Oh groinkers! It’s taken me bastard hours to compile my best-of list this year!
Because 2007 was a great year for new music! 😀
I’ve whittled this list down to from around ninety albums to fifty. I had to make some very painful cuts to get it down to that number. Really. 🙁
So, I must emphasise, every album on this list is a winner, regardless of position. I think your life would be enriched if you went out and bought each and every one. I’ve not bunged anything in to try and make an impressively large list, quite the opposite.
Now, let’s get to it!
50. Apathy & Celph Titled – No Place Like Chrome
Solid, grabby hip hop distinguished by some very hooky (not hokey) samples.
49. Mr 76ix – 3 (Minority Of 1)
Wonderful electronic gubbins, ‘Traits’ and ‘Time Cycle’ are my faves. Veers from melodic blippiness to surging electrofuzz.
48. Common – Finding Forever
Common drops a standout album. Wasn’t this top of the charts in the US? Just listen to his masterful timing on ‘The Game.’ Essential hip hop.
47. The Saps – C’mon Already, Start A Fire
Breezy, summery indiepop. Check ’em out if you like The Shins or early New Pornographers.
46. The Fucking Champs – VI
Shreddddd! Well, TFC give us yet more masterful guitar widdling, interspersed with some rather nice ’80s-tastic moods.
45. Wir Sind Helden – Soundso
A very poppy album by a band who, if they sang in English, would be getting wanked off left right and centre by the Brit indie media.
44. Manchester Orchestra – I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child
Wow – this is some debut album! MO have catchy melodies, soaring choruses and close, downy lyrics. Yes, it’s a largely melancholic affair but there’s a hope in the clouds. No, they’re not from Manchester.
43. Melt-Banana – Bambi’s Dilemma
I know this has got slagged as being too “indie” but it’s hardly the fucking Fratellis, is it? If anything, I think MB are pushing the boat out further into new, difficult territories of catchiness and stupidity. Brilliant!
42. Mixtapes & Cellmates – Mixtapes & Cellmates
Inevitably, these Swedish funkateers have been compared with The Postal Service, Kings of Convenience and other stars of quiet, heartfelt pop. Yep, that’s all there but they also have their own thing. A thing I like and that I think you should check out.
41. Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
Ahhh… Of Montreal, contrarily cased and even more willfully mental. Prog pop isn’t a huge genre but there isn’t much doubt that OM are the current kings (well, maybe Fiery Furnaces out-weird them). This is strange pop at its best.
40. Blue Scholars – Bayani
From the first few seconds of hearing ‘Back Home,’ I knew I’d love this band. And couple undeniable, unshakeable head-nodding beats with lyrics that move and explain without preaching and you’ve got a great hip hop album.
39. The Twilight Sad – Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters
Beautifully sad, elegaic and wistful. Assured without being bored, The Twilight Sad sound like they’ve been at this for years. Not bad for a debut album!
38. Noisettes – What’s The Time, Mr Wolf?
I had the privilege of seeing Noisettes live and, fuck me, their album actually manages to capture some of that lightning in a bottle. This is the kind of indie/punky guitar rock you just have to jump up and down on your bed to.
37. LMNO – Workethic
In a fair world, hip hop like wot LMNO makes would be famous and the paper-thin superstar rappers would be stacking shelves. Rock on, LMNO. I loves ya.
36. The Atari Star – Aniseed
How do The Atari Star make guitar pop seem so effortless and… instant. They seem to achieve what so many lumbering bands evade: catchiness without corniness, off-kilter without token progness. Buy!
35. The Fall Of Troy – Manipulator
Recently, I had a Halo 3 Big Team Battle where some kid was slagging off The Fall Of Troy for the whole bastard game. He’s a fucking idiot. This is simply an essential emoscreamometalcorewhatever classic. Buy it if you’ve ever played air guitar to anything ever. Don’t buy it if you’re that kid.
34. Nick Lowe – At My Age
Wherein Mr. Lowe managed to make me cry yet again thanks to his way with a lyric. I don’t think there are many writers that capture the essential crapness of being a bloke as well as Nick Lowe. At his age, he’s a genius.
33. Parts & Labor – Mapmaker
P&L sound to me like Husker Du crossed with the Sex Clark Five via The Dave Howard Singers so, of course, I love the album. You mad bastards.
32. Fineprint – Fineprint
There’s no doubt, this has been a stellar year for hip hop. Yeah, the mainstream stuff has been as dull and leaden as usual. But then I hear an album like Fineprint‘s and I just get this huge, shit-eating grin. Thanks, dudes!
