Top 50 Albums Of 2007: 20-16
Let's get this thing back on the rails, shall we? Right, here goes...
20. Busdriver - RoadKillOvercoat (Epitaph)
As I said in my blurb for Busdriver's song, 'Sun Showers' yesterday, Bus is almost intolerably 'indie' at times (guess that comes from being named Regan Farquhar), but RoadKillOvercoat is, at turns, both his most immediate and out-there full-length to date. It's a psychedelic grab-bag of colours and shapes, all fed through Busdriver's undeniably snarky filter.
Bus shifts gear from hyperdrive to molasses-slow (for him at least) in a moment's notice; a tactic that lends the album a restless, fidgety feel, but no matter how many times he shifts from shape to shape, he feels preternaturally comfortable in each one. The hooky acid-hop of 'Secret Skin' could have been the template for a full album, so fully-realised is its style, but the glitchy, in-your-face agitation of 'Less Yes's More Nos' is just as well fleshed-out, as is the folk-balladeering touches of 'Mr. Mistake (Bested By The Whisper Chasm)' and the dizzying party rap of 'Kill Your Employer'. Busdriver will make better albums in the future, but this is a massive step out of the indie ghetto for someone who deserves better than having chins scratched in his direction.
Busdriver - Secret Skin (mp3)
Busdriver - Casting Agents And Cowgirls (mp3)
Bonus: Killer live footage of 'Kill Your Employer'.
19. Grinderman - Grinderman (Mute)
From the fire and brimstone testifying of the opener, 'Get It On', it was clear that this was something a little different from your average Bad Seeds album (hence the change of name) even though the personnel was pretty much the same. Primal rock 'n' roll is the order of the day here, with Cave and co. stripped of the ornate trimmings that bestow their day-job's output. In fact, Grinderman is so unreconstructed at times that Cave may as well just grunt rather than offer forth some of his most revealing lyrics in years.
This is the Cave of 'Hiding All Away' or 'Babe, I'm On Fire' or 'Deanna', only more ferocious, angrier and redder in tooth and claw. It's not an onslaught though, as this album also has its more refined moments, like the low-down blues of 'I Don't Need You (To Set Me Free)' or the brief ballad 'Man In The Moon', but for the most part, Cave is leering, carousing and proselytising like the fire in his belly is running wilder than even he can handle. It's not his best of recent years (that honour must go to Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus), but it's certainly the most alive and enraged he's sounded since the mid-80s.
Grinderman - Depth Charge Ethel (mp3)
Grinderman - Love Bomb (mp3)
Bonus: 'Honey Bee (Let's Fly To Mars)' live on Later...
18. Chromatics - Night Drive (Italians Do It Better)
Critics of Chromatics and sister band, Glass Candy will say that both groups are self-consciously cool to the point of being an emotional void. Critics of Chromatics (and GC) are wrong. Sure, Chromatics' brand of dark, dramatic italo-disco-noir-pop (I'm coining that, so don't steal it or else!) is overtly studied, mechanical even, but underneath all the faked vinyl crackle and behind the fog of cigarette smoke and ennui lies a melancholic, beautiful heart.
A cursory dip into Chromatics' back catalogue reveals their past life as a scratchy no-wave punk band, which adds more fuel to the fire for people who say that Johnny Jewel, Adam Miller and Ruth Radalet are nothing but pseuds latching on to the brand new/retro sound, but there's a finesse and emotional resonance on Night Drive that's hard to ignore. Spooked-out arpeggios ('Tomorrow Is So Far Away') rub up against semi-urgent disco-pop ('Mask') and a reverent, polished cover (Kate Bush's 'Running Up That Hill') and it all coalesces into one of the most sincere, fully-rounded musical statements of 2007.
Chromatics - Mask (mp3)
Chromatics - Night Drive (mp3)
Bonus: A pre-Radalet Chromatics hammer out 'Healer' live.
17. Liars - Liars (Mute)
'Interesting' is oftentimes such a vague descriptor. Things that have no artistic merit in the slightest can be 'interesting'. However, when people say that Liars are the most interesting band out there right now, I, for one, can't help but agree. Stubbornly refusing to stay in the same skin from one album to the next, lest they become trapped in some self-perpetuating rut, Liars make a different album each time. Four albums in, they haven't made a bad one and you can almost chart their progression. That doesn't mean that you can second guess them, you can't. It's this constant shifting that led to Liars being, simultaneously, a pleasant curveball and a natural step sideways.
Liars is the NY band's take on a prosaic indie-rock album. This, of course, means that Liars is anything but linear. Jumping from heads-down punkers (opener, 'Plaster Casts Of Everything') to light-footed pop ('Houseclouds'), through uncompromising noise ('Leather Prowler') and startlingly beautiful poeticism ('Sailing To Byzantium') all in the first four songs was a statement of intent that the rest of the album backed to the hilt. Liars then take on heavy-lidded, JAMC-esque fuzz-rock ('Freak Out'), early-90s Sonic Youth-like alt-rock ('Clear Island') and acid-scorched blues-rock ('Cycle Time') seemingly at the flick of a switch. The most interesting band on the planet just went and made their most interesting album to date and it isn't even original in the slightest. Bravo!
Liars - Pure Unevil (mp3)
Liars - Sailing To Byzantium (mp3)
Bonus: Vicious live footage of 'Drum And The Uncomfortable Can' (from Drum's Not Dead) and 'Freak Out'.
16. Kanye West - Graduation (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
My initial reaction on hearing Graduation was that it wasn't The College Dropout. It wasn't Late Registration either. Another thing it wasn't was the electro-pop album everyone was expecting from his hook-up with Daft Punk. What Graduation undoubtedly is, is the sound of someone moving further away from his hip-hop roots, while still appropriating that genre's style. Graduation isn't your average hip-hop album, as average hip-hop albums don't sample Can ('Drunk And Hot Girls') or Steely Dan ('Champion').
True, West is as arrogant and self-aggrandising as usual (a strong point, as far as I'm concerned, as the best hip-hop doesn't come from humility), but there's something a little off about Graduation. That's not to say it's a bad album (it wouldn't be in the list if it was), it's just that it feels somewhat like a step in a different, poppier, yet stranger direction for him. It's a leaner, weirder beast than its predecessors, even if it does contain some of his more directly commercial moments to date ('Good Life', 'Stronger', 'The Glory'), but it goes to show that you can't always get a handle on the most open of books. Here's to the next one.
Kanye West - Drunk And Hot Girls (mp3)
Kanye West - I Wonder (mp3)
Bonus: THAT alternative video for 'Can't Tell Me Nothing' with Zach Galifianakis and Will Oldham.
Labels: top albums of 2007