Saturday, December 22, 2007

Jay's Top 10 of the 2007

10. Minipop A New Hope- Once again this year I have fallen in love with a female vocalist and her name is Tricia Kanne. Her soft and soaring vocal ability is what really carries A New Hope, which has her confessing broken hearts and the yearning of for her soul mate to step forward and take her away. It’s a remarkable indie pop gem, where every song has some sort of identifiable and catchy hook that is usually fueled by Kanne’s very unmistakable vocals that evoke a lot of passion and even a hint of sadness. Musically that album is filled with a lot of guitar hooks mixed with spacey effects and over distorted guitars, kind of a cross between My Bloody Valentine and the brit pop outfit The Darling Buds, but not quite as instrumentally sharp. Other then Kanne being every indie guy’s dream girl rock chick, the album is really solid, it wanes a bit in the middle, but there is enough hook to make it a really strong and an enjoyable record to sit in a dark room and focus on Kanne’s breath taking voice.

9.Ian Ball Who Goes There?- Of all the bands who’s front man decided to release a solo record this year, I believe that Ian Ball kind of got lost in the shuffle with the bigger names but this is hands down the best of them all. Ball delivers a melody filled album that displays a lot of his strengths with his instrumentation and strong hook driven lyrics. Ball very much understands how to write a pop driven record, from the opening keyboard notes that takes us into the gentle “Sweet Sweet Sleep” to the extremely poppy chorus and somewhat uplifting ode to the white collard man “Failure,” Ball knows where to draw an audience in. The songs are filled with post-break ups and self examinations of what went right in relationships, and what went wrong. One of the two huge highlights on the record is “The Elephant Pharmacy” which is almost like a gentler and lighter “Drug Buddy” from the Lemonheads, which has Ball reminiscing of things that seemed to work well in a relationship, including the line, “Lets go shopping for some drugs/that will keep an Elephant tranquilized.” Apparently being in a comatose state is fun with your other half. The other highlight is the somewhat experimental and argumentative “Who Goes First?” With it’s almost eleven minute output you can sense a lot of anger and sadness in the song both musically and lyrically of a relationship that has run it’s course. Overall a very nice output from the Gomez singer/guitarist who uses humor and honesty to create one of the nicest solo releases of the year.

8. Warm in the Wake American Prehistoric- If Wilco and the Shins were able to have children, these guys would be it. They manage to combine the elements of spacey folk and muddy guitar rock and make a beautiful record laden with terrific storytelling and great guitar hooks. There a lot of standout elements in this record. For one the pounding and phenomenal drumming of James Taylor Jr.(no relation to the actual James Taylor) really carries a lot of the songs and is brought a lot into the forefront of the mixes. Right from the very beginning on the tremendously smashing single “American Prehistoric” you can hear the ferocity and force he puts into the rhythm section of the group. But he also knows where to calm his spots and just gently carry a song. The keyboard work done by Daniel Barker is also equally outstanding. There are spots when he just simply plays a beautiful piano lead like on “Devil With A Fist ” and “Tantrum,” or adds a spacey loopy effect driven lead like “Dark Gypsy Moth” it’s clear that his playing is one of the ear catchers of the record. Not overlooking Chris Rowell, his gentle voice adds a real nice smoothness to the flow of the record. It never seems to lack emotion but it never strays from a familiar recognizable pitch that makes it easy for the listener to really take in the songs. His voice has a way of making even the sadder songs on the record such “Joseph Campbell” or “Antique Knives” sound delightful and compelling to listen to. All in all, a very good sophomore release from the Atlanta based quartet.

7. Josh Ritter The Historical Conquest of Josh Ritter- It may have one of the most pompous titles of the year, but Josh Ritter has been able to capitalize on the popularity of The Animal Years and deliver a solid outing that is filled with rocking alt-country tunes, 70’s sounding pop rock gems, and beautiful ballads that has been able to help establish Ritter as not just another Dylan sounding songwriter, but an artist with the ability to deliver great songs in a wide musical variety and complexity. “To The Dogs Or Whoever” starts the record off with a very lo-fi alt-country feel to it. It has a great sing along chorus that feels as if you and your buddies just got pissed up at the pub and decided to start a sing along, or a shout along if you will have it. But then the album moves into a gentler and listener friendly direction as the next couple of songs sound as if they were 70’s pop rock tunes such as “Minds Eye” and “Right Moves.” “The Temptation of Adam” is probably the best story telling song on the record as it tells of a boy and girl who are hiding in a missile silo and eventually the boy charms the girl who had a certain disdain for him to begin with. “Rumors” is definitely the most radio friendly song on the record that is very reminiscent of Ryan Adams. The rest of album is filled with acoustic ballads and more 70’s inspired pop rock songs. Ritter has gotten a bad wrap for imitating his influences a little too closely, if anything this album shows us that Ritter is able to expand on those influences and create wonderfully crafted songs that have both commercial and artistic appeal.