31. The One Am Radio – This Too Will Pass
Hrishikesh Hirway produces delicate, shimmery songs. They’re a bit like those skeletal leaves you find at the end of autumn: almost not there and yet compellingly gorgeous.
30. High Tension Wires – Midnight Cashier
Unashamed old-school punk that reminds me of The Dead Boys, Buzzcocks or Devo circa ‘Duty Now.’ Just intensely catchy and dancey. Why aren’t they famous? Eh?
29. Stars – In Our Bedroom After The War
Stars seem to me like more intense, less sarcastic Prefab Sprout. And I love the Sprout – there aren’t many bands who can produce huge dreamy pop songs that engage your heart, head and feet. Stars can and they’re getting better at it with ever album.
28. The Upstarts – The Know How
Hah! The minute this album started, I was reminded of Tribe’s ‘Jam’ and the jazz-guitar vibe continues, melding with irresistible beats and lovely, lovely lyrics. *swoon*
27. I Am The Ocean – …And Your City Needs Swallowing
I hear ‘Scribble Jack’ and I’m simultaneously liberated and pummelled. Yeah! IATO are, apparently, ‘post hardcore prog rock.’ I assure you, any label you try to hang on them doesn’t fit. They’re heavy, they’re precise as jackhammers, they’re wonderful.
26. Dyme Def – Space Music
Look, I know lazy advertising slags read Bzangy. I beg you, get Dyme Def’s album and stick ‘GetDown’ behind something you want to sell. This is a group that needs to be heard. These three MCs are clever, sharp, catchy and tag-team effortlessly. And the BEATS! Oh man, this album is sooo good…
25. Rushjet1 – Out There
Yeah, yeah, I know “computer game music” isn’t everyone’s bag. But give this album a chance. It’s got spiralling melodies, wonderful harmonies and pure, 8-bit soul. And it’s free!
24. Funkola – Funkola
What’s in a name, indeed? For Aussies Funkola, it’s a source of pride and lyrics. I love that these lads don’t try to sound American, it’s so cool to hear UK rappers with UK accents, Aussie rappers with defiant Aussie tones. Might mean they lose some dollars but then it’s not about a salary, it’s all about reality. Innit?
23. Akala – Freedom Lasso
…and, as if I’d planned it, here comes UK rapper Akala with a little bastard gem of an album. Buzzing and frizzing, sometimes grimy, sometimes just mental (‘Bit By Bit’ is bloody intense), this is the kind of hip hop I love: it’s got heart. “We are sad for the things we can’t have but we are not sad for Baghdad.”
22. The Fiery Furnaces – Widow City
I’ve played this to quite a few peeps and they listen and say that they wish it wasn’t so strange. I disagree: it’s the strange that makes it glow and glimmer. Pop that’s quite, quite startling.
21. Laakso – Mother Am I Good Looking
Fuck me – this a damn catchy record. And it sprawls over so much of pop, I find it quite hard to describe to you. Demis Roussos sings Springsteen on ‘Death Of Us,’ ‘Dancing Queen’ starts off like Erasure then veers into The Cure channelling The Associates. It’s wonderful to hear pop music as unashamed and adventurous, as free and wild as this.
20. Brother Reade – Rap Music
My god! Another essential hip hop album! BR have magnificent lyrics coupled with genuinely different framing. Rhyme and music combine and produce… well, magic. I love the little reverby touches, the sparkles that drop every now and then, spooking and highlighting certain lyrics. This lot are going to get ripped-off something chronic.
19. Dora Flood – We Live Now
Do you like shoegazey music? Do you like psych? Do you like pop? Then you’re going to love this album. Dora Flood have been compared to Ride and Swervedriver but to my ears they sound like Loop hanging out with early Primal Scream. Yep! Collision flower groove!
18. Holy Roman Empire – The Long Duree
The Paramore comparisons are inevitable (there aren’t that many post-emo, female-fronted rock acts, after all) but rather inaccurate. THRE are doing their own thing. Emily Schambra’s voice veers from crystal closeness to raw, swooping power. And the rest of the band aren’t slouches either. Damn poppy songs help seal the deal.
17. Sea Wolf – Leaves In The River
Whenever I’ve played ‘You’re A Wolf’ while I’m DJing, I’ve always had people ask me who it is. It’s one of those kinds of songs, like ‘Elephant Gun’ by Beirut. I’m very, very happy to say that Sea Wolf‘s full album backs up the promise of that EP track. ‘Leaves’ is sombre and chugging, reflective without being narcissistic. It’s thrumming, humming, intimate guitar pop.
