Best of '07: Albums, part III

This year has been good to me musically. I'm surprised to end up with this top 10, especially with the late additions. These albums are not flawless, but I love them with their flaws, rather than in spite of them. So without further ado:

10. Blonde Redhead: 23

It is not often that I describe an album of this genre as epic, and I probably wouldn't have considered Blonde Redhead to be so before the release of 23, but this is undeniably the most audibly interesting and pleasing album of the year. I like to listen to it and unpack its layers--vocals that have the wispiness of the lightest cymbal taps, distorted, yet melodic base, and an appropriate use of electronic instrumentation.

9. The Finches: Human Like a House

This band is my best find of the year, with the capacity to produce perfectly balanced melodies with the unadulterated sweetness of Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs' voice and simple acoustic guitars. There is so much raw emotion in these songs despite their subtlety. Although the album falls short compared to the earlier Six Songs EP, it feels just as fresh and real.

8. Tullycraft: Every Scene Needs a Center

How adorable is this band?!?! For reals. Listening to this album makes me so happy and prone to dancing. It reminds me of the humor and irony of my favorite pop-punk band of high school, Darlington. To check out the band's own 2007 favorites, head on over to You Ain't No Picasso.

7. Saturday Looks Good to Me: Fill Up the Room

This one took a few listens to really grow on me. It's just as poppy as the earlier albums that I love so much, but quieter and less dreamy (if that is possible). Like their other release this year (the Cold Colors EP), it doesn't experiment in a very audacious way, which actually makes it all the more comforting to listen to.

6. Streetlight Manifesto: Somewhere in the Between

This band has been in my life for five long years, and I always turn to them when the world seems too slow and lethargic. Luckily, Somewhere in the Between delivers on all of the promises made by its predecessor, Everything Went Numb, maintaining thematic complexity and even a little bit of morbidity.

5. Stars: In Our Bedroom After the War

Why are Canadians just so awesome? I wish I was one. Seriously. There are a lot of songs on this album that kind of bother me or feel out of place, but the ones that are good are just so good that I couldn't justify not having it in my top 5. Usually, when I see a band live, I lay off of them for a bit and listen to other things. In this case, seeing them live enlivened the album and made me listen to it even more. I wondered earlier this year if it would match Set Yourself on Fire, but now I think it has superseded it by sounding less commercial and taking more risks. Definitely my synth fix for the year.

4. Juno Original Movie Soundtrack

C'mon now, I couldn't not include this in my list. It totally counts as a new album because a lot of Kimya Dawson's material is re-recorded, as are other songs on the album. It was marvelously put together, and even features a cover of "Anyone But You" by Ellen Page and Michael Cera. At first, it didn't seem like Mateo Messina did much in the way of scoring, but he did produce a perfectly good mix tape of some of my favorite bands. Hearing these songs while watching what has probably become my favorite movie was like hearing them for the first time, and really re-invented the magic of The Moldy Peaches, Kimya Dawson, Buddy Holly, Cat Power, and Belle & Sebastian.

3. The Good Life: Help Wanted Nights

Sadly, I was not expecting a lot from this album, so it hit me hard when it was so good. I've watched this band mature over the last few years, going from the bitterness of Lovers Need Lawyers to the weary nostalgia of Album of the Year. Help Wanted Nights is the denouement of the journey. The sadness barely lingers, and Tim Kasher's voice sounds like a grown up version of himself. Needless to say, Help Wanted Nights gives me hope that tragedy, though unforgettable, can bring needed cleansing and healing to the soul.

2. Beirut: The Flying Cup Club

The beauty of the album makes me weep. I fell in love with Beirut once when I first listened to "Postcards from Italy," again after hearing "A Sunday Smile," and a third time after seeing The Flying Cup Club on The Takeaway Shows. Zach Condon is barely younger than me, but strikes me as sort of adorably precocious. He certainly wonders about and knows more about the world than he lets on, though this album gives us a few glimpses into what he understands about beauty, geography, movement, and classical instrumentation as a device to communicate nostalgia and grandness.

1. Okkervil River: The Stage Names

Love at first sight, it was, and it hit me hard. I knew The Stage Names would be my favorite of the year after the very first time I heard it the whole way through. It wasn't the first time. Back in '03, when I went off to college and most of my friends ended up in Austin, TX, there were massive rumblings in my circle of fellow music snobs when my friend saw the band, promptly sent us all Down the River of Golden Dreams, and proclaimed it to be the best album of the decade. The band soon became a part of our collective music mythos, formerly occupied by Neutral Milk Hotel and early 90's grunge (and the musical possibilities they created). Later, Black Sheep Boy accompanied me through the saddest and happiest years of my life.

Now, nearly five years later, I am not at all surprised to find myself still occupied with Okkervil River. The Stage Names has somehow embedded itself in the substance of which I am fundamentally composed. Not a day goes by in which I don't ask someone what they think of it, not because I hope they share my taste, but because I want to know if they have the same deep connection with something that has become so meaningful to me. The album studies memory, representation, and ways of self-knowing with such complexity and purity that if it had been a book of monologues or an ethnography, it would not lose any of its force. It provides a portal into being another person without being autobiographical, which, in my opinion, the most beautiful thing an artist can really do: open up a new world devoid of oneself, give people a way to access it, and study it, without judgement, for what it really is.


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