I'm such a sucker for lists. I don't really need any rhymes or reasons for making them at all, and when I start one, I have trouble putting limitations on it. Many moons ago, I began creating top 20 lists for my favorite cds of the year..it began as a one day event with minimal fanfare, and just look how it's grown. Two-ish years ago, I had the crazy idea of making my list a 30 cd affair, with a new review posted each day in December, and that was kinda cool but this year I wanted more. In 2007, I listened to a crap-ton of records, just about 200 to be more specific, and I found that the idea of limiting my list to 30 or 31 cds just wasn't gonna allow me to give proverbial props to all the records I feel deserve them. So I now present to you my favorite 50 records of this past year; the second half of the list will be posted in 5 and 4-a-day spurts with mini-reviews and the top 25 will each get their very own day, all leading to the unveiling of this year's number 1 cd on December 31.
So if anyone reads this, I hope you enjoy it..and heeere we go.
Dave Gahan - 'Hourglass'
Released October 23, 2007
No new Depeche Mode record this year, but this is really the next best thing. Nearly everything about this record sounds like a DM cd to me. There are a bunch of cool, synth-infused tunes, a few slower songs, and even some decent (but fairly simple) songwriting. His DM bandmate Martin Gore has written just about anything and everything that's ever shown up on a Mode cd, so that might say something about how his writing talents are viewed, but it's really not a big detractor for me on 'Hourglass'. It's a really solid cd that's perfect for anyone in the mood for some darkish sounding electronic music.
Standout Songs: 'Saw Something' and 'Kingdom'
Charlotte Gainsbourg - '5:55'
Released April 24, 2007
I wrote a full review of this cd a few months back in the very early days of this blog and I said a lot of nice things about it. This Frenchy girl starred in Science Of Sleep (great movie), and that's kinda where I found out about her. She has a beautiful, light, breathy voice and this cd finds her singing over music created by fellow Frenchers, Air, great artists in their own right. Once again, lyrically it's pretty eh whatever, but the focus is strictly on her voice and the nice little string and piano melodies. It's great chillout music or just something quiet to listen to in the background. I dig it like whoazers.
Standout Songs: 'Tel Que Tu Es' and 'Morning Song'
Explosions In The Sky - 'All of a Sudden, I Miss Everyone'
Released February 20, 2007
If there's one thing I can say with 100% assurance regarding this band, it's that they are good at what they do. They also apparently happen to be very comfortable with what they do because to be honest they haven't changed a single thing about their sound in all the time I've been a fan of them. With the disappearance of Godspeed You Black Emperor, these guys have become the most well known torch carriers for the post rock genre and while this is another great record, I kinda wish they would take a few more chances sonically. But for serious, everything you've loved about ETIS is here, huge buildups, sweeping crescendos, the whole nine yards (there is a slight feeling of unimportance and lack of emotion here though, and that was a slight bummer). All in all, this is a really solid record and still the best post rock cd I heard all year, I just hope they spread their wings a little bit someday. I think they have it in them.
Standout Songs: 'The Birth and The Death Of The Day' and 'So Long, Lonesome'
Great Lake Swimmers - 'Ongiara'
Released May 8, 2007
Boy do I love, love, love me some mellow folk music. GLS is a beautiful combination of good singer-songwriter type stuff and mellow mostly acoustic music with traces of bluegrassy banjos and stand up bass things etc thrown in for good measure. Perhaps, though, the thing I like most about this disc is the lyrical prowess. Fooor example, how can you not love stuff like " Your soft fingers between my claws/Like purity against resolve/I could tell then there that we were formed from the clay/And came from the rocks for earth to display"? It's simple but brilliant. Amazing cd and I'll probably regret putting it so low one day.
Standout Songs: 'Your Rocky Spine' and Changing Colours'
Angels & Airwaves 'I-Empire'
Released November 6, 2007
What? Seriously? A cd by a former member of Blink 182 on a list that Brandon is creating? No way. Way. If there is such a thing as a guilty pleasure when it comes to someone's musical taste, this would surely classify as one of mine. Yes, I know the songs all sound the same thanks to the use of the SAME guitar effects in every single song. Yes, I know Tom DeLonge has a relatively stupid voice and a ridiculously pretentious/self important attitude regarding this band to boot. Yes, I know this is a band aimed at making 15 year olds think they're listening to experimental prog rock music. I know all those things, but dammit I love listening to them. It's great music to just...listen to. Driving, walking, whatever..they're simply enjoyable tunes. Except for the song Rite Of Spring, cause the lyrics there are laughably bad. BUT! Aside from that, cool stuff.
Standout Songs: 'Call To Arms' and 'True Love'
Feist - 'The Reminder'
Released May 1, 2007
Oneee twoooo threeee foourrr dododododundundo. Before being turned into one of the most obnoxious, overplayed songs on the television, that song was actually one of my favorites on this disc annnd this cd was probably a top 20 cd for me. Maybe it's not right to let one song ruin a listening experience, but it happens. That said, this record really made me care about Leslie Feist. Sure I like her work in Broken Social Scene, but I didn't like her first cd/ep whateva thing a few years ago but this cd has a great combination of folky ballads and upbeat jazzy pop songs. She has a really great voice that ranges from being all breathy and sezy to a strong 'I am woman' sorta power. It's just a good cd..after all, cds dont usually crossover from being indie darlings to having strong mainsteam appeal without a reason. Check it out.
Standout Songs: 'How My Heart Behaves' and 'The Water'
Cary Brothers - 'Who You Are'
Released May 29, 2007
Nashville native and singer/songwriter Cary Brothers is living proof that having Zach Braff as a fan can get you places. He first became known thanks in part to the inclusion of his wonderful song 'Blue Eyes' on the Garden State soundtrack, a handful of years, a little help from shows like Gray's Anatomy and Scrubs, and a few EPs later, Brothers finally got to release a full length LP. This dude has written some really, really good songs over the course of his career and for the most part, they're all included right here on this cd and while that's cool for new audiences, for longtime fans it's kind of a bummer to hear the same songs for the second or third time. So in a way, this is kind of a list spot in recognition of the entirety of his short career. Great old songs, quality new songs, a very solid cd.
Standout songs: 'Honestly' and 'The Glass Parade'
Keren Ann - 'Keren Ann'
Blue Note Records
Released May 8, 2007
I got a copy of this cd a few months back in the mail from my buddy Jess with a little post it note telling me to listen to track #7, a song called 'Liberty'. Naturally, the first song I listened to when I got around to listening was the aforementioned number 7, and I was instantly hooked. This is one of those kinds of cds I'd listen to at Borders or something because it was one of their featured albums and the description used phrases like 'delicate vocals', 'lush melodies', and 'beautifulyl crafted' annnd I'd listen to two songs and be totally sold. There's an instant likability here and an allure vocal-wise that absolutely cannot be denied. And by the way, that Liberty song, well let's just say if I make a favorite songs list this year, it'll be in the top 10.
Standout Songs: 'Liberty' and 'Lay Your Head Down'
Last Days - 'These Places Are Now Ruins'
Released October 9, 2007
This year, I have developed a huge fascination with ambient music. There's just something about white noise layered with blips and bloops and subtle electronics, pianos, and strings that I've grown to find so comforting. Last Days (who is a dude name Graham Richardson), describes this record as a "loosely chronological album documenting thoughts and emotions experienced when returning home after having moved away." I was kinda intrigued by that concept, and to be honest, when listening, I can hear that. There is an innate beauty about the songs, a beauty that conveys a level of peace and contentment but is often shadowed by another darker level, as if to represent a change in mood or emotion that looms on the horizon. 'These Places Are Now Ruins' is an amazing piece of art that really does manage to strike a nerve with the listener and tap into emotions that a lot of music is unable to. Minimalistic yet magnificent, this is definitely a cd that I would recommend whole heartedly to anyone and everyone, and another that I will probably regret putting this low at some point.
