Iai
Nick Butler
Emeritus

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Last Active 09-16-13 5:08 pm
Joined 10-19-03

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 Lists
12.20.11 Iai's Top 75 Of 2011 06.13.11 My Top 50 Riot Grrrl Bands
12.19.10 Iai's Top 40 Of 2010 07.18.10 Sputnik Fantasy Premier League
05.25.10 There Are 3 Types Of Human:12.27.09 Iai's Top 25 Of 2009
11.07.09 Great Albums Only I've Rated02.19.08 The Top 150 Albums Ever: Part 3
02.19.08 The Top 150 Albums Ever: Part 202.19.08 The Top 150 Albums Ever: Part 1
01.02.08 2007: The Top 5012.22.07 Iai's Best Of 2007 (top 15)
02.14.07 Top 30 Albums Ever01.01.07 2006: The Top 50
06.19.06 2005: The Top 50

2007: The Top 50

Check out my blog for further reflections on the year. For now, observe what the only staffer who likes Porcupine Tree thought was good musics.
1Burial
Untrue


In 2006, Burial instantly became the hottest name in electronica with his self-titled debut. Not only that, but he singled handedly dragged dubstep kicking and screaming into the big wide world, ready for assessment by the denizens of Pitchfork, The Wire, The Guardian, Mixmag et al, almost all of whom reacted to it with near-glee. Not bad for a genre that has its roots in the much-maligned world of UK garage. Still, when people began digging deeper, they were likely to have been disappointed - Burial set a standard that the likes of Various Production, Skream, and Vex'd simply couldn't live up to. Quite simply, nobody else is making music like this. The nearest precedent for Untrue is Massive Attack's classic Mezzanine, but not even that comparison quite captures just how desolate and lonely this music is. The cut-up vocals feel utterly anti-human, the rhythms are robotic, and yet, this is the most deeply touching, affecting album anybody has put out all year. Even the more obviously danceable songs - "Near Dark", "Homeless" - are absolutely chilling. Time will tell whether dubstep turns out to be the new jungle or the new trip-hop, but in Burial's first outings, it's already got itself two stone-cold classics.
2Radiohead
In Rainbows


I'd love to tell you that I saw this coming; that I believed Radiohead still had it in them to make an album that would challenge for year-best status. Truth is I didn't - after Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief, I figured Radiohead would keep on making albums that were more interesting than they were enjoyable. Wrong! If there's one distinguishing feature to In Rainbows, it's that behind all the complexity, all the intricacies, this is a stunningly enjoyable album from start to finish. "15 Step" is frantic, "Videotape" is beautiful, "Reckoner" is awesome, "Nude" is lush and gorgeous, and "House of Cards" practically lascivious. "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" even sees Yorke singing about picking a girl up in a nightclub. I mean, seriously, Radiohead writing songs about being out on the pull? That's how easy going this album is. It's unquestionably the best Radiohead album in 7 years, but even better, it's enough to make you believe that they'll keep releasing great albums for years to come.
3Blonde Redhead
23


When I first heard 23, I was tempted to start making comparisons to Loveless. However baseless any comparison might be, the fact that it even crossed my mind speaks volumes about the quality of this album. Where Blonde Redhead once sounded like Sonic Youth, on this album (the first one they've produced themselves) they've pitched themselves somewhere between Interpol and MBV, with occasional shades of Cocteau Twins. As a result it's the most lush, beautiful thing they've released yet. The melodies, crucially, are every bit as impressive and expressive as the music and the production, and the album is flawless in its consistency. Not many bands peak on their 7th album - Blonde Redhead just might have.
4Stateless
Stateless


If there's one thing I didn't expect from this year, it was a great trip-hop album. In Stateless, I got one. These guys may nominally be a rock band, but their stock sound - soulful vocals, gentle melodies, sadness, scratching, movie-score sweep, subtly intricate drumming - isn't too far removed from what we'd like to see on the third Portishead album. As a matter of fact, if Portishead did release something of this quality now, there'd be hysteria. "Down Here", "Prism #1", "Crash", and "Bloodstream" are absolute stunners, with much of the remainder similarly impressive. Stateless blend Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, Massive Attack, DJ Shadow, Portishead, and Coldplay with finesse and confidence. It's thrilling, if melancholy, stuff. For my money, this is the finest debut album of 2007. DJ Shadow agrees: he called this 'the closest thing to perfection I've heard in a long time'.
5Pharoahe Monch
Desire


