Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Top 50 Albums Of 2007: 25-21

25. The National - Boxer (Beggar's Banquet)

Boxer marked The National out as one of the most perfectly-formed, idiosyncratic bands of their generation and, more clearly, proved Matt Berninger to be a man amongst lyricists. Where before he has stumbled with his punchy prose, here he hit the mark more often than not. There was something a little amiss though. Alligator is still a better record, even though the class and flow of Boxer is evident and true.

What Boxer is missing is a 'Lit Up', 'Abel' or 'Mr. November'. Most of this album is soul-bared and bruised beauty but, taken as a whole, the pace can flag a little. It's a minor quibble though as Boxer has plenty else to offer forth. 'Racing Like A Pro' and 'Start A War' positively ooze regret and melancholia, while rockier numbers like 'Squalor Victoria' and the single, 'Mistaken For Strangers' seethe and menace like we know The National can. In all, Boxer isn't so much of a step-forward for the band, more of a lunge sideways and still packed with enough grace and power to go the distance.

The National - Brainy (mp3)

The National - Racing Like A Pro (mp3)

Bonus: 'Squalor Victoria'! Live!! In Portsmouth!!!

24. Black Lips - Good Bad, Not Evil (Vice)

Long regarded one of the best live bands around (I've seen them twice and they are), Black Lips have struggled in the past to recreate the danger and frisson of their gigs. So in 2007, they just released a live album (Los Valientes Del Mundo Nuevo, more about that soon), got that out of their system and made their most obviously polished, commercial-sounding album to date. Some purists may say that the clean - although far from clean-cut - sound of Good Bad, Not Evil lacks the edge of their earlier albums, but that's nonesense. Granted, there's less fuzz on their latest, but that just allows their best set of songs so far to breathe a little easier and the clarity of sound suits them.

This album also shows them to be the diverse, perverse little fuckers we all knew they could be, as they try their hand at brain-screwed country ('How Do You Tell'), low-slung blues ('Lock And Key'), Nuggets-pop ('Cold Hands'), hick-hop ('Veni Vidi Vici'), sweet-natured college rock ('Transcendental Light') and 50s rock 'n' roll ('Bad Kids'), amongst other things. The most fun band you can see in the flesh just became one of the most fun bands you can listen to through headphones too.

Black Lips - Bad Kids (mp3)

Black Lips - Veni Vidi Vici (mp3)

Bonus: Watch the band playing 'Bad Kids' live. Unfortunately, nowhere near as good as seeing them with your own eyes.

23. Deerhoof - Friend Opportunity (All Tomorrow's Parties)

In which Deerhoof continue their quest to make pop music and continue to wildly, brilliantly miss the mark. Friend Opportunity gets closer to the elusive ideal than its predecessor, The Runners Four, but they still can't resist pulling the rug when things look like they're heading in too linear a direction. Check the funk bounce of 'Believe E.S.P.' for instance. Things bob along in an loose, groovy manner, before going all free-jazz skronk on us.

It's in these frequent curveballs where Deerhoof really sound comfortable though, as if harmony and melody are too far outside the band's comfort zones, so a really straitlaced pop song might sound a little contrived (the closest they get being the terrifically sweet, 'Matchbook Seeks Maniac'). This is the sound of a band playing with convention the only way they know how; making the complex sound childlike and vice versa. These are smart cookies and talented musicians who often sound like a group of 'special' kids let loose in the instrument closet, yet they never give the impression that they aren't totally in control of their craft. All of this makes for Deerhoof's most accomplished full-length to date and one of the year's best to boot.

Deerhoof - Kidz Are So Small (mp3)

Deerhoof - The Galaxist (mp3)

Bonus: Brilliant footage of Deerhoof performing '+81' live in Berlin.

22. !!! - Myth Takes (Warp)

!!! then; the funkiest damn white dudes on the planet, strike back with their most mind and ass-freeing album to date. Where Louden Up Now got bogged down in meandering experimentation and (gulp!) jamming, Myth Takes goes for the jugular and gets to the heart of the matter much more immediately, commanding the listener to shake their frame in the most uninhibited of ways.

It's more diverse than that sounds though, as !!! have woken up to the fact that scratchy punk-funk is way past its revive-by date now. So, we have the Glitter Band stomp of 'Yadnus', the comedown chill of closer, 'Infinifold' and the deep disco of 'Break In Case Of Anything', alongside the more direct party jams like 'Heart Of Hearts', 'Must Be The Moon' and 'Bend Over Beethoven'. Extra plaudits are reserved however for the soul-flecked pop of 'Sweet Life' and 'A New Name''s refreshing take on Prince-funk (seriously, Jam & Lewis could have come up with this in 1983 or something. What could have been just a fun diversion ended up being one of 2007's most playthroughable platters.

!!! - A New Name (mp3)

!!! - Sweet Life (mp3)

Bonus: !!! do ESG's 'Moody' with a little help from one of the Scroggins sisters.

21. Elektrons - Red Light, Don't Stop (PIAS/Genuine)

When it comes to genre-spanning urban pop music, no-one does it better than us Brits, as Elektrons' (Luke Cowdrey and Justin Crawford, aka The Unabombers) superb debut attests. This is the type of album that Basement Jaxx should have made last time out, as it's a style-mashing approximation of Britain's long-standing soundsystem tradition. It effortlessly blends together soul, hip-hop, reggae, disco, gospel, house and funk in an addictive way and the fact that it wasn't the breakout hit of the summer is, quite frankly, a fucking travesty.

Blame whatever you like (shit weather, poor promotion), but really you had absolutely no excuse not to take this record to your bosom like a long-lost relative. Containing some of the most righteous party-starters of the year ('Get Up', 'Dirty Basement', 'Maximal', 'Classic Cliche', 'Joy') and uncovering one of British music's best-kept secrets in Sheffield soul-boy, Pete Simpson, it's an album with an invigorating spirit and, most importantly of all, honest-to-goodness great tunes.

Elektrons - Don't Give Up (mp3)

Elektrons - Maximal (mp3)

Bonus: Luke Unabomber 'remixes' 'Hey Jude' in his own, inimitable style. Funny as fuck. You need to see this.



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