Standout Songs: 'Points Bridge' and 'Station Pt. 2'
The Dear Hunter - 'Act II: The Meaning of, and all Things Regarding Ms. Leading'
Triple Crown Records
Released May 22, 2007
I remember picking up this band's first cd in the $5 bin at a local used record store after reading a bunch of positive reviews. What I heard when I put the thing in my cd player was a really interesting mix of musical styles that seemed to know no bounds but oddly worked very well. This time around nothing has really changed, if anything, they've gone even farther out on the progressive ledge. While this album has it's roots in indie rock/emo whatever, they manage to add in traces of latin, jazzy stuff, swing music, hell, even ragtime. Ragtime, wtf? yeah. All the songs are really catchy, there's outstanding use of melody, no two songs sound the same, and the lyrics are cool & tell a story. What more could you ask for? Personally, I'm all about this experimental thing becoming the next fad in rock music..until it starts to get monotonous at least.
Standout Songs: 'The Oracles On The Delphi Express' and 'The Procession'
Stateless - 'Stateless'
Released June 19, 2007
Here's another record I mentioned on this blog a long, long time ago. Stateless have got a really cool sound going on here, lots of piano and electronics and samples and heavy drums/beats with Aqualung meets Coldplay style vocals. It's got a strong trip-hop vibe, which really gives it an underground club sound..or at least sounds I associate with dark, dirty in a good way, cold clubs despite having never really been to one that fits said description. The entire first half of the cd is absolute gold. The songs are super strong and I've found myself enjoying them as much today as I did months ago when I first heard them. The cd does, as I mentioned in my initial review, start to get slightly redundant towards the end, but the opening 5 or 6 songs are enough to carry it the rest of the way to greatness.
Standout Songs: 'The Language' and 'Bloodstream'
Marilyn Manson - 'Eat Me, Drink Me'
Released June 5, 2007
If you talked to 10 people who at one point called themselves fan of Manson's work, I'd be willing to be that at least 5 or 6 of them lost interest after Antichrist Superstar and a few more on top of that will say that they became fans once they heard something from Mechanical Animals. I fall somewhere in between I guess, I like Superstar, but Animals, in all it's faux-Bowie glory, to me is one of the highlights of the entire genre of "nu-metal". For years, I've been waiting for him to release a cd that was somewhat comparable to that soundwise, and for years have been disappointed when he seemed to be trending back towards the heavier sounds of his past. Then along came this album. When I first heard the lead single 'If I Was Your Vampire', I was thrilled and really stoked to hear the rest of the cd. It turned out this album was better than I could have expected. The songs are almost poppy in their most basic form, hooks are in full effect, there are chunky riffs and rock & roll solos (!!!), and he doesn't seem to be making attempts at being controversial for the sake of being controversial right now, which is nice.
Standout Songs: 'Putting Holes In Happiness' and 'If I Was Your Vampire'
The Frames - 'The Cost'
Released February 20, 2007
I was turned on to The Frames a few years back when Amazon suggested that I might enjoy their 'Burn The Maps' cd. Turns out, they were right. This year, when this record came out, I downloaded it, but wasn't immediately sold on it and kinda put it on my musical backburner. Theeeen came the movie Once, which starred Glen Hansard, the singer of The Frames, and I was forced to re-listen and re-evaluate this disc. Turns out that not only were there were a few songs that appeared acoustically in the movie that show up here with full band treatment, but there were some other really wonderful new songs here too. I'll get more into Once later, but boy it's a good thing I gave this another go. The Frames are a really good band, huge in their native Ireland I hear, and just like fellow Irishmen U2, this band's backbone, for me, is the power of the vocalist. Hansard has a knack for drawing me in with quiet, melancholic, heartfelt lyrics only to knock my socks off when he really starts to belt things out. There just feels like there is SO much emotion behind some of these songs and he really wears it on his sleeve. Combine that with fine musicianship and the inclusion of lots of orchestration and an overall healthy dose of ballads aaaaaand you've got a really top notch cd. It also helps that I saw these guys/Swell Season a few weeks ago, and they were really wonderful live. Good Times.
Standout Songs: 'Rise' and 'People Get Ready'
Interpol - 'Our Love To Admire'
Released July 10, 2007
How are things on the west coast? Interpol has now released their third record that sounds relatively the same and you'd think that it would be boring by now buuut for some reason, it's not. They have a knack for re-inventing themselves not at all but adding in enough new elements here and there to keep things interesting. For some reason, with Interpol cds, I never realize how much I've listened and how well I know the songs until I hear the songs somewhere else..in a store, radio, on my ipod..and I somehow know them. It's weird and it's happened to me with each Interpol cd. This time, I don't think it was my doing though, cause this record got played to deeeeeeeath at my work so even though I wasn't always out on the floor to listen to it, the songs managed to creep into my head. I dunno, I like this cd a good bit, but I don't think it's as good as 'Antics' throughout..although, there are a few moments of brilliance here, specifically the album ending epic 'The Lighthouse'. Slow and surprisingly ambient, it shows that there might be more layers to the band than I'd thought..but we'll have to wait and see.
Standout Songs: 'The Lighthouse' and 'Rest My Chemistry'
The Receiving End Of Sirens - 'The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi'
Triple Crown Records
Released August 7, 2007
Much like with A&A, this is another band I never thought I'd be given any kind of recognition. Their first cd was pretty eh, it had a few good songs, but it was nothing really worth listening to for me. Then they lost their singer, interestingly enough due to him starting The Dear Hunter, but found a sense of direction. Mostly gone is the slightly generic screaming aspect of their sound and in its place comes a much more mature, full sounding band..a band following the 'hey, let's get experimental!' trend. Electronics, some spaciness, and just songs I enjoy listening to. TREOS aren't reinventing the wheel by any means, but I really like the guitar work and the way the songs flow. It's a cd I love putting on when I'm just driving around and listening to all the way through.
Standout Songs: 'Swallow People Whole' and 'The Crop and The Pest'
The Arcade Fire - 'Neon Bible'
Released March 6, 2007
So it turns out I didn't care much about this cd until I started really liking Bruce Springsteen. The Arcade Fire have been one of the prerequisite bands hipster kids have to like for a bunch of years now, as apparently people really thought highly of their breakout cd, 'Funeral'. Not so much for the B-Man, I liked it in doses, but as a whole, it didn't do all that much for me. Even so, I can acknowledge that they did set themselves apart from the indie rock pack and create a little niche of their own. I mentioned The Boss a second ago because it sounds like they're channeling him on a good portion of their songs this time around.. '(Antichrist Televeision Blues)' might as well be on The River..and I dig it. Much like their last record, the instrumentation is top notch, the production is swell and honestly it sounds like they made a point to craft a good record and that's something so simple that I don't think many bands really try their best at doing.
Standout Songs: '(Antichrist Television Blues)' and 'Keep The Car Running'
Aereogramme - 'My Heart Has A Wish That You Would Not Go'
Released February 6, 2007
Just to give my team-o-writers props, here's a full on review Jess wrote about this bad boy months ago...