Organized Konfusion broke up in 1997. In the ten years since Monch was forced to go solo, he's only released two solo albums. With a lesser talent you'd suspect it was a lack of ideas; with the most talented member of one of the greatest rap duos of all time, you know he was just making sure shit was perfect. And yes, for the first 7 tracks, Desire is absolutely perfect. His adaption of "Welcome To The Terrordome" might even be - whisper it - better than the original, and even if he's made strides toward the mainstream since the days of "Fudge Pudge", he still finds time to experiment on "Trilogy". This is every bit as good as the first two OK classics. Seriously.
6 Thrice
The Alchemy Index: Volume I + II - Fire & Water


Finally, Thrice have done it! After being massively over-rated by their fans for years, the band's obvious potential has paid off and they've actually made a great album. Building from the muted Radiohead impression that was 2005's Vheissu, The Alchemy Index is a set of four EPs, one for each of the elements, divided into two albums. The concept is awful, and it sounds like suicide, but it's actually allowed Thrice to find themselves as a creative force. The Fire side is, as you might magine, heavy, but this is the kind of hard rock that sounds like it could level skyscrapers. It's the Water side that's really special though - the Radiohead influence is still obvious, with the start of "Digital Sea" sounding an awful lot like "Everything In Its Right Place", but it really works here. These six songs are elegant, lush, melodic, and are the six best Thrice have ever written. They point to an exciting future - one that, hopefully, will commence with The Alchemy Index: Volume III + IV being half as good as this.
7 El-P
I'll Sleep When You're Dead


It's not often that a white guy redefines the course of hip-hop with his debut album, but that's precisely what El-Producto did with Company Flow's Funcrusher Plus. He's done a lot in the ten years since (including forming Def Jux, for one thing), but what he hasn't done is make too many solo albums. I'll Sleep When You're Dead is only album #2, and it trumps Fantastic Damage. Not a lot's changed - El's vision of hip-hop is still a dense, dark, forward-thinking one, and the rest of the Def Jux crew make guest appearances - it's just better than, arguably, any other album produced by El-P. Oh, and rock heads should listen up - other guests include The Mars Volta, Daryl Palumbo, Trent Reznor, James NcNew from Yo La Tengo, and Cat Power.
8Arcade Fire
Neon Bible


Let's be honest: they were never going to even match Funeral, let alone top it. That said, Neon Bible is more than good enough, because regardless of the fact that it doesn't live up to what came before, it's still a damn good album. Lyrically paranoid and musically audacious, it still sounds like the work of a band who'll be ripped off by legions of inferior imitators for years, if not decades. "Black Mirror", "Intervention", "(antichrist television blues)", and "Ocean of Noise" all thrill, but Neon Bible saves its greatest thrills for last. "No Cars Go" is a vital update of a song from their self-titled EP that turns it from an underwhelming, unassuming track into a widescreen epic that ranks among their best songs. And "My Body Is A Cage"? Wow. When that organ kicks in it sends shivers up my spine, every time. That's song of the year material right there.
9Dinosaur Jr
Beyond


If only every reunion produced results of this magnitude. Beyond might just be the best Dinosaur Jr. album ever, and the fact that it's even a contender for that title speaks volumes about just how incredibly Barlow, Mascis and Murph have flown out of the traps for their first studio album in 10 years. "Pick Me Up" is an indie air guitar classic to rank alongside "Freak Scene", "Almost Ready" isn't far behind, and "We're Not Alone" is among their most gorgeous ballads. The songs are all written with care and attention to detail, and J. Mascis remains probably the best guitarist in alternative rock. Just like their live shows over the past 18 months, this album is an absolute riot.
10Bright Eyes
Cassadaga


For a decade, Bright Eyes had been bleating away, making music capable of causing mass hysteria amongst people of a certain age and mental disposition, and bemusement amongst everybody else. Luckily, 2005 saw him take a turn toward the mainstream, and Cassadaga is the logical conclusion of what was started with I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. Oberst's lyrical flair in still here in abundance, but now he's got the good sense to temper that with pop smarts and the freedom to lighten up a little. Fleshed out to their most complete sound yet, the band excel in their new country-rock setting, with Oberst allowing them time to shine. It's his album though, as the mighty chorus to "Four Winds" will attest.
11Brother Ali
The Undisputed Truth


The Undisputed Truth establishes Brother Ali as the best rapper on Rhymesayers, hands down. Not bad going, considering the critical acclaim the label's other singings have got, and the fact that Ali is an albino, and as such is legally blind. But then, it's obvious from hearing the power in his flow and the conviction in his words that Ali has had to work hard to get his dues, and his work has paid off. Pharoahe Monch aside, nobody else released better straight-up rap songs than the controversy-baiting "Uncle Sam Goddamn", the metallic "Whatcha Got", and "Truth Is" in 2007.
12Ulver
Shadows of the Sun


