Best of 2007

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Video hookup

Before I start, the little elves at the Hype Machine have been working extra hard for their Jolly Ranchers, and they’ve compiled a long list of bloggers’ favorite albums of 2007. No surprise there; in fact Dave at the Rawkblog points out that Idolator’s poll, the Pazz & Jop poll, and the hype machine’s list all are about the same (via Heart On A Stick).

Sadly, my number one did not follow the crowd, and Josh was relegated to #40. I still love ya, Josh!

And now, more proof that music videos aren’t dead. They’re just back to being lo-fi.

0.5 Muzzle of Bees just posted a new video from What Made Milwaukee Famous — it’s got fencing! And math! And Lance Armstrong! And it’s awesome. Go check out “Sultan.”

01. At Stereogum, you can see Willie Nelson being adorable in “You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore.” No no, I never did think he was funny. But he does get cuter as he ages (why is that?).

02. At Fabulist!, Olga digs up the video for PJ & Nick’s song “Henry Lee.” I was a big fan of “Murder Ballads,” but for some reason I never saw this video. And it fairly sizzles (though luckily for the 90s-greasy-haired protagonists, it never does catch fire).

03. Also at Fabulist!, an animated guy with no arms sings a sad, sweet indie song. The video is Levi Weaver’s “You Are Home.”

04. Did you think Ed Vedder couldn’t get any cuter? Well, when he sings 50s classics with a girl from Sleater-Kinney, he’s like an adorable, bearded, unintelligible puppy. (singing starts around 2 minutes in). [via YANP]

05. Take Away Shows profiles Sidi Toure in his hometown of Bamako. [via Gvs.B].

06. At Electroqueer, a thumping Taio Cruz video: “Come On Girl.”

07. I have been trying to like the Raveonettes for awhile and the only thing I have liked so far is this video at Idolator: “Candy.”

08. Jax profiles the very interesting Montreal singer Julie Doiron and features her video “No More.” Another song I want to like but haven’t quite managed yet.

09. I really love Lisa Hannigan, what little I’ve heard, and so I was excited to see a new video of hers on Stereogum — “My Pirate Disco (demo).” Hey, I’d go to a pirate disco.

10. I’ve never been as close to liking Magnetic Fields as when I saw this cute video of St Vincent & J. Vanderslice doing “Yeah! Oh, yeah!”. That song has awesome punctuation, I will say that.

11. Via the Music Slut, Travis has a new video for “New Amsterdam.” Great song.

12. Jax also links to video of Eli from Monolators and the Henry Clay People doing a fun cover of “Psycho Killer.” With the white pants and all, it’s very 80s.

13. And last but not least, spooky #13 is Miho Hatori (of Cibo Matto fame)’s video for the song “Barracuda,” from her solo album “Ecdysis.” (Aaaand wikipedia says that ecdysis is “the molting of the cuticula in arthropods and related groups.” Righteous.) [via Fabulist!]

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I timed this wrong, and now I’m going out of town till after New Years. So here you go, in brief.



03.
Sea Wolf
Leaves In the River
Dangerbird
Winter Windows

This album has its weaknesses; it’s not perfect by any means. As a first album, it’s not as cohesive as it might be and sometimes the songwriting is overblown. Still and all, I spent most of the year fangirling Sea Wolf (ie., watching Alex Church on Youtube and squealing like I was fourteen). Typical comment to friend: “Try Sea Wolf. I love it, even though it’s 100% indie!” But hey, cute guys who play guitar and know how to wield a metaphor are my weakness. Even though Sea Wolf likely represents that hated genre of music that “has no soul,” I have a deep fondness for its simplicity and hidden quirks.

I spent a lot of time listening to Church’s understated but complicated music, admiring the bluesy strain of “You’re A Wolf,” the deep beat of “The Cold, the Dark, & the Silence,” and concrete lyrics like the ones from “Black Leaf Falls”: I saw you outside the bathroom stalls / you were just standing there out in the hall / You leaned your hip against against the wall / I’d love you anywhere but Black Leaf Falls.



02.
Pop Levi
The Return To Form Black Magick Party
Counter

Pick-Me-Up Uppercut

Hands down, best dancing record of the year. You all can have your daft punk and your lcd soundsystems and your justice, but I want my dance music to have soul. Pop Levi catapults the listener back to the 70s, the 60s, wherever he wants to go, drags you dancing along with him to the days when you could plant a boombox in the middle of an intersection and stop the cars and get the whole block dancing.

