there was a great album released then that I missed, that’s why.
Honourable Mentions: Bloc Party – A Weekend in the City, Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worst Nightmare, Blonde Redhead – 23, Once – Original Soundtrack, Caribou – Andorra
20. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga: I’ve gone back and forth on the twentieth album, switching it out for the first two honourable mentions you see above at various times before finally settling on the sixth album from Spoon. Basically, they won out because I knew nobody would argue with their place on the list (but probably their placement), since it’s popping up on a bunch of top ten lists. You know, that and the fact that it’s a pretty good album.
19. Lucinda Williams – West: I’m surprised this album isn’t getting any year end attention, but I suppose that’s to be expected when she’s been doing the same variation on her blues-rock/alternate country vibe since 1979. Luckily, I’ve only been listening for the past few years, with West being my best known Williams album, so it’s all fresh to me. It’s a bit uneven, but at its best, West is the best drown-your-miseries-in-whiskey album of 2007.
18. Broken Social Scene Presents Kevin Drew – Spirit If…: I’m still undecided about this album. Like most Broken Social Scene efforts, it lacks stand out tracks that help guide you into the album, and for the most part plays like lesser BSS (it’s part of a planned series of solo-ish BSS that focus on one particular member with assists from the collective). On the other hand, even lesser BSS is worth your time, and this album is no exception. Part of me wishes Drew had just saved his best tracks for the next BSS album, but the other part is happy to listen to what he offers right now.
17. Elliott Smith – New Moon: This is a tougher inclusion as I’m not exactly sure I’d qualify it as an album, since it’s a rarities compilation. But, fuck it, it’s Elliott Smith; so it stays. As unruly as any double album, New Moon has the added benefit 24 songs of Smith’s brand of misery, meaning that you might feel like stabbing yourself in the heart if you ever try to listen to it on repeat. But in a good way.
16. Eisley – Combinations: As they get older and farther away from their debut EPs, their sound is getting more full (which is good), but more polished (which is not). The band is a little too polished with this album, taking away some of the dream-filled wonder that was so appealing in their debut. Luckily, their soaring harmonies still pop up, giving a lot of moments to appreciate on the album mixed in with some less inspired work. It’s more good than bad (hence it’s placement on the list), but here’s hoping they find a way to merge their more developed sound with some of the uniqueness that made their earlier work so fresh.
15. Radiohead – In Rainbows: If you thought Spoon was ranking too low, then you’ll probably have similar misgivings about In Rainbows at 15. You may be right. I’ll probably make myself sound old here, but a big reason I haven’t embraced this album as much as those ahead of it is the simple fact that until today, I didn’t own it on CD, and thus didn’t have it to listen to in my car. Sure, I had it on my iPod and computer, thus allowing me to listen to it often enough to rank it here, but in the car, a CD is one of 25-30 albums at my disposal (of which I gravitate to the 5 or so in the centre console, as opposed to the 20 in the case in the glove box). On my iPod, it’s one of 500 or so. Thus, it doesn’t get listened to as often, even if I probably listen to my iPod more than I drive (another side effect of digital only copies is that I generally only hear them at or on the way to or from work, which pretty much eliminates any positive associations). Still, after Hail to the Thief, it’s nice to hear Radiohead make enjoyable music again, instead of messing around with bleeps and blorps.
14. Stars – In Our Bedroom After the War: I didn’t gravitate to this album immediately, seeing it as a dispointment following their phenomenal 2004 LP Set Yourself on Fire. So I set it aside for a bit, to divorce it from any expectations I had for it going in. Giving it a second chance in time for the Stars show I was attending (my concert of the year), I realised while it is undoubtedly not as strong an album, it’s still a worthy one. Every band has their best album, and if Set Yourself on Fire is Stars, that doesn’t invalidate the rest of albums they’ll put out after it.
13. Rilo Kiley – Under the Blacklight: I was interested to hear what Rilo Kiley’s new sound would be after 2004′s More Adventurous, which was more uptempo than their previous albums. Turns out, I still don’t know what their new sound is, and I don’t think Rilo Kiley do either. Probably the most eclectic album on this list, the band tries on a lot of different styles, making it a pretty exciting listen, but also an uneven affair. Not everything works, and I’ve never been excited about any Blake Sennett-led tracks from any of the band’s albums, and this is no exception. Incidentally, when I was filling my wife in on my list via the playlist above during a recent road trip, it was here where she vehemently disagreed with me, and spent the next few songs stating that Rilo Kiley could easily be moved up the list.
12. Modest Mouse – We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank: It’s possible that Under the Blacklight could’ve been swapped with this album, but Modest Mouse get the bump for touring Calgary. I’ll always favour those artists who figure out that playing an affluent city of over 1 million is worth their time. We Were Dead was as uneven as most Modest Mouse albums, without a standout single like “Float On”. Which is just as well, since after that appeared on American Idol, the band had to go out and enlist Johnny freaking Marr to get back their cred, and I don’t think they’ll be able to repeat that.
11. The Shins – Wincing the Night Away: Okay, sure, The Shins won’t change your life. That was an absurd thing to say about a band that makes solid, unassuming music. It’s not music that demands notice, and thus misses the top ten. What it is an album I can listen to at any time and enjoy, which basically describes every Shins album.
10. Common – Finding Forever: Ah, hip-hop, the music of my youth. Now, it’s the music where I make sure to include at least one entry in lists so as to appear diverse. That’s not entirely the case, but it might be why this album makes the top ten instead of 11 or so, but it’s still an album a really enjoy. I’ve been a fan of Common’s since he was Common Sense, and felt that he had put out his best album two years ago with Be. That’s still the case now, with Finding Forever lacking the soul-fused brilliance of Be, instead sounding more like Common’s previous releases with its focus on playful lyricism over timeless soul. But, playful lyricism has always been a strength of Common’s, and this album is no exception. It might not be a classic, but it’s still pretty great.