Shock horror - it's yet another departure from the band who just can't be bothered to make the same album twice. This time it's an ambient-styled slice of post-rock that sounds as if it was hewn from actual, physical rock - everything is graceful, subdued, and monolithic. 'Epic' might be too strong a word, so devoid of bombast is this music - for once, the vocals are front and centre, making this arguably the most song-based album they've ever put their name to (they even find time to cover Black Sabbath on "Solitude"), and those vocals barely reach above a whisper. Instrumentally, the album eschews guitars to the point where they're almost irrelevant to the overall effect - keys, woodwind, and fretless strings take precedence instead. Mood music it may be, but it's also absolutely excellent, and if we were ranking Ulver's best albums right now this would be a solid contender for the #1 slot. It'd certainly be my pick.
13CunninLynguists
Dirty Acres


A more than capable follow-up to 2005's excellent A Piece of Strange, Dirty Acres looks desined for similar cult classic status. Cunninlynguists' approach to hip-hop is fresh, jazzy, and soulful, and it occasionally creates music of genuine beauty. Every MC comes correct throughout, with Natti especially raising his game. There's politics, too, with "Gun" referencing the murder of Amadou Diallo. Proof positive that the South, for all its wrongdoings, can still produce good hip-hop in '07.
14Pinch
Underwater Dancehall


There's more to dubstep than Burial, you know. Pinch has been credited by some as the second greatest innovator in the genre, and even though dubstep's still young, Pinch looks like the artist who's going to come closest to the influence and semi-fame of Burial. Underwater Dancehall is split into two discs, with one offering vocal performances and the other instrumentals. The vocal disc is revelatory in its style; it's dubstep with a proud pop heart, and is easily the most instantly accessible thing the genre's kicked out yet. "Brighter Day" might even considered the genre's first anthem. It's on the instrumental disc, though, that Pinch's talents get a chance to shine through - his vision of dubstep is one that borders on the optimistic. For now he's only second best, but Underwater Dancehall is enough to secure Pinch's award for rookie of the year as far as solo artists go.
15Porcupine Tree
Fear of a Blank Planet


Say what you like about Porcupine Tree, but what you can't deny is that they consistently please their fanbase; each major Porcupine Tree release since Signify, way back in 1996, has been labeled as their best work by someone or another. That hasn't always been with justification (see 2005's muted Deadwing), but with Fear of a Black Planet Steven Wilson may genuinely have made his best record. The concept - the numbing effect of the media on society - may be preachy, but it energizes Wilson to the point where he can include a 17-and-a-half minute track as the album's centerpiece and make it sound nigh on effortless. Impressive throughout, and with some funny moments to boot, Fear of a Blank Planet is yet another essential prog rock document from a man who's almost getting too good at making albums like this.
16PJ Harvey
White Chalk


A major departure from her blues-rock origins, her punky attitude, and her often messy execution, White Chalk is a set of piano ballads so heavy-handed that they seem capable of draining all the happiness from even the most naive person. It's certainly not easy listening, and many established Harvey fans were understandably confused and disappointed, but if you can stand the carefully wrought atmosphere then "When Under Ether" and "White Chalk", the album's twin peaks, might just be your songs of the year.
17Josh Ritter
The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter


Countless people have been called 'the new Dylan' over the past 35 years. It'd hardly be commenting on the fact that Josh Ritter has been lumbered with this tag , except for the fact that he's done more to justify it than most. The folky music here is pleasant enough, but what it does is give Ritter's lyrics the room to breathe and really hit home. And that they do - Ritter's way with words on songs like "To The Dogs or Whoever", "Right Moves", "The Temptation of Adam", and "Still Beating" is little short of inspiring. I mean , 'Joan never cared about the in betweens/Combed her hair with the blade did the maid of Orleans/Said Christ could walk on water we can wade through the war/You don't need to tell me who the fire is for/Oh bring me a love that can sweeten a sword/A boat that can love the rocks to the shore'? How could you not love that? A gem of a folk-rock album.
18The Kidcrash
Jokes


So the album is called Jokes, song titles include "Ron Ghousley's Fucked Up Dream (Ron To The Hills. Ron For Your Life.)", "Kissed By A Roach From The Grave", and "Parrots Just Don't Understand", a good majority of their fanbase are morons, and and their drummer is an absolute headcase. Ignore all that, and you'll realize that this is the emo album of the year. As much as I want to hate this, it's too passionate, too impressively executed for me to not give it the props it deserves. Nervously jumping between riffs throughout, with the vocals taking a backseat to the guitars and the drumming (which is excellent), this is a solid, impressive record that's likely to grow in stature, and eventually sneak into a few record collections outside the hardcore community the same way the likes of As The Roots Undo and Relationship of Command have done in recent years.
19Primordial
To The Nameless Dead


