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25 Albums that Defined 2007 for TMT
by TMT Staff
Can 2007 be considered a turning point? Interesting things surely happened — independent acts made more headway onto the Billboard charts, and one of the most successful rock acts of our time self-released their album — but aren’t we always at a "turning point"? It makes you wonder from which points exactly are we turning, and who defined them. Ideological shifts can be both slow (technological after-effects) and fast (revolution, baby), but 2007’s more noteworthy movements were completely precedented. I mean, look at the eco-friendly efforts of Bumbershoot, Sasquatch, Brightblack Morning Light, Beastie Boys, Korn, Dave Matthews Band, Andrew Bird, etc. — we’re in a time when the "greening" of the music industry doesn’t refer to greedy private equity firms taking over majors (despite that actually happening this year), but instead refers to musicians not having to worry about playing shows on some giant, futuristic coral reef. But given the material conditions, who didn’t see this coming? The green movement was inevitable. In Rainbows was inevitable. The "turning points" as we conceive them are nothing more than time reconciling with our self-worth.
But we love the illusion that we’re shaping the world. We use free-will and indvidualism to legitimize ideas that steer clear from contextualizing human existence somewhere between random swerves and determined motion. Without tailspinning into theory, what I mean to say is we’re full of ourselves. We want to believe that our ideas are of great importance. If our bodies can’t exist forever, we want our thoughts to, our art to — it’s a way of projecting ourselves into the future, so to speak. We’re talking immortality, folks. But if time has proven anything, it’s that all human distinctions — borders, classifications, identity — will eventually be eroded, erased, vanquished. Music too will succumb to time eventually. So, at this point, the most human thing we can do is believe that every second of music is in fact our way to not only delay this inevitably, but to embrace it.
With that said, the following are 25 albums that we thought articulated time nicely in 2007. Hope you enjoy!
25. Magik Markers - BOSS
by Heidi Vanderslice
Being assigned the task of writing an album blurb for what is probably the ONLY artist TMT as a whole goes apeshit over was, needless to say, daunting. Eff you, Marvin… I’m sending you the bill for my blood pressure medication. But I digress. The Magik Markers are a no-wave assault by whirling dervish, composed of dildo-wielding, growling guitarist and vocalist Elisa Ambrogio and drummer Pete Nolan. Having long relied on the guerrilla distro tactic of circulating burned CD-Rs of their albums at shows, the Markers released their first “official” studio album this year under the moniker of Boss on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label. And, my god, does this album take its title literally. It’s gritty, it’s wet, it’s dirty, but it also appears to have had a sordid love affair with more conventional pop melodies, making it the most “accessible” Magik Markers record yet. The aforementioned back alley fling results in tracks like “Last Of the Lemach Line,” in which Ambrogio sounds as if she is quite literally creeping “through a garden with a gun” over chiming, atonal guitar chords that barely serve as a warning. In short: you’re fucked. “Body Rot” barely clings to its own skeletal structure as it snaps at your heels for two of 2007’s most primal music minutes. I’d name this album as a reason for Kim Gordon to shake in her boots, but we all know she’s not the type to scare easy, and in fact, may look for a fight. Which is exactly what Magik Markers want. As a gleeful spectator, I say bring it on and keep ‘em coming.
24. Black Moth Super Rainbow - Dandelion Gum
by Dave Gurney
Was it all just a soft-focus dream sequence, or did Dandelion Gum really drop from the narcotized heavens into our collective headphones this year? Could something this gauzily gorgeous really just come from out of thin air? The correct answers are "It really did drop" and "Not entirely." While this album did tickle many a listener’s ears with Black Moth Super Rainbow for the first time, the opportunity to do so has been there for awhile. It’s just that some deserved recognition has finally come. BMSR operate in a world where Bruce Haack’s prognosticative recordings could be considered a foundational text of some sort. The fuzzy analog synths and penchant for tight beats put them in the same hazy realm as Boards of Canada or Caribou, but the echoing vocoder and less mysterious fascination with nostalgia also puts them in a league with Air. Ultimately, the sound is something unique — a sunny but melancholy pill of electro-psychedelia with a lot of staying power. The album has the melodic depth necessary to keep it in heavy rotation long after any thoughts of a shelf life have passed, so, if it hasn’t put a crooked smile on your face already, it might be because you’ve tripped it off.
