Friday, May 30, 2008

Top 10 albums of 2007

What do you mean this is late?

1 The National – Boxer
My sister casually said have you heard anything by The National, they're pretty good. At the time I was between chemotherapy cycles and, to be honest, didn't really pay much attention. But I did borrow four albums from her and they lay neglected in a corner of my iPod for a month or so. Finally one afternoon in hospital, idly flicking through artists, bored with all the music I knew, I happened upon this album. It didn't take too long for me to be completely hooked. First thoughts were of the Tindersticks and Stuart Staples in particular (or Vic Reeves' pub singer according to pootly1), but without the melancholy or heavy-hearted weariness. The music is dark and brooding, late night and smoky at times, but never portentous or forced. The drumming is amazing and the other instruments sparkle and spar over the top, surging from sparse and spare arrangements to dense walls of rhythm.

2 Burial – Untrue
The sound of walking for hours alone through London after the tubes have stopped running, all the night buses have fallen off the edge of the world and you don't quite know where you are going.

3 Sigur Rós – Hvarf / Heim
Five (sort-of) new songs and five live recordings from 2006. Sounded like a clearing-out-the-cupboards type of project – not enough ideas for a new album – but in fact it is pretty good. Not exactly Agaetis byrjun, but certainly no Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do either. I think it also figures pretty high on the list because of the wonderful DVD that came out around the same time.

4 Lucinda Williams – West
That voice. Until 2007 I don't recall hearing anything by Lucinda Williams. I had read reviews which sounded interesting, but was always put off by the stigma of buying something from the country and western section. Anyway in March I noticed that iTunes had Car Wheels on a Gravel Road for $10 and given the relatively anonymous nature of the transaction I was unable to find a good reason not to buy it. Straight away is was hooked. In classic country and western style this, her latest, album is all about pain – the death of her mother and a lost love – but the songwriting and music is so far removed from my understanding of country and western as to make the genre irrelevant.

5 Art of Fighting – Runaways
At times last year I found this almost too sad to listen to. While it is undeniably downbeat and even pessimistic in places it also often soars to the heavens, the lows somehow emphasising and accentuating the joyous.

6 Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
Seems a long time ago now, but I played this endlessly when it came out. I like it even more than Funeral and that was a stunning album. Lots of reviewers mentioned Springsteen's influence, but I can't see it myself. Not that this would necessarily be a bad thing as I have always (well since 1985 anyway) been a huge Bruce fan. (Although 2007s Magic was a disappointment to me, sounding like a very workmanlike copy of a real Bruce Album. Even the song titles sound like cliché Bruce – Gypsy Biker, I'll Work for your Love, Devil's Arcade ...) The music is dark, apocalyptic and frankly pretty scary if your listening on headphones. Also great played gut-kickingly loud in a darkened room.

7 Malcolm Middleton – A Brighter Beat
I feel happy that Scotland has its own parliament now and look forward to them honouring Mr Middleton with the freedom of the country or some other suitable recognition for services rendered. Aptly named, this a more consistent and coherent set of songs than Into the Woods, but for me it doesn't have anything quite as sublime as Choir and Loneliness Shines. If you haven't heard the former please drop everything and go find a copy right now. This sounds churlish, and when you've got songs like Fight Like the Night, A Brighter Beat and Stay Close Sit Tight it probably is. (Oh, and full credit for releasing a song called We're all Going to Die as your attempt at a Christmas number 1.)

8 Idlewild – Start a New World
Nothing earth-shattering – Roddy Woomble's lyrics can still veer perilously close to pretentious bed-sit poetry, the music is a little more polished than their best work, but it's still great. Soaring choruses, crunching, spiky guitar riffs and even a little bit of trumpet. Listen to Make Another World, Once in Your Life or Finished it Remains and tell me that this isn't a great rock band.

9 Manic Street Preachers – Send Away the Tigers
I guess that this is the album that I hoped the Manics would make after Gold Against the Soul. It is direct, nothing superfluous, heart-on-sleeve, righteous-anger rock music and sounds like they are finally having fun as a band again. Your Love Alone is Not Enough is just magnificent and I find it hard to believe that anyone could be unmoved when the Nina Persson and the strings take off together around 1.10 into the song.

10 Gersey – No Satellites
Mining a similar vein to Interpol, but somehow when I went to buy Our Love to Admire I ended up with this instead. And undoubtably it was the right choice. While it doesn't have the range or passion of some of their early music it is (along with Idlewild and the Manics) another fantastic set of rock songs.

And an honourable mention for The Twilight Sad's Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters.

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