These are the albums in 2007 that caught my ears, peaked my interest and took up space on both my iPod and computer. If something you know of isn’t on here, it was either too terrible to mention, or I didn’t listen to it. Of course, the ratings are out of 5 stars and my own opinion. For a complete list of music releases this year, go here.
And now, without further adieu…
Jazzy, dynamic, and confident describes my pick for the best album of 2007. Radiohead’s In Rainbows did more than blow away the competition, it completely obliterated it. While the album will be most known for its unconventional manner of release, one can’t ignore the plethora of strong arrangements here. From the jangly “Bodysnatchers” to the haunting “Videotape,” the songs represent time well spent on a three year hiatus as well as a band, a full decade after their biggest release, seeming fully confident and excited to make these songs. Don’t believe me? Listen to Thom Yorke’s controlled, but passionate vocals on “Nude” and then tell me these songs are the work of a band struggling with their craft. Nigel Godrich’s meticulous production job allows listeners to really sink their teeth into all that’s going on in these songs, making it a clusterfuck for your headphones. Hands down, the strongest release goes to one of the most innovative rock bands still making music today.
Key Cuts- Bodysnatchers, Nude, Videotape
When I heard Fred Mascherino split from Taking Back Sunday and did so to pursue a solo career, my stomach clenched just a little bit. For better or worse, I really wanted him to suck it up because his voice complimented their sound perfectly (Better than John Nolan, I know it’s blasphemy) and because I didn’t think he was up to the task of fronting himself. Boy, did Bend To Break prove me wrong. This album is filled with the most infectious hooks this year, as well as a great overall power-pop feel. Mascherino’s gravely voice wails against surprisingly heavy chunks of guitar on tracks like “If I Surrender” and “Complaintor.” The Color Fred far surpassed my expectations, and I can’t wait to see a different shade on his next release.
Key Cuts- If I Surrender, Hate To See You Go, Don’t Pretend
Just when you think the duo of Jack and Meg White had mellowed with 2005’s piano driven Get Behind Me Satan, they pull a 180 and assault our ears with squealing blues and a heavy helping of Zeppelin to boot. Icky Thump is probably the loudest and most raucous Stripes album since their self-titled debut and more than earns its spot as my best rock pick for 2007. Blistering tracks like “300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues” finds White abusing the hell out of his guitar in that metallic way only he knows how to. However, this doesn’t mean the Stripes have forgone melody. The bouncy “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do What Your Told)” and the quirky “Rag & Bone” remind us they are just two weird kids with solid storytelling chops. All in all, Icky Thump reminds listeners that sometimes, good writing goes along way.
Key Cuts- You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do What Your Told), 300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues, Rag & Bone
2007 was the year that metal gasped for life. While big name artists like Metallica and In Flames promise releases next year, there was nothing that really that flew the flag of bone crushing metal. Except, however, for The Black Dahlia Murder. Nocturnal reminds everyone what evil sounding metal should sound like. Cuts like “I Worship Only What You Bleed” and “Warborn” are completely ugly and twisted nightmares, wretched out by the abrasive vocal chords of Trevor Strand. The band is tight, offering ten tracks of behemoth-sized riffs with gothic tinge solos that just seem to climb and climb. And while they’ll never grow to the heights of their influences, The Black Dahlia Murder are a band that refuse to sacrifice their art. Three albums into their career, it’s evident that the band shows no signs of slowing down.
Key Cuts- What A Horrible Night To Have A Curse, I Worship Only What You Bleed, Warborn
In my close circles of friends, I utter the following phrase quite a bit: “The only two punk bands that ever had anything to say about society were The Clash and Bad Religion.” And when their 2004 masterpiece The Empire Strikes First fell on deaf ears about the direction our country was going in, the band decided to get angry. New Maps Of Hell is an furious record, and a call to arms at that. It’s not subtle, nearly all the tracks clock in under 2 minutes, it’s a punk assault. Songs like “52 Seconds” and “Murder” call to mind the band’s hardcore days, and others like “New Dark Ages” exemplify the epic feel and big sound Bad Religion have mastered on later releases. Lyrically, Greg Graffin still exercises his thesaurus in a focused and concise fashion that only adds to their lean attack. And while the band approaches their forties, they still manage to make music that sounds vibrant and pertinent rather than stodgy and conservative.