23. Justice - †
A love of music often leads to obsession with components: lyrics, production, which instruments are played, or who is playing them. We analyze, we quibble, and ultimately we can get so immersed that we forget why we started listening in the first place. It takes something forceful to shake us out of that state. Justice did it, not with dumbfounding beauty, but by making us dance so much that we didn’t want to interpret anything ever again. These twelve seamless tracks span decades in electronic music (sans irony), incorporating disco, synth strings, and fuzzed-out glitch without ever missing a beat. But what ultimately makes † so impressive is that, unlike much music of its kind, it’s not disposable. Repeated listens to the pulsing beats that Mssrs. Auge and de Rosnay so carefully construct reveal nuance and intricacy in addition to the immediate catchiness, cementing the duo as genuine musicians who have a complex understanding of their craft. No matter how many times “D.A.N.C.E.” got remixed or “Phantom” got played, it was always clear that Justice had struck upon something we were desperately missing: electronica that transcended its synthetic origin to become simply music. No qualifiers, no prefixes. But enough talking. Like “DVNO” says: I just came here to bounce.
22. M.I.A. - Kala
2007 was the year of Maya Arulpragasam, better known to you and me and the weird kid at your local record store wearing gold spandex pants as M.I.A. With the release of her sophomore album, Kala, M.I.A. showed the fans and the haters that her 2005 debut, Arular, was not just a musical fluke. If anything, Arular provided M.I.A. with a jumping-off point to explore genres that she herself was still feeling out. Her newfound confidence and attitude is heard all over Kala, from “Coming back with power/ Power” in the Bollywood-sampling opener, “Bamboo Banga,” to having the guts to sample The Pixies on “20 Dollar,” to her creative leaps and bounds: aboriginal boys rapping on “Mango Pickle Down River,” a melodramatic European club hook on “Jimmy.” If this is what her second album sounds like, can you even imagine what crazy shit she’ll try and pull off on her fourth or fifth album? M.I.A.’s music is a great example of the fact that music is always evolving, and she definitely proved that loud and clear in 2007 with the fantastic Kala.
21. Menomena - Friend and Foe
Back in 2003, a Portland, Oregon friend of mine mailed me a copy of Menomena’s self-released debut, I Am the Fun Blame Monster!. It proved to be a totally original tour-de-force of dark, quirky pop, and I became obsessed with the album in a way I never had before. Seeing the trio’s simple yet intense live show later that year only cemented my Menomena fixation — I just couldn’t tell enough people about this band, hard as I tried. Four years of anticipation later, Menomena no longer needed my help as they returned full-force with serious label backing (Barsuk) and an incredibly polished sophomore album that not only maintained the cleverness and the exciting, unexpected musical moments I came to love, but managed to improve upon them. Tighter songwriting, more elaborate melodies and stronger, more seductive vocals pushed Menomena’s sound to the next level. Friend and Foe constantly kept me on my toes song after song, quietly lulling me with a gentle looping piano before bursting forth with crashing drums and huge, cracking vocal harmonies. This album was not meant to be played in the background; Menomena left you no choice but to fully engage, from the first drum beats of “Muscle and Flo” to the glorious, swelling finale of album-closer “West.” “Lofty goals/ Met too soon?” I sure hope not.