9. The Weakerthans – Reunion Tour: Noble patriot that I am, this list includes 7 entries by Canadian acts, none more Canadian than this album. Which is one of many things to love about The Weakerthans, that they make unabashedly Canadian music: warm, playful, yet still intelligent due to the ingenious lyricism of John K. Samson. I know Samson’s nasally voice can grate some, but for me it gives the band an underdog tone that adds to their charm (as well as their Canadianness). Plus, a good voice isn’t nearly important as what the voice is singing, and anyone that can make not one, but two songs from the perspective of a pet cat, and do so awesomely, deserves to be heard.
8. Band of Horses – Cease to Begin: Just last year, I left Band of Horses’ Everything All the Time off my top ten list, deciding it too derivative of other bands (like The Flaming Lips and My Morning Jacket) to be mentioned. Now I have their follow-up in a top ten of a superior year of music. The funny part is that I think Everything All the Time is probably the better album, I just needed more time with it to accept Band of Horses as their own entity. Two albums in, they’re quickly becoming one of my favourite bands. This has been a go to album for me since its release when scrolling through me iPod while having trouble deciding what to play.
7. Interpol – Our Love to Admire: Yes, I still listen to Interpol, Modest Mouse, and The Shins in the year 2007 (while it seems the rest of the indie world has moved on to Panda Bear and Animal Collective or something like that). I know it’s fashionable to abandon last year’s darlings for the new ones, especially if any of them have the audacity to sign on to a major label, but I don’t care all that much for fashionable snobbery. It’s true that Interpol isn’t scratching out any new territory with their third album, which makes lower enthusiasm for it understandable. Our Love to Admire is everything you’d expect an Interpol album to be, but I don’t need novelty in order to appreciate music. I was hoping for a new Interpol album, and was pleased to get exactly that.
6. Okkervil River – The Stage Names: Okkervil River was my big discovery of the year… and this is their fifth album. That’s the biggest thing missing for me this year: a debut album. Maybe the reason why I enjoyed music more this year is the simple fact that so many bands I already enjoyed released albums this year. Still, it would have been nice to experience the thrill of discovery more often than I did with The Stage Names, but at least this way I have a back catalogue to search out. I just hope they’re as interesting and expansive as each song on this album is.
5. Tegan and Sara – The Con: The new album by my favourite band, and it only gets number five? That would seem to suggest that The Con is a lesser effort than their previous releases, but I’m not sure that it is. Many songs, with tempos and structures that change three times throughout the song, are among the most accomplished in Tegan and Sara’s career. It’s entirely possible that this is their best album yet. But you can only fall in love once, which is why a lot of fans convince themselves a band used to be better back when they first discovered them, when the truth is that the band has gotten better. That, and my musical tastes are more developed now than they were in 2004 or 2002, so its understandable that their new album slips a bit. Still, it’s a top five album, so you’ll still hurt my feelings if you say anything bad about it.
4. Feist – The Reminder: “I Feel It All” was probably my favourite summer song of the year, “1, 2, 3, 4″ is one of the better singles of the year, retaining its charm even though the iPod commercial with it popped up every second commercial break during football. “So Sorry” is one of the better opening tracks of the year, while the scratchy production combined with Feist’s haunting vocals on “The Park” equal the album’s best song, giving it an Edith Piaf vibe, only, you know, not French. Another excellent collection of songs that add to the timelessness of her catalogue.
3. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible: When Neon Bible first came out, I was so distracted by how much it wasn’t like Funeral that I don’t think I gave it enough credit for what it is (which is probably why I gave up writing album reviews). Deciding which is the better album between Funeral and Neon Bible is like deciding which is the better album between Revolver and Abbey Road: you might have a preference, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are both excellent, just different. What isn’t different about Neon Bible is that the band still makes some of the most grandiose rock music out there, which some may find pretentious, but I find thrilling. It seems impossible that this band could somehow match the hype that now surrounds them, but somehow they did.
2. The New Pornographers – Challengers: I’ll confess, I didn’t really like The New Pornographers’ 2005 album Twin Cinema, mostly due to a couple songs, so I wasn’t all that excited for their 2007 release. But, since downloads are free and easy, I decided to check it out anyway. And I fell in love with it, buying the CD the week it came out, then later buying it on vinyl, and then buying two more copies to give away as Christmas gifts. So one download = four album purchases. Suck on that, RIAA. The only problem I have with the album is picking a favourite song, cause doing so leaves me to decide what kind of New Pornographers song I’m in the mood for: do I want an AC Newman-led pop song like “My Rights Versus Your Rights”, Neko Case’s beautiful vocals in “Challengers”, or some Dan Bejar wackiness like “Myriad Harbour”? It’s a nice problem to have when nearly every song on an album can contend for the title of “best song”.
1. The National – Boxer: Here’s my last, best example of why music lists are almost immediately obsolete from the moment they’re put together (although, they’re still fun to make): two years ago, I chose to leave The National’s Alligator off my top 20 list. Soon after, it quickly became one of my favourite albums to be released in the past five years (I quickly tried to rectify this mistake by writing a glowing review for the album, that I shall now shamelessly plug). Since my top three of the year are all five star albums with very little, if anything, separating them in terms of quality and enjoyment, it’s possible that Boxer gets my album of the year nod as my last act of trying to erase that omission. It’s also possible that I decided to name this my album of the year about halfway through listening to the first track “Fake Empire”, which is also my favourite song of 2007. What I love most about Boxer is that it feels like a fully realised album, with each song fitting with the next, with the band holding the listener in the palms of their hands from the first song to the last. Other albums are great collections of songs, Boxer‘s songs all act together in service of the album.