Key Cuts- Heroes & Martyrs, New Dark Ages, Requiem For Dissent
I liked [With_Teeth] but never saw it as groundbreaking as The Fragile. For me, it saw Trent Reznor done with dense and cluttered electronic arrangements, in favor of a more modern rock sound merely accentuated by electronics. In short, a watered down version of the Nine Inch Nails I loved. Year Zero then, was exactly what I was looking for. And me being a sucker for concept albums, well I suppose Reznor couldn’t have read my mind more concisely. Tracks like the sexually charged, white noised infused “Vessel” and the abrasive “My Violent Heart” make up the meat and potatoes of this dense collection of sound collages. It’s Nine Inch Nails at some of its angriest, and not at his most cruise-controlled. It all comes together beautifully for the closing track, “Zero-Sum.” Against a backdrop of white noise, the haunting piano line plays out over small squiggles and bleeps tied together by Reznor’s apocalyptic moan. I wish I could party like it’s Year Zero all the time.
Key Cuts- Vessel, My Violent Heart, Zero-Sum
I’ll admit, I had reservations about Butch Vig producing the new Jimmy Eat World album. After all, the man is notorious for placing a glossy sheen on everything he touches. The last thing I wanted was Jimmy Eat World sounding like Garbage. Thankfully, Vig was smart enough to understand these tracks and not let his penchant for polishing get the best of him. Jimmy Eat World crafted large and anthematic songs this time around and Vig was the perfect man to twist the knobs for them. His production is crisp and clear but not compressed. Underlying synthesizers add vibrancy to the chugging “Big Casino,” and the shimmering “Chase This Light” simply sparkles. The album’s standout is the string tinged dirge, “Gotta Be Somebody’s Blues,” where Vig adds just enough reverb to allow the drums to hit hard and Jim Adkins’ voice to pierce our souls. It’s a huge sounding record, one where the production employed matches the heights that the song craft aims for.
Key Cuts- Gotta Be Somebody’s Blues, Chase This Light, Dizzy
Before I delve into this, let me say one thing: people wanted a HEAVY Pumpkins record and they got one. And since Zeitgeist dropped in summer of this year, the jury has been still out on whether or not Billy Corgan rekindling the old Pumpkin flame was a good or bad idea. “Tarantula” sports one of the most driving melodies since “Zero” and “7 Shades Of Black” reminds listeners just how accomplished a guitarist Corgan is. Yet, everyone’s been quick to dismiss the album. I ask why? It’s beefy, big, bold, lavish, and everything that The Smashing Pumpkins have always been. So what if a t-shirt costs $50 at their reunion tour? So what if Billy and Jimmy Chamberlain are the only two original members? They wrote all the material anyway! And the new songs they play are some of the hardest-hitting songs of their career, something that people have been aching for since Adore dropped the electronic bombshell on everyone. My opinion? Sometimes people can get exactly what they want, and still aren’t happy because they’ve built it up so much in their heads. With The Smashing Pumpkins writing songs like the sprawling 10 minute, “
Key Cuts- 7 Shades Of Black,
Quite honestly, there were not too many E.P.s that came out in 2007, but I loved this one just as much as any album of the year. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs really out did themselves with the Is Is E.P. The tracks further pull part the different facets of the band’s sound, they caustic take on 70’s garage punk and their melodic and dense balladeering. “Rockers To Swallow” balances abrasive guitar lines against Karen O’s sand-paper screams while “Kiss Kiss” pushes that sexy sass that only the Yeah Yeah Yeahs know how to deliver. The release is lean, compact, and leaves its mark rather strongly. The highlight, however, is the title track “
Key Cuts- Rockers To Swallow, Kiss Kiss,
It’s a four disc collection of E.P.s that is each themed after the four elements of Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. How could I in good conscience, pick anything but Thrice’s epic, The Alchemy Index? They released Fire and Water, the first half of the collection and we’ll have to wait till next year to hear the rest. However, the LA four piece have done good to musically manifest the qualities of these elements within their song craft. The songs on Fire bludgeon and sear eardrums with little mercy. “The Flame Deluge” acts as an endless wall of noise, devastating all in its path. Elsewhere, Water consists of textured and large sounding movements, accentuated by electronics and keyboards. Such sounds give ballads like “The Whaler” a large and spacious feel. Thrice has pushed their sounds to their limits, fully immersing themselves in a collection of songs that is an expansive and grand undertaking. And we only have part one.