20. Dan Deacon - Spiderman of the Rings
by David Harris
What the hell is going on with Baltimore? Once known only for John Waters, a high syphilis rate, Edgar Allen Poe, and the Homicide: Life on the Streets, Charm City has been undergoing an indie revitalization as of late. Acts such as M.I.A. and Spank Rock have claimed the place as a home or an inspiration. And this year Dan Deacon, member of the Baltimore art collective Wham City, has produced one of 2007’s best albums. I met Deacon as he chomped down on some nachos before a show earlier this year. Pudgy, balding, bespectacled in thick glasses, he did not seem at all like a rock star. Then again, he doesn’t make the type of music most of our darling skeletal indie kids bang out year after year. Spiderman of the Rings begins with a loop of Woody Woodpecker’s maniacal laugh, and as the tempo picks up, so does that damned laughter. My friend called Deacon’s music “too confrontational.” But that’s exactly what makes it so great. It straddles the line between noise rock and bubblegum kitsch. It aims to mesmerize and repel. Everything culminates on the 11-plus-minute “Wham City,” a love song, a shout-out, a sing-along to the very city that helped give birth to Deacon’s breed of manic music. For nearly one quarter of an hour, one hears all of Deacon’s influences (Kraftwerk, Can, Count Chocula) swirled into one. By combining all these ingredients, Deacon has made one of the most intriguing and insanely listenable albums of the year.
19. No Age - Weirdo Rippers
by Jeffrey Canino
Few terms more accurately describe the sound of Weirdo Rippers, the Fat Cat debut from Los Angeles duo No Age, than the title of the album itself. The songs ripped and roared across the record’s half-hour runtime, every pop and hiss a testament to the lo-fi tradition that the band revels in. But then, out of nowhere, the songs would pat down the thunder, rushing in lush ambient tones to replace the swell of the tag-teaming drum and guitar. It’s a sound that was ultimately, blissfully weird. And Weirdo Rippers was all the more spectacular for it. No Age’s Randy Randall and Dean Spunt are the poster-children for fun vibrations. Like many of the bands emerging from L.A.’s The Smell, No Age thrive in the live environment, jumping off amps. Watching from the crowd as kids already adorned in No Age tee shirts went apeshit, one couldn’t easily shake the feeling that something big was bubbling under the surface. We’ll see what comes of it next year, when the band issues their second LP on Sub Pop. But for now, with Weirdo Rippers, they’ve already spawned something great. A record that’s too loud and too positive. It’s not punk rock, but it’s close.
18. The National - Boxer
by Joseph Coscarelli
On 2005’s Alligator, The National’s Matt Berninger told Karen, "Fuck me and make me a drink," solidifying himself as the Clive Owen of this indie rock shit. Masculine, but with a tragic streak, sounding like he might as soon reach back and hit you as break down and cry — as if he had any other option with that godlike baritone. Whereas Berninger then had black birds circling his bed, 2007 found bluebirds on his shoulder, but only in words. Boxer dipped into the morose like fiction –- each tinge of gut-churning guilt and unsteady nostalgia welcomed in its beauty. Berninger sounded worn; sage and tense, bordering on batty, dapper but dampened, slurring lines about "prison for jerks" on "Guest Room," but still managing to woo anyone with a pulse on "Slow Show." Opener "Fake Empire" began Boxer with flawless execution — the closest thing we have to revving up with "Thunder Road" — and when we heard it, we knew it was a sweet-talker, not to be fully trusted, with a horn section so debonair and triumphant in its final coda that you forget the first two minutes stomped on your heart. In the summer, it was easy to call Boxer a quintessential record for New York City-type nights, but now it’s winter, our bones are cold and we can just stop at ’essential.’