She Wants Revenge - 'This Is Forever'
Released October 9, 2007
As I kinda mentioned with Interpol, sometimes when bands find their little place in the musical world, they have a tendency to stick with the horse that brought em to the rodeo. Sometimes this is a bad idea, as it gets uber-boring and repetative. Sometimes though, the sound that the band has found is really all they need and expansion is wholly unnecessary. Both sides are arguable ones when it comes to She Wants Revenge. The monotone vocals and monotonous but hypnotic beats that ran amuck on their first release both return here, and with the exception of.. ok there's no exceptions, this is pretty much a direct continuation of their debut. There are even direct ripoffs of their own previous material (listen to 'These Things' from the first cd and 'She Will Always Be A Broken Girl' on this one and tell me they aren't the same effing song). All that said, as with the other one, I find myself oddly addicted to this cd. This, for me, is like audio crack..each listen has me inexplicably craving more. Maybe it's just full subliminal messages tell me to listen to it or Fred Durst will come eat me. Cause nobody wants that.
Standout Songs: 'Written In Blood' and yes, 'She Will Always Be A Broken Girl'
From Autumn To Ashes - 'Holding A Wolf By The Ears' Vagrant Records
Released April 9, 2007
'Too Bad You're Beautiful' was the absolute bomb. 'The Fiction We Live' was pretty good..some signs of lameness were shown, but it was tolerable. Then evvvverything went way downhill. 'Abandon Your Friends' was the absolutely atrocious, and it was both proceeded and followed by inner band drama that eventually lead to the departure of that middle-aged looking fat man that did the screaming for the band. Then comes word that the drummer, who had a penchant for being the band's resident whiny singy guy, was gonna be the full-time singer. Uh-oh! But somehow, amazingly, this cd didn't suck. In fact, it was shockingly good. The band seemed to have totally 'found' themselves again. Honestly, it's kinda like listening to a new band who are just releasing their first album. The music is pretty heavy, there are eeeven some breakdowns! ..sorta, the vocals are really solid and un-obnoxious. They don't necessarily stand out sound wise anymore these days, but they've stayed relatively true to their older-selves and this is still better than a whole ton of the screamy junk I listened to this year.
Standout Songs: 'Death Kult Social Club' and 'Daylight Slaving'
Portugal. The Man - 'Church Mouth'
Released July 24, 2007
Portugal. The Man was a surprise hit of 2k6 para me coming out of virtually nooowhere (aka Alaska) to find a nice spot near the top of my listy. They had a really cool sound, lots of cool avant-garde sorta stuff and lots of similarities to bands like At The Drive In and the ilk. Lots of keyboardage/electronic..age and kooky time changes back then. NO MORE! Now they've decided to go the classic rock route with their sound. Organic, rootsy, funky, psychadelic, soul-filled, rockin' good times. I really shouldn't like this, it sounds like a musical quiche of lots of bands I don't like at all, but yet I love it. This is what I wanna listen to when I first leave my house, and I'm headed down the road to a revival. Although, what I'm listening to as my car gets closer to the revival is gonna be revealed a few days from now...TEASE TEASE TEASE! Anyway, while 'Church Mouth' is not as cool as their debut cd, it's still a great listen andI dig it the most.
Standout Songs: 'Children' and 'Sugar Cinnamon'
Blaqk Audio - 'Cex Cells'
Released August 14, 2007
When I have old reviews on this blog, I kinda like to rehash them in way, to see my intial reactions and mix them in with how I've grown to feel about a cd. Back in the day, I wrote that every once in a while, music shows up that might as well have been created just for me. Blaqk Audio is the side project of two dudes from AFI, the singer annnd um, one of the other ones. This record sorta came out of nowhere, not that I keep up with what's happening in the AFI camp or anything, but these guys were on the cover of the last AP mag and then boom, the record was released. That's what I get for not listening to the radio. I was interested in hearing it, but I never expected to dig it as much as I do. It's like a combination of music I'm all about..older Depeche Mode and stuff like VNV Nation.. and I listened to this like a madman when it first came out..I'll be honest though, my interest has slightly faded. That's not to say that it's not a cool cd though. It almost feels like a beginner's guide to ebm or electro-popwhatever for the Hot Topic masses so a few elitists wearing Skinny Puppy shirts might not approve publicly but I bet they'll be rockin' this record when they're all by themselves in their little goth-lairs at night. Silly musical elitists. Some of the songs sound similar, but there's still lots of hook, lots of coolness, lots of blaqkness. I enjoy listening to it mucho.
Standout Songs: 'Stiff Kittens' and 'Semiotic Love'
The Rosebuds - 'Night Of The Furies'
Released April 10, 2007
The first time I ever heard this band was a few years back when I downloaded the song 'Blue Bird' after seeing it recommended somewhere. Pretty good straight up indie rock stuff, but the whole record it came from, 'Birds Make Good Neighbors', didn't really stick on me very much. When I saw they had a new one coming out back in the spring, I went to their Myspace to check out what the new material sounded like. Unexpectedly, I found that they'd evolved into an 80s-ish New Order sounding synthpop/disco band with, gasp, dancey songs. My interest was heightened, and I checked out the whole record. Wise move on my part, as this cd is catchy to the max and packed with really good songs with sort of a dark tint to them. They have a dual vocalist situation goin on, a chick and a dude, who are husband and wife I believe. Heck, they might be the only two people in the band for all I know..a little research would solve this issue, but nobody really cares.
Standout Songs: 'I Better Run' and 'Silence By The Lakeside'
Apparat - 'Walls'
Released June 5, 2007
The ambient lovin' continues with numba twenty a-tizzle. Ok ok, so maybe it's not strictly an ambient cd because there's a decent amount of electronica here in the shape of techno beats and vocals and variousness but there's a whole lotta ambientin goin' on. I think there are more red-underlined grammar and spelling errors in those first sentences then I've had in the first 22 reviews combined. This is a little more upbeat than your typical ambient release..hang on hang on, I just realized what this sounds like..it's totally a combination of Dntel and M83. If you know who I'm talking about, you get a brownie point. Ok sorry, I needed to get that out. ANYway, more upbeat, an expected amount of glitchiness, a few really stupid singy songs, but in the end, the nice collection of soundscapes prevail here, making this album well worth my time, and yours.
Standout Songs: 'Useless Information' and 'Fractales Pt. 1'
Ryan Adams - 'Easy Tiger' and 'Follow The Lights'
Released June 26/October 23, 2007
I know that I might be sending shockwaves through the list-making community by placing two records at one number but it's a risk I'm willing to take. One thing you can always count on Ryan Adams for is releasing an ungodly amount of music to his fans. Earlier this year, 'Easy Tiger' dropped and while it has some really great songs such as 'Two Hearts', 'Goodnight Rose', 'Everybody Knows' and 'Two', it also had a few stinkers...(um, wtf
is with Halloweenhead?). This record provided more of the upbeatish, polished country Adams sound, and to me, that was a slight disappointment because I think he's at his best when he's doing quieter, acoustic stuff like on 'Love Is Hell'. Then along came the 'Follow The Lights' ep. Honestly, this is the only reason Adams is placing so high on this list. FTL is a wonderful cd. The two totally new songs on here, 'Follow The Lights' and 'My Love For You Is Real', are outstanding acoustic pieces that I immediately fell in love with and made it to my ever-exclusive Elite playlist on my ipod. Also included on here are some new versions of a few older Adams songs and a couple covers, one of which being Alice In Chains' 'Down In A Hole' which is really cool and works well with his voice. Yet another good year for Ryan Adams, I'm curious to see how many cds he'll pop out next year...