Key Fire Cuts- Firebreather, The Flame Deluge
Everything AND the kitchen sink seems to describe Straylight Run’s new album, The Needles, The Space. Here, it sounds like the Nolan siblings and the rest of the band seem to have been listening to tons of bands a la Neutral Milk Hotel. This record stretches the band’s piano rock styling, adding an avalanche of instruments from horns to accordion. The songs are schizophrenic too. “Soon We’ll Be Living In The Future” hovers around indie-pop one minute and cold synthesizers the next. However, the one thing that has remained in tact is the band’s penchant for tight song writing. With all the new additions, songs like “How Do I Fix My Head” and “Still Alone” come across as honest despite the bizarre instrumental flourishes. All in all, it makes for a wonderfully fresh sounding release, even if it’s less epic in scope and less memorable than their debut.
Key Cuts- Soon We’ll Be Living In The Future, How Do I Fix My Head, Buttoned Down
Since Paul’s Boutique, there is nothing that The Beastie Boys haven’t done to push their sound forward or at least refine it. Here, on The Mix-Up, the Beasties certainly refine their instrumental work and show us that their twisting arrangements can be just as enticing as when we hear them cut up and sampled. As a whole, the material is unlike anything the Beasties have done before. While still borrowing heavily from 70’s jazz and soul, there is an urban and gritty quality to these rather funky tracks. Songs range from the bouncy “B For My Name” and to the distortion soaked “Freaky Hijiki.” The band has shown us there is no type and style of music they can’t handle, from mainstream rock, hip-hop, to hardcore punk and jazz. Tracks like the lush “Off The Grid” remind us that the Beasties are all about tweaking their collective creativity just enough to break new ground. And to think, it’s all instrumental.
Key Cuts- B For My Name, Freaky Hijiki, Off The Grid
There wasn’t a major publication, internet message board, or blog that didn’t cream themselves over Leslie Feist and her album, The Reminder. However, I still don’t understand the buzz behind the mainstream’s sudden fixation with Feist. Sure, she was on that Apple commercial but does the music itself warrant the heaps of accolades? Well for starters, The Reminder is certainly an easy disc to listen to and her rather dry voice is distinct enough to separate her from the crowd. Sonically, the production is a bit needlessly lo-fi for the type of indie-pop she’s going for but it’s nothing terrible. And while catchy numbers like “My Moon My Man” and the folky “1234” have the internet blazing, it’s the quirky piano ballad “Brandy Alexander” that merits repeated listens for me. With its tumbling melody, Feist’s soft but present voice reflects about parallels drawn to one of my favorite Chuck Palahiuk characters. That being said, I can’t argue with the pounds of praise The Reminder has earned for I’m a fan myself, even if I feel the buzz is a little inflated.