17. Dirty Projectors - Rise Above
by Jeff Roesgen
The mind is a wrought and confounding place. We revere its impulses, rely on its perceptions, and marvel in its memory. It’s the mind’s power of incubation that brings us Dirty Projectors’ Rise Above. The story behind the creation of the album is well-documented: the band’s frontman, David Longstreth, listened to Black Flag’s punk opus, Damaged, internalized it, and years later, reconjured it. The result is a sparse, harmonic, rhythmic, soulful set that refers to Black Flag only in its rearranged (and, in some cases, modified) lyrics and its intermittent and unpredictable guitar/drum bombasts. There’s an inherent sense of fraying when comparing Rise Above to Damaged, where the latter’s brutal tonalities are muted in some places and embellished in others. "Gimme Gimme Gimme" is transformed into an off-kilter R&B number with gently bubbling vocal harmonies. "Police Story" is a fragmented cabaret piece that finds Longstreth torturing every lyrical line over a saloon piano. Dirty Projectors succeed in distilling Damaged’s tales of (sub)urban power struggle into simpler pieces that encompass a wider set of oppressions. So while the album is a work transformed, incubated, and reborn in David Longstreth’s mind, the enduring message from Damaged remains, and is perhaps made even more affecting here: cast what oppresses you aside, and Rise Above.
16. Blues Control - Puff
2007 was Blues Control’s breakout year. Riding upon the Riverboat Styx via a stream of CD-R and tape releases in 2006, they reached the end of the cosmic tributary and exploded into the ocean of 2007. To commemorate this birthing ritual, they imbibed an enlightening smoke and released this gem. Puff is a cool drag, a glassy-eyed deconstruction of blues modes. Lea Cho’s transcendent Steve Reich-inspired piano phrases and phases (and phasing) meshes transcendentally with partner Russ Waterhouse’s Billy TK-era Human Instinct “Stoned Guitar” mind-melting riffage. Waterhouse is also a master tape manipulator, rerouting existing psych gems and providing percussion with whatever bric-a-brac lies around. The duo’s connection is at once romantic and alchemical. “Always on Time” provides an undulating foundation so transfixing it could leave you comatose. These are heavy mantra boogie vibes, replete with that psychedelic haze-for-days tint. Puff is a vinyl-only release whose first pressing was limited to 500 and sold out quickly. Luckily for you, Woodsist has repressed it, so all you blues freaks seeking psychedelic bliss had better get your grubby paws on it before it’s all gone again.
15. Pink Reason - Cleaning the Mirror
Kevin De Broux couldn’t have predicted making a year-end list with his Pink Reason project, especially after struggling with obstacles from drug use to homelessness, as documented on Cleaning the Mirror. I was listening to this record in my room when my fiancée’s brother walked in and declared that the droned vocals and muffled instruments sounded as if they were marching in a poor lo-fi called "Suckfest." I explained that Pink Reason is not equivalent to the pseudo-grunginess of The White Stripes. Cleaning the Mirror is stripped-down, raw, and exclusively honest with every surprise detail. One subtle listen of the half-hour album was enough for me to become hooked, but each listen unraveled something new. I played "Dead End" to show how the starter of a catchy B-side reinvented a simplistic chord progression through quality and expression. Some songs also recalled pop and rock clichés, bordering on sentimentality, but De Broux’s delivery slashed all predictability with a surprisingly unique and raw self-representation of art. My future brother-in-law riposted, saying the album had "character." Call it unpretentious, weird punk, lo-fi, heartfelt, realized, and go ahead and call your grandma to say Cleaning the Mirror is one of the best albums of the year and probably of many years to come.
14. Balroynigress - Shampoo and Champagne
by Plastique Song
You’ll have to bear with us for a moment while we whine about the fact that Erik Jeor, the Swedish mastermind of Balroynigress and the pride and joy of Kning Disk, has only 379 MySpace friends. Cruel, cruel, world. Regardless of a serious lack of publicity (and the fact that only 900 copies of the record were pressed), Shampoo and Champagne has still managed to reshape the cilia of all the lucky, unsuspecting ears it’s reached so far. This record quietly smacked us over the head with its seamless incorporation of everything from break-beat rim shots to ethereal sonic descriptions of dying sedated on a hospital bed. Love, death, and life were constructed in a calculatedly messy narrative that by some rare stroke of genius managed to be optimistic and bone-chillingly apocalyptic at the same time. Some may say that this duality is a result of Balroynigress’ decidedly un-American aesthetic, but don’t listen to them –- these songs resonate much more deeply than Jeor’s “foreign” style of singing. From the water-colored album art to the title’s glossy assonance, Shampoo and Champagne was one of 2007’s most hauntingly beautiful pieces of work.