Call it “classic,” call it psychadelic, call it whatever you want. It’s definitely a variable sound, sometimes sampling a marching band, sometimes piano and sitar, sometimes a fuzzy bass with handclaps, and above it all is Levi’s voice, which will not appeal to everyone. For me, it recalls the era of Page and Clapton and Hendrix, without being derivative in the least. Levi segues from the jazzy introspective “See My Lord” to the wicked sexy “Pick-Me-Up Uppercut” to the blues in “(A Style Called) Crying Chic” and “Dollar Bill Rock”: your money’s on fire so you can call me a liar for free / so talk to your lawyer, talk to your lawyer for me. It’s a great blend of everything, and continually surprises the listener; and Levi seems to be having a lot of fun with it. Fun! You remember it, right? It’s the opposite of having your heart broken. Go out and have some aural fun with Pop Levi; you won’t regret it.



01.
Josh Ritter
The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter
Sony
Empty Hearts

Cue the sound of my sister squealing like she’s at a Timberlake concert. FINE! I hope you’re happy, Miss J! Though I never could understand the appeal of the lugubrious “Animal Years,” Ritter has created a beautiful album here. I seem to always save the #1 slot for the perfect songwriter, and Ritter is definitely that. I was captivated from the very first line of the first song, and I’m not really sure how Ritter fits that many words into a song like “To the Dogs Or Whoever”: Joan never cared about the inbetweens / combed her hair with the blade did the maid of Orleans / said, “Christ walked on water, we can wade through the war. / You don’t need to tell me who the fire is for.”

And the whole album is chock full of it; imagery that gave me chills, backed by a breathing piano and frenetic drums. Ritter switches from the bitter to the wry to the outright funny with equal facility, and he never descends to infantility; he’s always a grownup (which doesn’t sound like much to you, I bet, but I so much prefer a man to a boy). In “Rumors,” he entwines a broken heart with what all of us do when we are unhappy: turning the music up. Decibels in the belfry / hey what the hell if it helps me / I put a whip to the kickdrum but the music’s never loud enough, backed by these totally swinging saxophones and the edge of desperation in Ritter’s voice. This is the album I listened to the most this year, the one that satisfied the most of those yearnings an audiophile can never be free of. Congratulations, number one album! I salute you!

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Albums I Enjoyed in 2007 — 4


10.
The Apples In Stereo
New Magnetic Wonder
Simian/Yep Roc/Elephant Six
Energy

I can’t say as I ever heard these guys before this year, and reading their wiki I get the Credibility Guilt vibe, since Neutral Milk Hotel is name-dropped and so is Elijah Wood. Well, I never claimed to be on the cusp of the leading edge, except now I am, so ha ha. Truly “indie” rock would be uncategorizable; so it is with the Apples in Stereo. Pop + math rock + 60s harmony + smart lyrics + mellotron = better music than the average bear can make. And did I say how math rock leaves me cold? I take it all back, because I’m in love with this theorem.

I’ve noticed a resurgence in the 60s trend (cf “Octopus”), but even in the places where Schneider and co. take sidesteps into Beatletopia (i.e. on “Energy,” it’s gonna be all right, many a time, or the entirety of “The Sun Is Out”), it’s not invasive. It just feels like an extension of that organic sound that I grew up on, and maybe that’s part of why I liked it so much. Like Schneider himself says in an interview at Harmonium, “My ear craves stuff that sounds like the Beatles or that sounds like the Kinks or something. And I can’t engineer outside of that. I don’t really want to. It’s kind of a specialty.” That type of music is so entwined in my own personal culture that the Apples become my personal comfort music. I eat it up; I can’t get enough.

But Schneider’s specialty is not just a mindless echo. It’s that 60s sound with extras, updated for the new century and electronically altered just a tidge. And then they surprise you with little inserts like “Droplets,” which plinks asymmetrically for thirteen seconds and then is gone. The Non-Pythagorean Compositions, which are totally mathy and so therefore I did not understand them, reject the musical scale as we know it! Or something! I can’t claim to know what that’s about; I majored in poetry. I do know that I enjoy the sound very much; and after everything is said & done, that’s what makes my top list. That’s what will be on my playlist year after year; that’s what will make this album fondly remembered in my personal pantheon.

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05.
Feist
The Reminder
Cherrytree
The Park

[ed. note — my sense of humor being what it was, I oversimplified Wilmoth’s argument a bit (just a smidge! uh huh!) and he responded in the comments. Since I am unused to people actually reading this site, I usually just say what comes into my head and in this case Wilmoth came by and called me out, and he was right. So besides noting that point 4 is meant purely for humorous purposes of satire, I encourage you to read the comments and see what Wilmoth says in defense of himself.]