You know what? I'm glad I heard Primordial this year. It seems like every other metal album I heard this year was making some attempt to be progressive, and broadly speaking they failed. Whatever happened to metal for the sake of metal? Melodies, riffs, guitar solos, lyrics about war and dragons and shit, you know? Okay, in spite of the band's pagan origins To The Nameless Dead doesn't exactly flaunt references to obscure mythology at every turn, but Primordial are the kind of band who show up, kick ass, and leave. No messing. Their take on death metal is one that's free of needless gore and cheesy lyrics, and in Alan Averill they have a vocalist who constantly sounds like he's bellowing from the mountain tops. Works for me. I've been told that they used to be a folk metal band, replete with whistles and mandolins. That influence can still be heard in the melodies if you listen carefully, but luckily, nowadays they're just the best straight-up metal band in Ireland - arguably, even the UK.
20Interpol
Our Love to Admire


Quite simply put, it's the best Interpol album yet. Neatly avoiding the inconsistency that dogged Antics, and offering up more highlights than Turn on the Bright Lights managed, Our Love to Admire almost manages to provide the most stunning pair of opening tracks I've heard in a long while with "Pioneer To The Falls" and "No I in Threesome". When Paul Banks reaches the emotional pay-off in the latter - 'You feel the sweet breath of time/It's whispering its truth, not mine' - it's just the most magical moment of an album full of great bits. "The Heinrich Maneuver", "Mammoth", and "Rest My Chemistry" also count among the standouts.
21Great Lake Swimmers
Ongiara


So this is Americana, right? And to think, I was led to believe the whole genre was shit. Great Lake Swimmers are anything but; their American folk twist, replete with banjo and country-styled backing vocals, never gets in the way of a beautiful song, and Ongiara is filled with them. As far as Canadian rock bands go, something this homely and shy certainly sounds like a revelation alongside, say, Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene, yet on this showing Great Lake Swimmers deserve that kind of fame. Perhaps the 'warmest' album of 2007.
22Kings of Leon
Because of the Times


Without a doubt the shock of the year. On their first two albums, Kings of Leon were little better than awful, with Caleb Followill's obnoxious voice drawling incomprehensible lyrics over music that was gleefully shambolic, and not in a good way. Two albums in, and it looked like they were going to slide away mercifully into history the way The Libertines did. And then they go and do this. Because of the Times sounds like the work of an entirely different band; rather than being a crap version of Creedence Clearwater Revival, the band now take influence from U2, Pixies, Interpol, Randy Newman, The Afghan Whigs, and Neil Young. It's post-punky, tightly wound, and occasionally beautiful ("On Call"), and for the first time, the band sound like they know how to play their instruments AND write good songs. Exactly what happened to these guys I may never know, but they're undoubtedly the most improved band of the year. At this rate they might outlive all the other NME bands of 2003 - they've certainly bettered The White Stripes, The Hives, and The Vines on their respective 2007 showings.
23Buck 65
Situation


After the muted, slightly deflating Secret House Against The World, it's crucial that Situation is filled with examples of Buck having the time of his life. Marketed as a concept album about the year 1957 (a year of great cultural importance, so says the album's creator), this isn't so much a story or a concept as it is an excuse for Buck to namedrop and reference everything that jumps into his head. Within the first three tracks, he's already drawn The Stooges, The Buzzcocks, Link Wray, Ed Gein, Thelonius Monk, Captain Beefheart, Kid Rock, and Sid Vicious into his hyperactive patchwork of lyrics. And yet, it's not just a record for music obsessives - "Spread 'Em" is a delightful little ditty about prison rape. Throughout, the music is as inventive as ever - the lush "The Outskirts" draws on flamenco, "The Rebel" sounds like ska in outer space, and "Dang" is based on little more than a tribal drum pattern not unlike "Lust for Life". Probably his best album.
24Crippled Black Phoenix
A Love of Shared Disasters


