Here are my picks for the BEST ALBUMS OF 2007. They are listed in no particular order and I'm sure I have left some things off that are on other "best of lists", so please post your additions, subtractions or other comments for everyone else to see.
1. Ryan Adams - Easy Tiger (Released 6/26/07) Lost Highway Records
Genre: Alt-Country; singer/songwriter
Key tracks: "Two", "The Sun Also Sets", "I Taught Myself How To Grow Old"
Let me start by saying that Ryan Adams is, for me, the best American songwriter of this generation, so everything I write is somewhat biased by this opinion - in other words, he gets far more leeway from me than other artists might. However, that having been said, I did think that the 2005-2006 trilogy of Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights and 29 were his weakest albums to date. Happily, Easy Tiger is a real return to form; it is not Ryan doing country, Ryan doing a jam band thing or Ryan doing indie rock - it is just Ryan Adams being Ryan Adams, writing tight, emotional songs that hit you hard. Welcome back Ryan, we've missed you!
2. The National - Boxer (Released 5/22/07) Beggars Banquet Records
Genre: indie rock; songwriter
Key Tracks: "Start A War", "Fake Empire", "Mistaken For Strangers"
The National have quietly been building fans and admirers since their eponymous debut in 2001. The band, a Brooklyn quintet of transplanted Cincinnatians (Is that what people from Cincinnati are called?) really benefits from the fact that they were allowed to incubate for a while outside the spotlight. It wasn't until 2005's Alligator that the band began to really get national attention, particularly from the press. Their anointment at the top of the indiesphere really comes now on their fourth album, which is quite unusual in an indie music culture normally so obsessed with the new. Singer Matt Berninger possesses a really cool baritone voice that is somehow soothing and accessible at the same time and not the stentorian "voice from god" that a lot of baritones end up putting out there. The album flows beautifully and I can't think of any missteps along the way - this is an album that you'll come back to in 3 years and it will still be just right.
3. LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver (Released 3/2/07) DFA/Capitol Records
Key Tracks: "Someone Great", "All My Friends", "North American Scum"
Electronic/Dance is generally not one of my favorite genres, but every year there are one or two amazing albums that cut through. Writer/producer James Murphy who heads the LCD Soundsystem collective makes electronic music that has roots in 1970's punk and funk and therefore the songs have much more soul and punch than the heartless and sterile fare that comprises the bulk of the electronic scene today. "Someone Great" might be my favorite song of 2007. It's a heartbreaking track about either the end of a relationship or the death of a lover (I can't tell which), but the lyrics break you down while the beats pull you back up. The groove is incredibly infectious throughout this song, and throughout the entire album. Everyone needs new Saturday night albums to freshen up their collection - add this and start the party!
4. Peter, Bjorn And John - Writer's Block(Released 2/6/07) Almost Gold Records
Genre: Indie Rock/Pop
Key Tracks: "Objects Of My Affection", "Let's Call It Off", "The Chills"
Ok, technically this album was released in 2006, but since it was not available in the US until this year, I am going to include it here. If you know any song from this album it's most likely the ubiquitous 'Young Folks' - the song with the "whistling" that you couldn't get away from last summer. That's a great tune, but only the first 10,000 times you hear it! The thing is, there are other great (I think even better) songs on this terrific album, PB & J mix retro 1960's pop sonics ('Wall of Sound' vibe) with jangling indie rock guitars, and it works really well. I don't know what it is about Swedish bands, but I find that that in lacking the massive egos of UK bands or the self-consciousness of American bands, they are free to take the best of what's around them and not worry as much about the perception of media. The result of this process can be, like Writer's Block a perfectly distilled blend of pop that hits the sweet spot much more often than not.
5. Band Of Horses - Cease To Begin (Released 10/9/07) Sub Pop Records
Genre: Indie Rock/Noise Rock
Key Tracks: "Is There A Ghost", "No One's Gonna Love You", "Islands On The Coast"
Check out my post from 11/22 about this album for a more detailed review.
6. Joe Henry - Civilians (Released 9/11/07) Anti Records
Key Tracks: "Parker's Mood", "Time Is A Lion", "Our Song"
Let me tell you something right now - Joe Henry deserves a much wider audience than he currently enjoys. That this album has sold less than 10,000 copies since its release just boggles my mind. Joe Henry is an American treasure and Civilians is like a lost classic that crosses Tom Waits style characters with Leon Russell's vocals and musicality. This album, Henry's 10th needs to be in your collection - and tell your friends to get it too!
7. Radiohead - In Rainbows (10/10/07 - mp3 only) Cd release will be 1/1/08
Genre: indie rock
Key Tracks: "Bodysnatchers", "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi", House Of Cards"
I wasn't sure if this album was going to make the list when I first started compiling my thoughts. Radiohead albums since Kid A tend to be, at first listen a bit like math tests or crossword puzzles. Music shouldn't be this hard to listen to. However, inevitably I come back to their albums and find a new appreciation for them after the fact (except for Amnesiac - I still think that album sucks). In Rainbows is definitely an easier listen at first take than the band's past few albums. Critics are calling it their most "musical" album in many years (whatever that means!). Radiohead is an incredible band who are consistently more creative and progressive than virtually any other band out there. Each time you listen to this album you pick up new and subtle things that impress you. But ultimately, this is an album for the fans. If you are not already in the Radiohead massive then go out and buy The Bends or OK Computer - you'll be much more satisfied. Then later, you can move on to albums like In Rainbows. However, if you're up for the challenge, this is a great album.
8. Bruce Springsteen - Magic (Released 10/2/07) Columbia Records
Genre: classic rock
Key Tracks: "Your Own Worst Enemy", Girls In Their Summer Clothes", "Long Walk Home"
Generally, my theory about artists is that even the greatest among them have only a limited period of true "greatness". Eventually either the pressure of their own standards, the trappings of their own successes, or just a dearth of ideas takes their output to a lower level. They can create quality works, but they aren't works of "greatness"; the X factor is gone. For a long time now, I've put Bruce in that category. I have enjoyed a lot of the albums he's released over the years, but for me anyway, I don't think he's created a masterpiece in over 25 years. Well, I don't know if I'm prepared to call Magic a masterpiece, but it sure is good. Bruce is at his best when he's "painting" - his lyrics and music become so emotional and evocative that you can see, smell and taste whatever he's putting on the canvas. With this album, he's done a lot of that - not just moments, but the body of the album as a whole is Springsteen in top form. Only time will tell how it holds up, but it's a very worthy addition to his incredible collection of albums.