16. The Mary Onettes – The Mary Onettes
I find it strange that ’60s retro is fine, ’70s retro is waycool but when bands love the ’80s as much as The Mary Onettes obviously do, this gets them slaps instead of plaudits. Let’s leave the window-dressing to one side: these are catchy, swoonsome pop songs. Yes, I can hear New Order and The Cure and Echo & The Bunnymen but so what? Just listen to the songs, goddammit!
15. Evergreen Terrace – Wolfbiker
Hah! Sometimes, I just need a dose of something as stupidly heavy but still melodic as ET. This album is a kick in the knackers with a hobnail boot. Er… a boot with good tunes… And we all need that done to us occasionally, don’t we? Rip This!
14. Access Immortal – American Me
‘Acc The Villain’ rolls into your brain like beta endorphins. One verse and you’re hooked. Acc’s bounce and verve on this whole album leave me slackjawed. I’ve had to rewind verses two or three times to fully get the deftness of his rhythm, the shades of his lyrics.
13. The Tub Ring – The Great Filter
There’s some mathtastic action here but it’s always subservient to a good choon and a bizarre lyric. Angular, daft, punky and sometimes bewilderingly playful, if you like your guitar rock poppy with a big helping of molybdenum, buy this. Ah, okay… it sounds sometimes like Help She Can’t Swim doing John Barry covers. Yep, that good!
12. Field Music – Tones Of Town
Oh wow. What a fantastic album. And what an absolute, ragged shame that Field Music aren’t more famous. Because, seriously, this album could make millions of people happy, sad, thoughful and even rhumba. Marvellous harmonies weave through unfamiliar landscapes. This is definitely prog pop, inasmuch as XTC, early Floyd and Jon Brion are prog pop. The reason it’s so high in my charts is that Field Music never sacrifice pop for showing off.
11. Example – What We Made
Example‘s got quite a bit of shit for… well, talking about his life and experiences. Funny, I thought that was the entire fucking point of hip hop. Or must we sacrifice honesty on the altar of gangster cool? This bloke can rap with the best and his lyrics cover huge emotional ground. He can take the piss out of himself on one track and then drop something as haunting as ‘What We Made.’ That’s a territory ten times wider than a lot of rappers who get big press and big bucks. You can find yourself in this UK hip hop far more easily than in current Brit indie.
10. Deerhoof – Friend Opportunity
Another best-of list, another Deerhoof album! How do these motherfuckers keep coming up with pop tune after pop tune, album after album? Whether it’s the Munster-organ driven ‘The Perfect Me’ or the porno-flick swagger of ‘Believe E.S.P.’ Deerhoof never fail. Never fail. I’m sooo jealous!
9. The Narrator – All That To The Wall
When you see titles like ‘Panic At Puppy Beach’ and ‘Surfjew,’ it might make you expect something more fratboy than The Narrator actually deliver. Whereas, ‘Surfjew’ is undoubtedly one of the catchiest alt guitar pop songs I’ve heard in my life, the lyrics recalling childhood indignities over insistent, delightful distorted twiddling. Again, every time I’ve played The Narrator when I’ve DJed, kids have asked who they were. They are that bastard catchy!
8. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
In some ways, I think of Spoon as an American Field Music. Or are Field Music a British Spoon, hmm? Whatever, I often get accused of being willfully obscure in these best-of lists. So here’s a bona-fide Top 10 US album. And it’s absolutely brilliant! You don’t have to be a dancing robot to appreciate that Spoon make some of the danciest guitar pop going. Their rhythm section is pure gold. Then take that rock-solid foundation and add Britt Daniel’s rough-smooth, high-low, big-small voice and you have pop pefection. I know I’ll be listening to this album years from now. You should too!
7. Keepin’ 6 – Uncensored
‘Uncensored’ is a deftly arranged and beautifully played collection of songs that vary from pop punk through old-school hardcore via… well, immense catchiness. Every song has a little twist, a tweak that makes it compelling. If you’ve ever bopped to Capdown, Less Than Jake or Lightyear, check out Keepin’ 6.
6. Modeselektor – Happy Birthday!
I love this album because it makes “serious” IDM fans frown more than a Happy Hardcore comp. Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary are unafraid, they’ll go anywhere and do anything musically. This is the kind of band that spawns entire micro-genres without even breaking a sweat. On ‘Happy Birthday!’ you get great slabs of music that invades your spine, generating more uncontrollable arse-shaking than a dodgy uncle at a wedding reception. Ohmygod, I larve this record!