So… Feist, huh? Heard about it enough, right? Let me come at it from another angle. Consider a post from June, at Pretty Goes With Pretty, entitled “Just Gimme Indie Wha??.” Scott Tennent semi-lampoons the Dusted review of Feist by Charlie Wilmoth, which pegs Ms. F in a category Wilmoth likes to call “Adult Alternative.” Oh dear, says Wilmoth, the lo-fi cracks have all been erased in big indie artists and all we’re left with is smooth contemporary pap. His biggest critique of Feist is that it’s not messy enough, and “what you see is what you get.” So Tennent then asks, “Have we been snookered? How can I read Pitchfork every morning and enjoy an album so palatable my mother-in-law might even like it?”

Tennent’s response is, “ultimately … so what?… overcoming one’s inner college rock snob is a personal battle.” Touché! Well said, and I applauded silently. Here are my responses to the conundrum:

1) I won that battle a long time ago, back when I was dancing in my room to my dad’s ABBA cds. In fact, I grew up listening to my parents’ music, and had no real musical taste of my own until much later. I was as at-home with the Carpenters as I was with Nirvana, and happy to make a mix tape with Mary Chapin Carpenter alongside Depeche Mode. I never read a rock magazine; sifted through radio play and finally abandoned it altogether; relied on my friends and my folks. I came out liking just about everything.

2) Oh, the Golden Age of Indie ! How wonderful everything was then! I really, really, REALLY hate comparisons based on nostalgia. Tennent skewers that pretty well, so I won’t go too far with it, but suffice it to say that 10 years ago, someone was probably talking about how the Cure was getting so smooth, and how they missed the old days, when Robert Smith hadn’t sold out his image to Kodak. It’s the oldest critique in the book, and therefore is always a failure.

3) Wilmoth avers that art “struggles. It makes messes.” Not always true. I am almost all the way through reading “Warhol: 365 Takes,” put out by the Warhol museum in Pittsburgh. Though Warhol had his messy moments, I was struck by this quote from his book From A to B and back again: “You see, I think every painting should be the same size and the same color so they’re all interchangeable and nobody thinks they have a better painting or a worse painting…. Besides, even when the subject is different, people always paint the same painting” (283).1 Consider that for a minute; if Feist and Norah Jones sound interchangeable, then are they simply fulfilling their Warholian purpose? Or can we simply say that Art is not confined to the Messy box or the Smooth box, but can be found in many styles and sounds, some of which sound quite similar?

4) Or is Wilmoth just angry because Norah Jones is a hiss and a byword in indie culture, and now he’s afraid that if he puts Feist on the car stereo, someone might say, “Hey, I didn’t know Norah Jones had a new album!”. My stars and garters! He might be taken for one of those … those people that like Adult Contemporary! His life will be ruined!

5) My mother-in-law listens to everything, from opera on down. Musically, I aspire to be like my mother-in-law. So there :D

All this is to say, yeah, Feist is smooth. She’s no CTFPA, that’s for sure, but in a genre that embraces Sharon Jones, can we have no niche for adult alternative? And are we Not Allowed to like it because it has flow? Dude, I’m tired of listening to crappy albums that everyone genuflects in front of. I don’t want everything to be Art. I want to hear something that’s smooth, that I like and that I can talk about to people that have never heard of Joanna freaking Newsom. So what if it’s popular? So what if, oh my gosh, my mother-in-law would like it? I like what I like, be it Art or cornerless consumerist treacle.

Therefore, let me say: “The Reminder” is chock full of stellarly smooth songs. “Honey Honey” and “1 2 3 4,” with their choral backgrounds; the clappy, poppy cover of Nina Simone’s “See-Line Woman” (just as poppy, by the way, as the original); “The Water,” which is jazzy and tinkly and does indeed sound like something that could be sung in the background at a restaurant. I don’t call this the best album of the year, and I don’t call it particularly influential or Artistic. I do call it something I enjoyed very much this year; something that is beautiful for its own sake and not because it has to be compared to every foremother it had. Here ends the diatribe. Give Feist a listen.

1: Andy Warhol: 365 Takes. ed. Deborah Aaronson. New York: HN Abrams Inc, 2004.

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Albums I Enjoyed in 2007 — 6



06.
Bat For Lashes
Fur and Gold
Caroline
Prescilla

Bat For Lashes is terribly exotic in a fantasy-novel sort of way, as if Natasha Khan came from a world where magic really worked. Of course, having said that, I might have been influenced just a tidge by seeing the video for “Prescilla,” which reminded me strongly of “Labyrinth.” That video was the first time I saw Khan and heard those stomp/clap rhythms that flesh out her best tracks. I had just clicked on it for fun, in a “what the heck is a Bat For Lashes” kind of mood, and got blindsided by Khan’s voice and the glittery gold in the video augmenting the song’s fancy horn section.