They might not be the first post-rock supergroup, but when it was announced that various members of Mogwai, Portishead, and Electric Wizard (not to mention Pantheist, Gonga, Iron Monkey, Teeth of Lions Rule The Divine, Team Brick, and North Sea Navigator), tongues were still wagging. Funny, when you consider that anybody not obsessed with doom metal won't have heard of 80% of these bands. Still, this is very much a post-rock album, and what's more, it's one that expands and mocks the genre from within. The opening track's vocals and tuba-like music make a mockery of both the seriousness of much post-rock and the laboured execution that dogs it - yet, when the band take flight, they come up with the best post-rock of the year. They don't limit themselves, either - "Really, How'd It Get This Way?" sees them land in a territory somewhere between Tom Waits and The Decemberists, while "I'm Almost Home" practically counts as chamber music.
25Riverside
Rapid Eye Movement


You'd be forgiven for thinking that Poland wasn't exactly a hotbed for great music, let alone great prog. Let Riverside prove you wrong: they're that freakin' good that their worst album is still the 25th best thing released this year. Rapid Eye Movement offers a definite move toward metal territory, as evidenced from the 54th second of the album, when the band lock into their first Dream Theater-esque riff. There's less of a Pink Floyd influence here too, particularly in the lead guitar playing. The change might taken a little bit of the shine off, but the fact that they're willing to change means that they're not becoming stale like so many of their contemporaries. Three albums in, three successes. How long can they keep this up?
26Biffy Clyro
Puzzle


Biffy Clyro became arguably the biggest cult stars in British rock in the first part of this decade, achieving that feat mainly by having plenty of silly time signatures peppered throughout their songs, and a handful of fantastic singles (there's still little that can beat the singalong fun of "57"). Puzzle has seem them drop the time signatures and quirks and focus instead on their songwriting, meaning that we get an album that's solid from front to back for the first time. And, of course, there are still some amazing singles. The sub-Stravinsky twatting about at the front end of "Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies" masks a great song, and "Folding Stars" is a heartfelt, muscular, cathartic eulogy for singer Simon Neil's mother that ranked among the best ballads of the year.
27Martin Grech
March of the Lonely


From British music's greatest prodigy to dropped within just four years. We could do much to lament the fact that Matt Bellamy and Muse have screamed all the way to the top of British rock while the similarly gifted, not-entirely-different Grech has fallen in sales and media attention. Still, that's not about to stop the man behind the spectacular Open Heart Zoo from releasing great music - not, apparently, is a slightly concerning budget. March of the Lonely is a folk album with no percussion at all, and given that his previous two albums were so packed with electronics, wild dynamic shifts, and careful, atmospheric production, you do want to ask whether or not March of the Lonely would have sounded this way if the gloriously opprobrious Unholy, his previous album, had been a success. Still, it's not as extreme a change as you might imagine; the dense atmosphere, the haunted sense of dread, and Grech's soaring Buckley-esque/Yorke-esque voice are all still present and correct, and on those it matches his critically-adored debut. He might have fallen from the public eye somewhat, but if he continues to make music as rewarding as this, he'll always have an audience.
28Younger Brother
The Last Days of Gravity


In a year marred by plenty of disappointing electronic releases (not least Shulman's pitiful Endless Rhythms of the Beatless Heart), trust Simon Posford to deliver. Has the man ever put his name to a disappointing release? A more than adequate follow-up to the fantastic A Flock of Bleeps, The Last Days of Gravity sees Simon and Benji aim for something darker, softer, and more 'rock'. The fact that Hipgnosis' Storm contributed the artwork turned out to be a good portent - this frequently feels like the softer kind of prog rock peddled by Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, middle-period Dream Theater, and other acts whose work also bears Storm's artwork. It's unlikely that this will go down as a highlight of Posford's extensive discography, but it still ranks as another notch on his musical bedpost.
29Aesop Rock
None Shall Pass


People talk a lot about how unique Aesop Rock is. Honestly, I don't hear it. Instead I just hear a rapper with a good flow, and a gift for being stupid in an inspired way. 'Flash that buttery gold, jittery zeitgeist/Wither by the watering hole, border patrol/What are we to heart huckabee art fuckery suddenly?/Not enough young in his lung for the waterwing' - and this has been hyped up as his most personal record. Yikes. If you go looking for a message you'll probably just get lost and confused, but that's not really the point - ignore what Aes is meaning and just listen to what he's actually saying, and he'll sweep you away like few of his contemporaries can.
30The National
Boxer


They just can't stop earning critical acclaim, can they? Just about famous enough to be one of the hottest names in indie circles, and not quite famous enough to have sparked a backlash yet, The National have made good placing in just about every 2007 list I've seen. And why wouldn't they? They're worth comparing to the likes of Interpol and Arcade Fire, but it's always with a key modifier - 'Interpol but less robotic', 'Arcade Fire but less bombastic', 'The Polyphonic Spree but less gay'. Sufjan Stevens shows up to play piano, as if the INDIE HYPE METER wasn't already off the charts. But hey, Boxer is a great album all the same, one that reminds me very strongly of the sadcore stylings of American Music Club - except this is better.
31Klaxons
Myths of the Near Future


