One Last Look at 2007

Can you handle one last 2007 list? Today we were all set to present you with my favorite albums of the year along with J. Freedom's list of albums that just missed his Top 10 cut. But Mr. Freedom was too busy picking out his outfit for last night's Hannah Montana show, so he'll share his Next Best list in today's chat. And now you're stuck with just my year-end favorites. It was extremely difficult to come up with a Top 10, so I didn't. There were three albums that I -- and pretty much everyone else in the world -- thought were head and shoulders above the rest. Then there were another few dozen that I enjoyed very much but could have been slotted anywhere from No. 4 to No. 24. So my three favorites are below and after the jump are 20 more excellent albums from a very solid year of music.

1. LCD Soundsystem - "Sound of Silver" (DFA/EMI) Picking anything but "Sound of Silver" would be like picking against the Patriots. It might seem like a good way to differentiate from the masses and you can probably talk yourself into it given enough time, but those are really the only defenses. Here, James Murphy proves he's more than just hot beats and fun, cheeky lyrics delivering an album of surprisingly sonic and emotional depth. He can think both big and small. "All My Friends" is a deserving choice as consensus song of the year, a slow-burn epic built around a hypnotic piano loop and New Orderish guitar riff that's exhilarating but not exhausting. "Someone Great" is equally fantastic, sounding like a lost New Romantic classic, complete with nostalgic, romantic lyrics that don't come as forced at all. Meanwhile, each song features an impeccable elemental build as each keyboard line, beat switch and vocal tic arrives right on cue.

2. Spoon - "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" (Merge) These days "lead single" may as well mean "first song leaked on the Internet." And for Spoon's sixth album that song was "The Ghost of You Lingers," a spare shell of a tune that's mostly echo-y vocals and insistent piano. It's an odd, obtuse little song, if not the worst on the album then certainly the least immediately pleasing. So why let it serve as the public's introduction to the new record? Because Spoon frontman Britt Daniel knew how perfect the album was and he just wanted to have a little fun. That's my theory, at least. Leak the most inaccessible song first, come up with the most annoying album title imaginable, cover an unreleased tune by an unknown Texas band, use snippets of studio conversations as building blocks of a song, end the album with 30 seconds of silence ... the band could get away with it all because each and every one of the 10 songs here is a minor masterpiece. Like all of Spoon's best work this is due to amazing precision and attention to detail and it doesn't hurt that Daniel has come up with his sharpest batch of pop songs yet, from the brassy "The Underdog" and "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" to album closer "Black Like Me," which deserves any "A Day in the Life" comparisons it gets.

3. Panda Bear - "Person Pitch" (Paw Tracks) The 2007 album most likely to make people say it transports them to another place. As for where exactly that place is ... depends on your mindset. If you're feeling good, it can be a bright and sunny place, with Noah Lennox's (aka Panda Bear, one quarter of Animal Collective) warm, chirpy voice and "Pet Sounds"-inspired sound collages providing a pleasant getaway. At the same time, the songs are so densely packed with found sounds - yes, that's an owl at the beginning of 12-plus-minute centerpiece "Bros" - that if you listen to the album while worried or paranoid you're likely to hear something in there that will only make the situation worse. But few albums really present you with a chance to get away, to completely and totally lose yourself in another world, and that's exactly what "Person Pitch" does.

Cass McCombs - "Dropping the Writ" (Domino) The boy king of woozy indie-folk returns with another set of tunes that will have you reaching for the Dramamine. This time around he adds a bit of pop polish to accompany his fragile voice, weird turns of phrase and refreshingly straightforward compositions.

Child Ballads - "Cheekbone Hollows" (Loog) After Jonathan Fire*Eater http://www.myspace.com/jonathanfireeater fizzled instead of becoming Next Big Thing, frontman Stewart Lupton took nearly a decade to make another appearance on record. The dark, organ-heavy sound is gone in favor of ragged, winding indie-folk songs but the focus remains on Lupton's voice and lyrics. "I had a bad year so I shrugged it off," he sings on "Blackbird Trax." The shakiness of his delivery doesn't have me convinced, but it makes for great listening.

The Clientele - "God Save the Clientele" (Merge) The U.K. trio has become more than just the perfect soundtrack for a rainy day huddled up with a good read. Granted, there's still no better band to turn to for your wistful, reverb-soaked low-key indie pop. But here the band incorporates other elements - some pedal steel, horns, piano - to achieve a more complete sound without losing a bit of understated charm.

Double Dagger - "Ragged Rubble" (Stationary Heart) The 2007 album that made me feel most alive, this is stripped-down but plenty-loud post-punk with a message, not too far off from Fugazi. (Ian MacKaye watched approvingly at their August D.C. show.) The band achieves a unique sonic assault by forsaking guitar in favor of just drums and heavy, overdriven bass, so you feel it in your gut every song.

Electrelane - "No Shouts, No Calls" (Too Pure) The world needs more bands like Electrelane. The all-female U.K. quintet always stayed in its comfort zone but never got stuck on the same note, and this album of driving drone rock with spooky vocals and subtle hooks is their best yet. Of course, Electrelane broke up a few months after the album was released.

Grinderman - "Grinderman" (Anti-) The first two songs ("Get It On" and "No [Expletive] Blues") find Nick Cave at his vulgar, vicious best. He rips off ribald rhymes while attacking his guitar - and wah pedal - with a fury not heard since his days as frontman/madman of the Birthday Party. The band mellows out on the next dozen songs, but Cave's darkly romantic lyrics and Warren Ellis's masterful instrumentation make it equally interesting.