Out of my whole list, this is the album that I wish I could have written. Not all of it — some of it is fairly cheezy — but songs like “Horse and I,” with its quasi-religious quest imagery, as if Khan were going into battle on a white horse to save the earth from some unknown but overarching evil. As the song ends there is no turning back / there is no turn …, Khan’s voice rises, incantatory. In other songs she pulls out and becomes the narrator, telling the story of someone else’s life — in “Prescilla,” she says, There’s a girl that wants to start / been thinking about having a couple of kids. Then she zooms back into first person, as in “Sarah”: But on the dirty tarmac of / the tarmac of the melting motorway / she gave me her clothes and told me take her place, her place, her place.

Khan has no trouble moving from the exotic to the mundane and back again — bats and suicide, love as an ocean and love that makes you feel sorry for yourself — all showcased by that fabulous voice and a stunning variety of orchestral background. This is the one that should’ve won the Mercury prize, in my humble opinion. It takes chances and even when they fail, they’re head and shoulders above the pack.

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07.
Moving Units
Hexes For Exes
Metropolis
Dark Walls

The 80s have been popping up all over the place, you’ve probably noticed this. Generation X is the group that loves its nostalgia; we love to have our childhood packaged up and fed back to us through our ears. Though I don’t really understand going to a concert for a revered 80s idol (Moz, for instance, though I don’t have anything against the man), I don’t mind 80s revival — synth is groovy, and I always did like the Cure, so I like anything with a little Cure flavor. Like that guy from the Shout Out Louds who sounds exactly like Robert Smith on that one song — that’s cool. Or on Moving Units’ “Dark Walls,” where the violin backing could be (probably is) buried somewhere on “Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me.”

“Hexes For Exes” had me from the get-go, what with the rhyming album name and the fantastically rococo album cover. It’s a great collection of songs, with modern beats and simple images (from “Crash N Burn Victims”: They say in Heaven the first shall be last, but that was a comeback; for people who dream that we’re angels, we’re so vain). And there’s that little underpinning of 80s, from the synth to the bass to Miller’s slight wail. “Blood Beats,” with its beauteous sliding cascade of a lyric — I got a notion things are in motion / I gotta know soon cause I got a fever that could dry up the ocean / so much emotion / I gotta know soon cause I got the damage if you wanna get broken — reminds me deeply of another song, completely unrelated and actually released in 1978, but inextricable to my own 80s experience: “Warm Leatherette,” by the Normal. Quick! Let’s make love, before you die.

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Where I didn’t like the album but the one song, it just wouldn’t leave my brain! (Hopefully putting up all these songs won’t max out my bandwidth. You guys wouldn’t do that to me, would ya?)

[ed note: tracks removed. contact me for a copy.]

01. The Rosebuds — Get Up, Get Out

I had this on a mixtape and my son (age 6) asked for it every single day for weeks. We neither of us have any idea what they’re saying on that song, but even now he will sing different words to that same tune (“da da, da da, da da da”). So I honor it here.

02. Okkervil River — John Allyn Smith Sails

This one’s for Chad. I know I give the River a lot of flack, but this song just proves that Will Sheff knows his poetry, and I gotta give him props for his knowledge and his ability to use it so well.

03. Travis — Selfish Jean

“The Boy With No Name” had some really great songs on it, and this is one of them. Whoever Jean is, she’s probably so vain she thinks that song is about her.

04. Luke Temple — People Do

I have to take Temple in short doses, but “People Do” is a beautiful example of folk/country, and “Snow Beast” is a good solid album (if a bit thin).

05. The Innocence Mission — Lake Shore Drive

I left “We Walked In Song” off my list, and I’m kind of sad about that. I love this song, and it’s one of many fine ones.

06. Gogol Bordello — Wonderlust King

Sometimes Gogol Bordello gets on my nerves amazingly, but this song is totally fabu. “Has he not gone beyond the hills? Has he not crossed the seven seas?”

07. DJ Rekha & Panjabi MC — Snake Charmer

Superfab Indian electronica from the album “Basement Bhangra.”

08. Aesop Rock — None Shall Pass

Yes, I had no idea what this was about. I did feel proud of myself for branching out, though, ha ha, and if you parse the lyrics you find some very interesting bits in there.

09. Wyclef Jean feat Serj Tankian & Sizzla — Riot

I could have done without the rock opera background, but I love Wyclef telling the neighbors to mind their business.