Standout Songs: 'Follow The Lights' and 'Two'
Darkest Hour - 'Deliver Us'
Released July 9, 2007
Well, I'm forced to eat a slight bit of crow here, because when this cd first came out, I trashed it. I wasn't really out of line in doing so, and everything I said about it being too clean, having too many simplified song structures, being slightly boring still ring somewhat true in my mind. However, I also mentioned that I knew I would enjoy this record a whoooole lot more over time and that has also proven itself to be the case. Darkest Hour stands alone as being my favorite current metal band (despite having some competition from one particular band, more on that later this month..TEASE!), and for the most part, they can kinda do no wrong. This cd is still classic DH, it'sheavy as balls, it's thrashy, it's loud, it's catchy, and it has some rad solos. A few tunes have clean vocal choruses I don't approve of, but they didn't ask me my opinion before recording them, so whatever. This can't hold a candle to the pinnacle of recent metal (their own 'Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation'), but songs like 'Stand and Receive Your Judgment' with it's bombass riffage and 'Doomsayer' rank right up there in the upper echelon of DH tunes for me and actually, I think Doomsayer is my favorite metal song of the year. One major thing is missing for me with this cd though, that's the live experience. I haven't see them play any of these songs, and that would almost certainly bump this up a few notches on this list. Ah well. Hey DH dudes, if being 26 bums you out a little bit, how bout this..if I made a list of favorite album covers of the year, you'd be number one. Go you!
Standout Songs: 'Doomsayer (The Beginning Of The End)' and 'Deliver Us'
The Shins - 'Wincing The Night Away'
Released January 23, 2007
I, personally, really dig this cd. I could write a lovely little review of it too. BUT. I'm busy playing Madden and watching Sleepless In Seattle, and really, my friend Linda wrote a review for this earlier this year that might be the best review written for this site, sooo here it is....
Tongue in cheek, some have been known to say that the Shins are my favorite band. I beg to differ. The Shins, to me, are the following similes and metaphors.
The Shins are that new friend that you make after high school. You're still getting to know them, but you know that they are far more interesting than all of your old pals. It might not even be so much that they're interesting; they just have exciting stories to share that you've never heard before. They've been places you don't know about and have done things that make you squirm with jealousy. Eventually, you might get to know these friends and learn that they are just as old and boring as everyone else in the God forsaken universe...but for now...it's new and exciting and that's all that fucking matters.
As far as their sound goes, literally, I love it. I never grow tired of stray high pitched noises and sweet melodies. Their cute British accents make them even easier to love. Their lyrics are lolli-pops and rides on merry-go-rounds. Even when words are harsh and cruel, it's enough to make you think you're eating cotton candy on a cloud of butterflies.
I learned from a dear friend that the fewer chords and pitches used in a song, the better it is. I agree. You see; I am a simple girl. I live for solid colours and simple patterns. If this music could paint a picture, it would be just that. They put me at ease and bring me to peace. That is why I love them. Some may call it girlie. I call it ... I don't know what I call it.
So. I'm still getting to know the Shins. I'm sure one day we'll drift apart and forget to call each other on the weekends when we don't have homework to do. I'm sure we'll make newer, more interesting friends.
But for now...they are my new pair of shoes, my good hair day, that romantic first kiss, and most importantly, a new friend that I can stay up talking to until 9 in the morning.
Standout Songs: 'Australia' and 'Sleeping Lessons'
Thrice - 'The Alchemy Index: Vols I & II Fire & Water'
Released October 16, 2007
Ambition is the name of the game when it comes to this cd and really, this band. Over their past few releases, Thrice, who are what I suppose could be described as a post-punk band or something, have shown that they're not opposed to opening up their sound, expanding to new horizons. With each album there's been a strong showing of growth, both as songwriters and a band and this might be the biggest leap yet. 'The idea is that The Alchemy Index' is a four part record, with each part representing an element of the earth. This record is the fire and water half, and earth and air are set to follow in the spring of 08. Musically, they do a swell job at representing said elements..the fire half of this record is relatively heavy, all the songs have something to do with the concept of fire while the water half is very serene and, well, watery. I have to be honest and say that I dig the water half of this album the most..if this whole thing sounded like those songs, I'd have a hard time not putting this cd in the top 10. Yes, the water songs are that good. That's not to say that the heavier songs suck, because they're definitely great in their own right..they do some stuff on that disc that initially made me look at my cd player and say 'wait, THIS is thrice? wow cool'..but I have a tendency to really love calm music, and the water disc really REALLY strikes a happy nerve with me. 'The Whaler', 'Digital Sea', and 'Open Water' are all amazing songs..actually that whole cd made my aforementioned elite list because it's amazing. Sooo listen to it.
Standout Songs: 'Open Water' and 'The Flame Deluge'
The National Lights - 'The Dead Will Walk, Dear'
Released February 27, 2007
The first few times I listened to this cd, I really just thought it was nice, happy acoustic folk music in the vein of, say, Iron & Wine and the like. I can't really be blamed either, because that's exactly the impression that the exterior gives. But then I started paying closer attention to the lyrics, and man, it made me see this cd in a whole new way. It turns out that 'The Dead Will Walk, Dear' is more or less a rather grisly collection of tunes about murder and death and eating flesh and griding up bones and other upbeat topics like them. It's kinda crazy though, because musically, there is absolutely zero indication of the lyrical content..just a constant supply of quiet guitar/banjo arrangements and calmly delivered lyrics. No rise in emotion, no percussion, it's kinda neat..and I think it makes the cd stand out from the pack. While I do think they maybe should expand things a little bit musically at some point to avoid things getting a tad stale, for now, I give this cd and this songwriting duo my full support. I've heard they have a new cd coming out this coming February called 'Who The Sea Will Keep', so I'm pretty curious to hear what they have up their sleeves this time around. I have a feeling it just might make an appearance on this list in a year's time. We shall see.
Standout Songs: 'Better For It, Kid' and 'Killing Swallows'
Every Time I Die - 'The Big Dirty'
Released September 4, 2007
There are only a handful of sure things in this world. The sun rising and setting seems to be a pretty constant thing, as does dying and the continued extinction of the t-rex. One of the few sure things in my world is that when ETID releases a new cd I will hate it and bash it for at least 3 weeks after it's release (or leak since we are living in the age of the internet). In my defense, my bashing and dislike for their last cd, 'Gutter Phenomenon', can and generally does continue to this day cause it's dumb. But 'Last Night In Town', 'Hot Damn!', and now this have all followed the same trend. My opinions usually follow this pattern: "This is terrible, wtf, ew, bleh, bah, eh, hmm, ok, it's not that bad i guess, ok that was cool, pretty rad, quality, rockin" Errtime continues the path they sorta went down on "Gutter.." but it's got the coolness and heaviness of 'Hot Damn!!!!' with a little bit more southern rock, and the vocals aren't totally obnoxious. Plus, with ETID, you're sure to get some of the coolest/most creative lyrics you'll find anywhere in rock music today. One of the biggest probs I had with 'Gutter' was that all the songs started running together after three or four tunes and there was nothing setting one thing apart from another. This time, they do a better job at giving each song a little more identity, and it pays off to my ears. Even the songs I initially hated and found to be super bland, like 'INRIhab', I now think are pretty rad (mainly for the breakdown, but who's counting?). So, cool. I'm looking forward to their next cd, not just to see if it follows the ETID-BCK trend, but because I'm curious to see where they take their sound next. With these guys, it's always an adventure..and I kinda like that. Sometimes.
Standout Songs: 'Rendez-Voodoo' and 'Buffalo Gals'
Dustin Kensrue - 'Please Come Home'
Equal Vision Records
Released January 23, 2007
Side projects are cool. So is Jessica. She likes Dustin Kensrue and nooow she will proceed to tell you why....
Jessica Here...Woah, who knew Dustin Kensrue of Thrice could belt out such heavenly vocals, such a shocker. . .And boy oh boy, what solid tracks. Every track flows with such ease to the next, allowing me to get through the entire cd without skipping a track...which is very unusual. These perfect little folky-acoustic melodies are simple, yet very soothing. Kensrue could records these sweet little ballads without even having music to back his vocals up and it would still be mind blowing. Though the use of acoustics, and easy drums creates a perfect combination to support his heaven-sent voice. And the use of harmonica in the intro & chorus to "Pistol" is just badass.