6. Tegan and Sara The Con- Ever since I saw these girls open for Ben Folds back in 2003 I have always known they were destined to explode on to the pop music scene. The Con is their finest record to date and really shows the growth and depth they are able to add to their records. There is not a single song on the record that doesn’t have a hook or some kind of device that sticks into your head for days. Although the record is well written by the sisters, some of the credit has to go to Chris Walla. His production work and genius behind the control board adds so much complexity and slickness to the sound of the record, whether it’s adding little synth sounds, or messing with the sound and tone of the snare drum, Walla helps to bring the songs to life and give them all commercial appeal, and a chance for any of the songs to be heard on any MTV or VH1 reality show. It may be the best produced record of the year, which makes me excited to see what he can on the next Death Cab record. Also the drumming from Jason McGerr is outstanding, he is so flawless and polished that the rhythms he is able to spew out sounds easy, but are actually ridiculously complex at times, it makes your ears perk up to try to pick up the beats with your limbs. The content of the lyrics has gotten a little flack for being a little feministic and overly sappy at spots. I agree that some songs have some mean spirited lyrics, such as “The Con” and the extremely dark, and possibly best song on the record ”Knife Going In,“ but I argue that underneath all of the pop hooks and sweet melodies is a record filled with dismantled relationships that the authors seems to be okay with. The thing I respect about the record, is that Tegan and Sara aren’t looking back and regretting or being overly sappy about it whatsoever. They seem to state the facts, claim their discomfort, and move on without really getting hurt too badly, even if they managed to hurt the other in the process. Tegan and Sara might just understand the whole break up process better then anyone I have ever met, including myself.

5. Of Montreal Hissing Fauna Are You the Destoryer? This is one of those records you really have to sit down and dissect. My first attempt at listening to this, I was both blown away and confused with the new wave almost borderline glam/dance rock approach and silly and extremely difficult to interpret lyrics from Kevin Barnes. The more I listened to it, the more I fell in love with it, and really realized the genius behind the songs. It’s a smart record that combines all of these happy melodies and rhythms with depressing and melancholy lyrics and themes. It’s a very theatrical record and the songs really come to life when you seem them performed, but it’s easy to visualize the lyrics while sitting on your couch and just focusing on the environments the songs create. It’s a great concept record with great imaginative songwriting that can truly be appreciated by anyone who likes a good story. It would be interesting to see this become some sort of a musical someday with an elaborate stage set and creatively cloaked characters, hell, maybe even Lance Bass could try out for the lead.

4. Athlete Beyond the Neighborhood- Athlete, I believe has been unfairly lumped in with the other boring brit rock bands of our time. After a stellar debut album, Vehicles and Animals critics praised them, and enjoyed their guitar driven pop rock sound. The second album Tourist was quite moody and somber and was met with modest reviews and started to gain Coldplay and Snow Patrol comparisons. If it is true that the sins of our past will never truly be forgiven, then Athlete is the poster child. Despite getting negative reviews, Beyond the Neighborhood is a fantastic record which sees the band experimenting with different sounds and exploring adult themes. The record revolves around aspects of life that effect us such as friendship, love, global warming, our fear of traveling, and the ability to see beyond one’s own self. While exploring more universal themes, Athlete picks it up a notch and abandons the slow melancholy feel of their previous record and favors driving guitar leads and the experimentation with electronic music and synths. The recipe is successful and leads to many tracks being danceable and catchy, even to the most jaded hipster and haters of Coldplay. The album opens with a soaring intro “In Between Two States” that is strictly instrumental and provides the listener with a clear and deliberate direction that Athlete plans to go with the record, a combination of catchy guitar riffs and wonderfully orchestrated synth work. “Hurricane” is one of the best singles of the year that exhibit’s the strengths of the bands new direction, and “Second Hand Stores” should be on a list for top non-single A side tracks of the year with it’s infectious chorus and brilliant instrumentation. Beyond the Neighborhood is a great record filled with great rocks songs, that deserves praise and not the 2 that Pitchfork decided to slap it with.

3. Arcade Fire Neon Bible- There’s not much that I can say that hasn’t been said already, by people on this list and every other major publication in the world. I think Neon Bible was a real bold step for the group. Instead of capitalizing and creating a record filled with indie pop gems that appealed to a mass audience, they instead released a real low key and hard to digest record that had all of us in their corner from the beginning scratching our heads, but at the same time tapping our feet and bobbing our heads. It may be low key and low on the production end, most of it was recorded in a church, but it feels as if they still carry the heavy Bowie influence in most of the songs and add a touch of Springsteen, while expanding on their creativity and instrumentation. Opting for more anthems and epics then three minute pop pleasures, Win Butler writes a very dark and dreary recorded that questions religion and the atrocities of war. It’s not an easy record to get through and at times you are kind of freaked out by the dismal vibe and no joy feeling that the Arcade Fire are able to produce. But if you think about Funeral, most of the record was based on death, it may have had some pop to it, but the lyrics were quite somber, not happy, so it almost makes sense that Butler and company would go in this direction. Even if the conception of the album is dark, there is a glimmer of hope that you get out of the record, that all is not bleak and decaying, but through the music there may be triumph and hope.