The mission objective for Myths of the Near Future was obvious - build on the mentalist classic "Atlantis to Interzone". They actually did much more than that. The impressive thing about this album is the way it strays beyond the expectations placed on a rock band in the UK these days - rather than sticking to spastic synths, regional accents, and lazy songwriting about wanting to be working class, Klaxons offered up a great cover of Planet Perfecto's "It's Not Over Yet", devoted two songs to Alaister Crowley ("Magick", "As Above So Below"), and stumbled upon the attention-grabbing, charming gimmick of having four guys who can't sing all failing to sing at once, sometimes in falsetto. "Two Recievers" even showed that they could do gravitas, in their own twisted little way. The breadth and class of this album was enough to convince the NME to name it Album of the Year, and while it's certainly not as good as that, it does comfortably rank as one of the most imaginative, enjoyable debuts of the year.
32Thurston Moore
Trees Outside The Academy


It's Sonic Youth with acoustic guitars. That's literally all you need to know.
33Minus The Bear
Planet of Ice


MINUS THE BEAR GO PROG! Well, not quite, but it's impossible to deny that there's been some changes in the world of MTB leading up to the release on Planet of Ice. For one thing, the stupid song titles are gone. No more "Thanks For The Killer Game Of Crisco Twister", I'm afraid. That small change heralds a move toward a music that offers more in the way of gravitas and expression and less in the way of dicking around. Arguably they've lost as much as they've gained, but this isn't as major a shift as some reviews made out - in the past, the serious nature of MTB's music tended to get lost in the mix. All they've done on Planet of Ice is streamline their sound and remove all the flab. Oh, and add a buttload of effects pedals. Whether or not it edges out Highly Refined Pirates as their best album is arguable, but it's on that level.
34The Detroit Cobras
Tied And True


I've said it before and I'll no doubt say it many times in the future: there are not enough bands in the world who sound like The Detroit Cobras. Undoubtedly the world's finest covers band, they've been making forgotten hits from the '50s and '60s sound like the sexiest thing you've ever heard for five albums now. And from the minute "As Long As I Have You" kicks in, you know they've lost none of their touch. There are some duffers here, true - "Green Light", "Only To Other People", and "Puppet On A String" all fail - but at their peak on songs like "(I Wanna Know) What's Going On", "Nothing But A Heartache", and "(If You Don't Think) You'd Better Change", the Cobras are still the most sultry rock band in the world. And Rachel Nagy is still a fantastic singer.
35Wilco
Sky Blue Sky


Wilco basically cursed themselves when they released Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Thing is, when you release a classic, people tend to expect more classics to follow - that's the nature of humanity, I guess. Never mind that in "Jesus, Etc." they'd written the most perfect song of the century so far - people wanted better than perfect. So follow-up A Ghost Is Born became A Ghost Is Boring in certain reviews, and somehow, Sky Blue Sky became 'dad-rock'. What the fuck? Ignore the painfully immature jibes; this is a great album. Jeff Tweedy's first great idea here was to scale back the experimentation Wilco had become embroiled in, and just go back to writing good, no-frills songs. The second was to get the rest of the band involved in the songwriting process again, necessitating a slight change in style. The third was to hire an awesome guitarist to add muscle to the sound - enter Nels Cline, who damn near steals the show with a series of fantastic solos. As a result Sky Blue Sky is intimate, subtle set of songs that ask for, rather than demand, repeated listens. Give them what they ask for, and they'll reveal an enormous amount of charm.
36Battles
Mirrored


Back in 1994, when Simon Reynolds attempted to summarize what post-rock was, he suggested that a key feature was the fact that the bands were adopting technology and both interfacing and evolving, becoming 'cyborg rock'. He was wrong, but regardless of that, he was almost certainly dreaming up a band who sound like Battles. Both technologically adept and almost robotic in a technical sense (there might not be a more instrumentally gifted alternative rock band in all of Christendom), the members of Battles expanded on the math-rock sound of their EPs for Mirrored and came up trumps. More upbeat, more colourful, and more playful, it saw the band make a sound that could perhaps be tied at various points to references like The Knife, Einsturzende Neubauten, Can, Comus, and Slint, but was truthfully all their own. "Leyendecker" even plucked its melody right out of the New Jack Swing explosion of the early '90s. Dig that. If anything it's the more straightforward songs that impress the most ("Race Out", "Atlas"), but overall this is infectious, inventive, fun, occasionally beautiful stuff that refuses to sit still stylistically.
37 Sigh
Hangman's Hymn