10. Brandi Carlile — Cannonball

I must have listened to this one a million times. Harmony! Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet harmony.

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Albums I Enjoyed in 2007 — 8




08.
The Postmarks
The Postmarks
Unfiltered
Know Which Way the Wind Blows

Infrequently, music can be a synaesthetic experience — bare sound can produce not just a resonant feeling, but a visual one as well. I don’t describe myself as synaesthetic in any way, but when I listen to this album, I see colors. Granted, it’s a cliche, because what I see is aqua and green — bright yellow, bright hot blue — even when I’m listening to songs that are supposed to be about rain. To me, this album is summer, and not summer in Utah where I spent the last ten years and the heat bakes your eyeballs in your skull. It’s summer in the tropics; it’s LA summer, Hawaii summer, where you can walk to a beach and the sand is impossibly clean (in my fantasy the ocean doesn’t smell like dead fish). I look up and the palm trees rustle because there’s a wind off the water. And the ocean, as blue as a Postmarks song, stretches out to the horizon.

Yehezkely, Moll, and Wilkins’ leitmotif is the weather (and, extendedly, nature). Nature pervades every single song, and weather is mentioned more times than is decent. In fact, if you don’t like weather as a metaphor, I think you ought to stay far away from this album, because it will make you cry. Witness, from “Weather the Weather” (I know, right?): Will you be my sweater / and weather the weather with me / I would wear you every day / in the sun or in the shade. Or from “Watercolors”: I’ll close my eyes / until this storm clears / no umbrellas keep out this rain / no soft clouds cushion my pain.

Still, Yehezkely and Moll (cowriters) have a sly turn of phrase when they want to: in “Know Which Way the Wind Blows,” she sings slyly: Do you carry magnets in your pockets / cause i’m having trouble resisting your gravity; and there’s a beautiful image in “Winter Spring Summer Fall”: My heart in hibernation / woke up to the sound of the beating wings / migrating home. Add in the fabulous instrumentals and Yehezkely’s clear vocals, and it’s a winning combination all the way around. Even though the album is supposed to be uber-melancholic, I don’t get that vibe like, say, I got with Camera Obscura last year. It’s almost too detached for that; more like we’re reading a girl’s journal, years after the fact of sadness, and she pasted a postcard onto the facing page. “Wish You Were Here,” it says. But it’s lying.

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Albums I Enjoyed in 2007 — 9




09.
The New Pornographers
Challengers
Matador
Mutiny, I Promise You

“Challengers” was this total dark horse that beat everything else to the finish line one day when I was watching Youtube videos. For some reason I clicked on the video of “My Rights vs Yours” from Letterman, and AC Newman started doing that ascending scale: under your wheels the hope of spring / mirage of loss, a few more things / you left your sorrow dangling / it hangs in the air like a school cheer. Nothing I had heard this year sounded like that, and watching him hit those notes and segueing into that fabulous chorus, I gained a new respect for the New Pornographers.

I’ll admit I’m the kind of fan that Newman & co. probably hate. I loved “Mass Romantic” (the song) and then was disappointed to find out that their body of work was nothing like it, so I never tried much more. Therefore, I have no idea how this album compares to previous ones; I’m coming to it with no prior experience. So this album feels less like a simple collection of songs than the soundtrack to the Broadway version of my life. It’s got this Big Broadway Feeling, like it all ought to be choreographed and have a set and backup dancers. A lot of times the lyrics are dippy in that musicale way, overblown and overdone, as in “The Spirit of Giving”: Overcome with the holiday spirit / Mark says the herald angels won’t hear it / And remember the wolves that you run with are wolves / Don’t forget . Uh … okay? Cue the spotlight! Our hero has a monologue in song form!

But I used to love Broadway shows, and I love the expansive, theatrical feel of “Challengers.” Every song is different, but not enough to ruin the flow. The orchestration is lovely, and every band member contributes — Case shines beautifully in “Challengers” and “Go Places,” Bejar contributes typically dense lyrics, and I’m sure if this were a Broadway show, Newman would win his true love and live happily ever after.

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10.
MIA
Kala
Interscope
Hussel (feat Afrikan Boy)

Now I’m sittin’ down chillin’ on gunpowder: well, need I say more? Indian (Sri Lankan) and English fusion, filtered through a gangster lens — suffice it to say that I tolerate a lot more from MIA than I would from her male counterparts, and I’m not sure why. I tend to despise bravado-soaked lyrics like those in … well, every MIA song. Sometimes it gets grating and sometimes she slows down to her detriment — “20 Dollar” drags its knuckles like a tired 500 pound gorilla.

