Sunday, December 02, 2007

Top Albums of 2007: The nearly men and women.

You're probably sick and tired of hearing bloggers, critics, commentators saying how 2007 has been a strong year for music, especially in the album format, but let me throw my two penn'orth in for a moment; 2007 has been an exceedingly good year for albums. I can't remember a year in recent times where I've listened, at length, to so many records.

Last year's album list was difficult to put together for different reasons. Those reasons were that, although I wanted to do a list of 50, I couldn't really think of 50 albums that were worthy of being mentioned. This year however, I came up with a solid 75. Now, it would be suicide for me to countdown and comment on 75 albums wouldn't it? Yes, it would, buuuuut... well, I wanted to at least rep for those that didn't make the final 50 and crown one of them the 51st best album of 2007.

So here, in alphabetical order were the 24 that bubbled under the main list, plus one that missed the cut by the breadth of a cat's whisker. Let's go!

Bjork - Volta (One Little Indian)

Not one of her best efforts this one, but one which still had invention to spare. Even though she was seemingly on auto-pilot, Volta had some great moments.

Bjork - The Dull Flame Of Desire (Duet With Antony Hegarty) (mp3)

Gui Boratto - Chromophobia (Kompakt)

A slyly-addictive slab of funky minimalism, Chromophobia saw the Brazilian bring some much-needed flavour to the often colourless minimal techno scene.

Gui Boratto - Shebang (mp3)

Boxcutter - Glyphic (Planet Mu)

2007 was a good year for dubstep and although Glyphic isn't what you might call a traditional dubstep album, it seemed so intrinsically linked to the scene whilst wandering off on its own logical tangents. Most of all, it's a fun record in a genre so steeped in navel-gazing.

Boxcutter - Foxy (mp3)

Carbonas - Carbonas (Goner)

A good year for garage-punk revival stuff. Atlanta, GA's Carbonas are probably one of the more unrefined bands on the scene, but that doesn't make them any less thrilling. 20 minutes-ish of short, sharp shockers.

Carbonas - Assvogel (mp3)

DJ Jazzy Jeff - The Return Of The Magnificent (BBE/Rapster)

Might have made the full list had I given it a chance earlier in the year, this one gets better with every listen. Who knew that a bunch of old-stagers (Posdnuos, CL Smooth, Big Daddy Kane), mixing it with some dudes from the new school (Rhymefest, Kardinal Offishal) to carp about how this used to be all fields round here and how hip-hop isn't the same anymore could pull off one of the freshest-sounding rap albums of the year?

DJ Jazzy Jeff feat. Kardinal Offishal - She Was So Flyy (mp3)

Electrelane - No Shouts, No Calls (Too Pure)

That Electrelane have recently fell to the curse of the 'indefinite hiatus' is a saddener, as No Shouts, No Calls sees them turning a refreshing corner and approaching what could be viewed, if you squint enough, as a pop album.

Electrelane - Between The Wolf And The Dog (mp3)

Sophie Ellis-Bextor - Trip The Light Fantastic (Universal)

I'm as surprised as you are! I don't know how it happened, but ol' rhombus face, in collaboration with Dan Gillespie-Poncey Name from The Feeling went and made one of the strongest, most consistent pop albums of the year. It was just a shame that no-one really noticed.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor - The Distance Between Us (mp3)

El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead (Definitive Jux)

At times so brutally uncompromising that it's borderline-unlistenable, this was still a forceful, heady punch of think-piece rap with one foot in the rock sphere, but about as far removed from both genres as to stand on its own.

El-P - Habeas Corpses (Draconian Love) (feat. Cage) (mp3)

Field Music - Tones Of Town (Memphis Industries)

Yet another set of fortifyingly complex, fractured pop songs from the Brewis brothers. Points deducted for going and splitting up when they could have been one of the best guitar pop bands in the world.

Field Music - Give It, Lose It, Take It (mp3)

Jay-Z - American Gangster (Roc-A-Fella)

Jay-Z watches film, cans boring too-old-for-this-shit schtick and goes back to doing what he does best; detailing the life of the streets. Admirably, almost defiantly uncommercial too.

Jay-Z - No Hook (mp3)

Les Savy Fav - Let's Stay Friends (Wichita)

After initially being lukewarm on this album, it grew on me, revealing its manifold hooks on further listens. A wonderful addition to their back catalogue.

Les Savy Fav - What Would Wolves Do? (mp3)

Maximo Park - Our Earthly Pleasures (Warp)

In a dreadful twelve months for British indie music - it's the music of the masses now, you know - one album shone out like a neglected beacon. Our Earthly Pleasures, at its best moments is everything that's right about the genre. The fact that it didn't exactly set the album charts alight is an indictment of everything that's wrong with it.

Maximo Park - Karaoke Plays (mp3)

Modeselektor - Happy Birthday! (BPitch Control)

Whilst it could be perceived as a more mature album than its predecessor, 2005's Hello Mom!, Modeselektor's Happy Birthday! still brimmed with playful invention and filthy bass. Thom Yorke and all.

Modeselektor - Sucker Pin (mp3)

Thurston Moore - Trees Outside The Academy (Ecstatic Peace)

The first solo album in twelve years from alt-rock's most revered elder statesman is a kind of logical progression from 1995's Psychic Hearts. It's occasionally as sonically-challenging as Sonic Youth can be but, in the main, this was just a set of accessible, careworn songs written and performed with confidence by a man who has absolutely nothing to prove anymore.

