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|Iai's Best Of 2007 (top 15)|
For now this is my contribution to the staff list. A top 50 will follow!
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.
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.
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.
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'.
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.
The Alchemy Index: Vols. I and II...
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.
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 (inluding 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 rck heads should listen up - other guests include The Mars Volta, Daryl Palumbo, Trent Reznor, James NcNew from Yo La Tengo, and Cat Power.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Nice list man, Stateless was a killer release.|
|I didn't even know cunninlynguists had something out this year. And I'm getting #1 as soon as possible.|
|This is a good looking list.|
|I don't really care for many albums on this list other then Monche and Burial, not to mention that I loathe that Bright Eyes album.|
But at least you didin't have Person Pitch as #2 :)