Key Cuts- My Moon My Man, 1234, Brandy Alexander
Atreyu were always, in my opinion, unfairly crapped on by the mainstream and music elitists. I for one found their first two albums to be a thing of beauty, both heavily influenced by Gothenburg metal alongside rich prose from Alex Varkatzas. Now, that is all but obliterated and I can’t help but agree with those same voices that trashed them earlier in their career. I don’t use the term “sell-out” too much, but Lead Sails Paper Anchor is very much a “sell-out” album. It reeks of a band that was tired of created music and rather manufactured a collection of songs that was bland and watered down. Here, rather than demons from hell, they sound like a Bon Jovi cover band. Even the cuts that seem some what interesting, like the rumbling “Doomsday” and “Can’t Happen Here,” fall on their face because of rather contrived sounding lyrics. The band doesn’t sound like their out to express anything except a top 40 hit which they probably won’t achieve because Clive Davis isn’t producing them. For all the hating they’ve endured for being “hacks,” I can now say the critics have finally got it right since the band looks like they are going through the motions. It’s sad to see one of your favorite bands fall but in this case I can’t help but crap on them further. In this case, Atreyu deserves it.
Key Cuts- Doomsday, Can’t Happen Here, Lead Sails (And A Paper Anchor)
I remember when I first heard Era Vulgaris. I thought, “Jesus Christ, when does this album take off!” My first listens were frustrating, there was no standout like “No One Knows” or “’You Got A Killer Scene There Man…’” To add to it, Josh Homme and Co. had crafted a sludgy, abrasive, and caustic album. I hated it. I hated that it wasn’t anything like “Songs For The Deaf” and I hated that the lead single had an asinine title like “Sick Sick Sick.” Then as I was out walking my dog one day, the brilliance of the album hit me. It’s not an album of hooks, or technicality, it’s rather an album of rhythm. Era Vulgaris is chock full of off kilter and jangly jams like “Turning On The Screw” as well as eerily hypnotic numbers like “Into The Hallow.” Homme lead his revolving door militia of musicians to create a quirky, unfriendly, and surprisingly dancey album. “Misfit Love” is a raw and dirty garage rock number that reminds you of some of the dingiest and grittiest parties you’ve been at. The album is filthy, sleazy, appalling, and ugly…and I think it’s great.
Key Cuts- Turning On The Screw, Into The Hallow, Misfit Love
I was beyond excited for the concluding chapter of Coheed & Cambria’s sci-fi rock epic, aptly titled No World For Tomorrow. However, as the album worn on, I couldn’t help but feel under whelmed. The sound wasn’t BIG like its predecessor and the epic sense that pervaded their other releases felt strangely absent. I’ve always thought that the story that Coheed & Cambria told was just as important as their lyrics and instruments and I failed to care for any of it on this release. Fans of band’s sing-song singles should have no problem diving into the material here, but I expected more depth in arrangements. The non-stop Rush by way of Queensrÿche worship on the album’s title track feels canned and contrived rather than the big opening it’s supposed to be. Oddly enough, the middle of the album is the most listenable. The anthematic, Van Halen-like “Feathers” has the biggest sounding chorus on the album while the ominous “Mother Superior” brings the only point of darkness desperately absent in these songs. Rather than going out with a bang, Coheed & Cambria decide to go out with a whimper alongside their buried drums, weak guitar tones, and rather average storytelling.
Key Cuts- Feathers, Mother Superior, Gravemakers & Gunslingers
Every music blog that I frequent (other than my own of course) plugged either Spoon or Wilco at nausea, even delegating either of the two as “Best Ofs” for the year. Granted, I think Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and Sky Blue Sky are both fine records but I think it’s a lots of hype over something that isn’t too ground breaking. Both bands seem to fancy themselves as being really influenced by The Beatles, almost to the point where its derivative. Spoon attempts to fashion McCartney-esqe pop songs while Wilco attempt George Harrison-like guitar arrangements alongside John Lennon weirdness. The results are discs that are fun to listen to, maybe even contain a few catchy melodies, but don’t stand out too much. In fact, the only thing they have going for them is that they are tight and well made, not incredibly innovative. And while music is a far cry from horrible, it just seems like the elites in the blogging community would fancy themselves at the forefront of cutting edge music rather than simply decent.