Anyway, in case I hadn't already mentioned it- his voice is nothing short of an angels. To top it off, the lyrics send such a heavy, heartfelt message. Each word is spoken so passionately, as though they were inspired by intensely personal moments of his. Granted, I am a total girl-type romantic, so the lyrics that speak most to me “You're the girl of my dreams/ And a pistol it seems, but you shoot me straight and true/Time to lay down my bets/ Oh, I put all my money on you.” - “Pistol” This album really just makes me feel like I had an intimate conversation with Dustin Kensrue himself; he really pours every ounce of himself into each word. Overall, it was a pleasant surprise, especially considering I wasn’t huge on "Vheissu.”, this is a must have. Glad to see this at #21 Brandon, but you can bet your buns it’ll be much closer to the 1s, 2s and 3s on my list.
Anyway, I think my only complaint is that there are not near enough tracks and I just can't wait to get my hands on more... But then again, I’d trade 8 quality tracks for 12 half-assed pieces of shit any day.
(Brandon's) Standout Songs: 'Blood & Wine' and 'I Knew You Before'
The National - 'Boxer'
Released May 22, 2007
What do you get when you combine a band from Brooklyn, a plethora of top 10 appearances in year end lists for '07, and Sufjan Stevens? This! If you're unfamiliar,'Boxer' sounds like what Interpol would sound like if they performed spoken word to warmer music. The dark, baritone talky-vocals of singer Matt Berninger will lend themselves to comparisons of said band, but that's really where the comparisons end . The National, who from what I gather used to be a more Wilco-esque band on previous releases keep things pretty slow..lots of piano and honestly, lots of music you'd expect to find on a folk or singer songwriter's album (especially in songs like 'Start A War' or 'Racing Like A Pro')..and with all the songs about relationships and girlz and things it might as well be one. I can see why one would be turned off by the combination of things here, but it strikes just the right chord for me. Boy that was a bad pun. Not to be confused with Big Pun, because he wasn't a player, he, uh, just crushed a lot. Overall, this is a very good album, mellow and blatantly moody almost all the way through and is widely considered to be a masterpiece by the indie rock/too cool for school hipster folks...sooooo if you put stock in the opinion of those guys, you'd better get your ass to the store or your local bit torrent client and gives this a listen.
Sufjan plays piano on 2 songs. That's why I name dropped him earlier.
Standout Songs: 'Fake Empire' and 'Ada'
Poison The Well- 'Versions'
Released April 3, 2007
"What a great kick in the ass for a genre that's basically become a mockery of itself. PTW is a band that has been evolving for years..long ago ditching the breakdowns and overall XhardcoreX approach they helped pioneer and probably losing a bunch of fans in the process. It's hard to describe what this record sounds like..country mixed with metal/hard rock maybe? kinda. Any way you slice it, it's a fusion of sounds that I know I've never really heard before but I really REALLY dig. I hope all their peers are paying attention..because the bar has officially been raised." That's what I said about this bad boy back in July, and it rings just as true today. Ok, so obviously posting that was a bit of a cop out, but give me a break, I'm tired and had a crappy night of bowling. This cd freakin rocks. It kicks you right in the ass from the start with the fast paced 'Letter Thing' and it's neat little slide guitar sorta-solo that breaks into something that could maybe somehow be construed as something resembling a breakdown i guess..whatever, it's rad. The sludgy 'Nagaina' and it's cool 'I am a snake, I let my children go to fend for themselves' lyric is one of my favorite tunes of the year..and it just keeps on keepin on from there on. And 'Riverside'? A Ballad? man. woo. This is a rad cd, it's really different than anything you'd expect, the styles meshed here work surprisingly well together and as I said, consider the bar raised. Oh and one of the b-sides that you can find out there, a song called 'Oceanbreast', is really good too.
Standout Songs: 'Nagaina' and 'Naive Monarch'
The Snake The Cross The Crown - 'Cotton Teeth'
Equal Vision Records
Released March 6, 2007
Pack into the family truckster guys, we're headed to the revival! Ya know, I'm not even totally sure what goes on at one of those things but this sure seems like a lovely soundtrack for getting there. I honestly thought this band broke up a few years ago, because I distinctly remember being bummed out about it..not too sure where I got my info or if they did break up and reform or what the real deal is, but the important thing is they are back and better than ever. These guys have always been about fusing head-waggin folk music with rock and while their last album was great, this one might be even stronger. Songs like 'Behold The River', 'Hey Jim', 'Cotton Teeth' are perfect examples of everything this band is trying to achieve..inspired folk infused rock with undeniable melodies and music that just feels good to listen to. When I first listened to this record all the way through, I came to a pretty surprising realization..this is an entire record full of last songs. Ya know how very often, the last song on the cd sounds like the band made an effort to make it 'special'? Well the whole cd sounds that way to me and I think it's pretty wonderful. Oh and if you ever get the opportunity to see these guys live, check them out, I don't think it's something that you would regret doing because they have an incredible presence on stage and the sound is perfect. Boo yah.
Standout Songs: 'Hey Jim' and 'Cotton Teeth'
Radiohead - 'In Rainbows'
Released On Internet October 10, 2007
To Be Released In Stores Jan. 1, 2008
I suppose technically, I could have waited to do anything with this cd until next year. It would have had over a year to fully digest within my ears and I think it would be quite a few notches higher up on the '08 version of this very list. That didn't feel right however, and I feel like I have a solid enough grasp on 'In Rainbows' to throw it into this year's fray. I have reached the point of the list where, for the most part, the numbers are kind of arbitrary. Lots of stuff sorta gels together in delicious blend of music, and saying this is better or worse to me than what's at 13 or 16 or 11 is kinda hard to do. But I will do it nonetheless, it's why I get paid the big bucks for this list. ANYWAY. I'm sure there's no need to even mention it, but everyone knows all about the big waves Radiohead caused in the industry by releasing their new record, a follow up to 'Hail To The Thief', solely on the internet in mp3 format (initially at least, as a box set came out a few weeks ago and the actual cd shows up in stores at the start of the new year)..and time will tell as to how this effects anything, but if one thing's for certain, the band has come through big time on the music front. This might be the second best record they have released, behind the amazing 'OK Computer', and it's the cd I've been hoping they'd release since Computer came out. This record seems to take all the great points from 'Ok' and combines them with the sounds the band have been experimenting with over the past few records and the result is a huge success of a record in my eyes. As a whole, it's pretty subdued musically, a good deal of orchestration and ambience create a lovely backdrop for the band and help them create some of the most emotional, accessible, and gentle songs I can recall hearing from them. Radiohead doesn't sound like a band trying to bash you over then head with their own self-indulgence anymore, they sound like they've found some kind of peace, be it musically, or with their careers, or whatever..and I'm sure that comes as a bit of a relief to people who grew to dislike the seeming pretentiousness Radiohead's been viewed as having for a good chunk of years. I know that I am going to really, really love this cd as the days and months go by and I think you might too.
Standout Songs: 'Weird Fishes/Arpeggi' and 'Nude'
Oh, Sleeper - 'When I Am God'
Solid State Records
Released October 23, 2007
Guest review time! While I personally think that this is one of the better metal cds to come out in a while, let's see what my peers have to say about it. Justin Wilson, what say you?