But even my husband, who thinks that good music stopped when John Bonham died, requested more MIA when he heard it playing on the radio. There’s something about her brashness and her beats that make irresistible listening. It’s a crazy melange of sound, from the gunshot/cash register sound effects in “Paper Planes” to the digeridoo that the Wilcannia Mob uses in “Mango Pickle Down River.” Timbaland contributes to “Come Around,” my personal favorite song, and Afrikan Boy contributes a continental flavor to “Hussel”: hussel hussel hussel, grind grind grind / why does everyone got hussel on their mind?

She’s in our faces and she makes whatever music she likes, and she loves making it and so we love it, down to the crummy CD covers. I’ve been hearing talk that she’s leaving the music biz, and if she does, I’d be sad. It would leave a huge hole in an industry where too many acts really do have hussel on their minds.

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15.
St Vincent
Marry Me
Beggars Banquet
Landmines

The way Annie Clark handles an electric guitar is sheer magic. The first time I heard “Paris Is Burning,” a couple years ago, I said, I have to have more of this music. Finally, Clark came through for me and the result is excellent, layered rock and roll, bursting with sound and image: They gave me a medal for my valor / Leaden trumpets spit the soot of power.

When this album is on, it’s on in a big way; but some songs drag, and I get bored listening to the whole thing (which, I probably don’t need to mention, makes me sad. I wish every song were as good as “Paris.”). But between her physical beauty and presence, and the smart music, she lives up to the hype that surrounded the album and declared her a certified Indie Goddess.



14.
Bodies of Water
Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink

Our Friends Appear Like The Dawn

Everyone talks about Bodies of Water with a little awe; the sheer vocal power harnessed in this record simply makes war on your ears. And when the vocals pair up with the gospelesque lyrics, the result can be sheer beautiful bliss, as in “Doves Circled the Sky.” Even the most hardened blogger might unironically recommend music with such power, turning a blind eye to lyrics like Oh please do not forsake me / where is Your finger upon my lips / and though I sleep in the dirt and the leaves, please touch
my heart with Your tongue
. We’re talking religion like an 1820s tent revival here.

When the music goes wrong, it goes really really wrong. There are promises in songs on this album (one of the few that I bought in physical format) that the vocals simply cannot fulfill — the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak and can’t get to those high notes. So while listeners sometimes might find themselves screwing up their faces like they were eating lemons, the powerful songs like “These Are The Eyes” and “I Turned My Face” outweigh the lesser concerns of which tracks deserve the fast-forward.



13.
The Cinematic Orchestra
Ma Fleur
Domino
As The Stars Fall

Billed as the soundtrack to a movie that may never be made, “Ma Fleur” sets the imagination free to roam. It is a very sensual album, and it just builds up beautiful pictures in the listener’s mind. In places where Swinscoe sings, he just adds to the general ambience instead of trying to drown it out. And he’s got ambience in spades.

The music swoops from the melancholy “To Build A Home” to the jazzy stylings of “Child Song” and the old-timey sound of “Breathe.” “Prelude” really sounds like something that would play over opening credits, and as it zooms in from the crane shot, the viewer can see … your house. Or mine. Or someone you know. What are they doing as we look in the window? Only the
viewer knows for sure.



12.
Cake On Cake
I Guess I Was Daydreaming
Desolation
You Make My Heart Say Yes

Man, I do not care what anyone says about this album. I played it about a thousand times in my car, and it was perfect for LA. See, the thing about LA traffic is, people cut you off all the time for no reason. And so after a few years of it, you start thinking that everyone driving in the next lane is going to cut you off. You stare suspiciously at them, grinding your teeth. “GO AHEAD!” you yell, shaking your fist. “JUST GET IT OVER WITH!”

All this is to say that the pure simplicity of Cake On Cake soothed my road rage. If the song is called “Come On Rainbow,” that’s what the words say: come on, come on (x3) / come on, rainbow. For the entire song. Nothing more, nothing less, but with the sugar-sweet addition of Sundin’s instrumentals. Maybe it would make some people’s teeth ache, but screw ’em. We want to be happy.



11.
Eisley
Combinations
Reprise
Come Clean

I already wrote paeans to Eisley earlier in the year, so this feels like overkill. OK, in case you weren’t listening before — beautiful pop, better than anything you can find on the radio, put out by a quartet of young’uns in Texas. Did I miss anything? Maybe just that the harmonies are spectacular with a capital Spec.