One of the year's most gloriously fucked-up metal albums. And what a shocker, it comes from Japan. Sigh use every trick in the book to try and scare the listener, and while they go so overboard most of the time that they just sound silly, it's never anything less than impressive. From religious iconography to Gregorian chants to stabs at 20th century classical to the best black metal shrieks I heard all year to King Diamond impressions and back again - maybe it takes a twisted mind to call this fun, but Hangman's Hymn makes me smile throughout.
38Bruce Springsteen
Magic


To say that Springsteen has had a latter-day renaissance might be overstating the point a little - truth be told, he never really went away the way Dylan or Kate Bush did - but there's certainly been a sharp increase in both the quality of Springsteen's music, and the amount of sales and critical interest he's accumulated, since 2002's meditation of 9/11, The Rising. Magic is his third major release since then, and it plays to The Boss' strengths. The E-street band are in tow, and there's bluster to match the moments where Bruce goes back to a sound nearer Nebraska than Born to Run. The best thing, though, is that this is an album made by a man with absolutely nothing to prove. Unlike a lot of other albums on this list, Magic doesn't try to impress you or inspire you. It just manages to anyway because Springsteen is that good a songwriter. MOJO, rather predictably, gave it a classic rating.
39 Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Raising Sand


Raising Sand stumbled into a lot of unexpected hype a couple of months after its release when Led Zeppelin finally stopped cockteasing the press and reunited. As the newest release involving any member of Zeppelin, this received a sales boost that was probably beyond the wildest dreams of anyone involved in the production, performing, or marketing of this album. It was certainly beyond any exceptions in the UK - when was the last time a country album sold this much and charted this highly on these shores? It was probably Shania Twain, but regardless, this deserved its success. It strikes a fine balance between two modes - the lightness of touch found on "Killing The Blues" and "Stick With Me Baby", and the swampy likes of "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us" and "Trampled Rose" - and in turn generates a listening experience that stays fresh and interesting throughout.
40The Pax Cecilia
Blessed Are The Bonds


If you've heard anything at all about this album, you'll know it's available on CD for free, directly from the band, with just a PayPal link and your conscience to earn them money in return. Nice touch. Blessed Are The Bonds is certainly worth paying for, though, its blend of post-rock and metalcore throwing up some unexpectedly spectacular moments that sound little like anything else released in '07. Pianos and violins abound, as do comparisons to all sorts of other genres and bands (Isis, Dredg, and Circle Takes The Square have all been mentioned, with varying degrees of accuracy). It could do with being a little more convincing and/or inventive in its heavier moments, but that's a minor quibble - this is very good, and they'll almost certainly get better.
41M.I.A.
Kala


Those who found themselves impressed and irritated in equal measures by M.I.A.'s overhyped debut Arular need not fear - the critics who assured us she had massive potential were right. Kala takes everything that was bad about Arular (the naive, borderline-offensive political discourse, the relentlessly minimal music, M.I.A.'s attempts at rapping) and either dispenses with it completely or at least tones it down. As a result Kala ends up as a technicolour powerhouse with its eye firmly on the global stage, in both terms of politics and ambition. So, in other words, everything people said about Arular applies here. And in the sweeping, sexy "Jimmy", she made one of the best singles of the year, if not the decade.
42Laura Veirs
Saltbreakers


Six albums in and Laura Veirs continues to plow her own path through the overcrowded singer-songwriter genre. The fact that she hasn't yet had a hit is slightly downheartening considered how accessible her music is and how easy it would be to market her (a chick singer-songwriter with glasses and pretty songs - why, she's the new Lisa Loeb!), but never mind. Those of us in the know can just enjoy songs as good as "Pink Light", "Drink Deep" and "Don't Lose Yourself". Her combination of breezy melodies, amateurish electronics, and wistful lyrics (here predominantly about water) continues to produce the kind of results that should keep her fanbase growing, however slowly.
43 Jill Scott
The Real Thing: Words & Sounds Vol. 3


Well, people aren't queuing up to call this one of the all-time classic divorce albums, sure, but it's still mightily impressive how well Scott has managed to bounce back from what must have been a horrible time with an album as solid as this, and one that's home to as much flair, soul, and passion as this is. Here, My Dear and Blood on the Tracks this is not, however - The Real Thing's subject matters encompass sex, sex, and more sex. There's dirty sex, guilty sex, awesome sex, spiritual sex, tender sex, selfish sex, and on the incredible "Epiphany", there's all of them at once. Seriously. Rode Mt.Saint Scott 'til ooooo Creamy lava landed on my skin and neck Blended with my all day Chanel scent This freaking was incredulent, decadent Flip side, stomach meets sheets He plows inside as if he's making beats As if this year's harvest depended on it Verse of the year.
44Arctic Monkeys
Favourite Worst Nightmare


