2007 was the year I finally got old. Either that or the vast majority of the music that came out this year was crap. Or maybe it's a combination of the two. I dutifully checked out the Arcade Fire and Lily Allen and LCD Soundsystem and Bright Eyes albums and tossed them aside with a dismissive "Feh." If I heard M.I.A.'s album, I don't remember it. I didn't even bother to check out the new ones by Radiohead (whom I've never liked) and Prince (who I've loved for over 20 years), and the damn things were FREE.
In other words, this is by no means some comprehensive list of the finest music to have hit the shelves (or the Internet) this year. It's just ten of my favorite albums that hit my eardrums 'twixt January and December -- a good chunk of which were recorded anywhere from 10-40 years ago and one of which is not even going to be completed until sometime in '08.
So without further ado... my Top Ten Records/CDs/Downloadable Files of 2007.
10. A.K.A.C.O.D. - Happiness. One of my favorite bands of the '90s was Morphine, whose "low rock" lineup of slide bass, saxophone and drums and bluesy/jazzy/funky songs made them sound utterly unlike any other band. A.K.A.C.O.D. features Morphine saxophonist, Dana Colley, and is fronted by obsessive Morphine fan Monique Ortiz. Ortiz's songwriting isn't yet up to that of the late Morphine leader Mark Sandman's, and the songs generally run a little long, but at its best this album captures the smoky, late-night feel of Morphine's finest work. And Ortiz's Patti Smith-influenced vocals and witty lyrics ensure that this is no mere tribute band. (Currently available on iTunes or CD Baby; official release date is January.)
9. THE ZOMBIES - Into The Afterlife. The Zombies' story ends with their 1968 masterpiece, Odessey & Oracle -- sort of. In between that album's release and Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent's establishing separate solo careers in the early '70s, they did a lot of terrific, Zombies-esque work both together and apart. This 20-track CD collects that material, most of it either previously unavailable on CD or completely unreleased. My favorites are Blunstone's early solo singles credited to "Neil Macarthur," which include a brilliant remake of the Zombies' own "She's Not There" and covers of Harry Nilsson and the Buffalo Springfield, among others. A must if you're into '60s pop.
8. THE BEASTIE BOYS - The Mix-Up. The Beasties' funk instrumentals have always been good for a change-of-pace in between hardcore thrash and old-school hip-hop on their albums, but taken on their own they were kinda flaccid. Which is probably why this album didn't get much notice when it hit the shelves. But while The Mix-Up is no Paul's Boutique, it shows that they've come a long way when it comes to writing and playing groove-based instrumentals. Sounds great cranked up at a party, played low as background listening, or on the iPod when you're strolling the streets of downtown NYC.
7. THE SONICS - Busy Body!!! Live In Tacoma 1964. The running time on this previously unreleased, recorded-straight-from-the-radio artifact is skimpy. Most of the tracks are instrumentals, and even when lead screamer Gerry Roslie is doing his stuff, he's buried so far down in the mix that you can barely hear him. But this is not only a fascinating time capsule of the legendary Northwest garage-rock scene at its apex, it's some of the most boisterous r n' r you'll ever hear. Roll over Devendra Banheart and tell Conor Oberst the news.
6. YOU AM I - Convicts. Fans of the Australian legends' power-poppy '90s work may be taken aback at first by this album's punky thrash, but the hooks and melodies are still there under the roaring guitars and pounding drums. You Am I have been rock's best-kept secret (outside their homeland, where they're superstars) for over 15 years now, and this is easily their best album in a decade.
5. MARY WEISS - Dangerous Game. The most pleasant surprise of '07 for me was the reemergence of the former lead singer of the Shangri-Las, who'd performed only a handful of times and hadn't had a new record released in forty years. She sounds older -- how could she not? -- but she's still a great singer, and she hooked up with the right band in the Reigning Sound, from Detroit, who play tough, catchy rock n' roll that's both retro and modern (most of the songs were written by bandleader Greg Cartwright). Also recommended if this sort of thing floats your boat: The Detroit Cobras' Tied & True.
4. THE DISCIPLINES - The Disciplines. I'm sorta cheating here because this is nothing more than an eight-song demo featuring rough mixes of songs that won't be finished, let alone released, until well into '08. Regardless, few albums hit my CD player and iPod more this year. Led by Posies co-founder Ken Stringfellow (who's also played with R.E.M., Big Star and dozens of other bands, if not hundreds), the Disciplines combine Stringfellow's gift for hooks with fast n' lean crunchy guitar rock, and the results are as infectious as strep throat. Until the CD comes out, there's a 7" vinyl single available in Europe, and you can check out some songs on their Myspace.com site.
3. CANDY BUTCHERS - Candy Butchers. Mike Viola's been getting kudos lately for writing a bunch of songs for the hit movie Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. But for over a decade, his small but rabid cult following has known him as one of NYC's best pop songwriters and performers, both on his own and with his band, the Candy Butchers. When this album, their debut, was recorded in 1996, it looked like the Butchers had a shot at the big time -- or as big as you can get playing power-pop, a genre that generally sells about as well as Betamaxes. But thanks to legal and financial problems which included their record label going belly-up, it was never released (although homemade cassettes and CDs have made the rounds among fans for years), and Viola and Co.'s subsequent efforts never broke through commercially. Finally, however, Viola has made the Great Lost Album of the '90s available for purchase on his website, and it still sounds fantastic a decade later.
2. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS - Challengers. If a better band has come along in this godforsaken decade, I haven't heard 'em. Carl Newman and Dan Bejar write strange, eccentric pop songs that never quite go where you expect them to, and the group (including sometime vocalist Neko Case) polishes them up and makes them glitter. Challengers is a little slower and more reflective than 2005's masterpiece Twin Cinema, but it's no less addictive. The "Executive Edition" gives you access to downloadable outtakes, alternates versions, live material and more, for an extra $5, and it's worth every penny.
1. JASON FALKNER - I'm OK... You're OK. Possibly the most unjustly ignored artist working today -- a good looking guy with a great voice who writes and performs pop masterpieces that get heard by just about nobody. Falkner got his start with '80s popsters Jellyfish, and then recorded with Jon Brion in The Grays before signing with a major label as a solo act. In the late '90s, he cut two brilliant guitar-pop albums which went nowhere. The chasm between the critical raves he received and the 38 cents he probably earned in royalties bummed him out so much that he only recorded one EP (also brilliant) over the last eight years, although he did session work with Beck, Paul McCartney and Air, among others. Finally, this spring, his first full-length album since 1999 appeared -- but only in Japan, since he couldn't even get a record deal in the States. Regardless, I'm OK ... You're OK was worth the wait. If you like the Beatles, or XTC, or ELO, or... or any pop music with strong melodies and intelligent lyrics, really, then Jason Falkner belongs in your pantheon of faves. And this album is a great place to start, even with the expensive Japanese price tag.
HONORARY MENTION: AMY WINEHOUSE emerged as not only a major artist with her retro-nouveau soul album Back To Black, but also became pop's most fascinating nutcase since Pete Doherty. Her producer, MARK RONSON, showed how vital he was to Back To Black's distinctive sound on his own album, Version, which features covers of hits both recent and classic with guest stars including Lily Allen, Robbie Williams and Winehouse herself.
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