It’s outsize music; the whole eclipses the sum of its parts. I can listen all day to the soaring, effortless “you / you / you” on “Invasion” and, well, the effortless harmonies punctuating almost every other song. Other standouts: “Come Clean” and “Combinations,” with its wistful country music chorus: I went for so long and I was so wrong / and then I met you and
now I can’t live without you / and I don’t want to; I’ve done that all my life up till now.

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Albums I Enjoyed in 2007 — 20 to 16

In handy table format!



20.
Essie Jain
We Made This Ourselves
Ba Da Bing
Disgrace

This year for me was all about harmony. I discarded almost everything that wasn’t in tune, and if there was a good harmony, I jumped on it with both feet. Which is not an appropriate metaphor for the delicate songs on an album with butterflies on it. But still.

Jain most closely resembles Dido without the beats; probably another reason I like her. But though her harmonies are sparing, they are transcendent. I’m not as fond of the lyrics, which are fairly ambiguous (perhaps punctuation would help), i.e. You’re a worthless thing / that is everything / but precisely / what I asked for. Still and all, the beauty of such songs as “Haze” tend to overshadow the weak lyrics.



19.
Angelique Kidjo
Djin Djin
Razor & Tie
Ae Ae

Representative of all the so-called world music that I picked up this year, but with celebrity status. Kidjo apparently toured with Josh Groban this year and gained legions of fans, so congrats to her. But I didn’t need Groban’s approbation to love the album, since it is gorgeous from the first chord of “Ae Ae” to the last clear note of “Lonlon,” Kidjo’s version of “Bolero.”

Readers of this blog will have already noticed that I wrote about Kidjo earlier in the year, so I won’t say more than, this is what Afropop is all about for me. I don’t understand the language so I can’t follow a message, and I’ll admit it; I’m just here for the sound, which Kidjo has in spades.



18.
Rocky Votolato
The Brag & Cuss
Barsuk
Whiskey Straight

You all know how I love me some Rocky. That said, I was not as enthused about this record as I was about “Makers.” Most of the songs sounded Rockyesque, but tired. Maybe all that tourin’ has been wearing him out a bit.

Standout tracks are “The Wrong Side of Reno,” which has a little bounce, and “Whiskey Straight,” which showcases his trademark stripped, straight-up lyric: Why do you keep running? The pace is hurried but you’re never closer to what it was you thought you wanted. It all keeps changing — and now something else is missing. Ain’t that the truth.



17.
The Bees (Band of Bees)
Octopus
Virgin
(This Is For the) Better Days

Half this album is so spot on with its poppy craziness. I chair-danced madly to “Who Cares What the Question Is,” probably about a thousand times. And when they stay in the footsteps of their predecessors, these guys hit the nail on the head. It took me two weeks and my husband to figure out what was nagging me about “Love In the Harbour” — it’s a dead ringer for something off of “On the Threshold Of A Dream.” Groovy! Not many people outside the Simpsons reference the Moody Blues anymore.

The Bees do a lot of genre switching, adding a sexy bass swing to “(This Is For the) Better Days” and a sitar (and a boingy-boingy thing, who knows what that is) to “The Ocularist.” And “End of the Street” is chock full of wicked weird noises. The album’s not perfect, and some of it fails, but honestly, it’s just so nice to hear a band having fun with music and all the genres that comprise it.



16.
PJ Harvey
White Chalk
Island
Silence

Everyone who’s anyone spent a lot of time with PJ in the 90s. She rang my earphones, growling even through my crummy walkman, and I growled right along with her. “Rid of Me” was my album of catharsis — I’m one fifty foot queenie; sheela-na-gig, you exhibitionist. So even though I couldn’t really expect the same of her, fourteen years later, I was still disappointed at the understatement of “White Chalk.” Excepting the heartbeat in “When Under Ether,” there is almost no beat, no growl. I missed the growl. Then I listened again to “White Chalk,” and I heard it.

I know these chalk hills will rot my bones, she says like a curse. Scratch my palms / there’s blood on my hands. It’s understated to the point of nonexistence, but it’s running through the songs just the same — the same loneliness, the same search for forgiveness and love. It’s the PJ I remember, docile perhaps on the outside in her white dress, but still growling.

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Albums I Enjoyed in 2007

It’s that time again and I’m getting ready to post my top 20. I have to say, this year was kind of a dearth of enthusiasm for me. I didn’t really fall in LOVE love with many albums. So this is my most enjoyed list. I enjoyed these albums! 10-6 and 5-1 could be mixed up and still be fine; none of them were like “This is the BEST ALBUM EVAR.” So it’s like, not serious around here, folks.

