Sunday, December 30, 2007

Best of 2007: Music (Albums)

Two albums this year really transcended the pack for me. First their was Amy Winehouse's awesome modern/retro, clever/tragic, brassy/tearful masterpiece Back to Black, which, at least in the UK, just kept spitting better singles all year long. The other was Radiohead's In Rainbows, which made headlines for its buy it on-line and pay what you like strategy, but should be remembered for being a fantastic album--their most mainstream and accessible since The Bends, but built upon all their years of electronic experimentation that followed that 1995 disc. A couple of British bands whose first albums I liked--Hard-Fi and Kaiser Chiefs--released better second albums; Robyn, Girls Aloud, and Kylie released the year's best pop albums; X Factor winner Leona Lewis released a surprisingly good debut to mark her as the new Mariah Carey; and I was pleasantly surprised by albums by established bands I hadn't paid attention to before--Rilo Kiley, Wilco and Spoon. I even came around to appreciate the Arctic Monkeys album, after giving it a so-so review.

The year's 25 best albums (click on the titles to read my original reviews):

1. Amy Winehouse - Back to Black
If a train wreck could be simultaneously beautiful, vulgar and classy it would be like Amy Winehouse singing her smoky modern jazz tunes with a retro sensibility. Essential cut: Back to Black
This is a close second, and I wrestled for awhile with putting it at #1. I've been a casual Radiohead listener since OK Computer, but this put me solidly in the fan category. Every song is fantastic, and are the closest to traditional songs Radiohead has been since The Bends. Essential cut: House of Cards

A lot of British acts fell prey to the dreaded sophomore slump this year, but not Hard-Fi, who delivered a confident, diverse set that surpassed their 2005 debut. Essential cut: Tonight
This was a late-in-the-year discovery for me, but I was really won over by the upbeat, melodic set and its lead singer, Jenny Lewis. Essential cut: Silver Lining
A virtual unknown since 1998, Robyn returned to the English-speaking world this year with her massive comeback "With Every Heartbeat," leading an invigoration of her 2005 self-titled album with new cuts to make it the year's best pure pop album. Essential cut: Be Mine

Wilco's album was about the music of rock and delivered a lot of soul, with varied instrumentation but an emphasis on good guitar playing. Essential cut: Impossible Germany

Kaiser Chiefs, like Hard-Fi, delivered a sophomore album that outshined their recent debut, going for a richer sound with more depth. Essential cut: Love's Not a Competition (But I'm Winning)

Another great pop gem, Girl Aloud's Tangled Up surpassed their last album by combining their producer's innovative sound with the necessary pop hooks that were previously absent. Essential cut: I Can't Speak French

The return of Kylie wasn't as big a deal as it should've been ("2 Hearts" only peaked at #4 in the UK), but this electro-flavored album has enough good songs to still generate some major hits. Essential cut: 2 Hearts
Another end of year discovery that I really loved. It's nice to hear upbeat indie rock that doesn't feel like it needs to ape The Killers or Coldplay. Essential cut: You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb
Gorillaz never really did it for me, so it's nice to see Blur's Damon Albarn embark on another, more traditional, side project, channeling the experimentalism of that cartoon band into more conventional rock. Essential cut: Green Fields

Sometime the fall, after giving this album another chance, it finally clicked for me as something inventive and fun that's meant to deliver it's joy, sarcasm and wit in short bursts. Not the Beatles, but not bad. Essential cut: Fluorescent Adolescent
More confident than Songs About Jane, it's an all around great pop/rock album. Essential cut: Makes Me Wonder

Surprisingly good debut from last year's UK X Factor winner. Might have what it takes to be the first UK artist with a reality show past to cross the pond successfully (sorry Will). Essential cut: Bleeding Love
Kelly Clarkson learned her lesson this year: Don't piss off Clive Davis. This is still a pretty decent album, incorrectly labeled as have no upbeat pop songs that could have been singles. Essential cut: One Minute
Rihanna finally made a full album of good material that's already generated four hit singles and has the capacity to unlease more. Essential cut: Don't Stop the Music

Upbeat Brit rocker party music that's probably best heard in a pub when everyone's drunk but still sounds good on a album. Essential cut: Baby Fratelli

I'm not a rap fan, but I actually thought this was pretty good, with some great electro and '80s samples. Essential cut: Stronger

This is very traditional rock, but well done, with interesting storytelling. Essential cut: Devil's Arcade
Note that it's not in my top 10 (too pretentious for that), but it's still pretty good when it doesn't drown itself out. Essential cut: Black Mirror

Her star has faded a bit, but that may not be a bad thing, since she appears more willing to experiment on this third album than she did on her last. More folk than jazz now. Essential cut: Not My Friend

After the less successful departure of their last album, Jack and Meg are back to the stomping soulful minimalism they're known for. Essential track: Icky Thump
Soulful Annie delivers her best album in 12 years (that just means its better than Bare), a dramatic collection of upbeat and retro pop. Essential track: Love Is Blind
The city in question is London and the weekend is about partying, fame, terrorism, consumerism and love. Essential track: I Still Remember
Travis delivered another lovely collection that was more upbeat than I expected. Essential track: Selfish Jean

Also good:
Bat for Lashes - Fur and Gold
Blonde Redhead - 23
Fall Out Boy - Infinity on High
Feist - The Reminder "1234" is a clear highlight.
High School Musical 2 Soundtrack A guilty pleasure or for sure.
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Raising Sand Laid back folk/rock.
The New Pornographers - Challengers
The Rakes - Ten New Messages
Mark Ronson - Version Don't miss the Amy Winehouse version of the Zutons' "Valerie."

Disappointing:
Air - Pocket Symphony. This reallly bummed me, since I loved their last album, Talkie Walkie, but this one was just dull.
Mutya Buena - Real Girl. Contains two awesome songs--"Real Girl" and "Song 4 Mutya"--and the rest was just sad filler.
Celine Dion - Taking Chances. Proves more than ever that Celine peaked in the mid 90s.
Hilary Duff - Dignity. What I said: "there's little else (besides a handful of tracks) I found very distinctive or interesting about this album."
The Editors - An End Has a Start. Another disappointing follow-up to a great album, The Back Room.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor - Trip the Light Fantastic
LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver (No review, I couldn't bring myself to listen closely enough. I'll just say that I thought it was boring, and I'm determined to never buy another nerdy electronica album, because after Junior Boys, Hot Chip, Mylo, Postal Service, and Tiga, I've figured out that it's just not my thing).
Mika - Cartoon Motion. What I said: "There are some other winners...but too many songs take the party a little too far."
Seal - System. What I said: "Plays like a lightweight retread of (Madonna's) Confessions on a Dancefloor."
Britney Spears - Blackout. Do I really have to explain why?

3 comments:

Robin said...

Interesting. Have you listened to the older Rilo Kiley albums? I think it may change your mind.

Also, Costello Music was released in 2006.

Didn't you like the White Stripes album?

Robin said...

Oops, didn't see the WS on there. You really think Icky Thump is the best song?

ww_adh said...

Thanks. I do want to explore Rilo Kiley's other albums. I have their second one, which I've listened to a little bit, and I like it. Costello Music had its US release on 3/13/07, so it counts. Picking "Icky Thump" was a bit lazy--I hadn't listened to that album for quite awhile. I also really like "Conquest," which I might have picked.