Key Cuts off
Key Cuts off Sky Blue Sky- Either Way, Impossible Germany, On & On & On
Chris Coley of Saves The Day has a serious set of demons that his three part epic is trying to excise. Under The Boards is the middle and perhaps might be the darkest chapter in this album cycle. Conley refers to this part of the story as “reflection and remorse” and while that might be the case, there is nothing here to deter listeners from finding a wealth melodies, and solid song writing. The album hits hard with the bouncy “Get Fucked Up” and “Bye Bye Baby” to the gut wrenching and wretched sounding “Woe.” It’s an album of extremes, where Conely and guitarist Dave Soloway trade off between the band’s punk influenced assault and gentle atmospherics like the ons found one “Stay.” The album is rife with lush harmonies and surprisingly intricate guitar work as well as a solid rhythm section and poignant but accessible lyrics about Conely’s personal struggles. The disc ends with the eerie “Turning Over In My Tomb” allowing listeners to feel the claustrophobia within Conely’s own soul as we wait for Daybreak, the next chapter in his trilogy. For what it’s worth, it’s a gem that’s been overlooked by a great deal of people and I highly recommend it for it’s honestly and musicality.
Key Cuts- Get Fucked Up, Stay, Woe
For what it’s worth, I own two Good Charlotte records. I listen(ed) to them because they had great hooks and they appeared to be making music that they wanted to make, not what was necessary popular. Good Morning Revival, is not an evolution, experiment, or maturation. It is a calculated shift in sound to capitalize on this dancey pop-punk thing bands like Panic! At The Disco and Hellogoodbye have popularized in the mainstream. Good
Key Cuts- Any other Good Charlotte CD that reminds fans that they were always a little poppy, always a little fun, but never this disgusting.
The following releases were all albums that I really enjoyed in 2007 and receive a 3/5 and above from me (for whatever that’s worth to you). Some are better than others and some were close to being listed up top for specific categories. Regardless, all of them deserve a listen at least once.
1997- A Better View Of The Rising Moon (***½)
A New Found Glory- From The Screen To Your Stereo Pt. II (***½)
Against Me!- New Wave (***)
Amy Winehouse- Back To Black (***½)
Arcade Fire- Neon Bible (***)
Air- Pocket Symphony (***½)
Blaqk Audio- CexCells (****½)
Bloc Party- A Weekend In The City (****)
Bright Eyes- Cassadaga (***)
Bright Eyes- Four Winds E.P. (***½)
Buckethead- Pepper’s Ghost (****)
Dashboard Confessional- The Shade Of Poison Trees (***½)
Dropkick Murphys- The Meanest Of Times (***)
Dustin Kensrue- Please Come Home (***)
Elliott Smith- New Moon (****½)
Foo Fighters- Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (****)
Grinderman- Grinderman (***½)
The Good, The Bad & The Queen- The Good, The Bad & The Queen (***)
Ingrid Michaelson- Girls & Boys (***)
Interpol- Our Love To Admire (****)
Jay-Z- American Gangster (***½)
Kanye West- Graduation (****)
The Killers- Sawdust (***½)
Korn- Unplugged (***½)
Korn- Untitled (***)
Linkin Park- Minutes To Midnight (***)
Maroon 5- It Won’t Be Soon Before Long (***)
Megadeth- United Abominations (***)
Modest Mouse- We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank (***½)
The Nightwatchman- One Man Revolution (***)
Nine Inch Nails- Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D (***½)
Nora Jones- Not Too Late (***½)
Prince- Planet Earth (***½)
Ryan Adams- Easy Tiger (***)
Rivers Cuomo- Alone: The Home Recordings Of Rivers Cuomo (****)
Say Anything- In Defense Of The Genre (****)
She Wants Revenge- This Is Forever (***)
Sigur Rós- Hvarf/Heim (****½)
Tegan & Sara- The Con (***½)
Thursday- Kill The House Lights (***½)
Tiger Army- Music From Regions Beyond (****)
The Used- Lies For The Liars (***½)
Yellowcard- Paper Walls (***)