… If you want to get all serious and stuff, this isn’t the place for you anyway. Heh. But I did want to say one thing. I have seen a few top 10 lists poking their little noses out of the woodwork, and a lot of them look like the Catbirdseat’s 2007 cheat sheet (with more addition of Radiohead). Let me note first that the cheat sheet is 1) mostly in jest, I believe and 2) put together in a hurry. But! Here’s something to investigate, my friends at the New Yorker: how in that illustrious cheat sheet, echoed by many a blog around the world, there is only one female represented in the top ten (MIA, the one artist where Catbird and I intersect) and one in the bottom fourteen (Joanna Newsom). That’s frigging depressing, when this year was chock full of female acts.

I’m not saying that we should fix up the cheat sheet so it reflects my PC views or whatever. I’m saying, the cheat sheet reflects something about indie music. What about you, reader, got an opinion? You may weigh in or laugh scornfully. I’m good with either.

[Ed. note — with the release of “Marry Me” tomorrow, this post will be partially invalidated. But I wrote it, so I’m gonna post it. Nyah.]

Catching up with my RSS, I’ve been noticing the half-year summary posts popping up. Sadly I’ve also noticed that many of those lists feature no female bands, no albums from the ladies’ side. I won’t single anyone out, because taste is taste, and there are many great male bands that of course should be noticed as well. I’ll just do my little part to remedy the sitchyation.

“But Zara,” you’ll say, “what female releases were there this year? Gosh, I can only think of ‘The Reminder,’ and Feist is all anyone talked about for three months, and we’re boooooored of hearing ‘1,2,3,4’.” To you I say, you tried ‘Sea-Lion Woman,’ right? But also, I found that the first half of 2007 was chock full of female acts. In fact, if I had a top ten, probably 7 of them would be female. Cassadaga? Boring. Neon Bible? Meh. Hissing Fauna? Don’t get me started. Here are some albums that you might have overlooked in your zeal to rush out and buy “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.” *

01. The Postmarks – The Postmarks | Myspace

All right, I’m fudging this one because it’s female fronted — I swear this band ought to be called the Postcards, because it reminds me of how you feel when you get a postcard from Hawaii. No, I don’t mean envious. I mean, you close your eyes and for a second you’re standing on the beach and palm trees are rustling and a hammock sways slightly in the breeze and the ocean is impossibly blue.

02. Essie Jain – We Made This Ourselves | Myspace

Sometimes the songs on this album start to blur together, but the harmonies alone keep Jain soaring. I could listen to her all day, and I do, since she’s what’s playing in my car. If you need a comparison, think Dido without the beats.

03. Kristin Hersh – Learn To Sing Like A Star | Myspace

For many a long year I have listened to Ms. Hersh — she’s a songwriting powerhouse, not just a pretty voice who has two other bands. The new album is her first (solo) in four years, and it’s just ridiculously good. Ridiculously!

04. Cake On Cake – I Guess I Was Daydreaming | Myspace

This Swedish band is basically Helena Sundin, and yeah, it’s about as sweet as it sounds (extra!). But I’m really fond of the harmonies, the languid melodies, the simple phrasing. Who wouldn’t want to turn on “The One I Say Goodnight To” right before bed — You are the one I say goodnight to / Goodnight, my love. In the absence of my mother tucking me in, I’ll take Cake On Cake.

05. Sara Bareilles – Little Voice | Myspace

Think “Little Voice” in the same sense that Robin Hood said “Little John.” Bareilles sings pop-friendly tunes with strong piano backing, and she’s sassy. I like sassy — plus she’s a local girl, so yay for that. I have not heard all the album but there’s enough music available on her site to get a good sense of whether you’d like it or not (and I do).

06. Charlotte Gainsbourg – 5:55 | Myspace

I guess I can apply the term “chanteuse” to Gainsbourg, since she’s French, right? OK good, seriously, because she is so beautiful, and is also one of those rare actors who can actually sing, and she’s even featured on “Pocket Symphony.” My favorite song, “5:55,” sounds very Air-esque (because they wrote the music) but could that possibly be a bad thing? No, no it couldn’t.

07. Au Revoir Simone – The Bird of Music | Myspace

Even when they’re singing something called “Sad Song,” these three don’t sound very sad. “The Bird of Music” alternates poppy electronica and more gentle ballads. Sometimes it drags but overall it’s accessible and fun.

Other albums released that I’ve already written about —

08. Angelique Kidjo – Djin Djin
09. The Detroit Cobras – Tied & True
10. Amy Winehouse – Back To Black

Please give these albums a try! If I missed someone, you know where the comments button is.

*Or any other male-fronted band. Don’t get your boxers in a twist.

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