Solid State Records sure does know how to find some great bands. Throughout the years they’ve provided us metal listeners with bands like Norma Jean, Beloved, Underoath, He Is Legend, and August Burns Red. In October of 2007 they dropped another bomb on us with Oh, Sleeper’s ‘When I Am God’. A couple months back Brandon communicated to me through text, ‘You should give Oh, Sleeper a listen, you may like.’ This occurs several times throughout the year and the results usually vary. Sometimes I like, sometimes I don’t. (Brandon's note: everything I suggest kicks ass, thank you very much). I headed out to the malls and cd stores looking for Oh, Sleeper. What I got was last years ‘The Armored March’ EP. It comprised of five very solid songs that made their way onto their first full-length. Without luck in finding “When I Am God”, I downloaded it of course, and loved it. Now I’m not a church going or God driven fellow at all, but these guys seem a bit passionate about their beliefs, more so than most Christian bands. This singer dude’s lyrics, when I catch what he’s saying here and there, seem better and cooler than most. “When I am God this church is unsound.”, “Great counselor, take my lust, the pornos and the sluts, take what’s left of me.’, “Medic, I’ve been hit…But then with your grip gloved by mercy I was wrenched back to the storm.”, “Through swells we will reign free as sons of the First King, as sons of the Flagship.” The cd is littered with staple, ever present metal riffs, several banging breakdowns, and several powerfully emotional lyrical moments. These guys don’t do anything new by metal-core standards, they just do a good job at what they’re trying to do, make metal music.
Standout Songs: 'I Will Welcome The Reaping' and 'We Are The Archers'
Port-Royal - 'Afraid To Dance'
Released May 15, 2007
In the 17th century, Port Royal was apparently the shipping hub of Jamaica and it was often referred to as the 'richest and wickedest city in the world'. In 1692 though, a huge earthquake destroyed the city and caused more than half of it to sink into the Caribbean where it's now covered by like 25 feet of water..or so Wikipedia tells me. In 2007, Port-Royal is an amazing Italian (I think) band who make what I can really only describe as beautiful electronic post rock. All of the normal musical features of the post rock genre are here, the crescendos, the mellow but soaring guitar work, the emotion, the almost classical arrangement of the music in that individual songs generally feel like they're going more places if that makes sense..they just use a whole lot more synthy things, ambiance, and beats than you might be used to. Nowwww, when I say beats, don't get it in your head that they've got obnoxious, heavy techno bass kicks or something happening because that's not the case at all. While some songs have more pronounced beats than others, for the most part they're comprised of a series of glitchy, earthly organic sounds that provide a surprisingly strong backbone to the songs. For example, the I do believe the song I'm listening to now uses a sample of someone shaking a spray paint can as part of the beat..soooo, yeah. In a time where the landscape of instrumental post rock is changing and a band with the guitar driven sound has become a dime a dozen, it's nice to hear someone doing things a bit differently..it really stands out.
Standout Songs: 'Leitmotiv|Glasnot' and 'Bahnhof Zoo'
A Fine Frenzy - 'One Cell In The Sea'
Released July 17, 2007
So I guess this is new artwork for the cd..? I liked the other more, I don't know how I feel about the color contrast going on. Ah well. A few years ago, there was a cd by Mae that started out towards the bottom of my list and every time it came to the day where I was supposed to post the review of it, I couldn't bear to put it that low on the list..this cd has been that cd this year. Initially, it was down in the mid 30s, but the more I listened to it, the harder time I had justifying that position. This is a really, really good cd. I don't know or care about the popularity this girl has on radio or vh1 these days..if she has any, it's well deserved because she has some serious songwriting skills. This album, with all it's ridiculous hooks, solid lyrics, and big ol' piano driven melodies sounds like the work of somebody who has been at this for years..this in no way sounds like the work of a girl just releasing her first record. I absolutely love everything about this cd. I'm drawn to her voice, I'm hooked to the lyrics, there are 14 tracks on this bad boy and none of them feel like filler to me..it's just a winner all around. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and call Alison Sudol the best female vocalist I've heard in a LONG time; her voice has so much power and sincerity and I really believe that there is more emotion in this collection of quasi-pop songs than there is an just about any other cd I can think of year. You may agree, you may not, but I think this cd is wonderful.
Standout Songs: 'Rangers' and 'Ashes and Wine'
VNV Nation - 'Judgement'
Released April 10, 2007
There was a time not so long ago when my musical tastes were ridiculously seasonal. Everything had it's specific place in the year where it got dusted off and brought into the cd booklet in my car or got more play on the ipod or whatever the case might be. The season that always had the most specific playlist was the fall..it's when I brought out the Type O Negative and the industrial music and such things that made me think of Halloween and cooler weather. This year though, things changed a little bit and this cd is one of the things that helped that out. I remember the night I bought this cd like it was yesterday..not really because of the trek I made to Hot Topic or the crummy dinner at Roadhouse whatever place I ate, but because of the fun my lady and I had listening to this album. I was worried at first because I really didn't care much for the direction they went with their previous record 'Matter and Form', but all turned out well due to this one's awesomeness. Picture this if you will..two somewhat grown people driving down the road while doing copious amounts of robot dancing while making up stories about the robots we were acting as to go along with the pulsing beats and upbeat but dark synth noises. It was a hoot. I love synthpop, ebm, trancepop, whatever you want to call it..it's just fun music to my ears, especially when driving at night with the windows down..and for me, this band is the pinnacle of the genre. Both lyrically and musically, it dominates the competition. I know not many of you will enjoy this, but I think it would be cool if you gave it a chance because I really love it.
Standout Songs: 'The Farthest Star' and 'Carry You'
Sigur Ros - 'Hvarf/Heim'
Released November 6, 2007
A day late, but that's ok right?
This cd being so low, in relative terms, on my list is kind of a surprise, even to me. A Sigur Ros cd is generally a shoe in for a top 5 spot at least because they're just that good. So why the drop? Well if you give me a second I'll tell you. Geez. This release consists of two cds, one being a collection of unreleased/b-sides or whatever songs and the other being older SR songs recorded live and acoustically. When I first heard this release was on it's way, I was really excited. Acoustic Sigur Ros? C'mon, that idea can only be met with a 'wow'. Well I'll be honest, it was a little more exciting in theory than it actually turned out to be. Sure the songs sound great, and songs like 'Staralfur' are even better here than on the original recording but really, the songs aren't that much different without the use of actual synth things or other noisemakers and it's more of an unplugged and organic thing than an acoustic thing. The songs on the other disc however are the moneymakers, specifically 'Hljomalind'. It's probably the closest thing they've ever made to a 'pop' song and it's absolutely stunning. If this is what future releases from the band have in store, I really can't wait for them to unleash said releases upon the world. Also, this cd was released as a companion to a live dvd/movie the band made back in Iceland that while I haven't seen it yet, appears to be ridiculously awesome. So check that out too, eh?
Standout Songs: 'Hljomalind' and ''Staralfur'
Anberlin - 'Cities'
Tooth & Nail Records
Released February 20, 2007
I've always been a casual fan of Anberlin but it wasn't until this record that I really appreciated them. This record hit me right from the start with the energetic and catchy 'Godspeed' and really never let me go. Let's be honest, the genre that this band is a part of is full of clones and it's really hard for things to stand out to my ears. Sure, lots of records have a few good songs, but at some point things all start running together. That never seemed to happen with this cd for me, every song stood out on it's own feet and to me it sounds like the band has really matured from their previous releases. They added a lot more keyboard action to the fold and have really found 'their sound'. The one thing that really does it for me in regards to this cd though is the closing song, '*fin'. It's a beautiful song that I think has it's base in a reference to St. Jude (as he's the patron saint of lost causes) and I think has a meaning that's more in line with the religious aspect of things, but on the surface, it appears to have a more literal meaning dealing with alcoholism, and various other vices people have so I guess it could go either way. It's a powerful and booteeful songs that's become one of my absolute favs of the year and is, in my opinion, reason enough to give this cd a listen. It even has a children's choir! All in all, this better than much if not all of the similar emo-ish fare out there right now and a really great cd.