Well, it's a comedown after the mighty Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, for sure. The consistency, the spark just wasn't there this time. Having said that, Alex Turner is still witty enough to make this a fun listen, and the band's repertoire has expanded enough to afford us "505", a wonderful ballad and companion piece to "Despair in the Departure Lounge" that could never have worked on the debut. "Teddy Picker" and "Brianstorm" are both brilliant, too, with the lyrics on the former among the best ever penned about the lure of fame. The fact that this could rank as a disappointment says all you need to know about the quality of the album before this, but regardless, there's a lot to enjoy about Favourite Worst Nightmare.
45 Robert Wyatt
Comicopera


'Melodramatic Popular Song'. This genre is found on Myspace and is often co-opted by bands who just think it'll be a giggle to describe themselves that way - see Hot Chip, Gogol Bordello, Horse The Band, and !!! for examples - and prior to hearing this album I just found it a funny phrase to say, not unlike 'popular beat combo'. Yet on first listen to Comicopera, it came to my head and wouldn't dislodge itself. I can't think of a better way to label this album. Well, actually, I can - I can label it with such titles as 'the best Robert Wyatt album since Rock Bottom', 'the most playful album you'll ever hear by a man in his '60s', and so on. Wyatt's experimentation manifests itself here as playfulness, and his ambition feels more like gleeful abandon rather than pretension. A heady mixture of music drawn from all walks of life and from a diverse range of cultures, Comicopera is worth celebrating on many levels, not least of which is the fact that a man of 62 has made the most youthful album of the year.
46Nightwish
Dark Passion Play


Nightwish once again became a major talking point in the metal world when creative lynchpin Tuomas took the executive decision of firing Tarja Turunen, the band's classically-trained lead singer and USP. For many, Tarja's skyscraping voice was the only reason to listen to this band, so hopes for Dark Passion Play were low. A lot of people seemed to think that there wasn't a hope in hell that Nightwish would make a good album, and when it was announced that their new lead singer Anette Olzen used to be in an ABBA tribute band, well.... And yet, this might just be their most musically accomplished album yet (certainly, Emppu's guitars are better here than they have been before). The film score ambitions of Once have been scaled back and consigned to just one song (opener "The Poet And The Pendulum"), and bassist Marco has been given a greater role as vocalist. Olzen is responsible for the album's best moments, though, her sultry voice giving the band a new edge to their sound.
47Okkervil River
The Stage Names


As a pure set of songs, this was home to many of indie pop's finest moments in 2007. Wilfully referencing everything before them, like Pavement but with tunes, The Stage Names presents an Okkervil River possessed with wit and melancholy in equal measures. They're not quite worth shouting about yet, despite their knack for a quotable lyric, but this is another forward step for a band who have managed to grow with every release.
48Liars
Liars


Their most accessible album yet. Claims that they might become the best band of the decade are grossly exaggerated, but this melting pot of Sonic Youth, The Fall, and krautrock will do just fine for now, especially when it results in songs as insanely brilliant as "Plaster Casts of Everything".
49 Yoko Ono
Yes, I'm A Witch


I know, right? It's Yoko Ono. It's a remix album. Quite why it doesn't suck is a mystery, but there you go - this is a great album. The guest list - which includes Hank Shocklee of Public Enemy/Bomb Squad fame, The Flaming Lips, Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, Peaches, and DJ Spooky - is obviously dedicated to what they're doing, and as fans, they've succeeded in making a convincing argument that Yoko's music remains relevant. Highlights include Peaches' spastic dancefloor retooling of "Kiss Kiss Kiss", Porcupine Tree's psychedelic, acoustic treatment of the haunting "Death of Samantha", and Le Tigre's version of the empowering "Sisters O Sisters".
50Infected Mushroom
Vicious Delicious


A lot of Infected Mushroom fans slated Vicious Delicious for being a step towards the mainstream, and thus, a step backwards. Whatever: this is as lighthearted and fun as IM have ever been, and it suits them. The addition of thrash metal-esque guitars is a masterstroke - the tour-de-force opener "Becoming Insane" is obviously inspired by Metallica's "Battery" - and they don't embarrass themselves in their quest into rap territory on "Artillery". If you're prepared to ignore the vocals (too cheesy for their own good), then this is the best straight-up dance record of the year.
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