Hell Razah - "The Renaissance Child" (Nature Sounds) Wu-Tang affiliates aren't the most reliable bunch, but former Sunz of Man rapper does right on his solo debut. He's too political for mainstream breakthrough (check the shout-outs to Nat Turner and Marcus Garvery), not upbeat enough for the posi underground and not weird enough for the backpack set. But the beats (from the likes of MF Doom, Battle and 4th Disciple) are sharp and his lyrics and delivery are gimmick-free, resulting in a very solid piece of New York hip-hop.

Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs - "You Can't Buy a Gun When You're Crying" (Damaged Goods) After spending the past decade as the most reliable garage rocker around, the Billy Childish protégé turns back the clock for this gospel-country-blues set that draws its influences from Depression-era American music. It might be a risky move for some but not for Golightly, who simply reaffirms that she mines the past better than just about any other musician out there.

Howling Hex - "XI" (Drag City) Neil Hagerty, former axeman for scuzz rockers Royal Trux continues to clean up his act, but just a little bit. There are plenty of skronky, sinewy, sax-fueled delights to be found here, with only a few dips into pointless jamming that has marred some of his recent work. For the most part it's muscular, '70s-influenced boogie rock, or as Patrick Foster so eloquently put it in his live review of the band in March, "beauty found by repeatedly punching Grand Funk Railroad in the face."

Jens Lekman - "Night Falls Over Kortedela" (Secretly Canadian) The absolute and total pop perfection of the first four songs, especially Song of the Year candidate "A Postcard to Nina," is the musical equivalent of Slurpee brainfreeze. The pleasure is so intense that you have to stop for a second to recover. Lekman borrows the best traits from Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields), Jonathan Richman and Morrissey and proves here that he has the talent to enter that pantheon of singular eccentrics.

M.I.A. - "Kala" (Interscope) She makes ultra-political combat rock for the 21st century, using everything from gunshot samples, didgeridoo, Baltimore club beats and Pixies lyrics to concoct a most unique brand of revolutionary rock. I only wish the album's Aug. 21 release date was pushed up a few months because this is prime summer driving music.

Mika Miko - "666" (Kill Rock Stars) Quintet of young L.A. ladies, all within a few years of drinking age, plays punk rock with plenty of fury and reckless abandon. No song tops the two-minute mark - the girls make some noise, make their point and are on to the next one. Like a less silly Le Tigre, this is music to listen to while jumping up and down in your bedroom.

The Moaners - "Blackwing Yalobusha" (Yep Roc) North Carolina duo of guitarist Melissa Swingle and drummer Laura King make a swampy, slide-guitar heavy album of backwoods country-blues-punk. It's like the White Stripes if Meg were a better drummer and Jack didn't sound so much like a girl.

Oakley Hall - "I'll Follow You" (Merge) Most bands take their whole career to make an album that shimmers like this one; it took Brooklyn country-rock sextet Oakley Hall only a few months. On their fourth album in three years Oakley Hall manages to perfect its modern take on classic Americana. Each song offers something a little different - "Rue the Blues" has a bouncy AM radio sound, "All the Way Down" shifts from a graceful ballad to an all-out psych jam and "I'll Follow You" is a charming, spacey pop song, all perfect for under-the-stars listening.

Peel - "Peel" (Peek-a-Boo) The Austin, Tex., quartet does a perfect job of taking the channeling the haphazard aesthetic of '90s indie rock without sounding tossed off or like a straight tribute. Fragile voices, full guitars, clever one-liners, keys, drums and other noises are all thrown against the wall and not only do all the elements stick, they form catchy little indie-rock nuggets.

Prinzhorn Dance School - "Prinzhorn Dance School" (DFA) It's incredible that an album so empty can sound so sinister. The U.K. trio makes every sound count, whether it's a simple snare hit, a pick scraping against guitar strings, a simple-but-forceful bassline or Tobin Prinz and Suzi Horn's agitated shouts.

Spider Bags - "A Celebration of Hunger" (Birdman) If all of your songs are going to be about evils of drinking, drugs and women, you better sound like you mean it. And this North Carolina group does just that, exuding equal parts energy and exhaustion on this batch of country-fried indie rock ditties.

Times New Viking - "Present the Paisley Rich" (Siltbreeze) The album sounds like it was recorded through a Walkman - and not even one of those nice Sony ones - but forget about fidelity and focus on the songs. It's blast after memorable blast of snotty, lo-fi garage punk that would sound great no matter how it was recorded but crackles with an extra vibrancy thanks to the conditions.

Tiny Vipers - "Hands Across the Void" (Sub Pop) The constant Cat Power and Joanna Newsom comparisons are inevitable for young singer-songwriter Jesy Fortino, but her debut of beautiful, unhurried gothic folk tunes means that the next ingénue with a pixie-voice and acoustic guitar will get some Tiny Vipers comparisons. And she'll be lucky to deserve them.

Von Sudenfed - "Tromatic Reflexxions" (Domino) Even though the Fall's recent string of solid albums came to a screeching halt with "Reformation Post TLC," it was still a strong year for legendary curmudgeon Mark E. Smith thanks to this collaboration with German electronic duo Mouse on Mars. The MoM boys handled the beats - more straightforward than their usual experimental rhythms - while MES did what he does best: ramble semi-coherently about whatever's racing through his messed up mind.

By David Malitz |  January 8, 2008; 8:31 AM ET Year-End Lists
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