Standout Songs: '*fin' and 'Alexithyma'
Eluvium - 'Copia'
Released February 20, 2007
Years ago, it was the Album Leaf. Last year it was Helios. This year, Eluvium takes the crown as being the coolest band/dude making awesome calm, instrumental, ambient music. Anyone that knows me knows that I adore anything that has pianos and keyboards and synths and strings, and this definately has all those things and more. If I remember correctly, this cd leaked back in late December or really really early January so I've had more time to listen to this than absolutely anything else and boy have I listened to it. It's such a beautiful, peaceful collection of songs that works super well for fun events like...sleeping. Or thinking. Or anything else that might require great mellow mood music. When I listen to this, I want to close my eyes and get lost in the soundscapes; I want to imagine a lone leaf floating gently upon a babbling brook or something having to do with trees. Trees, I've found, make any imagery better. At least in my head. As I'm listening right now, I can't help thinking about how beautiful an instrument the piano is. Honestly, can you go wrong with it? It makes even the worst songs kind of tolerable - usually. ANYWAY, Justin Wilson, this has your name all over it..I think you might really like it and for that reason I think you should investigate further. I find it amazing.
Standout Songs: 'Prelude For The Time Feelers' and 'Reciting The Airships'
The Bled - 'Silent Treatment'
Released September 25, 2007
When I first picked up 'Pass The Flask' at Best Buy a handful of years ago, I had no idea really what I was getting into. I had heard a song or two and knew they were relatively rockin' and had pretty bombass breakdown action, but I was half expecting it to be rather generic. What I ended up discovering over the course of the next few years was that this band wasn't following the pack of metalcore nonsense, they were leading it. Attacking from all angles with cool lyrics and metallic assault that is as brutal as being punched in the face by someone wearing some sort of hand device that had spikes all over it, The Bled have come through once again with an awesomely awesome cd. To me, this sounds as if might be the heaviest thing the band has done to this point, but they keep and expand upon lots of the clean vocal stuff that was featured on 'Found In The Flood' which makes me quite the happy camper. Songs like 'Shadetree Mechanics' and 'You Should Be Ashamed Of Myself' rock my face off, and the breakdown at the end of 'Breathing Room Barricades' is, in this man's opinion, bongdongular. I think this is the highest ranking metal cd in a while, sooo that's cool too.
Standout Songs: 'Breathing Room Barricades' and 'Asleep On The Frontlines'
Iron & Wine - 'The Shepherd's Dog'
Sub Pop Records
Released September 25, 2007
Ya know how when Christmas rolls around, tv networks and radio stations and the like tend to retread some of their 'greatest hits' or special moments that happened over the course of the year because they want to give people the holiday off? Well, in the spirit of that, I give you the following review of this cd from months past here on the BEP blog. Have a super Christmas!
Sam Beam has an incredible beard. I could probably end the review right there, because really, what else is there to know or care about? But just for you, I'll bravely continue on. The first thing that stood out to me about this cd when the listening began was that it seemed to progress nicely from his last real released work, the Woman King EP. Thaaaat cd saw him expand his trademark acoustic, folky sound into more of a full band sound, while still keeping his...trademark acoustic, folky sound. I can hear your protests now..'NO! I will not accept iron&wine as being anything more than one guy with a guitar whispering into a microphone about being naked as we came and whatnot!!' To those protests I say this..it's 2007 buddy, get with the program! This is classic Iron & Wine stuff here guys, maybe a little more haunting, maybe a little more psychadelic, and there's even a song with a little reggae beat, but everything else is the same. The songwriting quality is still here, the quiet melodies are still here, and the overall awesomeness is still here. Beam has an innate ability to not just create a collection of good songs every time out, but to also create an atmosphere around his music that is lacking in so much stuff that gets released these days. When you put an I&W cd in your little cd player, you know damn well you're listening to an I&W cd. Beam is in a league of his own dudes, and when September rolls around I think you'd do well to pick this thing up. It's great music for watching the autumn leaves fall..or any other time really.
Standout Songs: 'Boy With A Coin' and 'Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car'
Blonde Redhead - '23'
Released April 10, 2007
A few years back, my brother gave me a cd to listen to that he thought I might enjoy..and keep in mind, this is something that really NEVER happens. Our musical tastes generally don't cross one another very often but I was willing to give it a go. The cd he gave me was Blonde Redhead's 'Misery Is A Butterfly' and I was instantly hooked. The vocals, the female ones at least, were light and airy and the music was at a very likable level of melancholy. Fast forward a few years and we now have '23' as the latest release from the band. Luckily for me, not only have they basically kept the same formula that I was so drawn to years ago..and honestly, I think they've improved it quite a bit. The vocals are just as I remember, if not whispier/whispyer/?? and the music has evolved to fit that and as a result a good portion of the songs have a very dreamlike quality to them. Also, in a surprising turn of events, the songs on which the dude in the band sings aren't immediate unchecks from the itunes playlist, in fact, they're actually quite good. I love listening to this band when it's raining and cold outside, something about their music just really plays well with that setting. All in all, this is a fantastic release that I hold in very high regard, so much so that it contended for the number 1 spot with the next 5 cds on this list up until last week or so. It's that good.
Standout Songs: '23' and 'The Dress'
Released May 22, 2007
I could easily spend this entire review going on and on and onnn about how wonderful this movie is and the ridiculously high regard I have quickly come to hold this film in and so on and so on but I'm cold and watching a show about the moon so I'll just talk about the music. Did you know that there is a place in Canada where the tides rise and drop 50 ft every day? That's crazy! Anyway..number five! I've finally reached the top 5, and as I mentioned with number 6, all of the cds that you will read about over the next few days were number 1 at some point in the past 3 months, so there's nothing but high quality here. This cd is absolutely fantastic. Featuring all the songs you see in the movie performed by it's stars, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, this feels more like an actual artist's record than a movie soundtrack and that's something I think helps make this so special. All the emotion of the songs is accentuated for that very reason..you see the songs performed in the film and it helps make you more appreciative of the songs and their background..if that makes sense. The obvious standout track here is the amazing 'Falling Slowly'..I mean come on, using a line like 'take this sinking boat and point it home, we've still got time' in a love song is a surefire way to get me swooning. If you're into great songs about the trials and tribulations of love and loss annnnd you generally like things with an acoustic twinge to them, this might just be the cd for you. The music stands alone wonderfully, but as a companion for the movie, it becomes a masterpiece.
Standout Songs: 'When Your Mind's Made Up' and 'Say It To Me Now'
Aqualung - 'Memory Man'
Released March 13, 2007
A few years back when Aqualung's 'Strange And Beautiful' showed up on my top cds list at number 8, my review basically consisted of the sentence 'Aqualung is Matt Hales and Matt Hales is amazing'. It was Christmas and I think I was tired, so nothing more really needed to be said. But with this being number 3, I'd be hard pressed to keep things so short and sweet this time around. I've gotta say SOMEthing, ya know? Ok well here's the deal with Aqualung. It is basically just one guy who makes lovely British piano pop/ singer-songwriter type music with help from his wife and brother. Sidenote: Never start writing something and then go do other things and come back a good 6 hours later thinking you'll be able to continue on the same train of thought..it's just not haddenin. This record really fires on all cylinders..it starts off with a song ('Cinderella') that I don't really wanna call rockin at all, but when compared to what I've been used to hearing from Aqualung, that's really the only way to classify it. It's a really back and forth record, it's got a nice sampling of both really nice ballad songs and some more uptempo ones that all share the same quality goodness. BUTTTT the real gold on this record comes towards the end..'The Lake', 'Garden Of Love' and 'Broken Bones' are effing wonderful songs, especially Garden. It's probably my second favorite song of the entire year, and it features guest vocals by..someone?..at the end that just make it amazing. This record was a real grower for me this year, it took me a little while to really get into it, but once I did, it was on like donkey kong. Maybe you'll like it too. Two cds left!! OMG!