Thurston Moore - Wonderful Witches (mp3)

Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero (Island)

One of the year's big surprises, especially for someone like me who has never had any claim to being a NIN fan, Year Zero is a fantastically angry, ultra-modern rock album from a band and a man (Trent Reznor) currently hitting some kind of late-career second wind.

Nine Inch Nails - God Given (mp3)

PJ Harvey - White Chalk (Island)

I often can't stand it when established artists make a 'difficult' album 'for themselves', but in stripping back instrumentation and taking a break from the gutter-rock banshee stylings, PJ laid herself bare in a way she hasn't since Rid Of Me. Superb.

PJ Harvey - Silence (mp3)

Queens Of The Stone Age - Era Vulgaris (Interscope)

You know it's a strong year when a QOTSA album fails to make my top 50, but was it just a case of it not being all that good? I'm a staunch Queens apologist though and while it wasn't Songs For The Deaf II, Era Vulgaris was still a country mile better than most mainstream rock records in 2007. Worth the entry price for '3's & 7's' alone.

Queens Of The Stone Age - Turnin' On The Screw (mp3)

Gruff Rhys - Candylion (Rough Trade)

Low-key in comparison to most of SFA's output, Rhys' Candylion still managed to contain at least four or five should-have-been-massive pop songs. Was it better than Hey Venus!? You'll have to keep reading this blog to find out.

Gruff Rhys - Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru (mp3)

Sa-Ra Creative Partners - The Hollywood Recordings (Babygrande)

Scandalously overlooked, The Hollywood Recordings, at its best contained elements of everything that's great about both hip-hop and r'n'b. At its worst, it was still interesting at least. A talent to watch.

Sa-Ra Creative Partners - Rosebuds (mp3)

Mavis Staples - We'll Never Turn Back (Anti-)

Although its credentials suggest that this is the kind of album Jools Holland listens to at home when he's not bothering the neighbours with his ceaseless boogie-woogie-ing, in this post-Katrina world, Staples' loose concept album featuring songs from the civil rights movement took on a glaring relevance and power.

Mavis Staples - Turn Me Around (mp3)

Bjorn Torske - Feil Knapp (Smalltown Supersound)

One of the oddest men on the Norwegian disco scene - according to reports at least - offers up one of its strangest albums. Constantly flitting between kosmische, fidget-house and dub, Feil Knapp never really finds a groove, but its charms lie in its restlessness.

Bjorn Torske - Hatten Passer (mp3)

Luke Vibert - Chicago, Detroit, Redruth (Planet Mu)

The busiest man in music this year, this was the best of Vibert's three long-players from 2007 (the other two being the Ace Of Clubs full-length and the Moog Acid collab with Jean-Jacques Perrey). It's classic Vibert, full of rubbery machine funk and acidisco. Never once was he in danger of spreading himself too thinly either.

Luke Vibert - Radio Savalas (mp3)

Voice Of The Seven Woods - Voice Of The Seven Woods (Twisted Nerve)

VOTSW is guitar virtuoso, Rick Tomlinson and this self-titled debut sees him plying a beguiling trade in magical, dense, sometimes malevolent psych-prog-folk. Shame he's such a wobbly-throwing diva live though.

Voice Of The Seven Woods - The Fire In My Head (mp3)

Von Sudenfed - Tromatic Reflexxions (Domino)

It was tough to cut this from the final list as there are parts of this album that are just so much fucking fun ('Flooded', 'Fledermaus Can't Get It', 'That Sound Wiped'), but ultimately, a slight lack of consistency lets it down. Close but no cigar for MES and Mouse On Mars.

Von Sudenfed - That Sound Wiped (mp3)

And finally....

51. Pharoahe Monch - Desire (Universal/Island)

This was a wrench. There are moments on Pharoahe's belated follow-up to Infernal Affairs that are better than any on some of the albums that made the final 50, but there are a few fatal flaws with Desire that led to it missing out by the narrowest of margins. Let me count the ways...

  1. 'Welcome To The Terrordome'. Just why, Pharoahe?! Why?! Needless, irrelevant cover of the PE classic that brought no kind of modern context to bear. You can't improve on perfection, but no-one seemed to have told Monch this.
  2. 'Body Baby'. Oh, just fuck off! This track just totally takes the piss and it isn't even a charming anomaly in the context of the rest of the album. Exactly the kind of bogus, piss-weak, cheese-rap that you'd think someone with Monch's pedigree would be above.
  3. The production. At best, it's serviceable, at worst, completely off-putting. It's a mark of how great an MC Pharoahe is that he should make such poor productions listenable, but on the occasions where he doesn't bring his A-game, the holes really show.
  4. The two hideous black shampoo-like tracks towards the end. 'Hold On' and 'So Good' near enough negate all the good stuff Pharoahe has done before. With the exception of 'Body Baby' that is.
Like I said though, there's some really great stuff on Desire ('Push', the title track, 'When The Gun Draws', 'Free', 'Let's Go'), but the not-so-great stuff brings the rest down. When you consider this was eight years in the making too, we had a right to expect something a little better.

Pharoahe Monch - Let's Go (feat. Mela Machinko) (mp3)

So then, there's the few that nearly made it. Check back either later today or tomorrow for the start of the countdown proper.


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