13. Graham Lambkin - Salmon Run
by S. Kobak
It began as a simple idea: Graham Lambkin wanted to intrude on his favorite pieces of art, inserting himself into the scene. Through copious editing and a stalwart sense of craftsmanship, Lambkin created an album that ventures beyond the passive listening experience, effectively breaking the fourth wall. At times he supplements the art, and in others he works against its grain. He chops, loops, elongates, and reverses his source material, all the while walking, tinkering with kitchen equipment, and audibly emoting overtop the music. As the album unravels, it burrows into the mind, presenting variations of beauty — rough, smooth, and otherwise — and engaging on many levels. Underground music scribes may debate the album for decades, but Lambkin will have none of it. He just wanted to verbalize the music of his mind, and happened to insert the listener into his world.
12. Boris and Michio Kurihara - Rainbow
by Ed Irving
Since technology has already gone to the Japs, I suppose it was only a matter of time before the Land of the Rising Sun would co-opt our music as well. This time around, Boris -– possibly the world’s heaviest power trio -– collaborates with freak shaman and Ghost guitarist, Michio Kurihara, on what many fans, critics, and listeners alike believe to be their most accessible romp to date. In effect, Rainbow is a knife that cuts though your brain, a neo-psychedelic blend that emerges out of the standard mopings of drone-noise to deliver an all-out blitz of rising and descending intensities. Make no mistake: from beginning to end, Rainbow is a behemoth, 43 minutes of masterful re-workings of past idioms that range from shoegaze to face-melting kick out the jams-style cosmic rawk. Moreover, it’s as loose and precise an album as I’ve heard in years. You wanna know what the futurehead of progressive music looks and sounds like? Look no further than Boris.
11. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala
by The Friz
For an album that opens with a warning about the danger of nostalgia, Kortedala spends a whole lot of time ignoring its own advice. Lekman spends its length relishing in details others would dismiss as ‘cute’ or just too sentimental to bother with, and the minutiae he shares breathes life into the stories of youth and love. Lyrical specificity is his strong suit (the album’s few missteps can be attributed to occasional vagueness), but Lekman’s loveable sentimentality is endearing even in its errors. In the past, he’s been more singer-songwriter than knob twiddler, but this album’s instrumentation – its raunchy samples and plenty of retro schmaltz – takes a step to further the case for hyper-nostalgia. With a musical vocabulary that stretches from flute and bongo disco to bombastic orchestral strings, Lekman backups the solid songs with a collage of influences and styles. Somehow it all comes across as earnestly unironic, which just makes Kortedala all the more charming and impressive.
10. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
Licensing a song for Outback Steakhouse, getting naked on stage, appearing in a cell phone commercial, espousing the views of capitalism (gasp!) in the comments section of a blog (shriek!) –- in our information-oversaturated, celebrity-culture-driven McWorld, all of these acts that Kevin Barnes committed threatened to eclipse the fact that he and his band, Of Montreal, released the most sickly twisted pop record of the year. Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? is the sound of manic depression, misplaced lust, and post-teenage angst soundtracked by the best disco band Hell has to offer. Girls are referred to apologetically as "faggy," drugs are taken, religions are renounced, and the crushing complacency of buying groceries is detailed like a laundry list of grievances; all this while static crunch, motorik beats, and new wave keyboards nervously but obnoxiously (in a good way) barrel through like a cocaine addict at Sunday mass. Yes, the starry-eyed days of spiking the senses are over for Of Montreal, as Barnes’ songwriting mind has become a hydra of sonic spiny melody and lyrical confrontation. With Hissing Fauna, it sounds like they’ve spiked the punch instead; to borrow a line from the band’s previous work, this party’s crashing us now, so I won’t mind taking another sip.
09. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Sleek like their namesake, but with an almost serrated edge from too many rounds in the dishwasher, Spoon’s effort this year astounded. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga was a ventriloquist dummy in the Yankee Hotel, asleep and collapsed, limbs akimbo, on the foot of the bed. The songs blew through the dummy, airy and light, where organs were missing. Nothing turned out too soft, though. Kidneys, a liver, and a pancreas were packed with ice in the tub. Britt Daniel and company continue to do Texas proud, in ways others can’t begin to manage. Look at the agape wooden mouth. Go ahead, look at it. Trace those chiseled cheek and chin lines. That’s a mouth either desperate or eager to speak of dressing gowns, cherry bombs, and wedding cake. Spoon have set their standard. They’re cool, queer, careful, and careless all in the same studio time. The title may refer to a staccato piano, but it’s clearly the cleanest of jaw-drops from an abandoned ventriloquist dummy: ga ga ga ga ga — don’t gag on a fist of five fingers, dummy.
08. Burial - Untrue
by David Plante
This is a record that creates atmosphere. Most of it is innocuous enough, seemingly content to float along without ever becoming all that imposing. But the music constructed by dubstep phenomenon Burial soon creeps into your consciousness and establishes itself, building a haunting ambiance that burns softly, always mindful of restraint yet never ceasing to be relentless in its frantic repetition of nervous beats. Composed of 13 separate tracks, Burial creates such harmony within the record and between takes that the album reveals itself as a unique whole that should really be listened to in one sitting, no preference given to any particular piece. It envelops the listener over time in a way that is impossible for a single track to accomplish. It sort of begins and ends in one drawn-out moment, and it soon becomes difficult to recall with any precision the details of the experience. Untrue sculpts a memorable soundscape that does well to show the brilliant result of fusing ambient meandering with a hip-hop aesthetic. At the moment, Burial is unmatched in his ability to craft compelling dubstep records and pull the discipline out from its underground dwellings.
07. Deerhoof - Friend Opportunity
[Kill Rock Stars]
by Keith Kawaii
How many bands can you think of whose eighth studio album is arguably their greatest? Not many, I’ll bet, and those that do usually regurgitate a few horrible misfires along the way. Deerhoof, for my money’s worth, have gotten better and better with each passing year, and 2007 was no different. We saw them as a stripped-down three-piece live, but fully energized in the studio. In a sense, Friend Opportunity was a new start; convulsing with wide-eyed energy and inspiration, it boasted a cleaner sound and a sense of aural focus that was only matched by increasingly intricate and fantastical arrangements. What’s more, save for a stunning closer, the album’s torrents of inspiration were packed into wholly accessible three-minutes pop songs. Friend Opportunity opened up plenty of new avenues for the band, though it really just confirmed what most of us had already realized: that, after a decade, Deerhoof are still experimenting with their craft, utilizing a wellspring of irresistible melodies, kick-ass guitar riffs, unusual harmonies, beautiful imageries, and frenetic yet thoroughly economical rhythms. When has rock ‘n’ roll ever been so good?
06. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy was not about to just sit back and be "content" with indie-rock culture’s increasing acceptance of hip-shakin’ dance music over the past several years when it came to 2007’s excellent Sound of Silver. Instead, the man who built his career on liberal lampoons and self-aware derisions of his own musical niche threw down the sequin-covered gauntlet and decided to take one more stab at showing us all just how silly, sad, beautiful, dumb, boring, and awesome dance music can be. Inexplicably marrying pulsing, dancefloor synths with beautifully understated pathos ("Someone Great"); booty-shaking party-aesthetics with wry self-awareness ("North American Scum"); and shiny, meticulous precision with rickety, DIY, ’70s punkrawkedness ("Watch the Tapes"), Silver turned dance music into something emotionally familiar: indie rock. Murphy’s weary voice and sloppy lyrics actually served as the crux of tunes like "New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down" and a sloppy, two-hands-alternating piano figure became the infectious calling card of the poignant "All My Friends." But through it all, it was Murphy’s conspicuous feeling that “emotional dance music with good lyrics” is... well, basically a laughable concept that made this record stand alone this year. The tongue-in-cheek title track says it all: “Sound of Silver.../ Makes you want to feel like a teenager/ Until you remember the feelings of a real-life emotional teenager/ Then you think again.” Well played, Mr. Murphy.
05. Deerhunter - Cryptograms
I’m getting the feeling that there are two camps when it comes to Deerhunter: Those who understand the hype, and those who don’t. Since I find myself in the former camp, I’ll try to explain in two parts why Cryptograms blew so many minds this year. First off, ‘grams bridged two altogether separate worlds better than any album I had the pleasure to inhale off my coffee table-top in ‘07, to the point where it now seems stupidly obvious to mention that kraut-y, sour-tasting prog and ambient drone go together like a smooth hardwood floor and a game of marbles. Second, you get it all with Cryptograms, the sour and the sweet, the rough and the rousing, the bruising and the beautiful, the plush and the puerile, so it scooped a lot of us up with a net that was too broad to leave many stragglers. Looking at Deerhunter’s past tour itineraries only drives my point home like a tent stake into damp ground – Bradford Cox’s troops have been tamped beneath/coupled with acts big and small, from Smashing Pumpkins to The Ponys to Grizzly Bear. With a new version of Cryptograms out that includes the fantastic Flourescent Grey EP – not to mention a much-circulated risqué-rock pic of Bradford getting his Coxucked ONSTAGE (by a dude no less) – I can’t think of a single reason Deerhunter wouldn’t at least draw mild curiosity from anyone left-field enough to deign TMT a regular internet stop. But hey, to each his own.
04. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
by Ajitpaul Mangat
Like M.G. — from Charles Baudelaire’s seminal work, The Painter of Modern Life (1837) — the artistic genius of Animal Collective arises from a splintered but complimentary whole created by dichotomy. At the heart of the band is the ying of flâneur Avey Tare — composing with an overriding sense of alienation, and estrangement — and the augmenting yang of dandy Panda Bear — composing with avant-garde techniques and shimmering aestheticism. Like a modern-day Lennon and McCartney, the pair’s tracks, imbued with distinctively dissonant attributes, fashion a truly mosaic sonic landscape. Never has this dichotomous landscape been as compelling or fully realized as on the group’s latest effort, Strawberry Jam. Not ones to stagnate, both musicians show significant growth as artists. For Tare it is his eccentric vocals — idiosyncratic crooning liberally pre-empted for anx-permeated screaming — that are in their finest form, best highlighted on the Romantic “For Reverend Green.” Panda, meanwhile, has never penned lyrics as affective as those on the touching “Derek.” But it is the other flawlessly juxtaposed elements — made possible by years of collaboration — that augment and liven those otherwise-barren vocals and lyrics. So with the trappings of musical autonomy, let us hope Tare and Panda remember the importance of fellowship.