Standout Songs: 'Garden Of Love' and 'The Lake'
#3 (aka #1-C)
Lights Out Asia - 'Tanks And Recognizers'
Released July 17, 2007
Who? Yeah. This cd came out of nowhere for me as well. Here's how it all went down. Saw em mentioned somewhere as being cool, but the dl link for their cd had since expired sooo I went to Myspace and listened to a song, liked it, and then did something I virtually NEVER do anymore..after hearing nothing more than 1 song, I went and ordered it from the label's website. A shot in the dark, yes, but I'd say everything turned out pretty well. It's sorta hard to say who I'd compare these guys to. Mogwai might be kinda the closest, but that doesn't really work some of the time. It's part indie-sounding rock with music that at times reminds me a bit of The Appleseed Cast with lots of really calming electronic stuff going on at the same time. And yes, there are vocals sometimes, but they definitely don't get in the way. I have to be honest with you for just a second - I'd really like to put this cd at number 1, but I felt somewhat constrained by the niche-yness of the music. It's amazing to listen to when driving during a sunrise and sunset and if you're looking for sleep music you can't go wrong here either because it's soso great for that as well, but it's not really a daytime cd in any fashion and I'll admit that has impacted my decision. But don't let it impact yours as far as listening to this goes, because it is absolutely amazing and I really believe you need to hear this more than any other cd on this list..pleeease check it out.
Standout Songs: 'Roy' and 'Spiti Elefas'
Tom McRae - 'King Of Cards'
Released April 30, 2007
Surprise, surprise right? Another Tom McRae release, another year end top of the list appearance. Nothing this year has more plays on my itunes (some of these songs are in the 90s!) and when it all comes down to it, I guess one could argue that this is my favorite cd of the year. BUTTT things are so close this year, nothing really stood out all that much and ranking the top 10 was a really tough order of bizness. I've never had a 1a/1b situation..or a year when I felt bad when I felt bad making something number 2 due to my immense enjoyment of it. As my friend Justin suggested..this is like in college football. McRae is number 1 in the coaches poll, while the cd you'll see tomorrow will be number 1 in the AP poll...so maybe think of them as co-national champs. ANYWAY.
This guy can really do no wrong in my eyes and is, for me, the premier singer-songwriter out there today. This is his fourth record and I think it's his most complete and solid release to date. Ya see, McRae has always been the king of melancholy, hmph kinda songs and there are pleeenty of those on this cd, BUUUUT there's enough upbeat tunes and warm production to almost make you forget who you're listening to at times. I remember first listening to 'Bright Lights' and 'Sound Of The City' when he streamed this album on his website last winter and almost not believing that this was actually him. Hearing him sing over songs with fast tempos just feels weird to me, but I can't knock it because it works and those songs have ended up being favorites on this record.
One thing I've always loved about Tom (as I suppose should be the case with any singer-songwriter) is his lyrical ability. There's just something about sad and/or hopeful songs that really do it for me and 'Got A Suitcase, Got Regrets' might be my favorite song McRae has ever released for that very reason. I am in love with the lyrics to that silly song. 'But all I know is/I'm not ready yet/for the lights to dim/got a suitcase, got regrets/but I'm hopeful yet'. Those are such simple lyrics but they're just so great and I can't get enough. I'll never understand why this guy isn't more popular or even more known for that matter. I don't understand how his records underperform and he gets dropped from labels. This is so much better than so much of the drivel that is out there these days - but I guess that's par for the course with the music industry. It's sad to read some of the blogs this guy writes because he seems to be getting so fed up by the way things tend to go..I just hope he keeps releasing music because nobody can hold a candle to what this guy comes up with..it's all solid gold baby.
Standout Songs: "Lord, How Long?' and 'Got A Suitcase, Got Regrets'
As Cities Burn - 'Come Now Sleep'
Tooth & Nail
Released August 14, 2007
Now THIS is out of left field. If you'd told me when I first heard this cd that it would be in my top 50, much less share a spot as number 1 I would have looked at you like you were out of your mind. I straight up did not like this record for a while..so this is kind of like my own little worst to first Cinderella story. Wee! The As Cities Burn I was used to was all about the Christian hardcore whatever thing..lots of screaming and hints of breakdowns and the whole nine yards. This is not the same band. A little over a year ago I guess it was, the band announced that they were breaking up. The singer was getting married I think and they were just gonna go 'pursue other musical interests'. Thennn after an overwhelming fan response, they decided to go on a farewell tour, thennnn eventually decided to go on as a band altogether. The singer did leave, but taking his spot was a dude already in the band, a dude who just so happened to be his brother. Fancy how that worked out. So fast forward to this summer and me buying and putting this cd into my car and ya know how you give your radio a weird wtf look when you put something in and it doesn't sound like you expect it to? Ok so maybe you don't do that. But I do, and when I put this cd in and heard the opening song 'Contact', I was a bit perplexed. Slow and with a LOT more religious overtones than I remembered them having, I was kinda turned off. So I skipped to the next song expecting the rock to begin and it sorrrta did I guess, but not how I expected. Lots of clean vocals and a chorus of 'Glory, Glorious' and I was feeling very 'ugh'. I'm a churchgoing fellow and I appreciate God stuff as much as the next guy, but I hate when music feels too preachy, and for a while that's how I felt about this whole disc. Then I realized..lots of the bands I really like have lyrics like this..included previous ACB, but they were being screamed, so they seemed more tolerable I guess..long story short, lots of those initial opinions have changed.
I think this band has gained a LOT from cutting out the screaming element of the songs. They've still got the same awesome musicianship they displayed on the last record and now it sounds more in place and gels with the vocals really well to make beautiful music. I know I just knocked the lyrics a minute ago, but subsequent listens made me think of them in a whole new light. They are not stupid and preachy..they areeeeee absolutely amazing. So often in music, specifically this genre, these bands give you the same old same old views and answers and praise of God in their music..it's cookie cutter and it's kinda boring. ACB takes a different route here, a path that feels much more real and believable and something that I can relate to very well. This band is not afraid to question their faith, not afraid to ask why things happen..lots of these songs have the idea that it's totally ok to not undertand life and the bumps that are found in the road but to still trust and believe and to me, that's really refreshing and it makes me feel happy to listen to it.
Everything about this cd is awesome and I really can't say a bad thing about it. I guess with it being at number 1, that should be a given though..but I really do find myself appreciating it more and more EVERY single time I listen to it. This has become my go-to cd in my car in the same way Sleeping At Last did last year and in a way not many other cds do these days. I don't take it out when it's over, I just listen to it again. And again. And again. Oh oh and on an interesting note, at the beginning of the song 'Clouds', there is a smattering of random people talking about their opinions on who or what or where God is, and according to the cd booklet, that was apparently recorded here in Atlanta in the Little Five Points section of town..and that's only like 2 seconds away from where I live so I think that's pretty neat.
As bad as I feel about making my boy Tom McRae play second fiddle in a sense to this record, I think he would understand. Cds like this don't come around very often. Cds that are so great in every aspect of their existence, cds that you can relate to and listen to at any time of day and that manage to pick up your spirits if you're feeling blue. That's what this cd has evolved into for me, and I see it continuing to do so as the months go by. IIII would be surprised if it wasn't still number one in my revised '07 list that'll show up next November..I'm pretty comfortable with that thought. 'Come Now Sleep' might not be for everybody, but for me, it's exactly what I needed this year from music in general. SO, SO wonderful.
Standout Songs: 'Clouds' and 'Empire' and every other song