2. Stars In Our Bedroom After The War- I think it was the most overlooked record of the year. This is a really brilliant record that contains nothing but pure pop songs that contain nothing but simplicity. If Stars were in the early to mid 80’s they would be the most popular band in the world. They have a very strong British New Wave sound that is consistent and catchy from start to finish. It’s not over laden with and heavy on synthesizers like most New Wave bands, but there is a spacey and smooth feel to the compositions of the music. Whether you want to dance to it “Ghost of Genova Heights,“ jump around “Take Me To The Riot,“ or just kind chill out on the couch “My Favorite Book,” the instrumentation perfectly matches the lyrics and content of the songs and evokes a different kind of emotion from song to song. The trade off vocals of singers Torquil Campbell and Amy Millian are an extremely strong appeal in the record. Both of their voices are magnetic and captivating in a romantic sensual way that is almost textbook on how you want the singer of a love song to sound. It’s almost like listening to Human League without all of the over production. Their harmonies are perfect and when they trade off like on “The Night Starts Here” you get the feeling that Stars have figured out a way to write the perfect pop song and really utilize their strengths as a band. The whole album is wonderfully done and contains some very sweet love songs, sad break ups such as the title track, and some very cool danceable numbers. It’s a record that everyone can enjoy and if you are a fan of pop music that can come easy to you then In Our Bedroom After The War is the record for you.

1. Band of Horses Cease to Begin- Their debut Everything All the Time was my number two last year, so it was safe to say they would have ended up on my top 10 somewhere this year, but I could not even imagine how good this record was going to be. In some ways Cease to Begin contains some of the same elements from it’s predecessor, it still has the same indie dream pop feel to it and Ben Bridewell’s vocals are still hauntingly catchy and drenched in reverb. But gone are the melodramatic pop ballads such as “Funeral” and “I Go To The Barn Because I Like…” which was something that probably half the first record contained. Replacing them are full on rockers and dream pop tunes that expose Bridwell’s vulnerability and possibly the bands sunnier side, which could have resulted from the relocation from Seattle to South Carolina, or the loss of Bridwell’s songwriting partner Mat Broke. Either way, the record elevates the band from being a sit around the campfire and gently play “Funeral” to here is a giant arena where they will rock out a version of “Ode to LRC.” From the moment that the first few notes of “Is There A Ghost” are played you can tell it’s going to be a different record. One that is filled with rock songs that all have anthem like quality, and not filled with playful pop songs. Even the slower tracks on the record “Detlef Schrempf” and “No One’s Gonna Love You” have sing along qualities that make you want to bust out the lighter, or in some cases the cell phone now a days (which is ridiculous). Every song on this record is fantastically put together. The lyrics are well crafted and musically it’s ridiculously simple. Just coming out and rocking and bearing the soul exemplifies so much that this band has to offer. Bridewell truly knows when to let it all out and he doesn’t have to get fancy to do it. Just a distorted guitar, a simple melody, and once again using his unmistakable voice to carry the weight of the songs that deal with heartbreak and friendship. The thing that is really impressive about this, is that it only took a year for the group to hash out a new record, Bridewell truly has a gift for writing hooky songs and choruses that make you sing along without even thinking about it. Even when he’s angry, like on “Cigarettes, Wedding Bands” the choruses are so airy and pleasant to sing along to you don’t even realize that Bridewll has just turned a terrible situation into a tremendous rock song. The only thing better would have been a collaboration with Jim James to see which one’s voice could be identified through all the reverb, but overall this was an outstanding record that I thought was head and shoulders the most addictive and best album of the year. It’s a record that is hard to put down, and with only 35 minutes worth of songs, it leaves you wanting more and not wishing the record would have ended earlier. The only thing we can do is hopefully look forward to next year if they release another spectacular record.
Honrable Mentions:
1.Feist-The Reminder
2.Iron and Wine-The Shepard's Dog
3.Rilo Kiley-Under the Blacklight
4.Airiel-Battle of Sealand
5.The Weakerthans-Reunion Tour
Most Disapointing Albums of the year:
The Shins-Wincing The Night Away
Dntel-Dumb Luck
Album that was just way too weird for me:
Deerhoof-Friend Opportunity

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