03. Battles - Mirrored
Battles couldn’t have orchestrated a more dramatic arrival. After years of short-format teaser material that conveyed obfuscation and humility with foliar motifs and abstract, minimalistic titles, they’ve stopped lurking, and their presence can no longer be ignored. Mirrored was an announcement, an abrupt macroevolution — from its controversial abundance of vocals to its expanded instrumentation to its enriched dynamism to its raw imaginativeness, it’s a wall-to-wall juggernaut of a record. Military puns were driven to new extremes in attempts to articulate its force, something that is more effectively represented by the trichromatic yellow, black, and white of a looming arsenal of unmanned instruments, caged in glass, gracing the cover. It’s a stunning image, starkly symbolic of the album’s indelible mark on 2007. Sure, some naysayers accuse them of aping certain contemporaries, but these are superficial likenesses at worst, and only occasionally identifiable. What we’re hearing is a synthesis of sounds, a decade’s worth of music digested through their intestinal machinery. The branches of their EPs have borne fruit, quelling any doubts about Battles’ longevity, demonstrating with conviction that these aren’t math-rock dinosaurs championing the good ol’ days, but stalwart talents in touch with the state of their art.
02. Radiohead - In Rainbows
by Joseph Hale
Radiohead released their seventh album on short notice and with relatively little fanfare. In Rainbows debuted to web audiences this November, winning over most critics with its combination of a full-band approach and a summary of the band’s disparate 21st century experiments. It is a record of repetition and slow permutation, evincing a surprising amount of influence from minimalist music. Impressively, Radiohead succeed at reconciling their rock and techno impulses, producing rock instrumentation with the crispness and definition of IDM. Included among its tracks are reworked versions of live favorites "Nude" and "Reckoner," though the real gems are newer songs like "Faust Arp" and the tense closer "Videotape." Much was made of the decision to promote the record by pre-releasing it on digital format (theoretically) for free, but ultimately this seems to have been aimed at generating fan hype rather than a primary means of distribution. In retrospect, In Rainbows will probably be noted for its music rather than its short-lived commercial gimmick. Akin to David Bowie’s Scary Monsters, it comes across as a consolidation move after a collection of innovative-but-scattered releases — and on that criterion, it passes admirably.
01. Panda Bear - Person Pitch
by Judy Ain’t No Punk
Generally, the more I listen to an album, the more my thoughts about it coalesce. Subtle themes become more obvious, and influences begin to reveal themselves. But Person Pitch was different. On his third solo LP, Animal Collective’s Panda Bear moved from the private and meditative realm to the expansive and the universal. The resulting album was similar in some respects to Ulysses’ approach to literature: it contained the medium’s history and pointed the way toward its future. While Joyce incorporated various types of writing, from 19th century romance to newspaper journalism to drama, Panda Bear integrated musical genres as diverse as surf, new age, and techno into a complex but endlessly pleasurable whole.
Although at its surface the album sounds seamless, repeated listening yields more questions and more ideas. It took me several months of listening to realize that Person Pitch is about nothing if not struggle. By letting Panda Bear’s diluted Beach Boys soundscapes wash over me, I was ignoring the battle raging within each song. Where the snippet of choral chant that pervades "Comfy in Nautica" once recalled gentle waves hitting the beach, it now sounds a bit like a broken record. The vocals recall centuries-old musical traditions when they’re essentially nothing but samples stuck in a tape loop. Moments like this cropped up everywhere on Person Pitch, pitting the past and the future of popular music against one another in an eternal gridlock. The album revels in this thematic dissonance.
Tension also runs thick between Panda Bear’s complex orchestration and his joltingly direct lyrics. As stated in interviews, he wasn’t aiming for poetry, and the words to the songs on Person Pitch were simple but penetrating aphorisms and confessions. "Take one day at a time/ Anything more really hurts your mind" he advised on "Take Pills." Panda even revealed his unadorned thoughts on music-making in plain, colloquial English on "Carrots": "There’s a reason that I work/ So hard at this stuff/ When all I want/ Is to take it easy" But this tension yields a certain unity: Both the lyrics and the music are about the medium itself and the creative process that precedes it.
It is no wonder an album that contained multitudes, that devoured, distorted, and delved into influences ranging from The Velvet Underground to Enya to Nas to Aphex Twin was TMT’s favorite of 2007. There is truly something for everyone on Person Pitch, and unlike Ulysses, you didn’t need a graduate degree to appreciate it.
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