5. The High Strung – Get The Guests
Reminding me of early Of Montreal, The High Strung come gambolling into this chart higher than them because… well, they’ve got better songs. I heard ‘Raise The Bar’ and I knew I’d be DJing it. Everyone loved it. I heard ‘Rimbaud / Rambo’ and laughed. I heard ‘He’s Got No Soul’ and revelled in the rabid riffery. I mean, come on – if you don’t like this album, you should probably avoid all guitar-pop for the rest of your life.
4. Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala
From the opening timpani roll, I fell in love all over again with Jens. I listened to it first walking round the Westfield. Riding up and down the escalators pointlessly, listening to this album for the first time will be a special, bizarre memory for me. Then, when ‘Your Arms Around Me’ came on, I had to go and sit down or I would have blubbed. And then they would have come to get me with the nets. Again.
3. Copperpot – WYLA
It’s records like this that create. I’m too bastard old, but kids will get hold of this and want to do this. They’ll want to make beats as relentlessly sub-zero cool as Daniel Kuypers, they’ll want to rap as gloriously as Rodney P and Braintax. Sure, it sounds ace loud on speakers but you really need to listen to this album on some good headphones. Only then will you hear the nuances, the tiny flams and rimshots, all the touches that wrap round the guests to make an intense hip hop album.
2. Cats On Fire – The Province Complains
DISCLAIMER: I was a guest keyboardist for Cats On Fire on their last UK tour. And Ville (Cats’ guitarist) has helped me out when I’ve played in Scandinavia. But let me elaborate and say that I don’t tickle the ivories for just anyone. It was this way around: I got to know Cats On Fire because I love their music – I don’t love their music because they’re showbiz mates.
Now that’s out of the way, let me introduce you to the best indie / rock / guitar / pop album of 2007.
‘The Province Complains’ wears its influences on its sleeve. There’s some Felt in there, some Aztec Camera. The Smiths comparisons are, again, lazy and inaccurate: there’s more McCarthy and Monochrome Set here.
The reason this album is at number 2 is that there are no fillers. Every song is catchy, every song is about something. Yep! Now, when’s the last time you could say that about an indie album? Every person in the band works brilliantly, resulting in a whole that is transformative and revelatory. Whether it’s Mattias’ soaring, gorgeous declarations, Ville’s fluid, urbane guitar, Kenneth’s tight, happy bass or Henry’s superb beats, each part gels with the other. This is what makes the album so varied even though Cats don’t do a lot of genre-hopping. The variation is in the ability of the players and the arrangements.
The final thing that made it so high is Mattias’ lyrics. I love his stories, I love the way he draws me into the narratives. They aren’t in-jokes or references, they’re not weighed down with the dead hand of hypertrophied postmodernism that squashes so much indie music. This is what makes the songs so clear, so catchy, so pop. They’re un-embarrassed and therefore irresistible.
1. IRS – The World Is Theirs
This album just pipped Cats On Fire to the number one spot. And I love that album. So what’s so special about IRS?
Let me tell you.
Have you ever found yourself in music? Been forgiven and accepted by a song? When you feel like a stranger everywhere you go, you put a certain album on and you’re home?
That’s ‘The World Is Theirs’ for me.
I’ve been walking round on my own a lot this year. Inevitably, I’ve been skipping tracks on my iPod. But every time IRS came on, I didn’t skip. Gradually, I realised that I like this album. No – I love it. And it’s not as if it’s party hip hop: this is no happy-clappy album. The overall tone is closer to Joy Division than it is to De La Soul.
So I love it. For all the same reasons that I love Cats On Fire. That may sound strange as Cats are doing indie guitar pop and IRS are doing down-and-dirty UK hip hop. But the lyrics! Yeah, the beats are compelling, I do love them. But I’ve listened to the lyrics time and time again. Lyrics like those in the title track:
“I’m living day by day,
Earning to live,
Ten percent of my tax
Goes on murdering kids
Dropping bombs over Baghdad
They’re burning the bridge.”
Or from ‘Music’:
“It’s nice to know
Any way I might go
I’ve got music to see me through the highs and lows
Holding the microphone
I’m right at home
I’m happy in the thought I’ll never die alone.”
Which is exactly how I feel about music and me. Exactly.
Of course, you’ve got to hear these lyrics in context. Seeing them written down, you’re missing half the story. When I listen to this album, I am transported. I also feel welcomed, like I’ve met some old mates. And that’s not a feeling I get that often: I often feel excluded by a lot of the music I listen to.
If you’ve ever liked any hip hop ever, I urge you to check out this album. And even if you haven’t, if you’ve got an open mind, I’m convinced that IRS will connect with it. It isn’t an easy album, it can be very bleak at times but there’s a communion in that melancholy. And in that communion, a rare beauty.
And with that, I wish you, dear readers, a happy and healthy 2008! 😀